LEARNING FROM LERNER: THE DEAN DISCUSSES ADD/DROP
Zoe Chaves ’09
Each semester, BHSEC college students with scheduling problems ranging from the petty to the seemingly catastrophic line the fourth floor, hoping to gain an audience and a signature from Dean Lerner.
“I think virtually every student comes through at some point,” Dean Lerner said, “and that’s good because it gives me a chance to check in with everyone and see what they’re thinking about their classes and what their priorities are.” As students, we have a general idea about what our peers are aiming for when they rearrange their schedules. But what does Dean Lerner make of the process?
“Everything’s very flexible. The limits are how much work you want to put into it and how much hassle you think it’s worth. There’s a whole scale of people being overly ambitious versus too passive in the process; I think that somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot.” For most students, this sweet spot consists of a seventh period free, the “perfect” seminar teacher, and a trademark BHSEC class, such as Johnson’s sought-after Dostoevsky course. However, Dr. Lerner’s definition differs—he doesn’t believe that “anyone is ever in a bad seminar section” and that arranging your schedule with the hope of keeping seventh period free is unrealistic because the school schedules students for a seven-period day.
“There is no such thing as a perfect schedule,” Lerner said, “and that’s a good lesson to learn here.” At most four-year colleges and universities, you have to find the realistic balance between what you want and the practicalities such as time constraints, class sizes, and requirements. In this way, the college-preparatory function of BHSEC extends past the classroom and into the realm of university politics and procedure.
So why does BHSEC utilize an Add/Drop system? Surely it would be easier to fix only those issues that are most dire. “It’s entirely about choice. There’s really no other way to do it with a college curriculum. Some people just got a raw deal, and I like to show them that they don’t have to settle for that.” But do students use this tool to its full potential? In the designing of their schedules, are most students mature? To this Lerner replied, “Most students here approach the process very responsibly.”
THE WINTER ARTS CONGLOMERATE: A REVIEW OF THIS YEAR’S ART SHOW
Craig Gordon ’08
BHSEC’s arts department recently sustained some losses: the old Mr. Weinstein left at the end of last semester, substantially diminishing the breadth of available courses in jazz, music history and recording technology, and Ms. Stubner left during the middle of this semester for a job at the Manhattan School of Music, leaving the Chamber Music and Piano classes in slight disarray.
Despite the hole in faculty and elevator-induced lack of classroom space that dogged the program early in the year, the arts department and participating students have persevered to put on a creative and rewarding end-of-semester showcase.
Every semester the visual arts and music classes put on culminating art displays and performances to show just what they’ve been doing all semester. Regularly performing music groups include choir, solo pianists, chamber ensembles, rock bands and African drum circles; concerts are generally well-attended, with audiences filling most of the auditorium.
Winter ’07 proved no exception. A broad range of musical styles were performed, and although quality and complexity generally varied, there were some particularly memorable performances, including Givi Bashivili’s rendition of a movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique,” the cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” by one of the rock groups and an energetic performance of Telemann’s “Sinfonia” by the chamber ensemble. The choir’s set of jolly holiday jingles, including of course the usual humorous vocal mishaps, really brightened the audience, and the tight rhythms of the drum circles’ sambas were enjoyable as always. The crowd participated enthusiastically with clapping and singing along whenever appropriate, setting a relaxed and genial mood.
The art display, while probably not at the level of your typical Chelsea gallery, showcased a diverse spread of unique talents and perspectives. Including self-portraits, abstract expressionism and rudimentary but revealing sketches, there was something there for just about everyone. One notable piece was a surprisingly effective black-and-white drawing of a milk carton.
The showcase night was undoubtedly a success, in spite of the difficulties the arts department faced all semester. Still, Mr. Peterson harbors still higher expectations of BHSEC’s arts output, and wishes for students to continue pursuing their creative area of interest in order to produce more advanced and complex works. With a diverse offering of arts courses for the spring semester, and a large body of students active in creative pursuits, prospects for the arts department seem bright.
PROFESSOR ROCK STARS? BHSEC FACULTY STRUT THEIR STUFF
Mr. Bally as James “J.Y.” Young of Styx during the faculty Karaoke bonanza held on December 19. Proceeds of the event went to Citta.org, an organization that funds health care, schools and women’s centers in Nepal and India.
BONE PICKING: DID THE BCS SELECTION COMMITTEE GET ANY OF THESE GAMES RIGHT?
