Innovative Brooklyn School Struggles to Enroll More Girls

By Meredith Hoffman on February 9, 2012 7:13am 

WILLIAMSBURG — To student Jeremy Oquendo, the meager number of girls at Frances Perkins Academy is an academic blessing.

"When classes are equally girls and boys, it's distracting," said the high school senior, who attends the innovative public school at 50 Bedford Ave., which counts only a quarter of its students as girls. "It helps boys focus."

While Oquendo may appreciate the lopsided numbers, principal Jocelyn Santana isn't satisfied.

She is struggling to recruit more girls, hoping females can benefit from the academy’s rare integrative model, in which most students spend two days a week in real-world internships.

"Mothers are apprehensive about sending their girls here, when they come to orientation and see all the boys," Santana acknowledged.

Last school year, only 40 of the school's 172 students were girls.

At this year’s open houses, Santana said she plans to highlight placements that might appeal more to females, including jobs in the fashion industry, at day-care centers and in women-run law practices.

The school, founded in 2008, is part of the Big Picture Network, which also includes the Bronx Guild High School and focuses on practice-based learning. Oquendo, for example, did his internship at the Army Recruiting Center — he has since decided to enlist — but there are many other job options at theaters, gyms and museums.

Santana and the school’s internship coordinator, Naya T. Johnson, attribute the gender imbalance to Frances Perkins’ location inside a predominantly male school, the 881-student Automotive High School, which is known for its mechanics training. Automotive enrolled 691 males and just 32 females during the 2010-11 academic year.

"It’s like when you go to one restaurant with two people and see 15 in another," said Johnson. "It doesn’t mean one’s any better than the other — people have to catch onto the fact that girls are here."

Frances Perkins does not even have its own floor, instead sharing two floors with Automotive.

"Auto boys come to our floors to look at the girls," said Santana, adding that no negative incidents had occurred. "Thank God we haven’t had a love triangle."