VOLUME 8, ISSUE 5 (MARCH 2011)

TEACHERISMS

Dominic Veconi ’11

Dr. Youngren: “Anyone turned 18 in this room? Good, you should get a tattoo of this.” *points to sequence definition of e*

Student: “I think that Boston is probably—”

*Dr. Freund suddenly crashes loudly to the floor from his chair, which collides with the wall behind him*

Dr. Freund: “Dramatic! That was dramatic!”

Dr. Johnson: “The sex scene is described like a murder… you know, two things that often go together.”

Dr. Mazie: “Is it hot in here?”

Student: “Maybe you should take off that sweater.”

Dr. Mazie: “Are you asking me to strip?”

Ms. Guerra: “Don’t run and hide, because I will come. And I will find you.”

Mr. Mikesh: “Gabi, hold this meter stick in the center. Everyone else, get the hell out of her way!”

All Teacherisms are published and transcribed with the explicit permission of the teachers being quoted.

If you have a Teacherism and would like to submit it, join the Facebook group “BHSEC Teacherisms: The Bardvark Column,” or email them to dveconi@gmail.com.

 

 

CATHIE BLACK: NEW CHANCELLOR DEEPENS THE CONTROVERSIES

Alyssa Freeman ‘12

Mayor Bloomberg’s appointment of publishing executive Cathy Black to the position of NYC’s School Chancellor has stirred up a fair amount of controversy amongst both teachers and the public. Ms. Black, like Joel Klein, required a waiver from the state since she does not meet the minimum requirements of three years of educational experience. Bloomberg chose Black on the basis of her role as an administrator and leader in the magazine industry as the former president of Hearst Magazines since 1995. The State Education Commissioner, David Steiner, initially rejected Bloomberg’s choice due to Black’s lack of experience. A compromise was reached between the city and state officials and Ms. Black was hired, provided that she selected an experienced educator to serve as a second-in-command. Shael Polakow-Suransky, a former teacher and founding Principal of Bronx International High School was chosen for this position. Since Polakow-Suransky worked under the former Chancellor, Joel Klein, it is unlikely that he will bring in a different perspective than Ms. Black, hand picked by Bloomberg.

Keeping with the Bloomberg administration’s position on reorganizing New York City’s educational system, Ms. Black supports the closing of “low-performing schools.” On Feb. 5th, The New York Times reported that hearings are underway to evaluate the closing of 25 such schools. The closings are based on facts and figures related to test scores, which are controversial because it is unclear as to whether these scores accurately demonstrate student performance. Dr. Matthews believes that schools should be evaluated using a complex set of criteria that takes into consideration more than standardized test scores. He talked about the diverse backgrounds of NYC students, requiring educators to evaluate schools from a broad perspective, which includes drop-out and graduation rates, but also takes into consideration the level of each student’s preparation. He emphasized the need for supportive teachers. Dr Cordi, believes that student success should be measured by a number of factors including the ability to demonstrate knowledge, grades, and the number of courses students are able to take. Like Dr. Matthews, she spoke about the need for less emphasis on standardized tests. Dr. Cordi believes that here at BHSEC, standardized tests are not emphasized, and that testing is only one form of assessment. Some students such as Betsy Allman, a Year One student, believe in the importance of in-school testing. She believes that tests are meaningful for evaluating progress in specific subject areas. However, Allman thinks that standardized tests are given too much emphasis in the evaluation of school performance and do not necessarily demonstrate the range of a student’s academic strengths.

Regardless of the outrage amongst certain students and parent groups, Black and her deputies feel certain that big low-performing high schools should be closed and be replaced by small schools. It is questionable whether the size of a school should be as significant as the quality of teachers, availability of tutoring, or student resources. In the interim, students and parents worry that the needs of students who are under-prepared will become secondary to those students who easily fit into small schools.

In response to the problem of overcrowding, Black suggested the use of “some birth control” amongst NYC parents to reduce the growing school population. While said in jest, this remark was met with loud protests and considered insensitive. Overcrowding and lack of resources are a central concern, and Black’s constituents question whether she has the range of experience and basic tact required to address the complex issues facing NYC schools. A truly creative and careful inquiry of the school system requires a greater partnership between the Department of Education, teachers, parents, and students. To impact the system in a manner that is meaningful, Black needs to immerse herself in people, not just policy.

