VOLUME 9, ISSUE 5 (MARCH 2012)

TEACHERISMS

Isabel Seckman Gadd ’13

“In college you will never drink anything but orange juice.” —Dr. Birch

“When I was in Norway, I lost weight because everything costs so much.” —Dr. Birch

“I turned the lights off, I gave my baby 8 ounces of Nyquil, and I just cried alone in my room listening to whale sounds.” —Dr. Freund

Student: “Dr. Freund, your handwriting is really shriveled up.”

Dr. Freund: “Like my soul. I had an expansive soul and expansive handwriting before I started working here.”

“Hebrew does sounds like Klingon, doesn’t it?” —Dr. Clark

“Folding is 80% of your grade.” —Mr. Casey

All Teacherisms are printed with the explicit permission of the Teachers quoted. If you hear a good Teacherism, submit it to our Facebook page or email isabelseckmangadd@gmail.com

 

 

THE THING ABOUT TEACHERISMS

Isabelle St. Clair ’13

There’s no doubt that BHSEC loves Teacherisms. When our monthly school newspaper is released, everyone eagerly grabs one and rapidly flips through the black and white pages. Our eyes skim hurriedly through the articles and hungrily search for this column that we are unashamedly obsessed with. We sigh heavily as we come across it, relieved that it is there, and greedily soak up all of the words printed on the page. And in the midst of silent reading comes laughter that is so sudden and so real. Of course, who wouldn’t enjoy a completely comical comment by a teacher?

Teacherisms are, as everyone probably knows by now, teachers’ random and hilarious remarks that are published, with the teacher’s permission, for everyone to laugh at. But where did it all begin? A couple of years ago it started as a small idea in the mind of Dominic Veconi, a recent BHSEC graduate and current freshman at Hamilton College, and it successfully worked its way to fame. Inspired by his middle school friend, who coined the term “Teacherisms”, and a page-a-day calendar of the 365 stupidest things ever said (like the infamous Bush-isms), Dominic, after thinking about it his entire freshman year, decided to introduce it to BHSEC. At first he wanted to compile 365 BHSEC Teacherisms to produce a BHSEC calendar, but unfortunately fell short of 365 and could not properly mass-produce it. However, Dominic was still interested in Teacherisms and brought the idea to Noa Bendit-Shtull, the then-editor-in-chief of the Bardvark, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. After a couple of articles, columns were included in the Bardvark and their appeal grew: Teacherisms became an integral part of the newspaper.

Since its inception, Teacherisms have captivated BHSEC and revealed the comedy of everyday life in school. Dominic comments that Teacherisms “break down the barrier between the students and the teachers and helps students not only get a good laugh when reading the Bardvark, but helps them see their teachers more and more as people.” Isabel Gadd, the present collector and editor of the Teacherims column, adds, “I think there’s something humanizing about a teacher, when he or she, a superior, says something silly or cracks a joke. It brings us to the same level.” It is humor that brings us together because we all need to and should be able to laugh. “And it’s funnier,” Isabel observes, “when they say weird and funny things than when we do because we expect it less from them.” The humor that BHSEC teachers have is not typical of a regular high school, which thus makes the column and our classes all the more interesting.

 

 

AMERICAN LITERATURE NEWARK STYLE

Amelia Holcomb ’12

When we walked into Dr. Harris’s 9th grade English class at BHSEC Newark, the SMART board was already up and running with the details of an assignment from last class:

1. Which of the four short stories was the most effective?

2. Reread it.

3. Analyze either the story’s structure, literary devices, introduction, or conclusion.

We arrived early enough that only a few students were in the classroom, and only one sitting down. The room was spacious, far more so than any BHSEC Manhattan classroom, with individual desks in rough rows facing front. Dr. Harris had her desk and computer in a corner towards the front, though she didn’t sit behind it; even before the majority of the class entered, she was already roaming around the tables greeting students. On the wall next to us were pictures and short blurbs about famous African American pioneers: writers, dancers, Supreme Court Justices, and others. The back wall was covered with student poetry, and above the poetry was a smattering of quotes from famous writers and thinkers. The section of chalkboard not covered by the SMART board had a list of classroom rules asking for respect and consideration.

Students continued to file in, finding their places in chairs (or on desks) as they chattered with friends. A majority was female; a far greater majority was African American. With only a quarter of the room filled, Dr. Harris called aloud to the whole class, asking them to take seats and focus their attention. “And take out your assignments; show you’re ready for class. Notebooks, homework, out on the desk,” she called. She was a petite woman, about the height of some of her students, but the energy radiating from her was palpable. The students turned to her attentively, joking still but clearly ready to begin.

Dr. Harris started by asking her students about the Dean’s Hour lecture by Dr. Halvorson that they had attended the day before. “First impressions, any thoughts?” Three or four hands shot up right away, and Dr. Harris pointed to a boy sprawled casually across his seat. “Barbies,” he said and sat back, silent, daring her to tell him that his response was inadequate. She obliged: “What about barbies? Can you say more about that?” Slowly, he began to talk about toys and gendered stereotypes while she walked back to the SMART board and, with a few deft fingertips, brought up a blank screen. She elaborated on his statements, writing down key words on the SMART board, boxing a few with virtual blue ink. Dr. Harris called on two more students, who mentioned changes in child labor laws and what it means to play.

