Managing enrollment season, and finding the best schools

Navigating a large system can be challenging for incoming students, but Boston Public Schools is working to bring light to the process

November 26, 2018

By Juan Cantu, Program Officer, Social Innovation Fund

Enrollment season for Boston Public Schools ramps up each November, as schools welcome parents and students to dozens of School Previews and Showcases across the district.

Welcome written on a chalkboard

For many people who did not grow up in Boston, and even those who did, the process of applying and seeking a school to attend can be overwhelming and mystifying. There are more than 120 schools in the Boston Public Schools district portfolio, including a range of traditional, pilot and Innovation schools. BPS educates more than 55,000 students in the Boston area – nearly ¾ of school-age children in Boston. The families of these students come from a diverse background – from over 139 different countries – and have a variety of needs, with nearly half of students speaking a language other than English at home.

Selecting the right school can feel challenging for both students and parents. As a proud graduate of public schools and a long-time mentor to many students from BPS, I have seen first-hand the critical role parents can play in the school selection process. However, for them to fill that role, the Boston Public Schools district has to be able to give them two things: access and resources. The showcases give parents a chance to see schools, and the district’s school assignment website, DiscoverBPS.org, simplifies and explains the process of registration, allowing families to enter their home address and see the quality of each school their children are eligible to attend.

The Boston Foundation continues to support BPS through our cradle-to-career education strategies. We have helped engage the district to support its efforts with early childhood, helping BPS expand its full-day pre-kindergarten to serve more than 2,500 children today. As students rise through the system, we continue to both support more autonomy and foster more innovation in our schools. Then, as students work toward graduation, TBF has supported efforts to boost BPS’ high school graduation and college enrollment and completion rates, so that the city of Boston can have more home-grown talent in its growing technology, health and business fields. Success Boston—our citywide college completion initiative—has contributed to increasing the college completion rate of BPS graduates from about a third of all first-year college enrollees to more than half.

Success Boston understands that the transition period from senior year in high school to the first year in college is critical to students' persistence in higher ed. To make the transition process smoother, Boston Public Schools and Success Boston partnered to advocate for college enrollment during College Month, where we promote access to resources that help families and students make the best decision for their college future, such as the District-Wide College and Career Fair. The Fair offered the opportunity for students to meet with hundreds of colleges and companies exhibiting their opportunities, in addition to on-site FAFSA and application completion.

Concerted efforts in Success Boston include matching students from all BPS high schools with a coach from one of eight community-based non-profit organizations. We have been proud to support students from marginalized backgrounds: more than 80% of students in Success Boston are black or Latinx, and more than half are first-generation college-goers. As a group, these students representing the fastest-growing demographics, and individually, their success in school completion readily translates to better lives for them and their families. More than two-thirds of all jobs in the city of Boston will require a post-secondary degree by 2020, and now is the time to continue this type of work in the college access and completion space.

The mantra of Success Boston is Getting Ready, Getting In, Getting Through, and Getting Connected. To achieve this, the first step of Getting Ready must be well in place. Success Boston connects students and families to resources for enrollment in the Boston Public Schools – the earlier this process can start, the more effective it will be for all involved. By supporting and taking part in BPS activities like College Month, TBF is working to ensure that no matter which high schools BPS students graduate from, they are well-primed for post-secondary success.