DREAM Big: Inside the Program that Prepares Students for the Specialized High School Admission Test

A glimpse into the preparations, aspirations, and reactions that make up the DREAM program.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Stuyvesant opened its doors on Saturday, May 20, to over 200 middle school students currently enrolled in the DREAM program. According to the NYC Department of Education website, “DREAM is a Saturday and summer academic program that prepares eligible seventh-grade New York City public school students to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) in the eighth grade.” The DREAM acronym stands for “Determination, Resiliency, Enthusiasm, Ambition, and Motivation.” Eligibility is based on income, school district, residency in NYC, and New York State Math and ELA sixth grade test scores. Through integration of rigorous academic instruction, test preparation, and mentoring, the DREAM program provides countless students with the opportunity to develop their academic prowess and demonstrate their potential within the specialized high school admissions process.

Each school year, Stuyvesant hosts two standard open houses: one in the fall for eighth-grade students who may be interested in applying and one in the spring for accepted students. These open houses allow students to get a better glimpse into the Stuyvesant community and the unique opportunities that set the school apart from others. However, for the first time in history, Stuyvesant is hosting an open house exclusively dedicated to DREAM program participants.

This open house has fewer attendees—about 200 as opposed to the typical thousand-name visitor list. The attendees are also younger than the typical open house visitors. The DREAM participants are seventh graders who are preparing to take the SHSAT in the fall of their eighth grade school year. For many, the prospect of going into an elite high school is a novelty. As such, one of the main goals for this year’s open house was ensuring comfort and a more intimate experience with the Big Sibs and ARISTA members through a scheduled lunch for the volunteers to dine with DREAM students and their families.  

The event’s main organizers were Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick and school counselor Shakira Rhiman. “What was proposed to us was a grab-and-go… and I thought, ‘well, that is a missed opportunity for building community and [asking] questions, [being] able to be a seventh grader who is eating a sandwich with a tenth or eleventh grader who can be inspired in that moment. [I want them to] be able to make the connection to ‘this can be me in a few years sitting across from me’,” Pedrick said. She added that she wanted to give the DREAM students an opportunity to feel like Stuyvesant students beyond the academics. As such, she invited several Stuyvesant Outlet Showcase dance teams to give short previews of their performances, along with various Stuyvesant clubs, including StuyPulse and the Stuyvesant Theatre Community. 

Pedrick’s efforts were not in vain. “I really felt like we achieved our goal that day when a young man in the program said, ‘I’m never going to miss another Saturday session again!’ And I took it to mean that he is seeing the connection to the hard work and dedication coming into the Saturday program could be a throughline to coming to a school like Stuyvesant,” Pedrick said. 

For every open house, Big Sibs play a prominent role in facilitating the tours for guests. For this open house, there were fewer Big Sibs present, but the same sense of intimacy on tours was maintained. 

Junior Eugene Park, a Big Sib Chair for the 2023-2024 school year, shared her thoughts on the open house. “I really want the volunteers to give their personal experiences about this school. You can just google anything about Stuy and how rigorous it is, but in reality, different from all the stereotypes Stuy faces, Stuy is not just that kind of school. We have so much more than that,” Park said. 

Another Big Sib Chair for the upcoming school year, junior Kyle Hon Chan, outlined his views of the event. “There is a stigma around Stuy about not being diverse and inclusive. I’m proud of Stuyvesant for hosting this to show people that it should be approachable and accessible for every single person in New York,” Chan said.  

It is no secret that Stuyvesant has struggled with racial diversity. With only 11 Black students and 23 Latinx students accepted in the 2022 admission cycle, these statistics are discouraging for students of color and may even prevent them from applying. With continued partnership with programs like DREAM through open houses and direct communication with faculty, the hope is to not only showcase that Stuyvesant has a strong and welcoming community, but to hopefully improve the disparate acceptance demographics.  

One way that DREAM program administrators hope to appeal to students from underrepresented backgrounds is by making sure a diverse range of Stuyvesant students are represented at the open house. Outside the sixth-floor library, for instance, the Stuyvesant Hispanic Students Association set up a booth where representatives spoke about their experiences at Stuyvesant and the different cultural celebrations that take place throughout the year. 

After the tours, all the cohorts returned to the cafeteria where lunch was served. The catered lunch included cookies, different types of sandwiches, chips, and beverages. Volunteers sat with the visiting students and families, providing a more intimate experience.

Layesvska Moussignac, a seventh-grade student from Kings Collegiate Charter School, said that prior to visiting Stuyvesant, she did not know that it existed, but after visiting the school, she would like to attend. 

Another prospective student shared their perceptions following the open house. “I wanted to go to Brooklyn Tech but now I’m wondering; this is a way better school than you get at Brooklyn Tech,” Success Academy seventh grader Javone Palomino said. 

Students weren’t the only ones who were impressed by the event. Roxanne Nelson, parent of a DREAM program participant, was similarly wooed by the day’s activities. “I loved the tours. What I like the most—what struck me—was the library. I was like okay, if [my daughter] comes here, then she doesn’t have to go to an actual library, she can just come here,” Nelson said. “I really do like it, honestly. I do. I love the programs, the activities, the structure, everything. I was very impressed. It blew me away.” Nelson also shared that she likes how active Stuyvesant students are in the school community because opportunities for social engagement teach kids to be independent and responsible. 

While the open house for the DREAM program is a promising start, one can’t help but wonder if it is enough to solve the prevalent distraught acceptance demographics. Hopefully, by the time the next admissions cycle comes around, the results of the DREAM program will be more visible in the demographic makeup of the class of 2028. Until then, Stuyvesant students and faculty should continue to be aware of the lack of representation in our school community, and seek to be proactive in lessening the barriers to a Stuyvesant education.