Miranda Zanoni, Grade 12, Journalism Student
Over the past several months, political activism has been more prominent than ever before as people around the world are waking up to the role that racism plays in society.
At the High School of American Studies, racial inequality is being addressed through the Local Outreach Tutoring program. For more than three years, the program known as LOT has sought to increase racial and geographic diversity at the city’s eight Specialized High Schools by offering free tutoring for the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).
The seventh and eighth-grade students who participate in the program all come from middle schools in the Bronx such as M.S. 244, which sits opposite HSAS on the other side of the reservoir. Most of the participants are students of color who lack access to SHSAT prep.
Due to the work of teachers Mr. Halabi and Ms. Genao and former Student Government President Habiba Sayma (’20), the LOT program has expanded to nearly 60 students.
Some students in the LOT program now attend HSAS. “I think we have three [freshmen] and one sophomore who were students in LOT. There is one more [student] who got in but did not come,” said Mr. Halabi.
The program has been rapidly expanding. It started with about 20 seventh graders in 2017-2018, then 30 seventh graders in 2018-2019, then almost 60 seventh graders in 2019-2020.
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, LOT has been conducted virtually since April. When asked about her experience with LOT this year, tutor Nora Kohnhurst, a senior, said, “It was a challenge to shift from teaching the kids in person to the virtual lessons. Interacting with the kids weekly was the best part of LOT, and it was more difficult to create lessons that we couldn’t present to them directly.”
She added, “During the pandemic, my responsibilities changed from week to week, but generally I worked on PowerPoints, scripts, or worksheets for lessons. Occasionally, I edited a few videos for the channel.”
The SHSAT was also pushed back from October to January to ensure students could take the exam safely. It is still unclear when results will be released.
It is also unclear how the LOT program will continue into the following school year. With online engagement dwindling during the pandemic, fewer and fewer students have watched LOT’s videos. As of February, there are no plans for the LOT program to host new seventh graders in the fall.
However, many HSAS students are still dedicated to the program’s mission of increasing diversity in Specialized High Schools.
“I think it’s vital,” said Paz Rebolledo, a sophomore. “I mean look at the diversity in our school. The vast majority of people are white and live in affluent neighborhoods and at least in my grade, most of the students of color come from the Discovery Program.”
She added, “If there’s more outreach into schools like my middle school, I’m positive more students of color and more students from low-income backgrounds will apply and pass the SHSAT because at the moment it’s an issue of preparation, so hopefully LOT can combat that.”
LOT’s mission of diversity is an incredibly important one, that will not be held back by COVID-19. Marisa Tirado, a junior who is also a member of HSAS’s Committee for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI), said, “I really like knowing that we’re taking steps to make HSAS more equitable and welcoming for current and future students because I did feel kind of isolated as a student of color when I first came here. I really admire LOT’s work, and I know LOT and CEDI have the same goal in mind towards admitting more low-income students and students of color.”
Many who are uninvolved in diversity initiatives at HSAS support LOT as well. In a recent poll, an impressive 100 percent of HSAS freshmen support LOT’s goal, and 80 percent of them would like to participate in the program as juniors.
Jackson Parker, a freshman, explained his support of the program. “I like tutoring and don't mind putting in a bit of effort for the reward of helping someone through their work,” he said. “Besides that, I see the lack of diversity at HSAS and other specialized high schools as a huge injustice, and I don't want to just sit complacent in that especially when I have an opportunity to help get students who truly care in, rather than just those whose parents could afford to get one-on-one tutoring themselves.”
It is unsure what form LOT will take next year, but thanks to the committed students at HSAS, there is certainly hope for the program and its critical goal of true diversity in the complex system that is the Specialized High Schools.
Photo taken by Miranda Zanoni
HSAS students meet on Zoom to discuss the Local Outreach Tutoring (LOT) program’s next steps.