Many Stuyvesant students view a free period as an opportunity to fill their schedule with more classes. Students who decide to add classes onto their schedules generally add a second, more specialized, class in a subject that they’re already mandated to take. Students call this “doubling up.” For some, this allows students to prepare for their hopeful career, and for others, it is a chance to explore possible areas of interests. Regardless of the reasons, doubling up is a popular option for ambitious Stuyvesant students looking to take on extra challenges.
Assistant Principal Social Studies Jennifer Suri estimates that more than 300 students, primarily seniors, double up on classes in her department each year. According to Suri, the most popular combination of classes is AP Economics and AP Government, followed by Wall Street and AP Economics.
When junior Eliza Mitnick was selecting her courses for the first term this year, she decided that in addition to AP American Studies, she wanted to take a history elective. “I was really interested in taking Jewish History because I had heard that [Jewish History teacher] Mr. Sandler is an amazing teacher and since it was an elective course I figured that there wouldn’t be as much work for it and that it would just be more for enrichment,” Mitnick said.
Mitnick, who is Jewish herself, said that when she signed up for the class she expected it to be a good way to inform herself about her ancestors’ history and the political situation in Israel. “It turned out to be this incredible class that was so compelling,” Mitnick said.
Mitnick also takes AP American Studies, a combination of AP US History and AP English. The history component of the program, which is taught by social studies teacher Debra Plafker, focuses on original documents, while the English component, taught by English teacher Hugh Francis, consists of literature from the corresponding time period.
Mitnick found that taking both classes together allowed her to make connections between the two different topics of history, accentuating her understanding of it. She recommends doubling up on courses in the Social Studies department. “If you’re really passionate about what they’re focusing on then it’s really great because it’s a lot more like enrichment than a work-heavy class,” Mitnick said.
Suri, on the other hand, does not recommend this to students, unless they are taking both terms of AP Economics and AP Government, in which case it cannot be helped. Even then, she recommends “that [students] defer these classes to make their workload more manageable.”
Like history, English is a humanities subject that offers many electives. For many students, taking more than one class in this subject becomes difficult because of mandated science and math classes. Junior Saru Nanda decided to take two English courses in the fall term of her junior year because her future schedule would otherwise not permit it. In addition to the Early American Literature core English class mandated by the school, Nanda was able to get into Creative Nonfiction, a class that is in very high demand. “When I first saw the list of courses I could take junior year, I fell in love with each and every class. I wanted to take Early American Literature, but I also wanted to take Writer’s Workshop. And then there was Acting and Creative Nonfiction. There was just so much I could do, and not enough time to take all of them, so by doubling up, I got the chance to take two amazing classes,” Nanda said.
Senior Shelby Hochberg also doubled up on English courses both her junior and senior years, not only because she found the courses interesting, but also for pragmatic reasons. “I am Caliper head this year, so I thought if I was going to be editing and judging poetry, I should know how to edit and judge poetry,” Hochberg said. “Also, I mean, I’m a strong English student, so even if I’m not going to major in it in college, it’s good to show that I have a passion by taking APs and electives.”
“Very often the kids that double up are kids who are in AP classes where there tends to be a lot of reading. Adding something like a writing workshop class balances it out,” Assistant Principal of English Eric Grossman said.
After taking a less conventional class for a term and then taking a workshop style class, Hochberg has a similar outlook on taking two English courses together. “I find that in normal [mandated] English classes you usually just read novels and they’re the novels that everyone reads in school, and with cool courses you get to read things that you normally wouldn’t, like poetry or Sherlock Holmes,” Hochberg said. She also found the techniques she learned in Poetry Workshop to be useful in her AP Ancients and Moderns class, where poetry is featured heavily in the syllabus.
Nanda had a similar experience. “One [Creative Nonfiction] focused entirely on me and the other [Early American Literature] focused entirely on history. In one class I just kept writing and in the other class I just kept reading. It balanced really well,” she said.
