For the first time, Philadelphia’s high school selection application — used by about 60 percent of district students to apply to up to five schools outside their neighborhoods — is entirely online.
It’s a matter of convenience — for the district and the students, according to Karyn Lynch, director of student services district.
The process makes things easier on the district by cutting out time-consuming data entry, she said, adding that parents can access the application on smartphones or other mobile devices.
And it appears to be working. A few hours before Friday’s final deadline, Lynch said, “Early indication is that there are more applications than last year.”
Lynch added that the time-saving changes also will allow students to know where they’re going to school next year, before this school year ends.
Signing up across the digital divide
A potential drawback to the switch to online applications is the “digital divide,” or the gap between those with Internet access and computer proficiency, and those without.
In an effort to address that discrepancy, the district partnered with Great Philly Schools and the Free Library of Philadelphia to host an event earlier this week to offer assistance for families with last-minute questions.
About 50 people got help from volunteers at eight library branches across the city. They included Betty Brown, who wasn’t quite sure whether she’d submitted the online high school application for her daughter, China, 14, correctly. Some schools also opened up their computer labs for parents to sign up and provided additional assistance.
Margarita Abuwadeh, a bilingual counselor assistant, helped Brown with her questions. Abuwadeh works in three schools in North Philadelphia and said she had seen “a lot of parents take days off from work” to come to schools for help with the application.
But, she said, the process itself is quick. “As long as you have your child’s ID number and password … it takes only five minutes,” she said.
And she supports another aspect of the online application: access. The application software, called Parent Portal, plugs parents into a system to view their kids’ school performance online. This makes information “easier for many people to see than it is on paper,” said Abuwadeh.
Schools will conduct interviews and auditions in January and February and give applicants a decision in March. Students not accepted in by any of the citywide or special admissions schools can still enroll in their neighborhood schools.