Mia Penner, Grade 11, Co-Editor-in-Chief
As one of the best schools in the country, the High School of American Studies boasts an engaged student body, a nuanced curriculum, and a perfect graduation rate. But HSAS is also a solemn reminder of the inequalities that persist in the New York City public school system: only 23% of students are Black or Latinx, compared to 66.1% citywide.
It is no surprise that students of color often feel like outsiders in predominantly white institutions like HSAS, especially given that many of them lack sufficient educational resources. Two HSAS seniors, Aisha Baiocchi and Annabelle Medina, are working to change that.
This summer, the pair launched The Outsiders Guide, a website aimed at preparing students of color for the grueling realities of competitive New York City high schools. The site features college admissions advice, extracurricular opportunities, testing resources, and other important academic tools. It also contains a blog, which is updated frequently with articles pertaining to the New York City high school experience.
Baiocchi came up with the idea for The Outsiders Guide after receiving news about the expansion of the Discovery Program, a diversity initiative that guarantees low-income students spots at specialized high schools. “Though I think the discovery program is an amazing thing, and totally support the expansion, part of that news kind of scared me,” she said. “Adjusting to HSAS as a student of color was really hard for me, and my friends all agree that the only thing that really got us through it was having each other and the students of color in the grade above us to support each other. I wasn’t sure about how the next year would look, and I was a little scared to think that a bunch of students would be forced to make that adjustment without help from students who had been in their position. I wanted to create a website to fill that void, and with time I learned that it could have a lot of other uses as well.”
Since its launch on June 20, The Outsiders Guide has expanded, supplying students of color with much-needed resources and leveling the playing field at competitive high schools. The website has also evolved to suit the needs of its ever-growing audience. “We used to alternate between blog posts by current students and former students, but lately we’ve been trying out informational videos on things like filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), creating a resume, and writing supplemental essays for colleges,” Baiocchi said. “Ultimately, we really just want to grow, and as our readers ask for specific things, we do our best to supply them.”
Two HSAS seniors, Aisha Baiocchi (right) and Annabelle Medina (left), launched The Outsider’s Guide in June 2020.
As The Outsiders Guide continues to grow, Baiocchi and Medina have many goals for the future. Namely, they want to translate the website to make it more accessible for English language learners. “We both come from multilingual families, and we understand that a language barrier is one of the biggest things preventing a lot of parents from engaging with their students' academic experience,” Baiocchi said. The pair also hopes to host events and partner with other organizations in the long term.
The Outsider’s Guide represents an innovative attempt by students of color to make the New York City school system more equitable and inclusive. But in order for real change to occur, Baiocchi believes, white students must also take it upon themselves to learn about educational inequalities. “I think it’s the responsibility of white and higher-income students to try to learn about where these issues came from, and not just from the students they know,” she said. “Google is free and burdening students of color with your education simply isn’t fair.”
After all, everyone stands to gain from a diverse and inclusive learning environment. “Segregation and inequality affect everyone negatively, and even though it’s not to the same degree, HSAS really suffers from the segregation of the larger system,” Baiocchi said. “Our school being primarily white puts a huge burden on the few students of color, and deprives the majority of truly learning about other experiences.”
For a variety of comprehensive academic tools and advice from NYC students, visit outsidersguide.net.