Sherman Fabes ’09
Picture this: it’s December 22nd ,school is off for winter break, you plop down in front of the television and peruse the TV guide. (Yes, there are people in BHSEC who watch television, along with reading books.) You realize the only thing on is football and your stuck with these guys running around hitting each other, so you might as well try to catch on. Allow me to impart these precepts few on the scarce winter break bowl games that you might actually want to watch.
Two years ago we saw one of the best college football games ever, Vince Young and his Texas Longhorns taking down the mighty USC Trojans headed by Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Last year, we saw an unstoppable Ohio State team run over by the Florida Gators. This year you’re out of luck: we are going to see LSU pound an average Ohio State team to a pulp.
Naturally, the championship game should be the best overall football game, the showdown between the two best teams, but that didn’t happen this year. The best game will be the Fiesta Bowl, a matchup of Oklahoma, a team that dominated the Big-12 championship game against the top team in the country versus the versatile offense of West Virginia (as long as Pat White is healthy). LSU is going to kill the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes have yet, this year, to beat a team in the top 20. They are a good team at best, not great. This game should have featured the two most talented teams in the country, the Tigers of LSU, who are undefeated in regulation, and the Oklahoma Sooners.
The LSU Tigers have an explosive offense led by Matt Flynn’s passing game and Jacob Hester’s ground attack as well as a dominating defense bulwarked by the Outland, Bronko Nagurski, and Vince Lombardi award winner, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. This team would have matched up perfectly with the Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners are headed by the highest rated quarterback in college football, freshman Sam Bradford. They also display the most dynamic running game in college football with a three running back set, all of whom have at least 500 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns as well as putting out a top notch defense on the field.
The championship game is not the only problem I have this year with the BCSselection committee. Why does a Kansas team receive a BCS bowl game over a team, in Missouri, that beat them two weeks before? The committee got this one wrong. Missouri was the #1 team in the country before Oklahoma beat them in the last week of the season, and they deserved a BCS game for that. They beat Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Texas, and Illinois. Missouri deserves some respect.
The game that a lot of America wanted to see was Missouri and Hawaii. The highlights of this game would have turned the normal half hour Sportscenter into a full hour. Big offenses from two different conferences facing off would have been exciting. Colt Brennan vs. Chase Daniel would be a great match up––big play quarterbacks as well as a rematch of the Big-12 and Western Athletic conference.
The Rose Bowl presents USC and Illinois. WHY? Naturally the Rose Bowl presents teams from the PAC-10 and Big-10 because of ratings, but why this game? It will be, for lack of a better adjective, a rather boring game. USC will walk all over Illinois with the return of John David Booty to quarterback. All the Trojans losses this season came without Booty in the lineup with the exception of one game, where Booty left in the 2nd quarter. The Rose Bowl should instead pit USC against Ohio State. This would be a classic battle, with two legendary teams showing off their talents, all under excellent coaching.
The last problem I have with the selection committee is this: can they let Lloyd Carr go out on top? This legendary coach of one of the most celebrated programs in history is retiring this year, and they could have given Michigan a fair fight. Now Michigan will get clobbered by the Gators. Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow will tear their defense to shreds, so why can’t the BCS selection committee give some respect to this great coach?
I understand that there won’t always be one clear-cut favorite for the championship game, or for any of the BCS bowl games, but the selection committee has to stop being a slave to ratings and should start putting in the teams that are most deserving, the teams that will compete at the highest level against each other..
Anyway, enjoy the Fiesta Bowl.
NI XIANG XUE ZHONG WEN?: THE PROS AND CONS FOR CHINESE MANDARIN
Noa Bendit-Shtull ’10
If Chinese Mandarin seems exotic compared to the other languages offered, your instincts are correct. For me, Chinese was appealing because words are not made up of letters, but of pictorial characters, which are composed of radicals. Some words are a single character, and some words comprise several characters.
These characters turned out to be the most difficult, and also the most rewarding part of learning Chinese. “The hardest thing about Chinese is reading the Chinese characters,” said 10th grader Yahiela Eliakim, “It makes me want to kill myself.”
BHSEC teaches traditional characters, as opposed to the simplified characters that are now used in China. However, this is no object in understanding or speaking Chinese, and once you know traditional characters, simplified writing is not so hard to master.
Memorizing characters can be time consuming, but it is manageable if you are motivated to set aside time for it. Even just pulling out flashcards on the bus or subway will suffice. Depending on your memorization ability, doing Chinese homework and reviewing the characters can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour every night.
