A Star Learning Center Student Shines

Crismary Lopez and her tutor Jane O’Connor stand in front of bookshelves at Star Learning Center
Crismary Lopez and her tutor Jane O’Connor at Star Learning Center

With an admission rate of about 4 percent, New York City’s Prep for Prep program is a little more competitive than Harvard and significantly tougher than getting into Yale. But those odds were no match for Star Learning Center 5th grader Crismary Lopez of Washington Heights, who was accepted into the program earlier this year. 

Prep for Prep identifies smart, hard-working African American, Latino and Asian American students with high financial need and supports them to enroll and thrive in leading private schools in the New York City area. The intensive application process started last fall, when Star program staff told Crismary’s mom they believed she was a good candidate.

Crismary sat for a 3 ½ hour exam in February and submitted her report cards and state test scores. Then she faced an interview and a multi-hour IQ test. Out of more than 3,000 5th and 6th grade students, she was one of just 125 offered a spot.

Crismary’s accomplishment is even more notable in light of the tremendous progress she has made. Crismary’s older sister, Argentina, had come to Star for many years, and their mom credited the program with helping her grow as a student. (She graduated in May from CUNY’s Guttman College.)

When Crismary started at Star in 2nd grade, her testing showed she was very strong in math, but needed support with reading and comprehension. She was more than six months below grade level, and often got frustrated because reading was hard for her. 

Crismary was paired with a new volunteer tutor, Jane O’Connor, author of the popular Fancy Nancy children’s books. Jane and Crismary were a perfect match: one eager to teach and the other hungry to learn. Crismary had a lot of great ideas, and Jane helped her develop the tools to express them. They also had a lot of fun. “When we had our break we would play games,” Crismary recalled.

Crismary said Jane has helped her fill in gaps in her learning. “My teachers were really good, but sometimes I wouldn’t really understand a concept and my tutor would explain it more to me and then I would get it,” she said. “Or sometimes if had a hard time pronouncing words I didn’t know, I would learn them.”

As Crismary’s skills began to grow, her confidence and desire to succeed in school kept pace. She started to really shine in English and Language Arts, where her grades rose steadily. As O’Connor wrote in her letter of support: “Somewhere in the middle of third grade and all through fourth grade she became a house on fire. Certain books that we’d tried earlier and put down, she suddenly was gobbling up. Like so many kids, she looked for series — Dear America, The Wimpy Kid and others — so that she had the pleasure of knowing that there was another book to read after she’d finished the one she was reading…” Crismary was no longer a reluctant reader; instead, she began to devour books, and developed a passion for history, social justice and current events. 

Crismary knows that she will be extremely busy with 6th grade and her Prep for Prep classes, where she will do everything from dissecting a frog to reading Great Expectations and building self-empowerment skills. Still, both she and Jane already look forward to working together again in Star’s remote School Year program. Congratulations to Crismary and many thanks to Jane!