“It’s interesting, though,” she commented, “that when someone asked yesterday whether you would prefer to hang out on the weekends or get a job, most hands went up for ‘get a job.'” Many students called out different explanations at once, the most prominent being, “we want to get paid!” This sentiment was a common trope at BHSEC Newark, from what I had gathered listening to students on the subject of school uniforms, free periods, and iPods in the hallways: students want more independence, and they want to know that they are being treated like adults.

The conversation moved on to playgrounds and the sedentary lifestyle in a sort of orderly chaos of hand-raising and calling out until Dr. Harris pointed to the two students with hands up and said, “Just two more, and then we have to move on.” True to BHSEC form, the discussion was still going five minutes later.

Eventually, Dr. Harris concluded their talk to start work on essays. With a few clicks, she returned to the assignment that had been on the board at the beginning of class (still saving the notes she had taken on the discussion – a handy feature of the SMART board). She passed out worksheets to the students, asking them to work alone rereading the one-page drafts they had written for homework and trying to revise what they had written by writing on the worksheet a new thesis statement and concise summary of the story. She told anecdotes throughout, making eye contact with each student as she related stories of rereading her own drafts, of revising and trying to write a strong thesis statement. The students got to work, neither silent nor intolerably loud. Dr. Harris walked around to each of them individually, conferencing with them about their papers and making sure that they were on task. She talked to one student about bringing the thesis together to a cohesive whole. “You’ve got the pieces,” she said, “the author’s name here, a mention of structure here, efficacy later on, but I want to see them in one statement about your argument.” Another student asked her why his essay couldn’t consist of only a long summary, since that was part of the analytic essay anyway.

“That’s part of what I’m doing here,” Dr. Harris told us later, after the students had left. “I’m trying to show them why making an argument is more than just an assignment, it’s something that they should want to do, something more valuable than just summarizing what someone else says.”

While the students worked, we wandered to the back of the classroom to read the writing posted on the wall. It was all poetry from Kuumba club, an afterschool club that Dr. Harris runs, which meets weekly to write poetry together. Dr. Harris hopes that one day her entire back wall will be covered with student poems. Many of the poems were quite good; some were superb. “Ode to my pen” had a pleasant, lilting rhythm to it and extolled bitemarks and smooth blue curves in language worthy of Pablo Neruda. Other poems were more serious; one student wrote about the day her father died, another about crying, a third about being alone. Beneath many poems was an undertone we hear less of at BHSEC Manhattan, of poverty and racism as well as a stark contrast between the culture within the school and at home.

As the class drew to a close, Dr. Harris announced the homework for the night to a chorus of good-natured groans from the students. “No new writing,” she said, “I just want you to revise what you already have using this worksheet. By tomorrow, you should have a thesis you’re pretty happy with. But if not—don’t worry. Don’t panic about your thesis; tomorrow we’re going to go over it again.”

 

 

LOWER “EATS” SIDE: THE NOODLE BAR

Isabel Seckman Gadd ’13

The weather this March has been gorgeous, and so I decided it was time to go to the Noodle Bar, a restaurant that has floor-to-ceiling windows that open all the way, bringing the beautiful weather inside. Not only is the breeze delightful, but the food is too. Located on a corner spot on Orchard Street, the Noodle Bar serves a consistently good Asian fusion menu at a reasonable price. The interior is decorated in bright reds and furnished with both booths and tables. The menu has several noodle dishes (hence the name)—cold, hot, in soup, with dumplings, spicy, in curry, you name it—as well as many smaller classics: dumplings, spring rolls, and fried tofu.

My companion and I ordered a few dishes to share. We started with the crispy tofu ($5), offered on the appetizer menu. The dish was made of six pieces of deep fried tofu, served with peanuts and sweet & sour sauce. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular dish, but it served its purpose well. The flavors were standard and went together well, making for a perfectly respectable appetizer.

For part of our main course, we ordered the sesame peanut cold noodles ($6). This was my personal favorite part of our meal. It was a good sized-portion—big enough that you aren’t left wanting more but little enough that you won’t feel obliged to overeat. The sauce was delicious and just peanuty enough. Mixed in with the noodles were pickled eggplant, shredded carrots and cabbage. The pickled eggplant was especially good because it offered a sweeter, tangier flavor that was a great contrast to the thick peanut-sesame sauce.

As for our second entrée selection, we decided to try the shrimp wonton broth noodles ($10). As the name suggests, the noodles were served in hot broth with steamed vegetables (greens, carrots, and cabbage) and delicious little shrimp wontons. The wontons were cooked well and didn’t fall apart too much in the broth, which tends to happen with wonton soup. Overall, I was pleased with the dish. Much like the crispy tofu, it wasn’t anything special or unique, but it pulled off its classic flavors well.

The service at the Noodle Bar complemented the food well—nothing spectacularly unique and delicious, but good enough that the meal was enjoyable and pleasant. The food came quickly, which was a welcome surprise. Our waitress was not as attentive as I would have preferred, but she did her job. My overall dining experience was competent, but not standout or unique. The Noodle Bar is a great restaurant to frequent if you’re looking for simple, consistent, reliable lunches without a wait or any funny business.

