Radcliffe Saddler: High School, At Last

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SchoolBook reporters spent Thursday morning on campuses that were in the news last year. Here is another in a series of dispatches on how things went on the first day back to school.

Radcliffe Saddler bounded from the basement cafeteria up four flights of stairs with 100 or so of his new classmates, some breathless, most nervous, and emerged into the blue and white hallway of a different world on Thursday morning. At 9:10 a.m. he entered his Algebra II classroom and soon began tackling a word problem, neatly printing familiar formulas into his notebook.

After the tortuous route he had taken from eighth grade just to get into high school, this day turned out to be reassuringly calm for Radcliffe.

He was one of the 8,239 eighth graders who went unmatched in the city’s byzantine high school choice process last March, forcing him and his family to scramble through a supplemental round of choices. After months of anxiety for him and his family, he finally landed at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, a new, career-focused school in partnership with I.B.M, the New York City College of Technology and the City University of New York. It is housed on the third floor of Paul Robeson High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“It’s not like it is on TV, where it’s a party,” Radcliffe said shyly about high school, with his classmates surrounding him. “This is the workplace.”

Outwardly, at least, he had already made the seamless transition from middle to high school. Over the summer Radcliffe, 14, shot up three inches and his voice dropped an octave. He was smartly attired in an argyle sweater, dress jeans and dock shoes for his first day of school, one that is intended to mirror the college experience and gives associate degrees at the end of six years.

“It feels like another opportunity,” he said, smiling after his 90-minute math class, his favorite subject.

That was the theme of the day as the principal, Rashid Davis, heartily welcomed his new students and nine teachers – three of them in their first year -- to the unique academic environment known as P-Tech.

The school had minor first-day jitters. Ms. Davis, who is 40, said the Smart Boards and computers for Power Point were still sitting in a locked classroom (the company that installs them is on a six-week backlog). Jamilah Seifullah told her Algebra II students she was going to “old-school wing it” with chalk and handwritten poster sheets tacked to the blackboard.

Making adjustments, she added, is all part of the real-world experience.

“I’m not as interested in the right answer, but I’m more interested in the process,” said Ms. Seifullah, a sixth-year teacher who previously was a mainframe programmer for Verizon. “What is the thinking behind it?”

In their freshman year, students will only take four classes: math, English, Workplace Learning and Technology. They are co-locating with the Academy of Health Careers inside Paul Robeson High School, which is phasing out. Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg was visiting all three schools on Thursday, the first day for all New York City schools, and complimented Mr. Davis on running a smooth first day.

Mr. Sternberg popped into Radcliffe’s class, and tapped the shoulder of Cierra Copeland, 13, who had already answered two correct questions. “Knock ‘em dead,” he said, and Cierra smiled wanly. She was one of only two girls in the classroom of 23 students; only 33 percent of the incoming class of 119 are female.

Throughout the long math session – which included a pop quiz – Radcliffe bent intently over his graph paper, punched in numbers to his calculator and even stifled a couple of yawns.

He politely asked his teacher about the word problem, showing he had understood her objective: “I don’t disagree,” he said, “but how did you get to that?”

The answer, Radcliffe has learned, is always contained in the path.