Carrying the School Creed Forward: Jose Mencia '14
As a Harlem Academy student, Jose Mencia ’14 wanted to attend boarding school, but his performance in middle school was not quite strong enough to earn a scholarship. He enrolled at a college-prep Catholic high school in the Bronx but refused to give up on his dream. Jose stayed in contact with his mentors at Harlem Academy, found allies to support him at his high school, and worked hard to improve his grades. This fall he earned that scholarship and enrolled at the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. We sat down with Jose to hear his transformational story.
What were your first few years of high school like?
As soon as high school started, I felt like I was ahead of the curve in almost every subject thanks to Harlem Academy. The techniques for analyzing evidence in a piece of text or historical primary documents are some of the most useful skills I learned at Harlem Academy, and they helped me get a great start in high school English and history. My teachers seemed almost shocked that a child like me was able to do that level of analysis. Even though I felt prepared for high school, going to a big Catholic school was a change. At Harlem Academy, teachers always find a way to make their subjects exciting to learn. At my new school, most of the teachers gave lectures and assigned work. I wasn’t used to such a traditional, hands-off type of teaching. The class size was also much bigger. At Harlem Academy, I was able to sit front and center. In high school, I usually ended up in the back of the class and didn’t find it as easy to develop a deep connection with any of my teachers like I did at HA. In some ways I think my first high school experience was a blessing in disguise. I had to really take initiative to make sure I was getting the most out of my education. It meant stumbling and learning to really put the HA creed into action, but it was worth it.
When did you first decide to try to transfer to a new high school?
One weekend, I decided to tag along with my younger brother, Manny, on a Harlem Academy field trip to tour a boarding school. The idea of attending a boarding schoo l was still fresh in my mind, and I felt disappointed with myself that I didn’t pursue this opportunity when I first had the chance. Mr. Dotoli could tell I was feeling disappointed, so while walking around the campus, we had a long conversation about what it would take for me to transfer to a boarding school. We discussed the school creed, especially the lines, I learn from my mistakes and I don’t give up. This helped me realize that with hard work and determination, I still might be able to accomplish my goal of getting into a great school and that it was certainly worth trying. I knew that I could find some support at my high school but that I could also turn to Harlem Academy for help. My teachers at HA really care about me and want me to be the best person I can possibly be. Ms. Weintraub especially has always helped me whenever I’ve struggled with my school work, and I knew I was going to need her help to improve in math. It means a lot to this day that she’s always there for me.
What challenges do you anticipate facing at Canterbury?
I’m worried about missing my family, especially Manny. The longest I’ve ever been away from home was a week for a baseball tournament. I felt homesick after only four days! I think in these moments the line from HA’s creed, I seek help when I need it will be important. I know I can find other people who are in the same situation and ask them for advice about how to cope with being away from home. This line will also come in when I’m challenged academically, and I’ll need to make the same kind of connections with teachers at Canterbury asI did at HA.
Are there other lines of Harlem Academy’s creed that you will carry with you to your new school?
I think the line of the creed that says, I make the most of each day will be especially important for me at Canterbury. I’m there for two years, so I want to make sure I get the most out of my experience. After I graduated from HA and saw more of the real world, I realized how much the creed can help to live life. It helps you accept others and to be accepted by the people in your community. It also helps you reach for your goals. I’ve internalized the creed into my daily life, and I’m sure I will use many of these lessons at my new school. I honestly believe that if I hadn’t gone to Harlem Academy, I wouldn’t have made the decision to transfer to a boarding school. My experience at HA helped me recognize that I want something better for myself and gave me the support and ambition to achieve my goals.