10th grader Melanie Cisse agreed that Chinese has its difficulties “but if you’re interested in it, you won’t find it that hard.” Studying Mandarin is challenging, but infinitely rewarding.
The biggest danger in learning Chinese is getting behind on character memorization. The class doesn’t cover chapters at the same speed as other language classes do, and for a good reason. It takes two to three weeks to learn a lesson, including four or five quizzes and an exam on all the material the lesson covers. If you don’t devote time to memorizing the characters, or employ the potent cramming strategy for quizzes, then the final exam can, and will, be a heavy blow.
But Chinese is more satisfying that it would be for me to learn Latin, French, or Spanish. Each new character I memorize, each new dialogue I read, and each entry I write in my Chinese journal is an accomplishment. Chinese definitely has the biggest ‘wow factor’ of any language offered at BHSEC.
There are approximately 1.3 billion Chinese speakers in the world, and Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world, with 850 million speakers. Appropriately dubbed the ‘language of the future,’ Mandarin is forecast to become the most important language in international politics and financial and cultural exchange.
Chinese students at BHSEC are one step ahead of the game.
THE VIA ROMANA: (IT MEANS LATIN)
Sasha Pezenik ’10
When people ask if the rewards of studying Latin are worth the excess of work, it is difficult to know what to say—and it is far from a clear and concise answer. For a language that is usually considered to be ‘dead,’ it is especially high-maintenance, and professors have a reputation for near vampirical grading policies. Nonetheless, I chose Latin, and there is much to be said for the Via Romana.
Besides the often-cited boost Latin gives you on your SATs, Latin somehow turns up in many academic pursuits to lend a helping hand. It ameliorates your rhetorical skills, and should you ever discover a new species you can appropriately dub it with classical nomenclature.
Not only does one gain insight into many English roots with a Latin etymology, Latin students also learn a great amount of Greek and Roman mythology, a perk not present in the other language options at BHSEC, including the myths Echo and Narcissus, Philemon and Baucus, and Atalanta and Hippomenes. It is a pleasure to study when one is set upon a thorough absorption of one of the world’s most influential languages.
A cumulative subject that is quite intricate in form, Latin requires large amounts of attentive study. This has ups and downs—while it is rewarding when studying pays off, the constant memorization can become tiresome. The language is highly inflected, with conjugations for verbs and declensions for nouns, but you emerge not only with Latin under your belt—you’ll have an excellent understanding of English grammar.
In the end, along with a salute to those freshmen who are about to make a huge, life-altering commitment (no pressure there, folks), my condensed advice is as follows: Latin is not a language for the weak of heart, or those lacking in conviction. This is not a warning to take anything but Latin: quite the contrary. If you do choose to embark on the Via Romana, be committed to it—know that this is the language that is right for you.
Will Glovinsky ’08
With around 500 million speakers worldwide—and 1.8 million in New York alone––Spanish has some obvious drawing cards as a foreign language choice at BHSEC. Basic proficiency comes in handy in the Lower East Side and Chile alike, and (fun fact!) it is one of two official languages in New Mexico.
Beyond its appealing practicality, studying Spanish opens up a world of new literature. You will come to realize that Pablo Neruda sounds even sweeter in the original, and that the wonders of magical realism are more marvelous and mystical in the coiling Spanish.
Spanish grammar is relatively similar to English, although relying heavily on verb conjugations rather than pronouns to identify the subject, as well as an involved subjunctive mood. The good news is that nouns are straightforward, with no declensions (those particularly nasty inflections that indicate whether a noun is an object, subject, etc.). The accent is also easier to master than the French one, and native speakers are generally not as snobby while correcting you.
The language is not easy of course, but by Year II (or maybe Year I if you studied Spanish in middle school) you will be ready for elective courses in which you can read the original versions of Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes and others or study Latin American history by reading primary documents. BHSEC’s professors reflect a range of backgrounds, including native and non-native speakers, and have diverse interests, from Iberian medieval grammar and culture to rap.
In order to reach this stage, you’ll have to learn a fair amount of vocabulary and verb tenses, but there are two major benefits that will come to your aide: the seeming omnipresence of cognates and the fact that there will nearly always be a native speaker in the room who can answer your question as long as you’re not in Wyoming.
