Student record

Paterson NJ student accepted to Harvard, extends Ivy League streak

PATERSON — Isabela Gonzalez, a senior at International High School, became the 10th Paterson Public Schools student accepted to an Ivy League college in the past decade with her recent acceptance to the University of Harvard.

“I’ve dreamed of Harvard since I was eight years old,” Gonzalez said in a press release last week. “The campus, the chance to work and study with Nobel laureates, and the many opportunities that come with attending Harvard are some of the reasons I want to attend the school.”

The district celebrated earlier this year when 18-year-old Stefany Morales, also from International High School, was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania.

Local education advocates said it had been rare for Paterson students to enter Ivy League schools in the years before the current streak. The district could not provide any information about her Ivy record prior to 2012.

Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group, said Gonzalez’s success made the town proud.

“It confirms that when our students have the right support and the right resources, they soar,” Grant said. “Let’s continue this journey to ensure that all of Paterson’s children have everything they need to succeed.”

The Ivy League admissions streak contrasts with Paterson’s overall public school academic record. Performance reports released by the state Department of Education showed Paterson significantly below state averages in student test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates.

Longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges said the district should work to increase the number of students it sends to top-notch colleges. “It’s a start,” Hodges said of Ivy’s recent string of acceptances.

Besides Harvard, Paterson’s public schools over the past decade have sent students to Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, Cornell and Penn.

John F. Kennedy High School’s robotics program produced the first wave of Ivy admissions in 2012, 2015, and 2017. But the pace picked up after the city’s school district launched an International Baccalaureate program in 2017. (IB) at the international high school. The district had to go through a rigorous approval process through a prestigious education foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, to gain accreditation for its IB program.

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Irene Sterling, the city’s longtime education advocate, said the IB program has provided Paterson students with the kind of college degree that helps open doors at elite colleges.

“It’s been a big piece of the puzzle,” she said.

Decades ago, schools in Paterson lacked an environment that encouraged students to aim for the best colleges in the country, Sterling said. She said guidance counselors at the time blocked students from applying to prestigious universities, telling them they would fit in better at state colleges.

District officials congratulated Gonzalez on being admitted to Harvard.

“Isabela worked very hard during her years at International High School, and I’m thrilled to see it all pay off with her acceptance to Harvard University,” said Catherine Forfia-Dion, Director of International Highschool. “She has been an extremely active participant in the IHS community, and I look forward to all that she will accomplish at Harvard and beyond.”

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.

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