Hunger Games the Reaping or NYC High School Selection Day

It’s not the perfect analogy, of course.

For one thing, in NYC it’s like every kid comes from Districts 1 or 2 and therefore enters the Games voluntarily, having trained for years via the slightly (but only slightly) less intensive competition to get into the “best” grade schools & middle schools, topped off by up to a year of targeted Test Prep designed to propel them to the Capitol Promised Land of Stuyvesant, Bronx Science or Bard.  (There are others, but those are the three I’ve heard the most about in the past few months.)

So, unlike our hero & heroine from District 12, most NYC kids wait with bated breath for the Reaping, hoping against hope they WILL be chosen.

And of course being chosen – or not – does not constitute a life or death situation.   It just seems that way.

In The Hunger Games, one boy and one girl are chosen to represent each of the twelve Districts.   In NYC, each coveted high school has a limited number of available spaces.  For instance, LaGuardia Performing Arts High School had something like 270 available slots this year with well over 3000 kids vying for them.    Slightly better odds than those in the Districts (or worse, depending on how you look at it), but still cause for much tension in the days leading up to the release of the all important selection letters = Reaping Day.

But let’s leave the Hunger Games analogy behind for a moment.

If you don’t live in the city, you are probably unfamiliar with the whole application/selection process (and even if you do live in the city like we do but are not participating in the madness, you probably don’t really understand how it works).

See, in NYC you can apply to several high schools, naming your top pick first and then listing them in descending order of desirability.  But you have to be careful, because sometimes the order of your choosing can affect your ultimate selection.  If, for instance, you put two so-called “Specialized” high schools in slots #1 and #2 and don’t get selected for #1 you may not be selected by #2 either just because they are miffed that you didn’t put them first.  They aren’t allowed to SAY that’s why you weren’t chosen, of course, but every parent I’ve spoken to mentioned the politics of how you list high school choices.    Also joining the fray are the private high schools, who usually require a non-refundable deposit, i.e. your decision on whether you will attend their school, before the public school selections are announced.

In the city there are Specialized High Schools and Selected High Schools and LaGuardia, which is in a category all by itself.   Some schools look at PSAT’s, others have their own standardized tests and interviews, so the savvy parent gets their kid test prepped for both.  (I say savvy – I should also say the parent who can afford it, which brings up another topic entirely.)

I know none of this information first hand, so I apologize for any errors in explanation.  I’m not writing this to encourage joining the process (just in case my choice of title didn’t tip you off).   My personal bias is that high school is not worth all the “sturm und drang” that surrounds the NYC process.   If your kid has never been to school it is beyond me why their entry into the system would occur in high school.   Especially in New York City.   If you must send them to high school, maybe think about moving to, oh, anywhere but here.    My personal bias also means that I believe there are far better ways to spend the four years between the ages of 13-17 than in a high school, no matter where it is or how “specialized” it might be.  (Nikhil Goyal would back me up on this, I think.)

In Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, I was always fascinated by the tributes from Districts 1 & 2 who wanted to go and fight to the death at 24-1 odds.   Who would do that?  Only a child who’d been raised to think that it was all about glory and achievement and that somehow getting into the Games made you better than everyone else.   Only a child who believed without a doubt that they would be the victor; that for them  participating in the Hunger Games equaled success.

Which of course is nothing like getting into the best high school.



Addendum:  I know several kids who got into their 1st choice of high schools and received the news yesterday.  They were thrilled and I am happy that they are happy.   This post is in no way meant to denigrate them.   My advice to them would be the same as it is to anyone; follow your passions.  If you can do that in the high school of your choice, by all means, do so.  If you can go to school and make the adjustments needed to have a fulfilling experience, go for it.

Just remember, high school is not the rest of your life.


4 comments on “Hunger Games the Reaping or NYC High School Selection Day

  1. Laurie says:

    This reminds me of when my now grown son, lonely in the early years of homeschooling (about 15 years ago), applied to city high schools. He got into Art & Design and Bronx Science, and then he heard stories of extreme violence – not inside the schools but outside at dismissal time. The news reports never related the incidents to the schools, but we heard from the teachers’ grapevine and knew that these were students who were in gangs. My son was told by a teacher that he could get through high school safely if he stayed out of the cafeteria and walked to the next bus or subway stop, away from where most of the kids would be. He had just spent one year trying out public middle school, as he said, “spending the entire year looking over my shoulder. Why would I want to live like that?” That was the moment he chose to homeschool for high school. I have to say that the next four years were among the best in any kid’s life. He spent his time wisely, designing costumes, reading and directing plays, making masks, and more.

    • Amy says:

      Laurie, I had no idea that was your son’s experience! That’s incredible. Maybe that’s why the police presence around LaGuardia and MLK (which as you probably know sit adjacent to each other) is so high when school let’s out…


  2. Cindy says:

    Very interesting, Amy. I know some may feel it’s harsh to make the comparison between your city’s selection process and the Hunger Games, but if one can step back, or be on the outside looking in, like me, it’s not far off the mark. We just refuse to see the connection because we’re in it.

    We do the same with anything historical, and say, we’re not the same. But there are many similarities, thus, the saying, “If we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.” Have you ever noticed that history repeats itself?

  3. Same thing happens here in Boston, on a smaller scale. Everybody wants to get into Boston Latin (public) or one of a handful of nearby private or parochial high schools (Ursuline Academy, Newton Country Day School, etc.)

    There’s a particularly unpleasant, 4H-project-like energy to some of the homeschooling parents I know who eschew public school until it comes time for the entrance exams.

    The parents who’ve battled their way through the public school system from Day 1 all seem to breathe a sigh of relief when their kid gets accepted to an exam school, but from what I’ve heard from friends and neighbors, that’s when the nightmares begin.

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