The magic of the sixth floor has lasted well beyond its famed Magic card players’ last days. The well-known secret? Stuyvesant’s English Department.
I have loved the English classes I have taken at Stuy. Whether through table readings of Shakespeare or a seven-page paper on the nature and origins of indie music, my teachers have inspired me and made me a better reader and writer. With that said, I haven’t been nearly as challenged in my English classes as I have been in some of my other subjects.
Stuyvesant is widely regarded as one of the most difficult schools in the city, with many students- some of them even underclassmen-taking math and science at the college level. All students can choose to be challenged in their math class, no matter how gifted they are. The most startling example is Milo Beckman, a sixth grader who takes Pre-Calculus and Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science at Stuyvesant. Unfortunately, administrators do not take the same steps to challenge students in their English courses.
While most freshmen take the same required classes, sophomores can take honors chemistry and math, AP Physics, AP Statistics and AP European History. Yet no advanced honors English classes or electives are offered to sophomores, regardless of a student’s capabilities.
What is an honors English class exactly? An honors English class would, like an honors math class, go beyond preparing students for the Regents by giving students more challenging assignments that let them practice both analytical and creative writing skills.
English teacher Vito Bonsignore believes that honors classes are not necessary because the vast majority of his students are capable of succeeding in a rigorous English class. “However, not all of my students have the same capabilities. Some could certainly thrive at the AP level,” said Bonsignore. These capable students lack an opportunity to be challenged until their junior year when AP English is first offered.
Assistant Principal English Eric Grossman does not see the need for honors English at the sophomore level. He cited inconsistencies in the way several English teachers grade, even with a new departmental rubric to standardize grading. “Try as we might, different teachers grade differently, and to offer honors English to sophomores would seem to be rewarding students with higher graders,” said Grossman. “To offer these classes to students who have only had one English teacher at Stuyvesant seems premature,” said Grossman. While English is more subjective than other classes, placement into honors classes in other subjects is also determined after students have had one math or science teacher. Similarly, students would only remain in honors English if they demonstrated an ability to handle the work.
Offering English electives to underclassmen can also ensure that all students find rigor. There are currently several science electives, such as Human Diseases and Genetics, and social studies electives, such as Jewish History and Civil Law, available to sophomores. The school should similarly provide underclassmen with English electives in order to allow humanities-oriented students to pursue their own interests and challenge themselves. Creative writing workshops, such as Poetry and Writers’ Workshop classes, which are offered to juniors and seniors, would encourage the selfmotivation that our school prizes. Had I been given the opportunity to take a poetry or creative writing class my sophomore year, I would have gladly sacrificed a free period or two.
Stuyvesant may have a reputation as a math and science high school, but prospective students are told that they will be challenged in all of their subjects. The administration has hired many gifted and inspiring English teachers. However, until they finish their sophomore year, all English students are treated the same.
Stuyvesant accepts thousands of students with different strengths and passions, and to eliminate this double standard, the administration should take efforts to challenge all of these students.