Application for the next Navigate cohort are due Jan. 17. Photo: Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

One of the great things about living in New York City is having access to a wide range of programs and activities, especially those that are free or low cost. This includes Navigate the Maze to Achievement, a program that prepares Black and Latino students for New York City specialized and selective high school admissions and supports the students socially and academically while in high school. We had the opportunity to chat with Maze to Achievement’s founder and executive director, Allison Shillingford, about the program, how she is able to tell when a student actually wants to be there, and the role she plays in students’ lives beyond their time with Navigate.

What started with a cohort of 14 students in 2017 is now approaching 200. The program currently operates in Brooklyn and Queens, but is open to students from all over the city thanks to online classes. Both options are very intimate with only five students in online classes and 10 per in-person class.  

So who is eligible to apply? Students need to have an 85 average and at least a 3 on both the ELA and state math test and demonstrate interest in getting into one of the city’s specialized high schools. The program is open specifically to Black and Latino students in an effort to expand educational opportunities. Qualifying students are given a shortened version of an old Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), and those who qualify are interviewed along with their parents. This is when Shillingford determines which students are only there because of their parents. “I’m honest with students and families,” she said. “If you tell me you don’t want to be here, I will tell the parents in a way so that [they] don’t get in trouble.”

Shillingford also wants to make it clear that the program is not free tutoring. It’s rigorous, condensing years of education into 11 months. They also take trips to places like the movies and the park, to help students feel comfortable taking the train. Shillingford also acknowledged that getting into a specialized high school is not the goal for everyone- it’s more important that students are open to different possibilities. Students simply do not know all of the possibilities that are out there. “I’m not here to break down any child — I’m here to build them up,” she told us.  

While Shillingford would love to be able to reach as many students as possible, she enjoys the access that having a smaller program gives her to the participants. The oldest alumni of the program are now sophomores in college and two of them work for the program now. Navigate recently launched a pilot program for third and fourth graders, with the goal of serving as a pipeline into the program  

The next round of classes begin this month and will run through November. The deadline to apply is Jan. 17.  Black and Latino students who have at least an 85 average and have scored at least a 3 on both the ELA and math components of the state test are eligible to apply here

Obviously Navigate can’t reach everyone. So what advice does Shillingford have for parents to help prepare their children for the SHSAT? She wants parents to know that the test is not the enemy, it’s just a way to see where their child is at. She also recommends that children practice taking the old SHSAT tests, which are available online. Shillingford emphasizes just how much is out there for parents to be able to help educate their children beyond what the DOE is doing.  “There’s so many resources out there,” she said. “There’s no reason why they can’t learn.”

Learn more about the program here.

Nicole Perrino is the founder of, a hyperlocal website for Bronx families where she use her influence to celebrate the beauty that the Bronx has to offer. In addition to her role at Bronxmama,...

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