Wilson Senior Jaquan McCullough has a GPA of well over 3. His SATs are good enough and he was recruited by at least one Division one school, but his path to a scholarship was muddied by his first three years of high school at School Without Walls.
"I didn't have A's, B's, C's and D's and things like that. I only had pass and fail," McCullough said.
The NCAA recognizes pass/fail classes as a D. Three years of only D's makes McCullough ineligible to play college sports.
"There is a way that our students are evaluated and it is not through letter grades," said School Without Walls principal Dr. Idonia Owens. "They are not in competition with each other. It is an individual evaluation that is a narrative."
The NCAA allows the athlete's family, the high school and the recruiting college to work together for an alternative academic evaluation. However, McCullough's family began the process last summer and that wasn't enough time.
"I cry sometimes," McCullough said. "It's very emotional knowing that even though I'm out here working hard right now, I still may not be able to attend my division one school and have no debt."
Owens acknowledges that School Without Walls does not prioritize sports the same way many other schools do, but there is no plan for any change to policies regarding the athletic opportunities offered or how students are graded.
"It is not so much up to the school, but it is up to all the parties involved to identify a more appropriate setting if it is identified that what the child is interested in is not offered in this building," Owens said.
Academically, the pass/fail system is no issue. Many School Without Walls graduates have been accepted at prestigious local colleges like the University of Rochester. Yale and Harvard both say their admissions departments can look beyond grades and evaluate each student individually.
McCullough's mother has a simple piece of advice for parents and students considering School Without Walls.
"School Without Walls is a great school," Denitras Carter said. "But, if your child is planning to play any type of sports, do not send them there."
McCullough will attend junior college in Long Island next fall and still has a chance to play D-1 football, but not before spending a few thousand dollars and two years of eligibility.