 

 

SPOTLIGHT ON A NYC CAREER: THE HONORABLE JEFFERY K. OING

George Winn ’12

Asian-Americans have historically been under-represented on the state court in New York, currently holding just two percent (20 out of 1,166) of the seats in a state where Asian Americans make up about five percent of the population (ten percent in New York City). Recently elected to the New York County Supreme Court, Justice Jeffrey Oing is one of the few Asian Americans on the bench, and he hopes that the historical patterns are changing.

Justice Oing was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of four in the late 1960s. His mother was a seamstress and his father cooked in a local Chinese restaurant. They instilled in him the values necessary to succeed: a disciplined work ethic, taking nothing for granted, and treating everybody with respect. Justice Oing grew up in East Harlem on 107th street and Third Avenue, where his parents live to this day.

After graduating from LaSalle Academy in the East Village, Justice Oing attended Columbia University, hoping for a career in medicine. After his first semester, however, he no longer had the passion to become a physician. By his junior year he had decided to pursue a career in law. Graduating from Columbia in 1986, he attended the New York University Law School.

The 1990s was a critical time in Justice Oing’s early law career. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz of the New Jersey Supreme Court and was a lawyer in a private practice. In addition, he was Deputy General Counsel to the New York City Council for two years. His tenure representing the City Council broadened his perspective because the job required him to travel to many corners of the city and meet the broad array of people who call New York home.

In the late 1990s, Justice Oing began contemplating whether to pursue a judicial career. In 2003, he was elected to the New York County Civil Court, a lower-level trial court where he presided over civil litigation in Manhattan. In November 2010, he was elected to the Supreme Court, which is New York’s highest-level trial court. From this post, he presides over large claims, many of which seek money damages.

In Justice Oing’s view, a trial court justice shoulders a great responsibility because he must perform his duties and decide cases in an impartial manner. He believes that it is important to decide cases fairly based on the merits of the parties’ claims, and avoid any type of favoritism. Because of his even-handed manner, he sometimes receives letters from both the winners and losers of cases, who thank him. Now, why would someone who lost a case thank him? “Even from those who lost, I receive letters saying, ‘Thank you for trying my case fairly. Even though I lost, you took time to consider my case, and that deserves a thank you.’”

He has a fond remembrance for one particular case he presided over in Civil Court, in which a pro se plaintiff (she had no lawyer) sued people who had damaged her property. The plaintiff tried her own case before a jury and won a substantial damages verdict. Justice Oing was proud of his work in that case, because it requires a great deal of patience and understanding to conduct a fair trial when a party does not have a lawyer.

In addition to the New York Supreme Court, Justice Oing sits on the Board of Directors for the Chinese-American Planning Council (CAPC). This organization is a grassroots-based community group founded in 1965 that provides a variety of programs to the Chinese-American community in New York City, including workforce development programs, youth and senior services, meals and other educational programs. Justice Oing has been involved in the CAPC since 2001, and considers his service to the group and its founder, Virginia Kee, as especially rewarding experiences in his life.

Justice Oing is one of the few Asian-Americans who has been elected to the New York Supreme Court. When asked if he is a role model for others, he said that he believes so, alluding to the work ethic instilled in him by his parents. “If you tell yourself you can do it, set your mind on something, and take your efforts seriously, then you can surely achieve whatever it is you want to achieve.” As a prominent judge, he is always happy to provide advice and guidance to young or aspiring lawyers.

 

 

SPRING AWAKENING REVIEW

Mack Cummings ‘13

Originally written by the German playwright Frank Wedekind in 1891, “Spring Awakeing” was eventually adapted by Steven Sater under the musical direction of Duncan Sheik in the mid 2000’s. The play has won several awards including three Tony Awards as well as a Laurence Olivier award. This musical was the semester project for the theater practicum class instructed by Professor Jordan, and after seeing what she did with her ensemble last year with Anna in the Tropics, I was excited to see how this modern production of Spring Awakening would hold up to the original musical.