 

 

DISCOVERING NEW AMSTERDAM

Nika Sabasteanski ’12

New York city, the incomparable, the brilliant star city of cities, the forty-ninth state, a law unto itself, the Cyclopean Paradox, the inferno with no-out-of bounds, the supreme expression of both the miseries and the splendours of contemporary civilization, the Macedonia of the United States. It meets the most severe test that may be applied to definition of a metropolis – it stays up all night. But also it becomes a small town when it rains. – John Gunther

Like most of us, I have lived in New York all my life. I was born in Greenwich Village at the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital and grew up in Brooklyn. While New Yorkers are known for our independence, growing up in the city meant walking and taking the subway with my parents until I was old enough to do it on my own. When you’re holding a grown-up’s hand, you tend not to pay attention to the street signs or the geography of the neighborhood. Sometimes I would pretend that I was the adult and would lead my parents safely back to our block, while they stayed in character by repeating, “Are we there yet?” I didn’t stray far from home and while I knew my neighborhood well enough and the parts of the city I frequented, I was arguably quite ignorant of much of New York.

The stories my grandparents told of the New York they grew up in sparked my imagination though. Tales of my grandpa as a little boy delivering milk to Louis Armstrong in Corona and unintentionally running numbers for the mob since the butcher he worked for would put them in the packages, of the snowball fight in which my grandmother was wounded by a hidden piece of ice, of their first date at Coney Island where my grandma got sick to her stomach and they had to stop the entire Ferris Wheel just for her, had me wanting more.

My grandfather’s position as a photographer at the Frick Collection offered me an excellent opportunity to explore a very dreamlike part of the city. I would accompany him to work on occasion and once inside the building, I would stay by his side at first and would then begin to explore on my own. The organ pipes offered an intriguing hideout. One had to climb a small staircase and open a trapdoor to get to them and only the smallest person, like a 7 year old, could fit inside where the tops of the pipes lay hidden. The wooden elevators, with grates and doors, also fascinated me, as did his studio itself, which was Henry Clay Frick’s movie theatre. Children have to be 10 years old to visit the gallery and thus I took it upon myself to sneak down the grand staircase and poke my head past the wall to see if the guard was looking or not. He always was, somehow completely knowledgeable that I had gotten loose.

As I grew up, I discovered quite a lot more about New York, but it wasn’t until last summer, when a 6 week internship at Cooper Union had me in the East Village every day, that I felt initiated. During my lunch break, a welcome relief from the sometimes tedious calculations and lessons, I would scout out a restaurant or a café. Each day, I found a new location and wrote it down in my notebook with a brief blurb about its quality and the day itself. I stumbled upon countless places from 1st avenue to Soho and wrote down everything and everyone I saw and spoke to. Since I was parentless, I relied on my directional abilities to navigate my way back to the school once my break was over. I would return to the lab, content that in my hour of freedom I was becoming not only a native, but an adult. That summer began my walkabout and it’s still going on.

My cousin, Harper, turned 10 last year and for a birthday present, I took him for a day around town, trying to rekindle some of my memories. Since you have to be 10 to enter the gallery and 17 to go without an adult (and we were 10 and 17 respectively), I decided to take him to the Frick, since my grandfather retired from there when Harper was just a baby. I hadn’t ever walked through the normal entrance-we usually used a side gate-and we walked up to the coat check where Harper handed them our sweaters. He had papers to prove that he was 10 and the lady smiled as she checked my student ID. We crept around the museum, whispering and giggling, naming the portraits and the people we saw. I told him all the adventures I used to have there, and apparently earned some 10-year-old boy cred in the process. We took the bus down 5th Avenue afterwards and when we were stuck in traffic on 33rd St., I pointed to the Empire State Building. Just the base was visible and it was only when I pushed his head down to look up, that Harper believed me that it was the Empire State Building after all. We ate lunch at “Tea and Sympathy” and I had him get the bill from our waitress. She smiled at him and said, “Oh, are you paying?” to which he blushed and shook his head, shoving the receipt towards me.

As he discovered parts of the city for himself, I watched him grow up just like I feel myself, and all of us here doing. Even though the restaurants and sidewalks, views and stores have been found by countless New Yorkers before us, they wait around for us to discover them…

 

 

TEACHER FEATURE: A TALK WITH DR. SCOTT

Hayley Barnett ‘12

“I think that if you want to know something about me, you should ask my students,” proclaims Dr. Scott, smiling widely as he sits on the floor of the fifth floor hallway, the location he settled on after we couldn’t find an empty classroom. He rests his elbows on his knees before telling me “In some ways, I think you already had this article.”

As a student in one of two Y2 seminars taught by Dr. Scott, there is a lot I can tell you about his teaching style. We participate in large group discussions daily, interjected frequently by thoughtful and often slightly controversial questions on Dr. Scott’s part. When he particularly likes something someone says, he is believed to make faces (though this is fervently disputed by Dr. Scott). Every time he tells us when an assignment is due, he finishes with “any questions, concerns, tomatoes, rocks, eggs?” Enjoyable and high-energy, Dr. Scott’s classes produce intriguing and incredibly bizarre ideas. Never before have I enjoyed writing an essay as I do in his class. But who is the mysterious man behind this class? What prompted him to run his classes this way? I intended to find out as we sat in the fifth floor hallway, arching our conversation around the many people passing between us.

