FRESH MEADOWS — Payton Buchanan considers St. Francis Preparatory School his second home. “I can say that I feel more than comfortable here,” said the 17-year-old senior.
The African American teen says he has never felt out of place at St. Francis Prep, where he’s a running back on the football team and runs the 400-meter hurdles for the track team.
“We are all the same here. We are all treated with respect,” he added.
Buchanan’s experience is not unique, according to school officials, who consider St. Francis Prep to be a melting pot where respect for all races and ethnicities is a hallmark.
The current student enrollment at St. Francis Prep is 2,449 and boasts a mixture of different races and ethnicities. Here is the breakdown: white (39%), Hispanic (27%) Asian (18%), and African American (16%).
By contrast, the lack of diversity in New York City’s elite public schools is more than just a topic of discussion. There is statistical evidence that elite schools have few Hispanic and black students, despite the fact that students from those two groups make up the majority of public school students overall.
According to figures from the Department of Education, only 10% of the seats in elite high schools this term were offered to Hispanic and black students, while at the same time students from those two groups make up 64% of the overall population in public schools.
A stark example of this could be found at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, one of the city’s most selective high schools. Only 7 of the 762 students who were offered seats at Stuyvesant this term were black, and only 20 were Latino.
At St. Francis Prep, the racial and ethnic mix is so prevalent, it’s no big deal to students. The school also boasts a strong academic reputation. Ninety-nine percent of its students graduate in four years and go on to college.
St. Francis Prep prides itself on its diversity, said Brother Leonard Conway, OSF, the school’s president. “It ties so well into our school’s mission statement,” he explained.
That mission statement reads in part, “St. Francis Prep is a Catholic, Franciscan college preparatory school where we treat all of Creation with dignity and respect.”
Lisa Schaefer, a St. Francis Prep alum (Class of 1987) and the school’s admissions director, said exposing students to cultures outside of their own benefits them in the long run. “It definitely prepares them for life,” she explained.
And whatever differences students may have in their backgrounds, they do have one important thing in common. “We are all living with God and God is here present in our building,” Schaefer said.
While its enrollment is diverse, St. Francis Prep doesn’t actively recruit students based on race or ethnicity, Schafer explained. She said that the diversity found in its classrooms is simply a byproduct of the school’s location — Queens.
“It’s a perfect representation, I believe, of Queens,” she explained, referring to the borough’s reputation as one of the most racially and ethnically diverse counties in the country.
But word of mouth is also a factor. Payton Buchanan’s older brother Gavin attended St. Francis Prep and when Payton was looking at high schools, he chose his brother’s alma mater because of all the good things he said about it.
Iyanna Singh, a junior, loves one of the school’s most popular traditions — International Night — an event held each spring in which students of different nationalities sing and dance to music from their heritage countries and dishes from all over the world are served.
“It gives you the chance to learn new languages and about other people’s cultures,” said Singh, who is half Ghanaian and half Trinidadian.
Not only is there diversity in the classroom, it’s also reflected on the rosters of the school’s sports teams.
The football team, for example, has “a real nice mix of races and nationalities,” Buchanan said. Singh, a sprinter on the girl’s track team, agreed. “There is no sense of being different or separate. We’re one team,” Singh said.
The school’s diverse make-up also prepares students to face a multiracial world, said junior Charlie Vallone, who is half Armenian and half Italian.
“Definitely, when you go out into the working world, you’re going to be working with all sorts of people. It’s good to learn that early in life,” he added.