Abrams, the daughter of Guyanese immigrants and raised by a single mom, was valedictorian of the first graduating class of PS 235, the Lenox Academy, then a K-8 public school for gifted children in Flatbush. Today, the school runs an advanced reading program for high-performers.
She and six middle-school classmates, all black, got math tutoring from a dad who volunteered. All passed the Regents math exam in seventh grade — Abrams got 100 — shocking school officials who demanded they retake it. “They thought we cheated,” she said.
All seven kids scored high enough on the SHSAT, the sole entry criterion for the specialized schools, to get in: One went to Stuyvesant HS, Abrams and another went to Bronx Science and the rest went to Brooklyn Tech.
Abrams earned a bachelor’s in math from Duke University. After two internships on Wall Street as an investment banker, she worked for a business-consulting firm.
But she left to give minority kids the same prep she received. In 2016, she founded AdmissionSquad, a nonprofit that helps get high-achieving middle-schoolers into top city high schools and colleges. It charges fees on a sliding scale from $100 to $350 a month.
Her philosophy: “Give them the access, give them the opportunity to rise to the occasion, and you’ll see that they can do the work.”
Last year, Safina, Ralph and Semira Davis — a set of eighth-grade triplets from Mount Vernon, The Bronx — traveled to AdmissionSquad in Brooklyn for four months. All got into top city high schools: Safina was one of 10 black students admitted to Stuyvesant, Ralph went to Brooklyn Latin and Semira got into Beacon HS.
Enlarge ImageThe Davis triplets — Ralph (left), Safina (middle) and Semira — got into top schools with help from a program run by Tai Abrams.
Abrams is against abolishing the SHSAT — which Mayor de Blasio and Carranza say is the way to boost diversity.
“I believe those schools are designed for the city’s gifted and talented students. They’re designed for advanced learning. The test serves as a mechanism to select those students,” she said.
“The test is a meritocracy. You’ve got to study hard, study well and show up on exam day. From that perspective, it’s fair,” she said.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams agreed. Schooled in G&T, he said he wouldn’t have gotten into Brooklyn Tech if not for his SHSAT score. “My grades were terrible, and I had behavior issues,” he said. He graduated Tech in 1994.
While Williams may back multiple measures to admit kids, he vowed, “I will not support any plan that takes away having the test.”
As for G&T programs in black and Hispanic areas, “I think we have to bring them back,” he said.
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS -
A Brooklyn woman quit her Wall Street job to help students succeed in school.
Tai Abrams now works at Admission Squad to help young children across the city achieve their goals.
Admission Squad started in 2016 and helps a select group of minority students prepare for high school.
For four hours a week, 6th, 7th and 8th graders strengthen their skills in math and English.
Admission Squad is hoping to expand throughout the city in the next two years, looking at Harlem and the Bronx as future homes for their program.
Tai Abrams saw the lack of programs for talented Black and Brown students, and it bothered her so much that she left her corporate job and started AdmissionSquad in 2016. Based out of Downtown Brooklyn, the nonprofit provides instruction, test prep and mentorship to high-achieving students of color. Students receive guidance from former program members and receive several hours of tutoring each week leading up to the specialized high school exam.
Abrams’ goal is to make sure that talented Black and Latinx students do not just get accepted into a competitive school, but that they thrive there through exposure to higher level academic material. Her model is working: 80 percent of students in the AdmissionSquad’s 2016 and 2017 cohorts were offered seats in at least one top city public high school. The 2018 cohort’s success rate is even higher, at 85 percent.
“It can be very lonely being the only one there,” Abrams said about the few Black and Latinx students in specialized schools. “Developmentally kids need to see other people like them. They take on inner norms and expectations people have about them, and then those kids think, ‘Is everyone else not good enough?’”
Closing the information gap
Abrams explains that many Black and Brown communities don’t have the same access to educational information networks that other communities do, and often rely on the word of teachers and counselors who may be overloaded.
“We’re trying to close the info gap with parents and schools at large across the city and make as many people as possible aware of what top schools are,” she said.
The more parents are involved and aware of how they can help their kids succeed academically, Abrams says, the more likely their children are to make it into specialized schools. They host parenting workshops, consult with parents about academics and what schools to put on the high school application list.