Dr. Jesse Scott was born in Hampton, Virginia and was an only child until he was ten. “I recall going to the beach a lot,” he says. He was and is genuinely curious about learning, and identifies that as the driving force behind many of his scholastic pursuits. Going into college at Virginia Commonwealth University, he intended to major in history, but accumulated eight majors over the course of his college career before settling on English. “I had a lot of interests and majors, but I always took a ton of English courses so eventually I knew I had to major in it,” Dr. Scott tells me. He ended up teaching at University of Mississippi where he “loved his students,” but came to New York City to focus on teaching rather than the research aspect of his career. “I love my seminars [here at BHSEC],” he states, “All I want to do is sit and talk about ideas.”

When I ask him what he likes to read, Dr. Scott laughs, saying “I’m an academic nerd. I read academic books more often than I do fiction.” He just finished Object Lessons by Anna Quindlen, and Prove it on Me: New Negroes, Sex, and Popular Culture in the 1920s by Erin D. Chapman, both of which he has the highest of praise for. Alternatively, he enjoys the Bravo channel as a welcome escape from the world of academia and likes the shows “Top Chef” and “Chopped”. “I’m a random person,” he informs me, elaborating later that “I am pretty sardonic and appreciate the absurd as a source of endless laughter.” He also likes modern dance performances, noting “The move to New York has been wonderful for this entertainment.”

Currently, Dr. Scott is working on two projects. He’s revising his manuscript of his book Not Just Money: Gender Politics and Reparations, which he has described as “engaging cultural productions to consider the limitations of political and social justice movements predicated upon the idea of a shared black racial identity in a post-civil rights black America.” Quite a mouthful, but I certainly look forward to reading it. His second project is much more whimsical. It is a piece he is writing with his friend in which they write a bit, exchange, revise, and continue. “We’ve agreed to look at what we have written on New Year’s Eve,” he tells me.

Although I was able to glean a good deal of information about Dr. Scott, there is still a veil of mystery about him. Indeed, he prefers it that way. And if there’s anything Y2 seminar can teach a person, it is that identity is a nonsense word. My suggestion to you, then, is to do as Dr. Scott says; ask his students.

 

 

TEACHER KARAOKE

Sophie Houser ’15

On February 29th BHSEC students were treated to a wonderfully wild Dean’s Hour. They lined up outside the auditorium and clawed their way inside in anticipation of the second annual Teacher Karaoke, an event that raised money for the Y2s’ gift to the school, a BHSEC plaque outside the entrance. The brave teachers who showed off their talent were Mr. Rubenstein, Mr. Mikesh, Mr. Gagstteter, Dr. Mazie and Ms. Stemmer.

First up was Mr. Gagstetter performing “Change Clothes” by Jay-Z. The students in the packed auditorium loudly clapped and sang along as Mr. Gagstetter showed his true rap colors, especially at the end of the song, “Yeah, uh sexy sexy turn your radio up. Sexy sexy put your hands in the air if you’re in the car, snap your fingers now sexy sexy.” According to a 9th grade fan, “It was definitely an energetic start to the karaoke and got people hyped up!”

Next was Ms. Stemmer with “Hangin Tough” by The New Kids on the Block. Ms. Stemmer was such a hit last year performing as a back-up dancer for Ms. Nardone that she was asked to sing this year, even though, according to her “Your ears will bleed if I sing, it is not cute.” She held her own rapping, but really excelled with an energetic dance style all her own, sort of like a hyper running in place. Her moves reflected her attitude about the whole experience, “The best thing to do is not to take yourself too seriously so you can let loose and enjoy the experience.”

Dr. Mazie came next sporting a hippy costume consisting of a Pixies’ t-shirt, ripped jeans, a vest and long blond wig (which Mr. Mikesh deemed “legendary”), an appropriate get-up for his performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. The audience sang along enthusiastically with Dr. Mazie as he made belted out, “I feel stupid, and contagious…”

Mr. Mikesh followed with “Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel. This was his first Teacher Karaoke, but not his first time singing to BHSEC students. Earlier in the year when the Y2s in his Physics with Calculus class found out Mr. Mikesh used to sing when he was younger, they demanded that he serenade the class. “After I embarrassed myself there, a few of them brought up the karaoke competition, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Mr. Mikesh confided that being on stage makes him nervous, “but once I got up there I just tried to have fun and forget the audience.”

Mr. Rubenstein wrapped up the highly entertaining dean’s hour with “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton. Listening to Mr. Rubenstein beautifully sing them a love song, the audience would never have guessed that he had started out nervous. “Once I got up there and started singing I felt more comfortable. I squeaked a little at first, but I saw that no one cared, so I relaxed a bit more.” By the end of his big finish, the audience was in a euphoric uproar of applause. It’s surprising to learn that Mr. Rubenstein doesn’t perform anywhere else, at least not in public. As he puts it, “I don’t make a habit of performing–except for in my room, alone.”

As a freshman I had no idea what to expect going into this dean’s hour but found myself swept up in the excitement of it all. I couldn’t stop laughing at both the teachers’ performances and the students’ over-the-top enthusiasm. Teacher Karaoke not only raised money for the Y2 gift but also served as a highly entertaining afternoon.

 

 

THE STUDENT ACTIVITIES CENTER

Lindsay Duddy ’13

The new Student Activities Center (SAC) is envisioned as an active hub where BHSEC students can gain information about a wide spectrum of activities and opportunities available to them both during the school year and during winter and summer breaks from school. It is also meant to, by virtue of becoming the “go to” place for student information, generate a tighter BHSEC student community. Lisa Goldenberg, the new faculty leader of this new center, described the goal of the Student Activities Center as the creation of an accessible place for students to gain the needed information to help students find summer and school year volunteer and other enriching opportunities.

