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An Eighth-Grade Sports Encyclopedia Finds Himself Without a High School

Susan Notes:

The way the New York City high school "selection" system operates is horrible, but look what good, supportive teachers Omri has had in middle school. Their willingness to plan lessons that draw on his strengths is impressive.

NOTE: As a reader explains, admissions to the quality public high schools (not including Stuy, Bronx Science, and 3 others) is through a lottery system, similar to the system used to match medical students with a residency. There are not enough seats at e good public schools so the DoE has resorts to this rationing system and they spin it as "choice".

Reader Comment: Reading this from North Carolina, I'm thinking that I should stay away from articles that deal with education in NYC. From pre-K angst regarding school selection to the cruelty of high school acceptances and rejections. And I thought the Hunger Games represented a depressing, dystopian world.

Salt Lake City Reader Comment:


Welcome to the world of outcasts. Of people who aren't quite right, who don't fit in. Be assured this is a good world and most of the really creative people are in it.

Einstein, who didn't talk until he was five.
T.S. Eliot, who wrote a brilliant doctoral dissertation, and refused to defend it.
Sherwood Anderson, a successful businessman, who got up one day, walked out of his office, and never went back.

Chaim Soutine, who lived in poverty so that he could paint what he wanted, sold 40 paintings, now the core of Barnes Collection, ran out his front door in Paris, and used the money to take a cab to the Riviera.

Jack London, the "Boy Socialist of Oakland."
Robert Koch who was spurned by the Berlin Academy and worked as a district medical officer while he developed the theory of disease still used today.
Ernest Hemingway, whose early submissions all came back in the mail.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

by Michael Winerip

When Omri Shefet started at East Side Middle School two years ago, as a sixth grader, he felt quite small. He had learning problems and needed special education services, including speech and physical therapy, as well as extra support in math and English.

He was mainstreamed in regular classes, but in some ways that made things harder. The school is on Manhattanâs well-to-do Upper East Side, serving mostly high-achieving students. They often get top scores of 3 and 4 on the state tests and go on to selective high schools.

The thing Omri is really good at â sports knowledge â doesnât get graded. In the morning, until he has to run out the door at 7:55, he watches âSportsCenterâ on ESPN. When he gets home in the afternoon, he reads Wikipedia to learn about the former greats; he is that rare 13-year-old who knows that Oscar Robertson was âthe Big O.â

Each morning, the principal, David Getz, and the sports-crazy assistant principal, Michael Goldspiel, stand outside the gate welcoming students. Omri was surprised how quickly they knew his name. From little comments they made, he could tell Mr. Goldspiel respected his sports knowledge.

Someone must have told Greg Cesa, the math teacher, because he started giving Omri sports problems to solve: âExplain how the Atlanta Hawks had a winning record and yet had fewer total points for the season than their opponents. Show your work.â

When Omri was cut from the basketball team, Mr. Cesa, the coach, made him the team statistician. For Mr. Cesaâs technology class, Omri prepared a PowerPoint presentation comparing Real Madrid with Barcelona, his favorite soccer team.

He joined the school whiffle ball league. (A home run is over the third-floor windows.)

In elementary school Omri had a few friends. But at East Side? The place is crawling with boys who know their sports â Ben Singer, Jesse Levine, Izzy Skenazy, Jacob Knoll, Jake Stimell, Sam Axel and Miles Patricof to name a few.

Last Tuesday morning, Mr. Goldspiel and Omri were arguing about how long it would take for the Jets to bench Mark Sanchez in favor of Tim Tebow, when Ben Singer came racing up 92nd Street, outraged as usual.

âWhy is the media making such a big deal about a backup quarterback whoâs going to last 10 minutes?â he wanted to know, which really got Omri, Izzy, Jacob Knoll and Mr. Goldspiel going.

That so many people know Omri became important a few weeks ago when the 69,000 eighth graders across the city learned what high schools they had been selected to attend next year. Of the 127 eighth graders at East Side, only five were not picked by any school, and Omri was one of them.

âOmri was up in homeroom crying hysterically, so we brought him downstairs,â Mr. Goldspiel said. âI found him sobbing, sitting on the floor outside the main office waiting for me.â

âI was speechless,â Omri recalled. âEveryone else was saying, âI got in, I got in,â and I just felt dumb and stupid. I had anger in me I never really felt before. I didnât know how to react.â

Mr. Cesa took Omri aside. âWhat about Victor Cruz?â he asked Omri.

Mr. Cesa had a point. No one picked Cruz in the N.F.L. draft, and now heâs a star with the Giants.

âWhat about Jeremy Lin?â Mr. Cesa wanted to know. It was true. Every team had passed over Lin, and now he has his own line of Linsanity T-shirts.

âMichael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team,â Mr. Cesa said. âTheir loss.â

Omri recalled: âMr. Cesa told me, âYouâre still an amazing kid and everything happens for a reason.â I got support from Jacob Knoll, a good friend. He said, âYouâll be fine.â Mr. Cesa and my parents sort of convinced me â everything was O.K. and no matter what, youâre still a great kid â and I know that Iâm a great kid.â

Mr. Getz called Omriâs mother and father, a businessman, who came over in the middle of the day and started preparing for the next round in the high school lottery.

Jessica McInnis, the guidance counselor, thought Frank McCourt High School would be a good match, although things were a little shaky at first. âHe went for a tour and they said they wanted to interview him,â Ms. McInnis said. âHe was thrown off; he thought it was just a tour. Itâs a big school. He saw the metal detectors. He just walked out. He said he couldnât do it.â

Omri confirms this. âI sort of got a panic attack,â he said. âI got confused. I didnât know about the interview. They did something I wasnât aware of.â

But like Carmelo Anthony, after a shaky start, Omriâs back. The second visit went well, he said â plus, Jesse Levine is going, and he likes the Jets, the Yankees, the Rangers and the Boise State football team.

The next round of high school acceptances go out at the end of April. âWe have high hopes for Omri,â Mr. Getz said. âWeâll keep pushing.â

If thereâs one thing Omri has learned in life, itâs to stand up for what you believe. Since fourth grade heâs been a Celtics fan, and he doesnât care what Izzy or Jacob Knoll think. He has five Celtics jerseys and wears his Celtics stocking cap to school even on warm spring days.

He will miss East Side Middle. âIt has some of the greatest teachers Iâve ever seen,â he says.

Asked whether sports was his favorite thing, he got very quiet. âIâm thinking,â he said. âThatâs a big question. Itâs something I enjoy but itâs not like my family, my friends. Sports isnât the only thing I like to do. Iâm thinking if it wasnât for my parents, my friends, I donât know where I would have been.â

E-mail: oneducation@nytimes.com

— Michael Winerip
New York Times



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