The night began with a piano solo, a slow version of “Mad World” which immediately set the stage and mood for the night: a melodramatic musical with brief interludes of comic relief. The story is about the repression of teenagers who are going through growing pains and stressful times with academic pressure, puberty and questions about life. In additon, they are limited by the educational system and their own parents. We find ourselves looking at a plethora of characters, each with their own struggles; beginning with the piano soloist, Moritz (played by Nelson Acosta), an anxious young man who is very close to flunking out of school, partly due to his dreams about women and sexual desires. Then there is Melchior Gabor (played by Lawrence Monroy), the most intelligent of the group who is poet at his school and writes an essay about sex for Moritz to quell his fears. There is also Wendla (played by Maya Petrillo) a girl who has trouble grasping what it means to go through puberty and how to “love someone” and later has questions about how children are conceived and born.

The ensemble includes a great supporting cast that does an excellent job of capturing the themes from the original adaptation, even without most of the songs.

 

 

NEW AMSTERDAM

Nika Sabasteanski ’12

A bulger of a place it is. The number of the ships beat me all hollow, and looked for all the world like a big clearing in the West, with the dead trees all standing. Davy Crockett

When I first moved to Williamsburg with my father I hated it. I looked out of the window of the car with disgust as we drove past a small park and he pointed out a building that he admired. I remember slumping against the cushions in the back seat and diverting my eyes to the mats on the floor that were covered with sand. When we drove past the building that we were going to live in I stared at the East River to my right and the empty lot to my left. I think I asked to be driven back home and watched the J cross the bridge out of the back window as the train faded between the lines on the glass. My first impression of Williamsburg was generated in 6th grade, one year earlier, when I read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” in the schoolyard. I suppose I imagined that the neighborhood hadn’t changed since the turn of the century and that Francie was still sleeping in the summer heat on her rusty fire escape. I envisioned a neighborhood all too distinct from Park Slope, in which there was only one tree that managed to grow between the slabs of cement despite all odds.

And when we drove under the BQE and down Kent Avenue, my verdict was guilty on all accounts. It didn’t seem to have evolved since 1910 as documented by the abandoned factories, shards of glass that covered the sidewalks, and its post-War Berlin aesthetic appeal. I saw no little kids running around the sidewalks, hula hoops and jump ropes in hand, and no dogs chasing after them until they settled down on a sunny piece of concrete. What I did see were hoards of hipsters plastered in what I saw as a rebel uniform. I couldn’t believe how similar they all looked when they were trying so hard to be different. It was as if they had all walked into a costume shop and asked for paint splattered high tops, ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts and rubber activist bracelets, all in different colors and sizes. The result was haunting. They populated Bedford Avenue in a trance, drawing graffiti on the side of the bagel shop, skateboarding across the steps of an empty department of transit building and walking under the bridge to find the oddest piece of metal to photograph while the light was right. I scrounged around in my dresser drawer to find some little poem that I had written four years ago when I first came here at age 13. My initial feelings had subsided and it begins to capture how I feel about it now. Here are a few lines from it:

The wind smells like spring and pasta

With the occasional ribbon of gasoline

From a rusty pipe on the bottom of a truck

Still and alone on the avenue behind a chain link fence

Topped with barbed wire and plastic bags trying to free themselves into the

Manhattan skyline

Now I find it’s emptiness mysterious and the throngs of hipsters amusing if not charming. When I scooter home from the J train down the cracked and forbidding sidewalks, the wind from the East River pushes against my face. Soon I ride into the industrial wasteland, past the shells of warehouses and the domino sugar factory. It still smells like burnt sugar if you walk near the grates by the fence that encloses the building. For a while, developers were planning on tearing it down but sometime in the middle of the night unknown rebels erected a neon sign on a building reading “Save Domino” and thus it was saved. Wild flowers grow over what I once imagine to have been a bustling plant and transform the lot into Pippi Longstocking’s garden in front of Villa Villekulla on the outskirts of Sweden. In fact Williamsburg is filled with very confused buildings, namely a food shop on Broadway which thinks that it’s a Parisian café on the outside, a country market on the inside much like the Olson’s Mercantile from “Little House on the Prairie,” and a bar near Spouter Inn in New Bedford in the back. A school that used to be for the mentally disabled was turned into a movie studio and people live in old factories that have been converted into apartment buildings.

