After she graduates from Uncommon Schools North Star Academy Washington Park High School in Newark next week, Paulyn is attending Columbia University in the fall on a pre-med track.
She is one of 154 graduates from the Washington Park campus headed to elite colleges and universities, including four of the eight Ivy League colleges. It is the largest graduating class to date for the public charter high school. Nearly every graduating senior is college bound.
Like many of North Star's graduates, Paulyn is the first in her family to attend college and she credits the school with pushing her to reach her academic potential.
"Teachers push you to be out of your comfort zone," she said. "Being surrounded by that every single day just pushes you to become a better person and a better student."
North Star was recognized this month by GreatSchools with the 2019 College Success Award, which recognizes schools based on their success in preparing students for college and ultimately career. The award recognizes public high schools that stand out in getting students enrolled in - and graduating from - college.
GreatSchools highlighted North Star as one of its "spotlight" schools featured on its website. The highlighted schools "do an outstanding job of preparing students who are traditionally underserved to succeed, with the goal of inspiring further adoption of these schools’ promising practices for supporting their students’ success in college," according to the organization.
It's not the only recognition the school has received this past year. In April, North Star was ranked #15 in the state by U.S. News and World Report and #371 in the nation, placing it in the top 2%.
Additionally, the school’s Class of 2019 closed the achievement gap on the SAT, outperforming white students nationally in the percentage of students meeting the college readiness benchmark on both math and English sections.
North Star's college graduation rate of 54% is near the college graduation rate of the highest income quartile in the nation — 58%.
Michael Mann, the principal of North Star, said the school is designed to prepare students to not only get into college, but to graduate from college.
"We make all of those decisions on that basis," Mann said. "We set up the systems within our school to achieve that and then still monitor them after they've gone off to college."
Most of the students at North Star are black or Latino and the vast majority qualify for free or reduced price lunch. They pass AP exams at twice the rate of New Jersey public school students.
Lashawn Pettaway Polen, who is headed to North Carolina Central University in the fall, is also the first in his family to attend college. He said North Star created the environment he needed to be an academic success.
"In my previous school it was always arguments, drama, fighting, kids weren't doing their work," said LaShawn. "I was one of the few kids who wanted to do their work and wanted to succeed. North Star was a lot more work, but I'm going to get it done because this is where I want to be."