However, though both Nanda and Hochberg were able to double-up on English classes, they were only some of the few who are actually given the chance, and Grossman would like to allow more students do so. “What happens is electives fill up with kids who are taking things like Science Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction as their English class, and whatever seats remain are available for kids to double up in. Usually it’s a very small handful. It varies from year to year, but this year it’s been a little tight,” Grossman said. “It’s slightly more skewed towards the seniors since it’s their last shot at the class but I know the program office goes for some balance.” In terms of the workload, Grossman feels that students who choose to double up “are very passionate about English.”
For a science-centered high school, it is not shocking that “science is the subject most commonly doubled up on,” guidance counselor Audra Parris said. Stuyvesant not only offers a number of AP classes to supplement the mandated science courses, but a variety of electives as well.
Electives and APs are available for all students after freshman year, and a number of students take advantage of these as early as their sophomore year. However, guidance counselors and assistant principals strongly consider the current science averages of the students before allowing them to take the additional classes. Junior Tony Scott chose to take AP Physics B in addition to the mandated chemistry course during his sophomore year. “Taking physics and chemistry definitely wasn’t easy. I never did well on the tests when I had both on the same day, and either usually ended up with a mediocre score on both, or one [test] that was good while the other was bad,” Scott said.
Students such as Scott who have doubled up in the past also express several benefits that they obtained after the semesters of hard work. “It definitely helped prepare me for taking more classes and handling my time better,” Scott said. “Also, since the sciences are all interrelated, physics helped me to better understand chemistry.”
It is worthwhile to note that doubling up on classes is only wise if a student has a strong interest for the subject and enjoys the extra time that they commit to it. “It’s really fun when I have double labs which means more hands-on tasks, which I really like,” said junior Amy You, who is taking AP Chemistry in addition to Honors Physics. “It’s just those days when I have double periods for both science classes with neither being a lab that feel like a drag.”
Although junior Kevin Park believes that taking Physics B and chemistry together was not easy, “It was fun and I don’t regret it. If these are your interests, I would recommend [doubling-up],” he said. He also warns that “if you’re going to double up in something that you don’t like, it will be hell,” he said. “Try to get the best teachers you can. A lot of doubling up has to do with luck. Getting good teachers helps you a lot.”
While there are considerably fewer math APs and electives available to Stuyvesant students as compared to those for other subjects, doubling up on math is nonetheless an especially popular option for juniors and seniors interested in the subject. “[Doubling up] is only for those who really plan on going into a field that requires a lot of math. It is for those students who are really passionate about it and have a high math average,” Assistant Principal of Math Maryann Ferrara said.
For some, this decision stems from hope to alleviate future workload in advanced classes by taking extra classes earlier on. This is the case for junior Brian Zhang, who opted to take AP Calculus BC in addition to his Honors Pre-calculus class to better prepare him for AP Physics C, which he hopes to take in his senior year. “I was told that we’d be doing integral calculus almost immediately starting the course, so it would be better to just double up,” Zhang said.
Though some math classes can give students an advantage in their other classes, there are math classes that rarely complement each other or have common applications. “I’ve tried to keep them apart, because my Pre-calculus teacher doesn’t want us to use Calculus, and my Calculus teacher doesn’t want us to use Pre-calculus,” Zhang said.
Similar to doubling up in science classes, the downside to this decision is the clashing test days. “While the amount of work was manageable and was never too overwhelming, retaining notes from both classes when studying for tests takes a lot of effort,” Senior Jia Wei Chen said.
However, at the end of the semester, students are pleased with the results. “I’ve become progressively more efficient in developing better study habits because of these classes. If the two tests happen to coincide, I generally review for one on Tuesday, the other on Wednesday, and then both briefly on Wednesday. They’ve made me much more willing to work for next term,” Zhang said.
Looking back, Chen said he would “do it again if I had to repeat last year. I am pleased to say that doubling up was my best choice at Stuy.”
“Doubling Up” clearly is not without its drawbacks. Each additional class means greater responsibility for the student. However, those who have undergone this challenge can attest to the benefits that they gained from the experience. While they encountered obstacles, each readily says that he or she does not regret their decision to double up, and would gladly do it again.