WHEN SHOULD THE FLEDGLINGS FLY?: IN DEFENSE OF 9TH GRADE LUNCH POLICY
Zina Huxley-Reicher ’09
During the first month and a half of school, the upperclassman invariably stands and watches as some foolhardy ninth grader attempts to escape the yard by climbing over the fence (and perhaps remembers fondly when he did the same). Throughout Bard High School Early College’s existence––albeit a short one––the ninth graders have been required to stay in the building for lunch. The span of this captivity has shortened over the years but nevertheless prevails today. It has been a persistent cause of complaint for class after class of ninth graders. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see the benefits of this forced captivity until safely outside the school during a tenth grade lunch period.
There are, of course, drawbacks to staying in for lunch, but a silver lining lies behind this policy. Most of the ninth grades arrive at BHSEC and do not see many familiar faces, if any at all. It can often be a daunting task to make new friends and settle into a new place. As much as not being allowed out is annoying, it forces the entire grade to be in one place at one time. This creates an amicable environment which can foster grade cohesion, which in turn allows friendships to develop in a timely fashion. Once the mass of ninth graders is allowed out the doors of the school, they scatter in every direction. The L.E.S. is much bigger than the cafeteria; for someone struggling to make friends, this significantly reduces their chances of finding a lunch companion.
Keeping the ninth graders captive during school offers a time for the entire grade to mingle and allows people to become friends with those they might not otherwise encounter. This is important; in a school that prides itself on diversity, in backgrounds as well as in character, it sometimes takes a lot of looking to find people to befriend.
Further, prohibiting ninth graders from outside-lunch is an essential tool to help them adjust to a new school. The length of this sentence is up for discussion but no matter what, must occur. Perhaps this experience would not be the object of so many complaints if the cafeteria were a little more inviting and less odorous place, or even if there were more options for lunchtime destinations. Being forced to stay in the school for lunch, although definitely a necessary experience, gets old fast when the weather is nice, and when your only choice is the cafeteria (or brown bag!). Yet often, when looking back on ninth grade, lunch is spoken of fondly as the place where many acquaintances took root and grew into very close and long lasting relationships. And as we all should know, if you stick a bunch of teenagers together in a confined space they will undoubtedly find someway to have fun. After all, here at BHSEC, we are a creative group of humans.
L.E.T.: LET’S EXCHANGE THOUGHTS
Sarah Marlow ’08 and Melanie Steinhardt ’09
Happy winter break to all! For our third installment of the monthly BHSEC advice column, we’ve got quite a few questions, some a little glum, but we answer them with uncompromising holiday cheer!
Q: I hate all of my friends. What should I do?
A: Get new ones! Join a club! Smarlow and Msteinhardt suggest joining the staff of The Bardvark, but there are always various other groups such as the Dance Dance Revolution Club, the BHSEC Student Activist Network, the Anime Club—and if your problem with your friends is that they just won’t be quiet, we advise joining the Chess Club. Msteinhardt, however, looks to not only her peers for friendship, but also her professors! She spends quite a lot of time in the Foreign Language office.
Q: Why does Search and Research have to close the library every Tuesday 5th period? I know there are empty classrooms. The poster next to the library tells me so!
A: Search and Research actually takes place more than once a week, and it is usually in one of those empty classrooms. However, the computers are essential to the course and there is no other room equipped with enough computers to sustain the students, so Tuesday library sessions will have to be dealt with accordingly.
Q: It feels weird typing this because I feel somewhat embarrassed about my situation. I’m a bisexual person here at BHSEC. I’m attracted to people of the same sex, but I don’t know how I can approach them because I don’t know how they feel about me. Also, I’m a closet bisexual. Nobody knows that I am bisexual. I can’t even tell my own parents or best friends for fear of rejection. I just feel like screaming to everybody about my bisexuality, yet I can’t because I’m afraid. What can I do?
A: Coming out to friends and family can be a difficult emotional process. You should know that 99% of the BHSEC student population will be behind you on this matter (just look at how many of us participate in the annual Day of Silence!). For a more personal perspective, Year II Bryan Wedeen has enthusiastically offered to help you out. He also went through the internal struggle of coming out to his friends and parents, and will help guide you through everything.
Q: Smarlow, will you marry me?
A: No. My claddagh ring stays on my right hand for a long time to come!
Q:I like this boy. What should I do?
A: We think that holiday cookies are the best way to go. Everyone likes chocolate chip! If you’re a bit more daring, you can slip a note into his binder saying something along the lines of “Smarlow and Msteinhardt said I should slip a note into your binder saying something along the lines of: I like you.”
