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Navigating the New York Public School System

An early look at a Pacific Standard story that's currently only available to subscribers.
(Photo: Alice Proujansky)

(Photo: Alice Proujansky)

Choosing among New York City's 400-plus high schools is daunting for even the savviest, most affluent parents. For new immigrants, it can be hellish. Here, Alissa Quart and photographer Alice Proujansky follow a single mother and her son, who recently arrived from Paraguay, as they navigate the application process.

Alissa Quart and Alice Proujansky's Pacific Standard feature story is currently available to subscribers and will be posted online on Monday, July 06. Until then, an excerpt:

As the eighth-grade year progressed, the tittering between students began to focus on high school. What would it be like? Which ones would people be going to? In one of Guido’s classes, a girl with turquoise nails, styled with meticulous designs that she found on the Internet, leaned over to a friend who was putting on lip gloss. Forest Hills High School, Flushing High School, they murmured. That’s what my mother found out. That’s what my cousin says. The girls occasionally glanced to the desk where Guido sat, refined and contained.

In his math class that same day, Guido took careful notes. Occasionally, he translated the teacher’s words into Spanish for his more recent immigrant friends. Guido’s energetic teacher, Samantha Heuer, who sported leopard-print boots and stylish ombre hair, taught linear equations. The keys, Heuer said in a bright and commanding voice, were indeterminate and determinate variables. “In the equation involving the boy Juan,” she said, “the Y variable is indeterminate and X is determinate.”

Heuer asked Guido to solve a problem for the class at the board, and he did it with ease. Guido was a cherished rarity for Heuer: a student who would come to her after class and ask how he could improve his grade. Guido did best at math. Yet for all his efforts, his grades were mediocre, topping out at low Bs, and he had just received a 54 on a science test.

Guido’s life itself resembled a linear equation, with determinate factors and indeterminate ones, Y and X variables, like in math class. The good determinate factors were his inherent physical grace and the love of his mother and grandmother. The bad determinate factors were the language barrier, the near poverty, and the fractured family. And the indeterminate factor was luck.

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