Located in Room 209 on the second floor, the former classroom that was most recently designated as a student lounge, the center is now decorated with fun posters but may soon be made even more welcoming if the PTA plan for its renovation planned earlier this year takes place. But the room is only a piece of the Student Activities Center hub for student life. Its companion effort for outreach to students is BHSECCONNECT, the website designed to help students search for internships and other opportunities. The site had fallen into disrepair over the past couple of months, but has once again become an essential place to find needed information.

The website is now constantly updated with a wide variety of new programs and has reorganized in a user-friendly way to help students find exactly what they are looking for. The Student Activities Center also aims to provide the student body with periodic email updates and newsletters to keep them better informed. Goldenberg says her goal is to have the Student Activities Center work to foster and enrich the unity within the blossoming student community.

One of Goldenberg’s ideas for building upon the sense of community is the possible institution of “town meetings” – a community affair assembly-like meeting for the entire student body that serves to share student activity news to all in the BHSEC student community in the way a community board or other local town gatherings does for a local civic community. She hopes to see the improvements to the interior of Room 209 continuously improve to accommodate the needs of the students; her goals include the future addition of new furniture and accessories to make it more comfortable to students as they hang out, work, and socialize in this student-centered space.

Many questions arose after the closing of the student lounge, but the student activities office has redefined both the services offered and the former space and not only made it into a fun place for the students to mingle but also a hub for the most up to date information on opportunities to enrich our lives as BHSEC students.

 

 

THE ARTIST

Emma Evans ’15

Silent, black and white movies were believed to have become extinct long before our time but The Artist winning best picture at the 2011 Oscars seems to contradict this assumption. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist creatively explores the history and progression of movies as an art form while pursuing a beautiful heart-warming love story about an unexpected couple.

As the theater lights dim the audience is brought back to 1927, and we are introduced to silent film star George Valentin. Basking in the glory of the success of his latest movie he pushes through crowds of admiring fans and stumbles upon a young star-struck actress we soon discover to be Peppy Miller. He poses with her for the reporters and leaves her in a daze of adoration. A short time later the two meet again, this time at the studio and Valentin, delighted by this coincidence, convinces the movie’s director to hire her for a role in his latest production.

Valentin’s triumph is soon interrupted by the emergence of talkies. When the actor discovers the reality of this new technology he has a nightmare in which ordinary sounds are amplified and yet he remains mute. The director accompanies this dream with the introduction of sound and the viewer is at once struck by the noises of the barking dog, breaking glass and laughing girls. When Valentin wakes our hearts are pounding almost as quickly as his is.

From this point Peppy who apparently has a great aptitude for the emerging art form of talkies, begins to do very well while Valentin’s success begins to plummet. The rest of the movie follows the parallel paths of these two performers leaving the audience to wonder if their romantic attractions will overcome the drastic changes in the industry and the impact it has on their lives.

The Artist manages to appeal to both the emotional and intellectual sides of the audience. The way the director weaves the nature of cinema with the sensitive portrayal of the two lovers is seamless. At no point does Hazanavicius’ technique distract the audience from the narrative; rather it enhances the story since the emergence of talkies and the evolution of film as an art are central to the movie’s conflict.

What this film does so well is to expose our 21st century sensibilities to the magic of silent film. As adolescents growing up with advanced technologically all around us we cannot imagine a time where this medium was the sole form of entertainment. In fact it seems primitive and perhaps tedious. However, if we can put aside our preconceptions we can come to truly appreciate the essential nature of cinema. Indeed once the distractions of sound are diminished we are able to pay more attention to the movie’s visual images which are at the heart of the film. We marvel at how moving pictures can tell a story as detailed and as completely as words can. The Artist reminds us that film does not need to talk to speak to us.

 

 

RISK AND RESILIENCE

Danya Levy ’15

It was sixth period on a Wednesday in room 502, and a ninth-grader named Maxine Whitney was flipping through her workbook. “I have an example,” she told two other students. “‘My mother yelled at me yesterday, so that means I’m a terrible daughter and she hates me.’”

Maxine was one of the many students participating in the sessions that are part of the “Risk and Resilience” high school advisory curriculum.

Ever since the spring semester started, the 13 sections of high school advisories have been involved in this 10-week program. The goal of this program is to help students acquire evidence-based tools to help control their emotions, lower stress levels, improve communication, protect against dangerous behaviors, and learn organizational skills.

Jess Shatkin, Vice Chair for Education at NYU Child Study Center, developed “Risk and Resilience” and in every advisory two visiting NYU students conduct the sessions, which Principal Michael Lerner also supervises. In an email to BHSEC parents in January, after describing the program, Principal Lerner noted that, “ultimately, our goal is to help students manage their stress levels,” which has been and continues to be a major problem at our school.

In order to achieve these goals, the professors at NYU created an individual workbook, which each student received during the first session of the program. In this workbook, the program’s curriculum is laid out, week-by-week, complete with diagrams, charts, definitions, exercise descriptions, and sections for the students to fill out themselves.

Thus far, many topics have been covered that have to do with controlling emotions and thinking rationally, such as the cognitive triangle—the connection between thoughts, emotions and actions—and recognizing thought errors. The ninth and tenth graders in the program have also learned how to talk back to themselves, giving advice as if they were talking to a friend, and have practiced putting their thoughts on trial, identifying the mistakes in their thought processes and turning around their bad moods.

