When she was in elementary school at PS 16 in Williamsburg, Jeanette Garzon Terreros started showing up late for school and missing homework assignments.
As a way to set her straight, Gazon Terreros said her mom decided to enroll her in Uncommon Schools Williamsburg Collegiate, the charter school located in the same building, one floor above PS 16.
“My mom would go early to work and she would see these students with uniforms coming into the school,” Garzon Terreros said. “She investigated and found out it was a charter school.”
By sixth grade, Garzon Terreros was enrolled in Williamsburg Collegiate, part of the high-performing Uncommon Schools charter network, which operates 23 schools in Brooklyn serving 8,100 students.
“I really ended up liking it,” said Garzon Terreros, who moved on to Uncommon Charter High School on Pacific Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant.
Garzon Terreros, who is slated to graduate from Uncommon next month, is grateful to her mom for making the decision, which set her on a path to success. She’s attending Columbia University in the fall on a full scholarship.
On Thursday, Garzon Terreros joined her classmates from the Uncommon High School’s graduating class to celebrate getting into college. The entire class of 114 graduates was accepted to and is enrolling in college.
Uncommon calls the raucous celebration senior signing days. It’s modeled after the signing days high schools typically hold for a senior who has signed to a NCAA Division 1 college on an athletic scholarship.
While one of Uncommon High School’s graduates is attending college on an athletic scholarship, Thursday’s senior signing day was clearly about academic rather than athletic achievement.
Every student was called onto the stage decorated with orange and blue balloons. Three giant screens projected their photos. They strutted across the stage to their song of choice, then stood in front of a mic and announced their choice as they unfurled a t-shirt or a pennant from their college as the audience erupted into cheers.
The level of enthusiasm among the family and underclassman who packed the auditorium remained high throughout the ceremony.
David Berlin, the director of college completion, said the students had sent 1,505 applications to 220 different colleges. Each student was accepted to an average of seven colleges and earned $1.75 million in scholarships and grants.
Of the graduating class, 34 will attend a CUNY school, 36 will attend a SUNY school and 44 will attend private college or a public university in another state. Two students are on their way to the Ivy Leagues.
Garzon Terreros is one of those students. At Columbia, she intends to major in biomedical engineering and biochemistry.
Garzon Terreros said she was first turned on to the sciences at Uncommon Charter High. In the summer during her junior year, her counselor encouraged her to apply for a Hk Maker Lab, an intensive six-week summer program at Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Berlin said at least a third, but as many as a half of the graduates intend to pursue a STEM major in college, an extraordinary outcome for an urban high school. It’s not just luck, though. The school emphasizes STEM education.
Uncommon Charter High School is the only school in New York City to be designated as a distinguished school by Project Lead the Way, a national program designed to increase student participation in Science Technology, Engineering and Math. Only 133 high schools in the nation are distinguished schools.
In order for Uncommon High School to be selected as a distinguished school, it must offer a minimum of three Project Lead the Way courses. Uncommon High School offers Aerospace Engineering, AP Computer Science, and Intro to Engineering Design.
In addition, at least 25 percent of the students must participate in the courses and more than 70 percent of the students must earn proficient or higher on the end-of-course assessments.
Gustavo Eumana, who took all three Project Lead the Way Courses, is headed to Syracuse University College of Engineering.
Eumana, whose parents came from Mexico, said he was always good at math, but didn’t realize his love for engineering until he started taking the engineering courses. He said he plans to major in mechanical engineering.
Kayahma Brown, whose parents came from Jamaica, plans to attend Smith College in the fall to major in computer science. At Uncommon Charter High School, she enrolled in a program known as Script Ed, which helps low income students pursue a career in computer science. She has already had an internship at American Express.
“When I was working at American Express, I didn’t see as many women as men in my department, especially women of color,” she said. “That really pushed me to pursue computer science. I want to be the face that other kids like me in the future would see and they wouldn’t be discouraged.”