“Certain schools,” said Abrams, “do not share information about the city’s most competitive high school programs and oftentimes, make assumptions that the children would not be able to handle the workload.”
A 2016 report in The New York Times traces how schools underestimate the talents of Black and Latinx students, a form of discrimination that Abrams has experienced first-hand. As a middle school student at The Lenox Academy in Flatbush, a public school for gifted students, she and her peers received test prep from a volunteer parent for a math Regents test and did exceptionally well. Abrams got a 100. School officials demanded that they retake the exam.
Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, the Harlem YMCA, located at 180 W. 135th St., will host the AdmissionSquad, Inc. The core mission of the AdmissionSquad is to provide exemplary test preparation to high-achieving middle school students from underrepresented backgrounds seeking to gain admission to top New York City public high schools. Whereas the debate rages as to whether people are born intellectually gifted or whether such talent is nurtured, Tai Abrams, graduate of both Bronx High School of Science and Duke University and CEO of AdmissionSquad asserted, “Leaders are not born, they are built.” To that end, a mock full-length three-hour Specialized High School Admissions Test will be administered to participating sixth- and seventh-graders at 11 a.m. sharp. These exams will be professionally scored. Contemporaneous with the administration of the mock SHSAT, AdmissionSquad members will discuss their programmatic offerings
On February 24, 2018 at Middle School 61 in Crown Heights, the community was invited to learn how to get their children accepted into Specialized High Schools (SHS). Specialized High Schools are the city’s most academically rigorous high schools that sets the majority of the enrolled students on a “lifelong success trajectory.” These high schools include Stuyvesant High School, Queens Science at York College; High School of Math, Science and Engineering at City College; Bronx High School of Science; Staten Island Technical High School; High School for American Studies at Lehman College; Brooklyn Technical High School; Brooklyn Latin; and the Performing Arts School at LaGuardia High School, which requires auditioning rather than examinations. A quick scan of names reveals that there is at least one SHS in each borough.
The key issue is getting more teens of color interested and prepared to sit for the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT). AdmissionsSquad, Inc. CEO Tai Abrams was the moderator of the SHS panel discussion. Ms. Abrams is herself a graduate of Bronx Science and earned her Bachelor’s in mathematics from Duke University. Abrams sees the need to begin preparing for the exam in the 6th or 7th grades. “Families ought to keep their children one grade level ahead,” is Abrams advice. What it takes to get the students prepared is for their parents to allocate time to learn about the exam, obtain and, at least, thumb through the Specialized High School Handbook and have their teens take a diagnostic exam to see how they are currently scoring. The preparation and actual examination can be likened to what Olympic contenders faced recently. At first, the situation may have seemed insurmountable and one experiences failure. Yet, each practice develops a level competency until, similar to a snowboarder spinning in the air upside down, it is all second nature.
Specialized High School Info Session Hosted by Assemblywoman Diana Richardson and AdmissionSquad, Inc.
On Saturday, February 24th at 2PM, AdmissionSquad and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson co-hosted a Specialized High School Information Session for families in Central Brooklyn and beyond. This event was designed for parents of 5th, 6th and 7th Graders in New York City! We also welcomed teachers, guidance counselors, principals, youth ministers, community youth leaders and anyone having an opportunity to impact the youth. Tai Abrams delivered a thorough workshop about the Admissions Test, preparatory programs, the use of the Student Handbook - and more. Topics Included the following:
What are the specialized high schools?
What parents need to know about the Specialized High School Admissions Test
Programs Available to Help Students Prepare for the Specialized High School Admissions Test
There was also a panel including the CEO of AdmissionSquad (Tai Abrams), CEO of Khan’s Tutorial (Ivan Khan), the CEO of CAS Prep (Sam Adewumi), and current Stuyvesant High School students (Venus Naadi and Eugene Thomas). This world class panel helped to provide more details about what it truly takes to get into a Specialized High School and what opportunities are available to students once they gain admission.
