There Is A School In Spanish Harlem

Paris Hilton, left, is greeted by fans as she leaves the Century Regional Detention Center after serving her prison sentence for driving on a suspended license Tuesday, June 26, 2007, in Lynwood, Calif.
AP Photo/Gus Ruelas
Jaylyn Morris will begin attending Ithaca College later this summer, on a full scholarship. In fact, her whole graduating class of 32 were all admitted to four-year colleges, an extraordinary record for a New York City public school, especially one from Spanish Harlem, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

Says Jaylyn, "Being in a small environment (with fewer students and more teachers)…there's there’s teachers there, always willing to help at all times, so that’s really helpful."

That's not the only thing that sets Jaylyn's school apart from most New York City public schools. Founders, five years ago, wanted to make it small, with just over 300 students – college-oriented and just for girls.

"Single-sex education was an opportunity that was available to girls in affluent communities in parochial communities or Yeshiva communities, but not for kids in the inner city," says Ann Tisch, a school founder, "and I thought that was important to offer inner-city students and parents that choice."

Says principal Judith Scott, "The message here is that it’s cool to be smart, and that we’ll help you be smart, and that being smart and doing well in school is not something you’re born with; it’s something that everybody works towards."

It was just what Jaylyn and her mother were looking for.

Says Jaylyn, "I think it is helpful if it’s an all-girl environment, because you don’t have that fear of. 'If I say something, will he make fun of me?' or something like that."

Adds Vergina Sims, Jaylyn's mother, "I didn’t want her to fall between the cracks. I didn’t want her to be around children who were misbehaving and making it very difficult for those who wanted to learn, and I know Jaylyn was always very studious."

What do you think of single-sex schools?

Like most of the graduates, Monica Diaz will be the first in her family to go to college.

Recalls Monica, "I had a lot of problems with the boys in my other public school and that really attracted me to this school."

Says her mother, Veronica Diaz, "I didn’t think the public school had what it took to offer her a chance. But the all-girls school did it, and they did it for a lot of girls. They made it possible."

Despite its impressive record, the young women’s leadership school has its critics. Three New York civil rights groups filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education against the school when it opened.

Ironically, one of those groups was the New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

"It violates New York City law. It violates Title IX, and it violates the 14th amendment to the Contitution. And that was our complaint then, and it’s still the case," says Nancy Millar of New York NOW. "We, as taxpayers, have to decide whether we want to endorse segregation and endorse separating boys and girls."

The Department of Education has yet to act on the complaint, and the school recently found a new champion. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton just introduced an amendment to allow funding of more single-sex schools, citing the Harlem school's success.

"In our amendment," says Clinton, "we say there have to be guidelines. This cannot be a blank check to go back to segregation of any sort. We encourage people to open schools for both boys and girls, if they think that would meet a need in their community."

As the young women in New York prepare for graduation, another girls-only school is getting under way in Chicago, riding on the coattails of some rare good news from Spanish Harlem.

"I feel ready for college," says Jaylyn Morris. "I'm not really worried. I know it’s going to be hard, but I just feel well prepared, and I’m ready, and that’s, maybe, part of the school preparing us so well."

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