I have lived in Williamsburg now for four years. When the lights in the city turn off I look down out of my window at the dark water of the river. Once, as I looked out, I saw a sunken boat bobbing up and down by the foot of the bridge, the cabin peaking out of the small waves. To my knowledge, it was never hauled out of its grave and there it lies beneath the surface of the East River. It used to be someone’s and now it is forgotten.

 

 

ARGUMENTATION AND ADVOCACY

George Winn ’12

As I walked into room 511 on February 4th, I expected to walk into Dr. Seth Halvorson’s Argumentation & Advocacy elective and learn the basics of public speaking and debate. Of course, I was wrong. This is BHSEC – nothing is that ordinary. When class began, Dr. Halvorson began by writing a single statement on the board: The United States has a moral obligation to promote democratic ideals in other nations. From that point forward, I knew I would enjoy this class more than any other.

Before I get into the details of the class, I’ll start with a short bio of Dr. Halvorson. Dr. Halvorson was born and raised in Apple Valley, Minnesota, where “it wasn’t really a valley, and rarely any apples grew there, so the name is slightly deceiving.” He attended Macalester College, studying philosophy and history. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Dr. Halvorson went to Harvard’s Institute of Politics for some years. Seeing the opportunity to return to his studies, Dr. Halvorson studied philosophy, education, policy, and politics at Stanford and Columbia. In addition to teaching Argumentation & Advocacy, Dr. Halvorson teaches three sections of seminar as well as a lectureship at Columbia University to undergraduates.

When asked whether or not he agrees with the statement, “The United States has a moral obligation to promote democratic ideals in other nations,” Dr. Halvorson gave an interesting response. After pondering the opening question of my interview with him for a couple minutes, he said he didn’t know. “You really have to look at all arguments for the aff (affirmative) and the neg (negative) as well as all the circumstances. That’s a great first question.” He, like my fellow classmates and me, is still in the process of forming his own views on the statement. This is the best aspect about Dr. Halvorson’s elective – having a teacher who not only teaches but also is willing to learn.

Dr. Halvorson stressed the exercising of one’s voice in our interview, stating that it is imperative that an individual develop his or her own speaking skills in order to move forward and progress in society, whether it be in a debate on moral obligations or speeches on socioeconomic reform and political rhetoric. This class is a primer for us to acquire the tools and resources needed to develop our own skills, and Dr. Halvorson is quite the adept individual to educate us. Always be prepared he says. “Don’t forget your toys, because we’re all here to play in the sandbox.”

 

 

CLASS EVALUATIONS: A VITAL PART OF BHSEC?

Ella Fornari ’12

As usual, at the end of the semester class evaluations were distributed to all BHSEC students. Some students don’t believe that their ideas shared on the evaluations will amount to any significant change in the classroom. How is it that markings on a 1-5 scale, or circling strongly agree versus disagree is going to result in a teacher changing their class? Although many students question the legitimacy of these evaluations they are here to stay. The evaluations encourage (well mandate) students to let their teachers know how they truly felt about their course in an anonymous setting. These evaluations are supposed to be completely anonymous to allow students to speak freely about their classes. This poses a greater problem with teacher evaluations, as many students claim their teachers can eventually recognize their handwriting. In short: how anonymous and effective are our teacher evaluations?

It’s understandable for students to believe that ten minutes of their time filling out a sheet won’t bring any changes to their classes. There are always the few students in every class that insist the evaluations aren’t even read. Although it’s true that class evaluations won’t spark drastic amendments to classes, they are taken into consideration for more minor improvements to the course itself. The general consensus from teachers at BHSEC is that while reading the evaluations they look for trends in what students liked and didn’t like about the course. This feedback usually comes not from the circle responses, but from the written explanations. Based on these trends teachers try to change the direction of their classes.

Yet, besides the logistical effectuality of the teacher evaluations, aren’t our professors able to recognize our individual voices on paper? Of course, the teacher reads the narratives after the final grade is given, but how honest can we be when we know the teacher is reading our comments? Would it be better to have an anonymous staff member read the reports and give a summary or critique to the teacher since they wouldn’t have the self-interested concerns that the teacher is question has? How honest do we feel that we can be in these critiques? And if we aren’t being completely and constructively honest, the classes and teachers cannot improve or at least consider our all of our suggestions?