The participants practice new techniques in discussions, coming up with examples, and performing short role-playing games.

For example, in the example that Maxine came up with, the thinking errors were “All-or-Nothing” and “the Crystal Ball”: the daughter saw everything in black-or-white terms, thinking that because her mother was angry once, she would always hate her. She also assumed that she knew what her mother was thinking, when, in reality, her mother probably just got upset once and doesn’t hate her.

Although most students recognize that the intentions of “Risk and Resilience” are good, reactions toward the program are mixed. “I think that it’s important for ninth and tenth grade students to learn to manage their emotions,” said one ninth grader, “but I think that the way it’s being taught isn’t very interactive, and so it makes it kind of boring, and people don’t really pay attention.” Many others agreed, noting that the visiting college students sometimes had trouble keeping the students engaged.

On their end, the NYU students who were interviewed enjoyed teaching the class and working with this age group, although they understood that not all students took the advice to heart. “I feel like the information that we’re giving is very useful,” said Amanda Carrasquillo, who leads the program in the Cho/Scott advisory, “and even though it kind of seems silly when we’re teaching it, things that you guys already know, it comes in so handy.”

Many students did learn new and interesting techniques. Another ninth grader, Alessandro Bruni, said that, although the program could get repetitive and many students were not interested, “I’ve learned how to manage my time, and I’ve learned how to handle things more effectively.” And although some students said that they hadn’t learned any techniques that they would actually use in their lives, virtually all of those interviewed agreed that the program leaders from NYU were all interesting and funny people, and tried their best to teach the program well.

And, as one student pointed out, there are other ways to combat stress and anxiety among high school students. “I think it’s a really great idea to help us, you know, understand ourselves as people,” she noted, “but our time could probably be better spent doing homework, which is our main pressure.” As I’m sure many BHSEC students would agree.

 

 

NOVUS MAGISTER: BHSEC’S NEW LATIN TEACHER

Eliza Fawcett ’15

The first piece of advice that Mr. Jay Mueller, BHSEC’s new Latin teacher, has to offer is this: “‘Beware the Ides of March’…seriously: they’re coming up in like a week.” On a more serious note, Mr. Mueller, who teaches Latin 201, emphasizes the importance of not “underestimating the potential of a strong knowledge of Latin. It proves useful in ways you would never expect.” For instance, in comprehending the Latin-based “word-play and ancient rhetorical devices” in layered older English texts, to helping his friend who studies plant genetics understand the complex Latin terms, Mr. Mueller makes good use of his Classics background.

Although in terms of academics, Mr. Mueller was initially English-oriented, he became drawn to Latin as he began to understand the insights that this ancient language can provide. His realization was that “a proper comprehension of English literature could not be achieved without an understanding of its earliest foundations.” Latin is quite indispensible in that sense, since by analyzing word derivations or recognizing references to ancient texts, contemporary writing becomes all the more significant.

What Mr. Mueller finds satisfying about reading this ancient, so-called “dead” language is that “it sometimes feels like an act of resuscitation, or resurrection.” There is a certain timelessness to many Latin texts, so much so that a modern reader “can achieve a kind of living intimacy with ideas and works of art that, over twelve centuries, haven’t lost their magic, but you can only access the magic if you are able to approach the text on its own terms.”

Of course, accessing that magic requires a certain amount of devotion to the language, but one of Mr. Mueller’s favorite mottos, “Post nubila, Phoebus” seems to encapsulate the entire process. It is translated “after the clouds, the sun,” and Mr. Mueller takes it as a representation of the academic method. “As long as you maintain a certain amount of thrust in an intellectual endeavor,” he elaborates, “you can get to the other side of anything that, at first, is obscure—and once you break through, you may find something unusually brilliant.”

A teacher’s job, no doubt, is to help guide students towards that “sun” and Mr. Mueller is excited to be teaching at BHSEC. He speaks very highly of his initiation here and of the overall school environment “I have nothing but praise and admiration for everything and everyone I’ve encountered at Bard.” He explains that he has found the faculty and staff “uniformly warm, welcoming, and helpful,” and as for the students, he hasn’t met one with whom he has not been impressed. In fact, it is coming to BHSEC that has made Mr. Mueller realize how much he enjoys teaching high school.

Mr. Mueller was born in Rochester, Michigan and grew up in “a little country town” named Oxford, which is pretty close to Detroit. He attended Cranbrook-Kingswood, a high school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which Mitt Romney also attended (though Mr. Mueller did not have any of the same classes). For college, Mr. Mueller went to Eugene Lang College, which is part of the New School, located primarily in downtown Manhattan. He graduated a year early due to taking “12-credit, ultra-intensive immersion courses” in Latin and Greek at the CUNY Graduate Center. After that, he went on to earn his Masters degree at Columbia University, simultaneously working evenings in the library and taking classes during the day.

Right now, Mr. Mueller is working on a fascinating PhD dissertation at NYU on how specific ancient authors, Heraclitus, Herodotus, and Sophocles, lead their readers “to embrace faulty premises or to anticipate wrong conclusions about something, and then enable them…to recognize their mistake…through continued exposure to the text.” This technique directs the reader to understand the unreliability of his or her “intellectual abilities and ideological convictions.” In his work, Mr. Mueller emphasizes the fact that this writing style, although attributed to Plato and applied by both him and Socrates, was actually used by the aforementioned authors long before Plato came along. The technique itself, though, seems to be a Classics-based lesson in the faultiness of human predictions.