Q: Some people just pish* me off! How can I get past this?
Step 1: Take a deep breath, and count to ten.
Step 2: Go to the Science office.
Step 3: Ask Dr. Shubert to instruct you in Zen Buddhist meditation.
Listen to The Bangles, or watch Grease.
Remember kids, the holidays are coming up! So email us with any questions about what to do with that lousy gift you received from your great-great-aunt Sally, the art of brewing some good mocha, how to successfully raid a friend’s wardrobe, or anything else you may need. We look forward to our monthly look at the collective consciousness of the BHSEC student body!
Smarlow & Msteinhardt
*The synonym of urine, which functions as both noun and verb, and is like pish but with a final ‘s’, is not allowed on the site (?!), but out of concern for journalistic integrity, we feel compelled to note that the actual question contained the offending word. Happy Hanukkah!
SMALLER CLASSES, BIG CHANGES: SOME FACULTY RESOURCES SWITCHED FROM COLLEFE TO HS
Meena Dieterich ’11
Beginning the first day of spring term, ninth graders will have to adapt to yet another major change, although this time the challenge will not be a new commute, or remembering which staircase leads to the gym and which to the cafeteria.
In order to remedy the problem of unusually large class sizes, there will be extra sections for American Literature, Global Literature, History of the Americas, Global Studies, and Algebra and Geometry 1 & 2. As a result, the administration will reshuffle some 9th and 10th grade students’ classes, and Year I and IIs may find themselves with fewer choices next semester.
The class of 2011 is larger than any previous BHSEC class, and the seven sections of English, History and Math have grown to the large, and often unruly, size of twenty-one or twenty-two students. In addition to the rowdier atmosphere of these large classes, the size significantly increases the teachers’ workloads and limits their ability to spend one-on-one time with students.
By comparison, it is not uncommon for New York public high schools to have 35-40 students per class. However, given the especially demanding transition of 9th grade and the accelerated nature of the BHSEC high school curriculum, many 9th graders need the extra help.
“Ninth graders need more attention,” says Dr. Michael Lerner, Associate Dean of Studies.
There are already eight sections of ninth grade Integrated Physical Science, and Introduction to Languages and the Arts, making these classes smaller and somewhat more controlled. This is the same effect that the administration hopes to achieve by reducing the class sizes in the other subjects.
The plan is to shift resources from small college classes to the high school, decreasing the number of college electives in the process. The affected departments are discussing who will teach certain grades and sections. Dr. Lerner declined to speculate further, saying that if he did there would inevitably be some last minute switch, and people would end up disappointed. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt the program… If we thought it was going to hurt the program, we wouldn’t do it.”
Because the plan calls for larger college classes, there is a certain amount of apprehension and confusion surrounding the rearrangement, which will split up most of the groups who have had all of the same classes this semester. Emma Gerstenzang, a ninth grader, wonders about historical gaps: “What happens if our class is fifty years behind Mr. Bally’s, and some of us end up in his class? Do we just start over at the beginning?”
It is a reasonable concern, as history classes tend to run at different paces and English classes read different books. This is just one of a few kinks that still need to be worked out, and luckily there is still some time left before the changes are implemented; the hope is that everything will run smoothly once they are.
“It’s a lot of work,” says Dr. Lerner, eyeing his master schedule, a list that will have to be entirely reorganized over the next month and a half.
MS. NARDONE USHERS IN NON-COMPETITIVE “FITNESS GRAM” TEST: NO MORE “LAST PICK FOR DODGEBALL”
Mahala Greene ’09
As the semester comes to an end, the usual moans and groans of the impending finals week are heard throughout BHSEC’s hallways. But these exclamations are not confined to the classroom. As gym students wrap up their semester, they too are faced with a test—one against themselves. The new “gym final” is the fitness gram, which measures a student’s progress rather than rank in a gym class.
Since September, a new mentality has taken hold in gym. Ms. Nardone, Mr.Larkin’s successor, has worked hard to create a relaxed, free flowing atmosphere. She has labored to eradicate the “last picked for dodge ball” stigma from physical education by creating choices for games depending on your level of competitiveness. Ideally, Ms Nardone wants her classes to be a place where students can “laugh and have a good time while still learning things.” While she acknowledges that gym cannot replace outside physical activities, she hopes to teach her students valuable lessons that they can use to live healthier lives.
