When it came time to choose a Baltimore City high school last year, Angie Castro explored her options. Teachers and guidance counselors introduced each school, and she researched them online, too.
One stood out to Castro, an eighth grader at Holabird Academy at the time: Digital Harbor High School.
Castro said she was drawn to the school’s courses in engineering, a field that appealed to her after being exposed to her parents’ construction work.
“So when I got older and was told there could be a school where you could take such stuff, I picked it,” Castro said.
She ranked it at the top of her school choice list.
Now a ninth grader at Digital Harbor, Castro’s favorite classes are biology and computer science.
“I’m glad I picked here,” she said.
Every year, eighth graders and some fifth graders can choose the Baltimore City middle and high schools they want to attend. While some schools have separate processes or criteria, many require students to submit a Choice application to be considered — and to rank their top choices.
On Dec. 3, Baltimore City Public Schools will host a School Choice Fair to help students and families navigate those choices and to decide which schools are right for them, said Dominick Bivens, a staff associate who serves as district lead for school choice.
It’s important to give families multiple access points for information, Bivens said.
“We want families, when they are choosing their middle or high school, to think about what their child’s interests and goals and passions are, and to match them to the schools that offer those things that students are interested in,” Bivens said.
The fair will be in-person for the first time in two school years, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Baltimore Convention Center. In the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years, the district posted the information online, with videos available to help students and families learn about different schools.
This year, Bivens said around 60 schools will have booths at the event, where families can talk to representatives and some students about what each school offers. There will also be a virtual option for families that cannot attend in person, said Tina Hike-Hubbard, the school district’s chief of communications, engagement and enrollment.
Students and families will also be able to learn about extracurricular programs, Hike-Hubbard said. “Like City College, which is known for their International Baccalaureate program, also has an amazing choir, for example, that students may not know about if they hadn’t come to the fair,” she said.
At one booth, families will also be able to find their child’s composite score, which is calculated using grades and standardized test scores, according to the school district’s website.
For students applying to schools with entrance criteria, such as Baltimore City College or Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, composite scores are considered along with student preferences, Hike-Hubbard said.
Students can rank up to five schools in order on their Choice application, Bivens said.
On average, around 5,000 eighth graders go through the school choice process to choose a high school each year, and around 1,000 to 1,500 fifth graders go through the school choice process to choose a middle school, Bivens said.
Students who apply to charter schools go through a separate process.
When the event was held in person, Hike-Hubbard said, an average of around 3,000 people came through the fair. By comparison, last year’s School Choice website was accessed about 1,600 times.
Attendees will also get to see a variety of school performances, including Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School’s drum line and Patterson High School’s marching band. The Baltimore Design School will put on a fashion show, Bivens said.
Hike-Hubbard encourages families to attend, even those who have younger children and won’t yet have to go through the school choice process this year.
“When you come to the Choice Fair, you get to see City Schools at its finest. You get to see all of the amazing things that our students do, and what our schools have to offer,” she said.