However, teachers in addition to students complained that the end of the semester evaluations were not nearly as important as midterm evaluations. Midterm evaluations would prove to be more helpful for teachers as they can still make changes to their class specific to the group of students enrolled that semester. With so many courses in the college program being only a semester in length, end of term evaluations don’t provide the same type of help in improving the course for the students that are currently enrolled in the class. Teachers have even taken the evaluations into their own hands by writing out questions for students specific to their course. This feedback is more likely to yield a change in the class since it is geared directly to it.

Despite skepticism towards the legitimacy of teacher evaluations Teachers insist that they will regularly change their classes’ formats based on student suggestions. Unique to BHSEC, evaluations, if taken seriously can and have made a difference to student’s educational experiences. A Year 1 student (in the spirit of evaluations anonymous) seemed to sum it up best, that these evaluations “ give the student population a sense of agency that allow us to take part in the collaboration of our own education”.

 

 

LET’S GO FOR A RUN

Daniel Moon ’13

At 3:40 PM a large group of energetic and enthusiastic BHSEC students meet at East River track field to run. For warm-up, we run at a steady pace around the track field twice (800 m). However, the warm-up doesn’t end after two laps. We do some exercises, which include dynamic stretching, forward lunges with twists, elbow to the arch, quad walks; form skipping; hip circuit; and other exercises that test strength. On Saturdays, the team meets elsewhere to compete with students from other schools.

In case you were wondering, there is more to running on BHSEC track than meets the eye. Every time we run, we build stamina and endurance. We strive to run the extra lap even though our legs hurt and we feel like we are about to collapse. There is a strong sense of will power that comes with this sport. The three major types of races that we compete in are sprinting, middle-distance, and long distance. Sprinters need a lot of strength when running. They run for a short duration and a length of one to two hundred meters while putting in all that they have until they reach the finish line. Usually those who cannot sustain a relatively fast pace for a long distance, but can run very quickly, become sprinters. As its name suggests, middle-distance runners run a longer distance than sprinters but less than long distance runners. Middle-distance runners usually run a mile and long distance runners, two. Distance runners are runners who have endurance without great speed. Nevertheless, all runners need endurance, speed, and focus to reach their goal.

A fun spontaneous race that I enjoy is the Indian race. In an Indian race, the whole track team lines up in two single files, and starts to run around the track field. The last two people on the two lines start to run past the lines to the front of the lines, and the process is repeated again while the team runs around the field. To pump up and keep our energy up, we listen to music as we run past the East River.

This year is actually the largest track team in BHSEC history, and Coach Gagstetter has high expectations for the track team of 2011. Anyone who wants to challenge their physical endurance and build their stamina is encouraged to give track a try. Though running appears to be energy draining and straining, the sport actually relieves anxiety and stress, which BHSEC students are in desperate need of.

 

 

HIGH SCHOOLS AROUND THE WORLD

Clara Olshansky ’14

As BHSEC students, we are familiar with a very particular type of high school education based on developing our thought processes and challenging us to reach high standards. Though we take the required regents at the end of the year, the goal of the classes here is not to prepare us for standardized tests but to inspire higher order thinking and depth of understanding. Those of us who cannot access the internet can use school computers during any free period and 93% of us graduate according to insideschools.org. However, schools are clearly not the same everywhere in the world.

In South Africa, a developing country, only 80-83% of the population gets a basic primary school education, and only 77% of the population makes it through the last grade, according to a study done by UNICEF. Whereas in China, a richer, Eastern country, the education is highly efficient, with a 99% literacy rate in young adults, which could be attributed to the fact that only 16% of the population has Internet Access. Like the U.S., China’s admissions system for both high schools and colleges is based on a combination of how students rank the schools and which students the school wants.

In Israel, high school education is dissimilar in almost all aspects. Talya Bickson, a recent graduate from an Israeli high school said, “Our education system is really different than yours, so it might be sort of hard to [describe.]” The standard tests, called “Bagrut”, entail taking a core series of classes, including English, to earn the minimum 21 points to pass the exam. Generally, curricula are based on fulfilling these requirements, but students also go into further depth in subjects of their choice. There is a mandatory sports class, but, outside of that, there are fewer sports teams than we have.

