A Graduate Center, CUNY Report Highlights Alternative Transfer Schools as a Critical Resource for Youth in New York City

October 14, 2020

"And Still They Rise" report reflects student views affirming the value of New York City transfer schools often overlooked and underappreciated by policymakers.

"And Still They Rise," a report from the Public Science Project at The Graduate Center, CUNY
"And Still They Rise," a report from the Public Science Project at The Graduate Center, CUNY

study of students at New York City’s alternative transfer high schools highlights the vibrant dedication, desire, education, struggles, and hopes of New York City youth. The report, “And Still They Rise: Lessons from Students in New York City’s Alternative Transfer High Schools,” sheds light on the gifts and educational dreams of transfer school students who have been underserved and failed by the school system in the past, and it highlights how much these young people hope to succeed in high school and beyond and how much they value rich relations with transfer school educators and counselors.

The Public Science Project at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York conducted a secondary analysis of 842 survey responses from alternative transfer high school students about their educational experiences, collected as part of the Transfer School Discovery Project facilitated by Eskolta School Research and Design. The student responses enabled the report authors to conclude that four non-negotiable elements are of critical importance to alternative transfer school students: 1) opportunities and resources aligned with student needs; 2) building school cultures of care and compassion; 3) high expectations attuned to students’ needs and supports; and 4) building an ecology of personal and collective responsibility.

"‘And Still They Rise’ is the first systematic analysis of transfer schools in New York City,” said Michelle Fine, distinguished professor at The Graduate Center and co-founder of the Public Science Project. “These students are survivors — seeking an education despite past academic struggles, homelessness, bullying, mental health difficulties, or just the need for more engaged school cultures. These schools are exemplars of excellence and equity, never more needed than today — in times of COVID19 and economic recession," Fine added.

The report emphasizes how important partnerships between transfer schools and community-based organizations are to providing these four non-negotiables, especially relevant in a moment when New York City officials are considering broad budget cuts to programs like Learning to Work, which would make these important partnerships impossible.

The authors also underscore that the young people most affected by the concurrent crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and state and police violence are disproportionately represented in New York City’s transfer schools.

These schools are a critical resource for more than 13,000 youth, particularly youth of color, immigrant youth, those who have experienced homelessness, youth who identify as LGBTQ+, those who struggle with mental health issues, and those with creative minds who couldn’t sit still in traditional schools. Most students in alternative transfer schools have left a previous high school because they stopped out or fell behind in credits. Many are older high school students who have demonstrated enormous resilience despite systemic obstacles of inequity and racism. On average, transfer students disproportionately experience higher economic need and housing instability than their peers at other New York City public high schools. They are also more likely than New York City high school students to be classified by the Department of Education as Black or Hispanic, as English language learners, and in need of special education.

"Transfer schools provide a safe haven for students who were left behind by traditional schools, meaning we fell through the cracks because we didn’t fit the traditional template. We are, like many students, unique, and transfer schools nourish our uniqueness to help us exceed our expectations,” said Cristal Cruz, human rights activist and alumna of Brooklyn Frontiers High School.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations devised through the participatory process with educators, students, alumni, and community partners. The report’s three major recommendations are to:

  • Decouple standardized testing from graduation and expand the portfolio of pathways to attain graduation;

  • Establish a blue-ribbon commission to develop a robust, transparent, and ethical framework for alternative high school accountability that includes various pathways to graduation, drawing upon multiple indicators and outcomes; and

  • Shift resources from policing to nurturing students through funding of transfer students, schools, and their community-based partner organizations.

“This report should be read by everyone who is concerned about education today. It captures the vital — sometimes alternative — pathways to student success that educators and policymakers must support, substantiates the critical role both educators and community-based partners play in student success, and underscores the need to keep these programs funded and functioning,” said Sister Paulette LoMonaco, who is the former executive director of Good Shepherd Services, a community-based transfer school partner, and who has worked closely with transfer school students, educators, and counselors for decades.
Access “And Still They Rise” report: http://publicscienceproject.org/still-they-rise/
About the Public Science Project
The Public Science Project (PSP) grew out of more than a decade’s worth of participatory action research (PAR) at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). First organized as The PAR Collective, PSP researchers began their work as a coalition of activists, researchers, youth, elders, lawyers, prisoners, and educators, launching projects on educational injustice, lives under surveillance, and the collateral damage of mass incarceration. Most of these projects have been situated in schools and/or community-based organizations struggling for quality education, economic opportunities, and human rights. Knowledge-sharing research camps set the stage for most of this work, designed to bring together differently positioned people around a common table to design and implement the research: youth and educators; young people who have been pushed out of schools and mothers organizing for quality education in communities under siege; prisoners, organizers, and academics. Most projects have vibrant advisory boards of youth, community elders, educators and/or activists to shape the work and hold us accountable to the needs and desires of local communities.
 About The Graduate Center of The City University of New York
The Graduate Center, CUNY is a leader in public graduate education devoted to enhancing the public good through pioneering research, serious learning, and reasoned debate. The Graduate Center offers ambitious students more than 40 doctoral and master’s programs of the highest caliber, taught by top faculty from throughout CUNY — the nation’s largest public urban university. Through its nearly 40 centers, institutes, initiatives, and the Advanced Science Research Center, The Graduate Center influences public policy and discourse and shapes innovation. The Graduate Center’s extensive public programs make it a home for culture and conversation.
About Good Shepherd Services:
Good Shepherd Services goes where children, youth, and families face the greatest challenges and provides resources that build on their inherent strengths to help them thrive. Good Shepherd operates over 80 programs, which help nearly 30,000 youth and family members in struggling neighborhoods throughout New York City. All programs are united by a common goal—to create opportunities that help our participants succeed at school, at home, and in their community.

Media Contacts:
Tanya Domi, tdomi@gc.cuny.edu, 646-512-0273
Marisa Rodriguez, mrodriguez@skdknick.com, 956-607-9952