Mr. Mueller is also teaching a course on Vergil, the famed Latin poet, at NYU. Besides writing his dissertation there he has also previously taught a great books course at the school. Before that, he worked at a non-profit, The New York Public Interest Research Group, which tries as one of its tasks to keep the tuition of higher education at an affordable level.

In his free time, though, Mr. Mueller and his wife have fun with their 2 ½ year-old daughter. In fact, he explains, they are “really excited about starting a garden this summer and teaching her how food grows.” He also loves to travel and the list of places he has visited is reasonably large. Among other places, he has been to a fair amount of Italy, Germany, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, and all over the United States. He hopes to spend time in Copenhagen, Denmark in the near future.

Like global cuisine, for Latin scholars there are authors in most flavors. Mr. Mueller recommends Plautus, Catullus, and Juvenal for a laugh, Lucan and Seneca for “vivid depictions of violence”, Tacitus for “pro-Orwellian obfuscation”, and Persius (a very difficult writer) “if you like headaches.” Mr. Mueller concedes, though, that his favorite poet is probably Horace, for his “pure poetic elegance.” However, he admits, “it’s like comparing stars in a constellation.”

 

 

A VISIT TO OUR SISTER SCHOOL

Juliet Glazer ’12 with contributions by Nika Sabasteanski ’12

On March 14th, four BHSEC seniors took the PATH train to Newark, transferred to the number 1 bus, and got off on Bergen Street in front of BHSEC Newark. Despite its alien location, something felt familiar. Some essence of BHSEC had been translated across city and state borders.

BHSEC Newark shares its low, block-sized building with a charter school, and with a school for older students making up high school credits. As BHSEC Newark expands in future years, it will likely stay in the building and one or both of the other schools will relocate.

BHSEC Newark has a few familiar faces. Dr. Ween, formerly a member of BHSEC Manhattan’s English faculty, is now BHSEC Newark’s dean. Ray Peterson, Manhattan’s former Principal, is BHSEC Newark’s principal in its first year. Dr. Halvorson, who taught Year 1 Seminar at Manhattan for one semester last year, is now one of BHSEC Newark’s 10 teachers.

Mostly, though, brand new faces fill BHSEC Newark’s halls. This year, the school has around 100 freshmen and approximately 36 Year 1s. BHSEC Newark is the least diverse BHSEC. Like the majority of Newark’s population, most students are African American, who come from all over Newark, and commute mostly by city bus.

The Year 1s we met in the hall were friendly and excited to meet us. Year 1s at BHSEC Newark spend their free periods in the College Experience Room, Newark’s spacious and well-decorated answer to Manhattan’s College Commons, also home to their College Transfer Office.

During third period, we joined one of the two social studies electives currently offered, Dr. Halvorson’s US history class from the 1970s to now. The curriculum is enviable and the class is small; perhaps 15 Year 1s filled the circle of desks. The lesson followed a plan that seems similar to a typical class at BHSEC Manhattan. The students took turns reading aloud paragraphs from a news article about the Pentagon Papers, Dr. Halvorson lectured about the historical background, and the students discussed it.

Like in any class, some students were quiet, some labored over comments, and others seemed incredibly sharp. There were marked differences, though. In general, students’ comments were less abstract and more grounded in their own lived experiences. At one point, a conversation about lunch broke out across the room.

After class, the entire school has lunch in the “Cafetorium,” a multipurpose room that has both lunch tables and an auditorium stage. In the cafetorium, we met more students who made room for us at their tables. The Year 1 grade is so small that they all seem to be friends. All transferred to BHSEC Newark from other schools, mostly because they felt that academics at their old schools were lacking. Some said that their old schools were more fun or had more resources and offered more options, but all agreed BHSEC was academically superior. Part way through lunch, a group of girls took us to eat in the yard, a small but comfortable interior courtyard, with benches and a wooden pergola.

After lunch, we spent a period in Mr. Peterson’s office, talking to him and Dr. Halvorson, who both told us about the challenges of starting a new school and asked us about our observations and opinions.

From our conversation, it was clear that starting a BHSEC in Newark brings challenges that are different from those of starting a new school elsewhere. Newark’s school system is floundering, with incredibly low high school graduation rates. BHSEC and several other schools started this year in Newark are part of an initiative to change that. For now, a lot of the students at BHSEC Newark come from middle and high schools that don’t compare to New York City’s.

There are other, perhaps larger challenges, too. Mr. Peterson and Dr. Halvorson said a lot of the students go home to families and environments that aren’t that supportive. Dr. Halvorson said that despite the distraction he thinks eating in class brings, he allows students to eat in class because nutrition is a problem in Newark, and he thinks they might not always be able to eat later. At the end of the day, as we walked through the hall with Mr. Peterson, he stopped a girl whose house had recently been flooded to offer her his help drying out her books and to ask her if her family had a place to stay. Strikingly beautiful poems written by students in the poetry club that were hung on the wall of Dr. Harris’ English classroom focused on absent family members.

The teachers were all incredibly inspiring, indefatigable in the face of the work cut out for them. Their boundless zeal and energy was contagious. There was an overwhelming sense that in a few short years, these freshmen would become true BHSEC students, sitting quietly, thinking critically.