During the semester students learned about the five components of physical fitness (all of which the fitness gram tests): muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, cardio endurance and body compositions. The fitness gram measures whether or not the students fall into a ‘healthy’ zone.
More importantly however, Ms. Nardone stresses improvement. She would like to see her students progressing from only five sit-ups, to seven or eight; or from not being able to do any pushups to three. The approach creates a comfortable environment where abilities are not being harshly judged. Instead of feeling as if they have failed before they tried, less in-shape students are given more positive feedback when they are compared to the only people that matters: themselves.
And students seem to be responding to the changes. “I do like gym,” opines one student emphatically. “I feel that it’s sufficiently challenging and a lot of fun … because we aren’t being asked to do more than what’s possible.”
The new gym environment reflects the ethos of BHSEC—one that does not pit students against each other for a spot on the Dean’s List or valedictorian, but focuses on making the most of every single student.
THE KHALIL GIBRAN ACADEMY CONTROVERSY: LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOL STILL WITHOUT FOUNDING PRINCIPAL
Amani Ahmed ’11
On September 4, 2007, the Khalil Gibran International Academy opened its doors for the first time. The Academy, located in Brooklyn, is the first American public school that focuses on the Arabic language and culture. But the highly anticipated opening arrived amid a scandal.
In August, a month before the school opened, founding principal Debbie Almontaser made remarks to the New York Post concerning a t-shirt that read “Intifada NYC.” Ms. Almontaser explained that the word “intifada,” despite its violent connotations arising from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, literally means “shaking off”—in this case women shaking off oppression. The Post responded with the headline “What’s Arabic for ‘Shut it Down’?” and Ms. Almontaser was forced to resign in order to save her school from being closed.
Ms. Almontaser explains her inspiration for founding Khalil Gibran: “The idea was proposed to me by New Visions for Public School in the spring of 2005 after they were directed to me by people at the Department of Education, the Mayor’s Office and a graduate student at a falafel stand. They were convinced I was the destined one to create such a school. I then asked New Visions to engage the Arab American community about such a school.”
Khalil Gibran is designed to teach Arab history and culture and to give students a “dual language” education in Arabic and English. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also donated funds to BHSEC, sponsored the school. It opened with 55 students for 6th grade, and is anticipated to have 600 students for 6th to 10th grade. According to Ms. Almontaser, “The curriculum is standards-based, one that is being used in other [public] middle schools. The only unique curriculum is the Arabic language curriculum that was created with the help of Michigan State University.”
Khalil Gibran is hardly the first public school with an emphasis on a certain language and culture: many programs exist for Chinese, French, Spanish, Russian, and Greek. Opponents of the school, however, have claimed that Arabic and Arab culture are inherently linked with Islam, despite the fact only a small percentage of Muslims worldwide are Arab. Khalil Gibran himself was a Christian Arab poet.
Debbie Almontaser was born in Yemen and raised in the United States. She has worked in the school system for many years, and is actively involved in many anti-discrimination and anti-defamation groups. She sits on the board of The Dialogue Project, Brooklyn Borough President’s New Diversity Task Force, Muslim Consultative Network, Women In Islam Inc., We Are All Brooklyn Coalition, and Youth Bridge NY.
“I have worked in all areas of education,” says Ms. Almontaser, when asked about her background. “I was a classroom teacher who taught special education, inclusion and then became a teacher trainer in literacy and then conflict resolution and cultural diversity. I have worked with all grade levels.”
Despite all the experience Debbie Almontaser has had, many people do not feel that the Khalil Gibran International Academy is a good school or that she would be a good principal. Ms. Almontaser says that the resignation was not voluntary. “I was forced by the DOE,” she says. Recently, Ms. Almontaser has said that she will file a suit against the DOE for violating her First Amendment rights, although she would drop the suit if reinstated as principal.
Some New Yorkers think that Ms. Almontaser has every right, as an American citizen, to lead a school that is similar to many others in the city. For others, the affair has revealed disturbing anti-Arab sentiments that need to be discussed more openly and understood as signs of serious, deep-rooted prejudice.
ADVISORY MAY SEE MAKEOVER: TWO GROUPS TACKLING THE ISSUE
Elizabeth Vulaj ’08
Nestled between Dean’s Hour and the ordinary mid-week bustle is that fifty-minute block known as Advisory. From activist hour to couch-potato haven, Advisory has been known as something of a mixed bag, and has long provoked mixed feelings from the student body, running from unbridled admiration to utter boredom.
