If finals week at Stuyvesant is Hell Week, all of January might as well be referred to as Hell Month. The weeks after winter vacation are characterized by obscene amounts of work, the looming pressure of finals, the odd nervous breakdown, and, of course, final projects. At such a test-driven school, it’s rare to be given a project assignment, to be asked to show your knowledge of a topic through teamwork and creativity. I’ve always preferred the chance to show what I’ve learned in a more creative way, and I get nerdily excited at the prospect of projects.
However, it’s impossible to ignore when these things tend to be due: towards the end of January. Granted, we usually get a good few weeks to work on them, but it’s dangerously easy for long-term projects to get pushed to the last minute so we can cram that test tomorrow or work on the essay for next week. More often then not, students can be found the night before a project is due staying up till four in the morning as they feverishly try to cram something together to turn in the next day, something that deserved a whole lot more time and thought than they ended up putting in to it. And it’s not that we’re just lazy procrastinators – between tests, quizzes, extracurriculars, finals, and projects, it’s impossible to give our all to everything required of us.
It seems unfair that essentially the only time we’re asked to do something more creative is when our plates are especially full with everything else teachers throw at us in the time leading up to finals week. Projects are no longer about making something thoughtful and meaningful. They’ve become about setting aside a few hours and scraping something together in between studying for a history final and a math test. We no longer put a lot of ideas or effort into projects – just as long as there’s something to turn in. Complaints about the workload at Stuyvesant are nothing new, but it is environments like these that de-legitimize the creative process.
As a general rule, the teachers at Stuyvesant seem to find scantrons and essays easier to handle than cardboard and construction paper. The stereotypical Stuyvesant student, too, is supposed to prefer bubble sheets to markers. And, honestly, that’s okay. I’ve become more accustomed to Stuyvesant’s take on projects. I get that they’re not given often, and I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with, however, is how they’re assigned at the most inconvenient times, and how it becomes impossible to put a good amount of effort into them without ignoring the eight other things you need to do. It would make so much more sense to have projects be assigned throughout the term, not just during the last few weeks.
We don’t really appreciate the importance of these projects. In theory, they teach us about creativity and innovation, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Tests are one thing, but the skills we learn working on a project prove much more valuable in the long run. You know the four kinematic equations or the Pythagorean identities? Great, but so what? Practically speaking, will this necessarily help you later in life? On the other hand, the project that taught you to collaborate and come up with good ideas with other people is something that’s more likely to stay with you, whatever career path you choose to follow.
With a pile-on of creative assignments doled out almost exclusively during the final few weeks of the term, however, lessons like these won’t be learned as readily. Things get so much more rushed and it’s more difficult to get something valuable out of it. In such a prestigious school, this method of assigning projects does more to hinder our academic growth than to help it.
It seems that everyone at Stuyvesant has horror stories galore about all-nighters and last-minute projects – I know I do. But let’s face it: that Spanish project I crammed into one night? I could have just as easily done it had it been assigned in November, and, quite frankly, I would have done a better job. I would have cared more without the prospect of tests the next day looming over me. Multi-tasking can only take you so far. Heading into a new term, I fear that it’ll be more of the same, with work piling up at the end of the semester to the point where the amount of coffee I’ll be consuming becomes disproportionate to the hours of sleep I’ll be getting. It’s a crazy system – and it’s time for teachers to make it easier for us to succeed in it.