Facing Below-Average Grad Rates, New Brunswick Aims to Help Kids Reach College

New Brunswick High School Credits: Wikimedia Commons

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Jadelyn Flores is bound for the Ivy League.

After she graduates from New Brunswick High School this spring, the teen plans to study sociology, economics or politics at Princeton University. One of the world’s elite schools, Princeton admits just 7 percent of applicants.

Another student in the public school district made the waiting list. And last year, a graduate named Abelardo Cruz Cruz began studying math at Princeton.

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“Each year, we see additional students enrolling in great institutions of higher learning, and we're committed to continuing that success,” New Brunswick Public Schools Superintendent Aubrey Johnson said in a statement announcing the achievements.

But for many students in the Hub City, both college and high-school degrees have been more difficult to obtain.

After the 2014-15 school year, the most recent time period for which numbers are available, 66 percent of New Brunswick students went on to attend a two- or four-year college. The statewide average was 74 percent.

More than half of New Brunswick graduates enrolled in a two-year school, like Middlesex County College, and roughly 45 percent in a college like Rutgers, according to the state.

In 2016, the city’s graduation rate hit almost 70 percent, up from four years earlier by more than 10 points. The overall graduation rate for the state, meanwhile, was 74 percent, still higher than that of New Brunswick.

The number of city students who dropped out of school was 8.6 percent in 2014-15, according to state data. Across New Jersey, that figure was 3.6 percent.

Taken together, these statistics represent the challenges that New Brunswick’s teachers, administrators and guidance counselors are up against.

To try to help kids map out their best possible futures, the district aims to provide guidance tailored to each student, said Barbi Siegel, who oversees school counselors throughout the district.

“We always encourage our students and work with them as best we can,” she told TAPinto New Brunswick. “Every kid is different, and we work with what we have.”

School officials begin to steer students toward college early in their educations through events that teach them about higher education. From there, in middle school, the district pushes activities that are designed to prepare them for college, Siegel said.

Eventually, college representatives visit to chat with older students, she said. They attend seminars on financial aid and work one-on-one with guidance counselors to pinpoint potential careers.

Advisers might then recommend certain classes—like, say, business, fashion or anatomy and physiology—to help kids better determine their interests and goals, she said.

What’s more, New Brunswick partners with institutions like Rutgers, which begins grooming students for the academic big leagues in middle school, and the county college, which accepts credits for certain classes taught in high school, Siegel said.

In Siegel’s seven years in New Brunswick, the district has undertaken an upward climb toward better graduation and college-enrollment rates. But she acknowledged that the need for improvements remains.

In this effort, cases like the Princeton-bound Flores offer a cause for celebration.

“Anybody anywhere getting into Princeton is exciting,” Siegel said. “Princeton is Princeton.”

The graduating class of 2017 is also set to send students to Amherst College in Massachusetts, Penn State, the University of Maryland, Tuskegee University, Bowie State University and Virginia State University, according to the district.

“When you really get to see the success at the end of the road, it’s a good feeling,” Siegel said.

For New Brunswick’s school officials and rising students, however, the road continues.

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