Demographic Disparity: The Effects of Packer’s Growing Selectivity
By Alice Tecotzky and Ella Marriott
Every day, Packer’s Upper School classrooms are filled with 388 unique opinions, its Student Center with 388 different voices, and its hallways with 388 overstuffed backpacks. This year, eager eighth graders vied to be one of those enviable students, with Packer’s Admissions Office receiving 20 more high school applications than there are current high schoolers.
Ms. Sheila Bogan, Director of Middle and Upper School Admissions and Director of Financial Aid, has been working at Packer for eight years; during her time here, the school has become increasingly selective. In 2011, she had only 220 applications to comb through, compared with this year’s 408. Packer offered around 80 of those applicants spots in next year’s freshman class, typically yielding about 50% of their accepted students.
As the number of applicants has changed, so too has the demographics of those students, begging the question of whether Packer itself is changing as a result. According to Ms. Bogan, one of the recent developments precipitated by the expanding applicant pool has been the list of independent high schools with which Packer is associated.
“When I first got here, we crossed over mostly with Berkeley Carroll, Brooklyn Friends School, Poly Prep Country Day School and Friends Seminary, but now we’re crossing over more with Trinity, Dalton, the hill schools, etc.,” she explained. Ms. Bogan attributes the shift not to an institutional change at Packer, but to a difference in the caliber of the students the school is attracting. Just because a student has an impressive transcript, though, does not mean they will automatically be admitted; an essential criterion for acceptance is whether or not a student complements Packer’s identity.
Using accomplished students from more traditional private middle schools as an example, Ms. Bogan said, “There are plenty of kids who come here who get straight A’s, and their test scores are amazing, and their teacher recommendations are great, but we can tell within the first five minutes of meeting them that they aren’t going to be the right fit here. It’s not because they’re wearing a blue blazer, it’s because they fit that blue blazer. That’s not going to work here.”
Despite Packer’s thoughtful admissions process, a number of current students believe that the atmosphere of our school has in fact changed as the applicant pool has grown, with some saying that wealth has become more prominent in the environment.
“I think that Packer is becoming a lot more type A, Wall Street,” said Ari Horwitz (‘21), who has attended Packer since kindergarten. “I can’t really speak to what it used to be, because I didn’t really notice until I reached an age where I noticed people’s wealth more, but I think that Packer has definitely become, over the course of the past four or five years, increasingly wealthy.”
“I think kids are more aware of their wealth, but are still learning the impact that it has on their social interactions,” said a Physical Education Department Head Russell Tombline.
Ms. Bogan explained that finding “middle class families” is a perpetual challenge for the Admissions Office and is an issue that Packer, along with many other independent schools, has and will continue to tackle. A majority of families who are now requesting financial aid are either at the low end of the spectrum, needing only a few thousand dollars, or require nearly a full ride; in recent years, Ms. Bogan has noticed that progressively fewer families asking for roughly 50% of tuition are applying. That Packer (as well as many other private school) is struggling to find families in that middle range could perhaps account for some students’ changed perception of the overall level of wealth at our school.
Though many students are cognizant of a shift in affluence, and perhaps even culture, some are unable to determine whether that is a result of a change in their perspective or of tangible differences in the types of students applying and coming to Packer.
“This is maybe a generalization, but I kind of feel like Packer is getting wealthier and wealthier,” said Caroline Seymour (‘20) about her sense of the ways in which Packer has changed since she came in first grade. “I don’t know why and I don’t know if it’s just the vibe…but it seems that way.”
Abe Rothstein (‘21), who came to Packer in fifth grade, was grappling with a similar question, saying, “Clearly times have changed, but I don’t know if it’s just us noticing it more or if that’s the reality.”
While Packer is, according to some, in the midst of a cultural transformation, many are still confident in our school’s ability to remain faithful to its mission statement and Brooklyn roots.
Grace Warner-Haakmat (‘20), who has called Packer her home for the past 13 years, said that “schools have to change, but I feel that the core values and heart, like what you feel when you walk into Packer, ultimately stays the same.”