The students were unified by their desire for independence and in one of the advisories we visited, complained that, since some of the staff hovers over them, encouraging a productive usage of study periods, they would never be able to motivate themselves. “How will we learn if you guys keep standing over us,” one of them said. While they worried that they would never learn for themselves, the motivation within each student was clear. They found there way to a home, safe and supportive from 8:20 to 2:40, with 10 parents who refuse to give up, moving to Newark or traveling there every morning. A quote by Alice Walker pasted on Dr. Harris’ freshmen English wall is indicative of the spirit that has permeated the school, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” None of these students, like any true BHSEC student, will ever be allowed to think that they don’t have power. It’s just not an option.

 

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF 525 EAST HOUSTON STREET

Hannah Frishberg ’13

Although BHSEC may be young, our school building has a long history. Erected in 1914 (as memorialized on the infrequently appreciated plaque in our lobby), the building will turn 100 next year, and is thus 90 years older than the Bard High School program. The original architect was Mr. C.B.J. Snyder, a prolific architectural engineer in the field of urban school buildings, accredited with the design of over 400 structural projects, including Stuyvesant High School’s original building and Public School 95 (now City-as-School).

525 East Houston Street was originally built for the purpose of housing PS 97, and much of the art hanging at the tops of the hallways and in offices around the building today are relics from the building’s elementary school past. While some elements of the school do seem to have been intended for younger students (the narrow stairwells, the undersized gym and cafeteria), the high ceilings and large windows seem excessively large and grandeur for turn of the century elementary students. These elements can be explained by a central theory of school architecture in the early 1900s: more fresh air and sunlight prevent disease, making for a healthier student body and better school environment, a theory that Dr. Freund has researched extensively. As high ceilings and large windows make for ample sunlight and fresh air, the city abided by this theorem and allotted money for their building.

This theory also led to the creation of the building’s rooftop playground and an open air porch which looked out towards the East River (both were removed long before BHSEC took up residency here). Like large windows and high ceilings, rooftop playgrounds were very common among urban schools at the beginning of the 20th century. Many institutions were even mandated to have rooftop playgrounds when the immediate area proved too polluted or busy to serve as an open play space for children. Due to the mandate, over a third of New York City public schools had rooftop playgrounds, and Seward Park still has one. What is BHSEC’s current roof was once a 6th floor with its own roof, held up by parapets, with an open grating in between. Sadly, due to lack of upkeep, expenses, and possibly some asbestos, the equipment, grating, parapets, and second roof were all torn down at least 30 years ago. Now the roof has a low wall and is made of easily maintainable flat tar and stone. Since the area is still structurally sound, there is hope that perhaps in a better economy money may be found to turn the space into a rooftop garden, or even an open classroom. Unfortunately, building a high enough grate to comply with state laws is far out of the school’s budget, and there is a possibility that the DOE would increase the size of BHSEC’s student body to reflect the addition of another floor to the building. As it is, the building is far beyond its maximum capacity of 500 elementary school students, as there are nearly 600 high school students plus faculty.

As for 525’s interior, although there have been numerous changes since its creation the initial layout would probably be recognizable to anyone very familiar with the current arrangement. One major difference, however, is the addition of our 4th floor library and Learning Center. Originally the space was multiple classrooms, and it wasn’t until late 2003 that the DOE gave BHSEC enough money to make the necessary renovations to create a relatively open space which we then turned into a library. Books were subsequently funded by the PTA, parent donations, and a DOE grant for a “new school collection”. This preliminary library had Eric Gelber as its librarian (Ms. Walk did not start until 2007), and the Learning Center had its own room elsewhere in the building. For the future, Ms. Walk dreams of adding a mezzanine and soundproof glass wall to the left of the monitors to create a silent study space.

Two other significant additions within 525 are the handicap bathrooms and the elevator. In compliance with the Americans Disabilities Act of 2010, BHSEC added handicap bathrooms, albeit we have not yet had a student who technically qualifies to use them. As the elevator had to be retrofitted, it took nearly two years to build and was finished in 2008. Due to the nearness of the East River, this area has a very high water table, and the construction workers hit water while digging the elevator shaft. Consequently, to prevent water from leaking into the building or elevator shaft, there is now a pump in the basement.

525’s exterior and surrounding areas also have a rich history. Today our northern wall is in a sad state, since half of PS 97’s mural was painted over during brick pointing construction last year, but the wall was once home to a city commissioned Keith Haring mural. The enclosed area in front of these murals was once a lumberyard, and what we all endearingly know as the Field used to be a cement handball court until the NFL gave a huge donation for its “Take Back the Field” project in 2006. Another interesting tidbit is that the walk from Mangin Street to East Houston was once flat, and only became slanted up hill (as it is now) when the FDR Drive was built in 1955.

It is difficult to imagine a place we are as familiar with as BHSEC suddenly transformed into a turn of the century elementary school. A time when the speaker system was still used (it still works, but an executive decision was made when BHSEC began that a speaker system was “uncollege-like”), the roof was a playground, the gym was called the Playroom (as it is referred to on the blueprints), and there were only white students and faculty. Imagine BHSEC in 1914, the first year of World War I, when the subway system was only nine years old, there was no such thing as Astroturf, no Blue Truck, and it is highly doubtful that any of you teachers would know what postmodernism was. Truly, it was a different place.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s