The Outsiders Guide: A Comprehensive Online Resource for Students of Color in NYC’s Specialized School System
July 27th, 2020
After tutoring local children in the Bronx, Aisha Baiocchi, a rising senior at the High School of American Studies, one of NYC’s nine specialized public schools, was thrilled to learn that a few students had been admitted to competitive schools. That was no small feat. In recent years, New York City residents have protested specialized or otherwise competitive New York City secondary schools for their disappointing lack of racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity––and little in those schools have changed. After Mayor De Blasio’s hollow promises of scrapping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and attempts to “integrate” NYC specialized high schools, New York high schools are still incredibly segregated, with Stuyvesant High School making national news for only accepting 10 Black students into their freshman class last year.
Baiocchi’s sense of accomplishment was quickly replaced with concern for the students she had helped get in. “There was a huge gap between what they needed to know and what they knew, and I had experienced that gap, especially coming into high school,” she says.
She wanted to find a way to support them. Not long after, The Outsiders Guide was born.
Baiocchi partnered with AnnaBelle Medina, also a rising senior at HSAS, to create the Outsiders Guide,a comprehensive roadmap to being successful students (especially for students of color) at extremely competitive New York City high schools, specifically aimed at supporting students of color.
“I had experienced so much difficulty going into HSAS, and I thought I was the only one,” Medina said. “I wanted to contribute to something that would help other students not feel this way.”
From the start, Baiocchi and Medina knew two things: their resource guide would be a website, because they wanted to reach kids from other schools (especially during the pandemic), and it would highlight the experiences and challenges faced by students of color.
Baiocchi started by seeking out her fellow students and finding out what they would have wanted to know when they were coming into high school. “It started with me talking to my friends, and them talking to their friends, and them talking to their friends,” she said.
The site grew from there. Initially, Baiocchi had planned to cover the basics with their guide: how to take notes, how to study for tests, and the importance of extracurriculars, for starters. As Medina and others got involved with the project, though, they contributed additional topics that they had struggled with. “I had basically no idea going into high school that I should be having an internship, or maybe even a job and volunteering,” Medina said.
The Guide now has sections including “Tests,” “Learning,” “Courses,” “Extracurriculars,” “Opportunities,” “Cultural,” “College,” “Blog,” and “News.” Students can peruse the website searching for some specific information––perhaps how to take effective notes, or how to deal with being isolated and stereotyped at school, like in the article “The Angry Latina.” The site accompanies each of its articles with a “personal experience” section, which the site’s creators hope students will utilize: “I would really want students to intertwine [the academic and the personal sections],” Medina said.“A big part of high school is academics, but the way you feel getting through it matters more. I would want [users of the site] to see students who look like them being successful, and maybe that will give them more incentive to do their homework or pull through.”
The site is continuing to grow, with different opportunities, news articles, and words of wisdom being added almost daily. Baiocchi said she hopes that readers “check in regularly on social media, because we put a lot of work into our opportunity and blog posts.” The opportunities are always free or low-cost and the personal experiences are always being updated, she explained, encouraging readers to “keep an eye out for updates that might interest them.”
In the future, Baiocchi and Medina want the Outsiders Guide to reach as many students as possible, in whatever way it can. They plan on translating the guide to other languages which are commonly spoken in the city to make the Guide more accessible to NYC students and parents. They are also already working with some student led groups and organizations on prospective events, which will hopefully be possible soon.
The future of the Guide, however, is ultimately open to new input. Baiocchi and Medina both emphasized that the “Suggestions” page on the website is there for a reason––they want as many students who are interested to offer input and feedback on the website. “If people read it and want to add, they are more than welcome to,” said Baiocchi.
The Outsiders Guide is available at outsidersguide.net.