None of us can forget our first day of high school: those initial, nervous steps across the Tribeca Bridge; the awkward hellos exchanged with fellow freshmen; and the intimidating feeling of entering our first classes. It was an overwhelming surge of anxiety and excitement. Even more daunting is undergoing that same experience when the majority of your classmates are already well-acquainted with each other. This is the experience of the incoming sophomores, who make up a small proportion of Stuyvesant High School each year. These students come from schools all over New York or even other states in order to acquire the prized Stuyvesant education.
It isn’t a complicated process to transfer schools. Like all students looking for a seat in a specialized high school, prospective sophomores must take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). Those moving to New York on short notice are allowed to take the exam during the summer. For example, senior Mauricio Moreyra remembers taking the SHSAT test in August 2010, after moving to New York from Florida. Moreyra, along with other incoming sophomores and freshmen who moved from other states, took the exam just a week before the new school year began. “It was either you’re in or you’re out,” he said.
The competition for obtaining a seat as an incoming sophomore, however, is much higher than that for an incoming freshman, as seats are much more limited. Changing schools is always a difficult process because of the choice between staying in a familiar environment and venturing into a new school for the second time in two years. Acceptance from a well-regarded school like Stuyvesant adds another dimension to the choice.
“It was a pretty hard decision,” sophomore Moaz Khan, an ex-Bronx Science student whose older brother is a Stuyvesant alumnus, said. He admits that both his brother and mother influenced his decision to take the SHSAT again, but he says that he does not regret it. “After taking the test I realized I could still keep all my friends and go to the better school,” said Khan. For others, like senior Shinnosuke Takahashi, the choice was an obvious one. “Generally, the image of Stuyvesant is much better than the reality that was Brooklyn Tech,” Takahashi said.
No matter how easy the decision was, entering a new environment in which most people have already known each other for at least a year can be intimidating. “Freshman year is that year that you make all your friends, and I had a lot of friends at Bronx Science,” Khan said. “So the first couple of days were kind of awkward. I didn’t know anyone; plus the classes were much harder.”
For students hailing from other states, the adjustment can be even more difficult, especially when they are not admitted in time to attend Camp Stuy, where most incoming students receive a tour of the building and are introduced to fellow incoming sophomores. The most difficult part was “getting to know the area and adapting to the whole subway thing,” Moreyra said. “It was tough at first, but there are so many kids at Stuy already that I could always find new friends.”
Luckily, most incoming sophomores find that Stuyvesant students create a welcoming environment. “I feel like I’ve had a somewhat exceptional entrance,” said sophomore Theo Klein, who was fortunate enough to have a good friend already at Stuy. “I’ve felt extremely welcomed by the community,” he said.
Takahashi has similar sentiments. “Compared to Brooklyn Tech, the atmosphere was so much nicer,” he said.
However, the support system does not end with peers. Just like incoming freshmen, incoming sophomores are assigned Big Sibs to their homerooms. Big Sibs are responsible for easing their little sibs into the new environment and addressing any questions or concerns they have. For incoming sophomores, whose homerooms range from five to thirteen students, Big Sibs are crucial to making bonds in a new school. Moreyra, for example, is grateful for the help of his guidance counselor, as well as his Big Sibs, who gave him the tour he missed and showed him the basic procedures of the school. “Simple stuff like that, it actually helped a lot,” Moreyra said, who has been a Big Sib for the single, sophomore homeroom for two years.
Takashi seemed to find his homeroom experience unsatisfying, as he explained the lack of bonding in his official class during Camp Stuy. When asked if he thought it would be beneficial to incorporate incoming sophomores into homerooms with the other sophomores, he said, “I guess it would be a little better; it would give us something else to relate to with other students.”
Though they are supportive, the teachers and administration do not coddle incoming sophomores whatsoever. “They didn’t really do anything, but I kind of like that because they don’t force me to be more outgoing,” Takahashi said. Khan also supports the “hands-off” policy of teachers, as he believes it is the student’s responsibility to take initiative when faced with problems. Khan himself expressed that he utilizes Stuyvesant’s AIS tutoring when he’s having trouble in a class.
There are some, however, who are not as content with the demanding environment created by this policy. Klein wishes that teachers would be a little more lenient, as the challenging workload can be overwhelming at first. “Switching routine takes some time getting used to,” he said.
The academic environment can be even more frustrating if you are unhappy with your schedule to begin with. Moreyra remembers having to create his schedule on the first day of school and being unable to take the math class he wanted to as a result. Though not all incoming sophomores have this problem, many of them are locked out of classes because they are too full by the time their schedules are made up. Some must even retake classes if the credits do not transfer from one high school to another.
No matter what they may feel about the academics or the administration, extracurricular activities seem to be the fastest way for sophomores to adjust. Whether it’s sports teams or clubs, afterschool activities are a great way to meet people with similar interests. “A majority of my connections with the community was because of directing ‘Grease the Musical’,” Klein said. As a Big Sib, Moreyra encourages incoming sophomores to join clubs right away. His extracurricular activities played a large role in his adjustment period and through them, he continues to make new friends to this day.
“Have fun and make lots of friends. You’ll have a great time in Stuy,” he said.