In London, education is also focused on fulfilling criteria for exams. The school system uses “years” rather than “grades”, so that Year 10 in England is equal to 9th Grade in the U.S. Students in years 10-11 have to take GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in around 10-12 subjects, so there is little room for as liberal an education as BHSEC’s.Olivia Luder, a Senior from London studying abroad in Brooklyn commented that, “All learning from year 10 is based on having enough knowledge to pass the tests. Learning then becomes very much about knowing how to get marks in exams.” Then, in the next two years, students have to complete 3-4 of the more advanced AS and A2 levels. Electives like art and PE are fairly standard, but Year 10 students can only take them if they’re fulfilling a credit. In Luder’s school, and most surrounding, sports teams are rather esoteric, with teams like trampoline-ing and archery.

Within the U.S., schools are more similar, but within states there are many different systems. In Connecticut, education is not that different from ours. Hannah Singer, a recent graduate of a Connecticut public school said that, “Some teachers would teach whatever they wanted but there were also some who definitely taught just for the test. I think it was mainly junior year teachers who did that.” In this way, the public school system is fairly standard. There is less of a rigorously uniform method, as there is in other countries, and the most important tests they take are the SATs or ACTs. Though some sports offered are better suited for a suburban setting, there is very little that is shockingly different about education in Connecticut.

However, this does not mean that the U.S. is standardized everywhere you go. The education system in South Western states like Texas is almost an entirely different system than that in New York. Curricula are centered on passing a standardized test exclusive to Texas, the T.A.K.S., or Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. They are based on Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing and Reading for which you are allowed to bring a dictionary. The writing piece is graded on a scale of 1-4, and Texas has a separate AP system. The T.A.K.S. is not timed and students are not required to take it after 11th grade. All classes but A.P. are geared towards fulfilling requirements. A particularly interesting difference in the Texan education is that, along with standard sports like football and softball, FFA (Future Farmers of America) Horse Evaluation, an activity that involves examining a horse’s physical features to determine it’s fitness, is offered.

Even within our own city there is so much variety in schooling. In Saint Ann’s, a rather sought-after private school in Brooklyn, there are no grades and the curriculum is based on highlighting each individual’s strengths, and not on tests. However, Stuyvesant, an even more sought after public high school, focuses getting the highest possible test grades and emphasizes math and science for all students. Most public high schools offer basic sports and are generally geared towards achieving high grades on the regent exams. Though there are some exceptions to this, the largest unifying quality in New York schools is the focus of curricula on regents. In this way, Bard is unique as our learning is geared instead towards developing our minds for education’s own sake. Although other aspects of our curriculum are unique, it’s hard to say that we are different from any other school due to the compelling educational diversity that exists. Though our curriculum does not make us more different, it is still it’s own. Whereas Stuyvesant students will have a more developed set of skills, after graduation, to enter the workforce as programmers and accountants, BHSEC students will have more developed skills as writers and thinkers who have more conceptual jobs. This variety of schooling, especially within New York, does not make it harder for a particular group to succeed, rather it gives students opportunities to excel in a more specified field.

 

 

UNDER PRESSURE: PRIORITIES, PRESSURES, AND THE BHSEC BURN

Hannah Frishberg ’13

BHSEC is not a traditional high school experience. The curriculum is harder, the workload is heavier, and the student’s are under greater pressure. In order to comply with these lofty expectations, it would be expected that a new hybrid of high school student be created: one equipped with excellent test taking and time management skills and a prioritization of academia over all else. Yet, BHSEC students’ are rarely this extreme, and are far more often a mix of some (if any) of the aforementioned qualities, as well as other academically-irrelevant characteristics. So how is it that our student body does not crash and burn under the intensive critical thinking and college-level work assigned at BHSEC? And why is the atmosphere of our school not a hellhole rat race of competition and angst? It would seem that by uniting socially, as a community, the BHSEC student body is able to both deal with the abundant pressures in our excelled, pre-college experience as well as enabling us to prioritize what we want and enjoy doing so as to maintain sanity.

So what are the priorities and pressures felt by BHSEC students? “There’s definitely a pressure to perform at the best of your ability. Our teachers are constantly pushing us to do this, but I think a lot of the pressure also comes from within ourselves. I don’t find that there is any competition among students, though.” Year2 student Parker Van Nostrand said, supporting the idea that the social ease and lack of bullying at BHSEC, as well as the general maturity of the students enables us to focus on our academic potential. Truly, it is far more common to hear students critiquing themselves (or their teachers) in the BHSEC hallways than to hear conversations about actual inability or competitive hate for other students.