Tai Abrams Presents Tips & Tricks for the SHSAT at the Bronx Library Center
Tai Abrams, Founder and CEO of AdmissionSquad speaks to an eager audience of 5th, 6th and 7th graders at the Bronx Library Center's very first Middle School College Fair. Students were so excited to learn about "Tips & Tricks for the SHSAT." Most importantly, Tai discussed the changes to the SHSAT and what students need to do to ensure they are prepared when they take the exam in 8th grade. As a Bronx Science alumni, Tai would like to see more students from the Bronx attend the boroughs top public high schools which happen to be Specialized High Schools; Bronx Science and American Studies at Lehman. With access to the right information and preparation, she believes that these students can be successful through the process. It is startling to know that very few Bronx students attend Bronx Science and American Studies at Lehman. AdmissionSquad is committed to changing these statistics so that all students, regardless of zip code, have access to a high quality education. Stay tuned for one of her future workshops.
FOUNDER AND CEO, TAI ABRAMS...
...shares more about the benefits of participating in her high school preparation program. Also, meet Jabari Legerton, a member of AdmissionSquad's class of 2017 who will be attending Stuyvesant High School starting Fall 2017.
Here is the write-up from News 12.
Graduation held for students moving on to city’s top high schools
A nonprofit organization is celebrating the lives of some young adults whose lives it haschanged.
AdmissionSquad is an organization that helps students prepare for exams that allow them to get into top high schools and follow the path toward their dreams.
Thirty students are graduating from the program and moving on to New York City’s most elite high schools like Stuyvesant High School, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, Brooklyn Tech and more.
Several students are also receiving scholarships to have the opportunity to attend the program next year.
The graduation ceremony focuses on celebrating the students and their accomplishments before they move on to the next step in their lives.
AdmissionSquad is not just exam prep, though. Students are also given mentors who went to the city’s top schools to provide them with insight from their own experiences.
Cecily Robinson teaches two different groups of students in two different academic settings.
She teaches primarily black and Latino students she teaches at a charter school in the Bronx during the academic year and primarily Asian students at an enrichment center, A+ Academy, during the summer. Robinson has found that there’s a huge divide when it comes to information about the test that determines admission to specialized high schools — and that it seems to fall along racial lines.
“Students here, they already know what specialized high school they want to go to. It’s like no option — it’s like my sister went to this specialized high school, my cousin,” Robinson said. “They have examples of who went there.”
That isn’t the case among her students in the Bronx.
“Can it be done? Can my kids, and I say my kids, have the same achievements? Yes. But it’s knowing where to start.”
Tai Abrams operates a company called Admission Squad whose mission is to get more African-American raise the low numbers of black students who get into specialized high schools. Abrams credited her alma mater, Bronx Science, with paving the way for her to Duke University and then to Wall Street.
She said specialized high schools were often a ticket to good colleges and careers but she thought not enough black alumni share their experiences with their wider communities.
“Once a family has successfully navigated the process, each family has to find it out for themselves all over again,” she said.
Abrams began offering test prep in 2011 and heard many students tell her they didn’t know about the specialized high school admissions process.
Seven years later, she said, not much has changed.
”‘Oh man, I didn’t know!’ And I’m like how are you guys still not knowing? It doesn’t make sense. It’s all over the news. So there is a gap there.”
The gap extended beyond the disparities in the education system which sees more black students attending lower-performing schools to include what students might face at home, like for example, single-parent homes.
“When you have one person having to go to work, who is that person that’s able to go to PTA meetings, show up in school, get the information needed?” Abrams asked. Unless a grandparent or another adult can step in, single parent families are at a disadvantage when it comes to navigating the complex process of high school admissions, which can require not just tests but also school tours, auditions and interviews.
Abrams said most of the students in Admission Squad’s summer program came from two-parent homes.
“If it wasn’t for having a dual-income household, I would not be able to afford it at all,” said Auressa Simmons who enrolled her daughter Anaiyah.
On top of the tuition for the summer program, she and her husband pay for a van share that takes Anaiyah to her summer classes.
In contrast, Melissa Doyle is just tuning into the high-school admissions process for her eighth-grade son. She attended a recent session in the Bronx about the specialized high schools.
“I didn’t even know that they had to take the, what is it, the S-H-S-A-T test,” Doyle said. If her son decides to take the entrance exam in October, he’ll be competing against students who spent years preparing for it.
Additional Mentions in the News
Specialized High Schools: How access to advanced education heightens social division: Melody Jiang