When you first see Quevaughn Caruth, the first thing that comes to mind is that he is a bright high school senior with the determination, drive and intelligence to make it in life.

But despite these qualities, his life’s journey has not been as easy as one would think at first glance.

Caruth is one of the hundreds of thousands of Black male youth in the New York City public school system who have been written off or deemed unworthy when it comes to higher education.

Getting derailed can be easy. Sometimes it can be a teacher who kills confidence. Sometimes it can be getting caught up in some aspect of street life, and in some cases it can be a sloppy guidance counselor who, instead of inspiring a kid to pursue the highest level of their dreams and potential, pushes them in an unfortunate direction.

There are, of course, systemic issues. Earlier this year, a report from the New York State Education Department revealed that only 21 percent of high school students who graduated last year in New York City were deemed college-ready based on math and English test scores. Only 13 percent of Black students were deemed college-ready.

In a recent interview with the Amsterdam News, the fairly recently appointed State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King said that college-readiness comes back to teaching and learning. He admitted that many low-performing schools don’t have the support or tools that students need, but it’s important to keep them on track despite the challenges and pressures facing students outside the classroom.

King said, “You need teachers who are able to inspire, engage, challenge and support. That can be a difficult mix of skills. The focus on quality teaching and creating quality learning environments is at the core.” And this fall, King laid out education reforms that were adopted by the New York State Board of Regents that will hopefully help make high school graduates in New York college- and career-ready.

Which brings us back to Caruth. He was never enrolled in an advanced placement (AP) class, an experience increasingly seen as necessary to prepare one for admission and success in college. But he remains determined to succeed when it comes to his college dreams. He is an exceptional young man.

A native of the Bronx, Caruth said that he had aspirations to go to college from his earliest childhood. Living in a single-parent home, raised by his mother, Caruth saw his older brother drop out of high school but later earn his GED. And his world was rocked in 2009, when, while in his sophomore year in high school, his brother had a mental breakdown. His family life became more chaotic, and his grades went with the complications.

“I got distracted by so many things going on at home,” he said. “I didn’t feel like there was going to be a future. School wasn’t paying for me to be there and school wasn’t helping me with my family. I was so distracted about what I should do. I wasn’t focused on my future and whether there was going to be a tomorrow.”

The following year, his brother regained his health and Caruth was back on track making good grades again. He did so well that he became a top student in his class. But again his family life intervened when tragedy struck the summer before his junior year and his mother fell and became paralyzed. Caruth was again taken away from his studies to tend to issues happening in his life outside of the classroom.

As his senior year drew closer, it was time to think about what he wanted to do with his future. Caruth said that college was not discussed with him until nearly the end of his high school career. He was not aware that when his grades slipped in the past, it would affect his transcript and his potential educational opportunities. Caruth said that many students and families like his are confused about the college process, and that no one at school took the time to talk about it.

“They did not take the time it explain to us,” he said. “They don’t tell you what college is about, and I had to figure it out on my own. A lot of kids are confused about this process. It’s common that kids don’t know what college really is.”

He added that he doesn’t feel his high school fully prepared him for college with a college-ready curriculum. Currently, Caruth is taking an AP English course but no other AP courses, and there was no guidance for him about other crucial classes he should take in order to better prepare for college.

Taking matters into his own hands, Caruth is currently going through the application process to go to St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, where he’s interested in studying liberal arts, medicine or business. He is trying to get into the school through the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), a partnership between the state of New York and its independent colleges and universities that provides economically and educationally disadvantaged residents the possibility of a private college education.

Bill Short, director of HEOP at St. Lawrence University, said that Caruth’s story is all too familiar. He pointed out that many high school students are not getting the information they need to get into college at the right time from counselors-or from anyone at all.

“It’s not something that’s new. There have always been kids who have been overlooked in our school system, who have not been labeled as college material,” Short said. “It gets worse when we see the kinds of cutbacks we’ve seen.”

Short is referring to the budget cuts in public schools that can eliminate college counselors, whose work is then handed to guidance counselors, who sometimes don’t have the expertise to guide students into higher education and get overwhelmed. In addition, discussions about college often don’t happen until the senior year, which is considered too late.

Short said, “Low-income families qualify for the best possible aid. If you want to create a college-going culture in different segments of a population, you have to start by targeting that population.”

College expert Lynn O’Shaughnessy agreed that college counselors in public schools are not experts in the field and don’t know college admission strategies or even about available scholarships. She added that while counselors have master’s degrees, many graduate schools don’t offer any courses on college counseling.

“Consequently, the majority of counselors arrive at high schools ignorant about critical college issues, even though for many families, a bachelor’s degree represents the second biggest expense they will ever face. In my opinion, this is truly scandalous,” O’Shaughnessy said.