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Pocantico Hills Families Weigh High School Choices

Pocantico Hills eighth graders must decide which high school they want to go to next year by Jan. 18.
Pocantico Hills eighth graders must decide which high school they want to go to next year by Jan. 18. Photo Credit: Flickr user Claire Cook44

POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. – Pocantico Hills eighth-graders face a difficult decision each December: deciding where they want to go to high school.

Unlike most public school districts in Westchester County, the Pocantico Hills Central School District only serves grades K through eight. Students then choose to matriculate to Sleepy Hollow High School, Pleasantville High School or Briarcliff High School after a semester-long search process. Families must make a choice by Jan. 18.

“In a way, it's preparation for the college choice and decision,” Mary Steele said.

Steele lives in Pocantico Hills with her eighth-grade son, Owen, who is one of 44 students who will graduate in June. Owen has looked at each high school, but still hasn't come up with a preference.

“He's guessing what we prefer,” Steele said. “When he came back from each school, he was like 'Wow! I think I could go there!' Each one of the three visits, he changed his mind with each school.”

Guidance counselor James McVeigh says the process is extensive: Principals from each high school present an overview of their school during a Board of Education meeting, the district organizes student half-day and parent night visits to all three high schools, and former Pocantico Hills students host a panel on how they made their choice. The district also schedules shadow days, where undecided students can shadow a high school student to see what a typical day looks like.

Parents attended a special meeting Wednesday night to discuss each high school and the best ways of choosing the right school for their kids.

It looks like this year more families are having a harder time picking a school. McVeigh says more than half of this year's graduating class requested additional visits to the high schools.

Pocantico Hills reaffirmed its three partner schools this year, saying they offered the best opportunities for students after examining schools across the county. Steele said the three schools were very different, but her son found each high school had a particular subject or program that stood out.

Nalband Hussain, a Pocantico Hills parent and Elmsford resident, says his daughter Seher decided on Pleasantville High School because she has friends and family in the district. He compared his two preference schools, Pleasantville and Briarcliff, and found both were the same academically.

“I feel that she made a good decision,” he said. Unlike Steele, Hussain said, the decision wasn't that difficult for his family.

McVeigh says one or two students usually end up at private schools when they graduate. During the past few years, he's seen more students going to Briarcliff or Pleasantville than Sleepy Hollow. That could change this year, he noted, because more kids requested another visit to Sleepy Hollow High School.

“This year's class took a real honest and open mind to the selection process,” he said.

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