Ananda Kimm-Drapeau, ‘18
It’s essential to start off your four years of high school on the right foot. Freshmen need to feel welcome, happy, and comfortable in their new community. At BHSEC, we start school with Writing and Thinking workshop.
Over the course of three days, we explore different ways of thinking, writing and discussing various texts. Mr. Rubenstein, my Writing and Thinking teacher, explained that we do this workshop in the first week of school to “warm up to get back into classes” and to have “a refresher or introduction to techniques” that he believes students could be able to incorporate throughout the year in their regular classwork. He said the main take-away is that “we discover what we think as we write.”
In past years, Writing and Thinking workshops were mixed-grade. But this year, the administration significantly reorganized the system. Freshmen were grouped into their own sections, and eventually spent one or two meetings with students from other grades. Sophomores, Y1s and Y2s had their own mixed-grade groups. Is it more effective for freshmen to be grouped with others in the ninth grade, to be in mixed-grade groups, or to experience both?
Mr. Rubenstein said that the grouping of the workshops is completely random and unsorted. This results in “a healthy mixture” for everyone, whether it’s ninth grade groups only, or groups with 9th graders to Y2s. In past years, 9th graders in mixed-grade groups were “hesitant” to share their ideas. It’s hard to transition to a new school, and Mr. Rubenstein thinks that it’s ideal to “prevent 9th graders from being intimidated.” However, there are many benefits to mixed-grade groups, too. Mr. Rubenstein said that getting to know each other at first really improves mixed-grade groups.
Many ninth graders said that they felt more comfortable in 9th grade groups and were more intimidated in groups with 10th, Y1, and Y2 students. However, some said that they received helpful advice and knowledge about the school from upperclassmen.
Freshman Elizabeth Vasilyev felt comfortable talking amongst other 9th graders but felt “scared and shy with mixed grades because they were mature, sophisticated, and intelligent.” Demetrius Schwartz, a freshman, said that it was “easier to talk and express ideas with ninth graders” because he had only met with the upperclassmen once. He suggests that in the future, 9th graders should spend an equal amount of time in both sections, because there wasn’t enough time for everyone to become comfortable enough in the second grouping. Freshman Cade Aguda also said that it should be half-and-half because being in the 9th grade groups “was awkward since everyone was new and it took time to get used to” and “the upperclassmen being so comfortable around one another helped the ninth graders mix.”
Shelli Gorokhowsky, another freshman, had a different opinion. She believes that freshmen should be in mixed-grade groups only, because she felt less judged and the older students helped her adapt to the new school.
However, most ninth-graders felt that freshmen should experience both types of groups. For me, being with ninth graders at first allowed me to get to know a few people, and I definitely wouldn’t have been as comfortable as I was in my mixed-grade group. Being comfortable in that grouping allowed me to make the most of the later meeting I had with the older students.
Overall, the central area for improvement is clearly ninth-grade intimidation. Mr. Rubenstein suggested spending the first day of Writing and Thinking solely on bonding and getting to know one another, so that doing academic work “comes second to feeling comfortable with the other grades.”
On the first day, we did a little bit of this in an activity where we were paired with someone to interview and we then had to present them to the rest of the class. This definitely helped us feel more comfortable in our workshops. Despite having no classes together, many are still good friends with others in their workshop.
There are still many different opinions about how effective the grouping of ninth graders was and what could be done differently in the future. Most ninth-graders agree, however, that this was a great help in transitioning into BHSEC, and the change from the previous years had a great result.