Diverse both mentally and racially, it would seem that BHSEC’s colorful student body creates a set of equally colorful priorities. While some schools have a hyper-focused curriculum (like LaGuardia, which has a focus on the performing and fine arts) that ensures students study a specific skill set from day one, the knowledge we get from our education at BHSEC is applicable in many ways, making for a wider range of priorities. While all classes offered are academic, the ways students’ apply such skills certainly differs. Dominic Veconi, a Year2, has spent four years at BHSEC and has definitely noticed the self-transitional aspect of priorities, saying “You know, I don’t think you can say that any particular set of priorities are ‘BHSEC priorities.’ For the students, those priorities have changed over the years. I find that my priorities have changed from getting good grades to learning about a particular topic to getting into college to learning about a topic again.” The excelled curriculum at BHSEC seems to have created a kind of funnel effect for priorities: as students’ grow older, they become more and more focused in their interests and priorities. While college is a distracting blockage near the bottom of the funnel, for the most part BHSEC students seem to know their skills and weaknesses better and better as they grow older, their priorities being determined by what they enjoy and are good at. Certainly BHSECers don’t graduate with a detailed format for how they wish to spend their lives, but the broad and excelled curriculum does give most a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. One Year1 student who wished to remain anonymous addressed this, noting that he feels pressure the most where he personally puts his priorities, “I’m pressured into looking at colleges and practicing for the ACT, while also trying to get really good grades. I’m personally really into the social science, so that’s what I’m focusing on academically.”

From a teacher’s perspective, it is quantity, quality, and time management our professors seem to think are our biggest issues. While students’ tend to focus on the more minor details when prioritizing, a word of advice from teachers’ would be to look at the bigger picture: the deadlines, the size of assignment (over subject), and the importance of the grade (when deciding what to work on first). Ms. Guerra agrees, saying “The hardest thing for students is to know what to prioritize, because everything seems important. Knowing what to prioritize gets easier as you progress and gain self discipline. BHSEC is a demanding school with high standards and a culture of very driven people. There’s always pressure in knowing when something has reached a conclusion.”

Then again, after 10 years of existence, perhaps the BHSEC values are creating a humanities version of the robotic, standardized student that most BHSECers try so hard not to be (or simply lack the skill set for). High pressure means high stress, and stress can impede just about anything. As one anonymous Year1 student puts it, “What I observe, specifically regarding my own experience, is that the fear of being inarticulate, or just plain wrong impedes the ability to learn freely. I love this school, my classes, and the people in it. However, if asked to speak honestly, I will admit that an amount of social pressure stems from the characteristics of our choices and whether those choices compliment or contradict the seemingly standardized academic priorities of the ideal BHSEC student.” Pressure to be the best are abundant everywhere, but at BHSEC it seems that this value permeates both performance and product, making for constant anxiety.

Conversely, some are unaffected by the BHSEC strain. At a school with so much freedom, some are just happy to be able to work independently and do their own thing. Maya Adareth, a sophomore, seems to feel this way, saying, “I don’t feel that pressured at Bard. I feel like I can do whatever I want and no one cares that much.”

In conclusion, from independence to extracurriculars, grades to SAT scores, the priorities and pressures of BHSEC match the diverse thought of the student body. A school which equips its students with more versatile tools can expect more versatile results. Coming to BHSEC, we do not receive a fork, or a spoon. No, we receive a spork, with which to apply as we like, whether that be eating soup, peas, pasta, or following our dreams in a science or an art. Yet, despite all of our diversity, there are some small pressures that instill strange quirks in nearly all BHSECers. Grammar, for instance. When texting or chatting via a social networking site, BHSECers are easily recognizable in their adept skill in using the appropriate their, there, or they’re, and all of their contractions have apostrophes. The discussion of college is also far more incessant and tense when talking to BHSEC students than other NYC public high school students. BHSECers are diverse in our priorities and where we feel the burn the most here at BHSEC. Yet despite our academic differences, we also have strong social ties and an intimate student body, building up our brains together in what many would loathingly call “high school”.

 
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