Skip to content


Who We Are


Navigate the Maze to Achievement, Inc. (NTMA) is a non-profit, educational enrichment program that prepares black students in Brooklyn for the Specialized High School Admissions Test and supports the students socially and academically while in high school. 

NTMA History

In 2010, Allison Shillingford established Navigate the Maze to help dozens of Bedford-Stuyvesant families maneuver through the complex processes required to get their children enrolled in the best independent schools in New York City.  After years of successfully serving Brooklyn families and students, Shillingford changed the focus of the program, and the name and model evolved to Navigate the Maze to Achievement.  NTMA specifically serves academically gifted and talented black students in the NYC public school population who are underrepresented in the NYC specialized high school population.  The program focuses on preparing these students to test into these specialized high schools, close the educational gap, and give them better educational options.  NTMA was launched in Brooklyn and will encompass all five boroughs over the next five years.

Application Process


On a child-by-child basis, NTMA staff will identify and analyze the student’s strengths and challenges on the practice specialized high school admissions test to determine how the program can best benefit them.

Student Interview

This program requires a serious commitment from the students, so it is vital, from the start, that they dedicate themselves to the work required in order get the most out of the program.

Parent Interview

Parent Interview–Parent support is equally important to the success of our students. NTMA requires a commitment from the parents to make the program most effective for their students.


NTMA Program

Classes and Daily Schedule

Classes are held on Saturdays during the school year and six weeks during the summer. Subjects that are covered are verbal skills, math problem solving, and test-taking strategies. The verbal component of the test prep focuses on verbal reasoning, grammar, and vocabulary. The math component focuses on algebra, geometry, and advanced arithmetic.

Field Trips

During the 2017 summer session, the students had off-site activities after class. They met and networked with successful black alumni from Brooklyn Technical High School, the Commissioner of Small Business Services, a New York State Supreme Court judge, a documentarian, the Vice President of Communications at MSNBC, and a live event producer who was one of the producers for the Democratic National Convention.

Community Service and Enrichment

Not only were our students being mentored, they were encouraged to be mentors. Each week, they volunteered at Little Sun People, a preschool that has been operating in Brooklyn for 35 years. They played with and read to children 5–9 years of age.

Students also participated in a literacy program that allowed them to engage in deep critical analysis of short stories with a writer.

Building Student and Family Relationships

One of the greatest challenges in getting black students to take the admissions test is their discomfort of being the only black person in a class and not knowing anyone. NTMA’s Big Brother/Big Sister Program will connect existing Navigate the Maze to Achievement students and families with incoming students and families to provide them with encouragement and support.

Admissions and Retention

While in high school our students will be supported both academically and socially through weekly tutoring and monthly workshops. During the summer after their freshman year, they will have PSAT prep to prepare them to take the PSAT their sophomore year. After their sophomore year, they will have summer SAT prep to prepare them for the SAT during their junior year. Additionally, during their junior year, they will begin to work with the NTMA guidance counselor as they prepare to apply to college.


Educational Advocate in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

For more than a decade, Allison Shillingford has dedicated herself to supporting Brooklyn families and students in obtaining quality education. She began as an independent consultant, assisting families during the enrollment process of private schools in NYC. In 2010, she established the company, Navigate the Maze, which was a success in helping dozens of families get into the best independent schools in NYC. The idea behind the development of Navigate the Maze to Achievement began when Shillingford noticed that academically gifted and talented black students were underrepresented in the specialized high school population of NYC. She knew that she wanted to help close that educational gap. And by helping those students pass the admissions tests that could get them enrolled in those schools, they could also have better post-secondary educational options as well. NTMA will focus on getting more black students into some of the best public schools in NYC.

Grounded in Pursuit of New York's Black Education

Allison received her BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and an MA in Oral History from Columbia University where she focused on education and race.  Her thesis, The Death of the Black Independent School—A Look at the Closings of Primary Education Institutions, looks at the black independent elementary schools that were born out of the failure of the Ocean Hill Brownsville controversy and how they are quickly disappearing as an option for black families in central Brooklyn.  This audio documentary examines the importance and the closings of these institutions.