Now, two groups have decided to improve Advisory. One is the Community Council Advisory, made up of faculty, administrators, students and 9th grade guidance counselor Leah Gesoff, was started when Ms. Gesoff noticed the divergent views on advisory in her first month of working at Bard this September and decided to do something about it.
“I saw a huge variation, people who were loving it, and then people who didn’t think it was worthwhile,” she says.
The Council began giving out surveys to students and hired a consultant to help understand the results and debated on what they wanted BHSEC’s future advisories to look like. “I personally want it to become unique to the BHSEC community,” said Ms. Gesoff, “something that came from us and that people feel is worthwhile and enjoyable.”
Another body created to rework Advisory is the Advisory Representative Group, which is comprised of students who plan to meet monthly with teachers to discuss the issue. The current members hope they can gain one representative from each grade and each advisory to ensure the group reflects diverse perspectives. Despite the looming reality that it is impossible to please everyone, Head of Community Council Year II Bryan Wedeen states that “…advisory is in a far better state that we could have ever expected. Teacher buy-in is at an all time high. What we’re lacking now is the student buy-in and to that we are creating an advisory representative group.”
Further complicating the matter is the prevalent debate about whether or not the hour should be devoted to discussing social or academic issues. “You can’t possibly satisfy everyone. You might have people missing out on what other people have…whether it is a social or academic component,” Gesoff states.
While talking about his experience in Dr. Matthews’ advisory, Year I Mubariz Malik said, “In the first week we were sitting around listening to music until we decided we should do something better with our time.” It was then that the group decided to organize a raffle to raise money for Heifer International, a charity that donates animals to poor villages in third-world countries. Malik says that he enjoyed the flexibility and freedom his advisory had, and he didn’t feel it had to be an academic setting to be productive in the hour. “Some people wanted to do writing but if we had that then we couldn’t do cool projects like this,” he said.
Of course, many are happy with their current advisories and resent efforts to change a good thing. This presents yet another issue that the Community Council Advisory and the Advisory Representative Group must grapple with—how much autonomy should be given to advisories so the ones that are working well can stay that way?
A “SMARTER” MATH CLASS?: MATH DEPT. CREATES NEW TRACK CLASS
Amani Ahmed ’11
“I hate the words honor, tracking, or advanced,” says Dean Lerner. He feels these words are not an accurate way to describe the changes that will happen next semester, when there will be one math class in both the ninth and tenth grade that will cover, er, alternative material.
Dr. Lerner said the decision to create a special math class stemmed from reports that a number of students had previously learned material covered in class. “So we are creating different sections to help them, ” he said.
BHSEC has gone back and forth with the contentious issue of “tracking” math classes. Above all the administration wants to ensure that students learn at an appropriate level. In past years, there have been tracked math classes for 9th and 10th graders, but this semester the administration wanted to mix students up. As Dean Lerner put it: “It was an experiment that didn’t work out.”
The solution that staff and faculty have decided on is a balance of tracking and mixed classes: only one class will cover different material, while the majority of students will still be working in mixed groups. The students will be selected for the new class based on the entrance exam and teachers’ recommendations.
Some fear that tracking ninth and tenth graders will create the impression that students are being sorted on smarts, rather than on middle school preparation. Another worry is that some students may be tracked inappropriately. Mr. Rubenstein, a math professor, points out that tracking creates a more competitive atmosphere, as it emphasizes differences between students.
Mr. Rubenstein feels ambivalent about this new system. He points out that when students are assorted, many are held to higher standards and try successfully to meet those standards. But, because students “excel at different levels, its hard to do.” Referring to a mixed class Rubenstein said, “I can handle it, but as a Department we decided to add a tracked class.”
Jacqueline Allain, a ninth grader, feels a tracked class is necessary: “It guarantees that students are placed in a class that progresses at an appropriate pace.” Kayla Acevedo, a tenth grader, disagrees, “I don’t think its fair,” she said. She thinks that it makes students feel inferior to others who can learn the material faster.
At the heart of the matter is the problem that tracking is helpful to some kids and hurtful to others. Mr. Rubenstein thinks that “there should be a compromise,” and the new system does reflect a balanced approach.
Some feel that students should above all be content with their placement. “Students should feel comfortable,” says Ben Goloff, a tenth grader. Meanwhile, students and faculty look forward to the next possible solution of this issue that stubbornly refuses to go away.