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.
Eight Harlem Academy students earned full scholarships to attend summer programs for gifted students at Exeter, Vassar, and Yale.
This past summer, eight of our middle school students accepted full scholarships to attend academic programs for gifted students at Phillips Exeter Academy, Vassar College, and Yale University. These highly selective opportunities let them sample schedules and a breadth of programming similar to the top schools they will apply to in the next few years.
Malik, A.J., and Manny (grade six) and Mikaella (grade seven) all attended the Summer Institute for the Gifted at Vassar. Miles (grade eight) attended the same program at Yale. All five of them spent three weeks on these renowned campuses, working on accelerated academic work with students from all over the world.
A.J. said, “I loved Vassar! It was the longest I had ever been away from home, but that didn’t really bother me. I got to experience living in a dorm for three weeks and I met kids from places like China, Japan, Ghana, Kenya, and South Korea. My favorite classes were legal debate and crime literature. In one class we learned about how criminal court works and in the other we learned about how to be a detective.”
In addition, three eighth graders, Yarelis, Taneyah, and Alvin, attended Access Exeter, a month-long summer boarding program at Phillips Exeter Academy. Traditionally only two scholarships are given to Harlem Academy students, but, based on the strength of these students, Exeter made an exception this year and admitted three. Living and working with students from across the U.S. and around the world, each student took courses, prepared classroom presentations, and enjoyed the school’s rigor and opportunities.
Yarelis wrote, “I have just been so busy having a lot of meetings and classes, but most of all I've been having a lot of fun. Currently I have been taking classes in crime literature, forensic science, and digital photography. I am also a part of a soccer elective which is pretty fun.”
We are proud of these students. Their hard work earned them opportunities to learn at some of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the country. Their families share our enthusiasm for their success. After dropping Taneyah off at Exeter, her mother sent us a message.
“As a parent, I view this as a once in a lifetime opportunity for Taneyah. Coming to Harlem Academy has changed her in so many ways and has given her so many great opportunities that I’m speechless. Every parent wants their child to get the best education, so this is an honor for my daughter to go to one of the top boarding schools in the country. Although this program is just for the summer, it will give her a chance to know exactly what she is looking for when applying to boarding schools. Taneyah has come out of her shell and is taking challenges head on and embracing them. I couldn’t be more proud.”