A (Socially Distant) Stuyvesant Summer
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Summer 2020 was not conventional by any stretch of the imagination. After the mass cancellation of summer programs in March and April, students were left picking up the pieces of what the season should have been, many scraping together plans just weeks or days before they were set to begin. While essentially no programs took place in-person, the opportunities for students in the virtual world were still diverse and highly varied, offering a wide range of programs, internships, and activities for high schoolers to participate in.
For many students, including freshmen Amanda Cisse and William Tang, an answer to the void left by the coronavirus was tutoring. Cisse took matters into her own hands by volunteering to tutor a student from her middle school for the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) in one-on-one sessions, privately organized between the two. Conversely, Tang worked closely with a dedicated organization in his tutoring efforts. “AdmissionSquad is a program designed to help kids in underprivileged communities get higher scores on the SHSAT,” Tang described. “It’s 80 hours of online test prep with three diagnostic exams, and the goal is to increase the students’ points by 100.” Tang interned for one month at AdmissionSquad, where he worked as a part-time office hours tutor for the students.
While many chose to educate others, a number of students decided to learn for themselves this summer by attending programs throughout the nation. Cisse participated in Stuyvesant’s own Pre-Freshman Math Team course, which she described as a “competition math course, which lasted for four weeks every Thursday, with assignments throughout the week.”
Junior Jenny Liu also participated in educational programs, attending a College Now architecture course and a class on quantum computing via The Coding School. “We got access to the quantum software of Google AI and IBM, learned about the concepts of quantum mechanics, and created a simulation of superconducting qubits. [We] actually ran the simulations on a real quantum computer,” she explained. Liu found the program to be incredibly rewarding yet challenging. “While it could get very tricky, the teachers, graduate students, and mentees did a great job of breaking down all of these complicated concepts to us.” For many of these programs, the success was highly dependent on the working staff and their capability to think on their feet and adapt to the rapidly changing standards that virtual learning required.
Advocacy and activism also seemed to be a big theme in Stuyvesant’s summer plans. Junior Catherine Ching participated in a mentorship program at the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (FFAC). “I got to talk to other schoolers passionate about promoting a sustainable and just food system, animal rights, and veganism,” she said. Ching cited notable topics of discussion including veganism’s relationship with clean meat and the “intersection of disability rights and animal rights.” In addition to working with the FFAC, Ching scored an internship with the Colombia Tisch Food Center, where she worked with Julia McCarthy and Professor Randi Wolf to “look at the discretionary budget for NYC in 2021 and determine how much of it went to food-related topics and how it was affected by COVID-19.” The team discovered just how deep the food funding deficits for urban farms and community gardens ran and how the support for senior meals has actually remained stable.
This summer was, of course, an anomaly, and is difficult to compare to previous summers for that reason. For some, the isolation of this summer led to new, previously undiscovered opportunities that only came around after a previous plan left a void in the student’s schedule. For Ching, this situation was absolutely the case: “Though I was disappointed that [my previous program with the Genovesi Environmental Study Center] got canceled, I learned so much from the virtual internships I did over the summer that I don’t seem to mind it as much now. In fact, the mentorship program at FFAC was so influential in changing my perspective on the factory farming system that I am now seriously considering becoming vegan.”
Conversely, junior Ibrahim Cosar felt that the coronavirus was generally detrimental to his AllStar code summer program as a whole, saying, “I think [my program] would be better in [a] COVID-less world because I would have gotten the full day of education rather than a half-day intensive [session] over Zoom about coding. My teachers did everything that they could to make the Zoom engaging, and it was amazing, but in my opinion, it couldn't take the place of real interaction.”
While it is true that COVID-19 stopped much of Stuyvesant dead in their tracks going into the summer, many were able to bounce back and create a worthwhile summer through a variety of virtual programs and activities spread all across the extracurricular spectrum. For Tang, the coronavirus shaped his entire summer and altered the course of the season. “I would say that [the coronavirus] has actually had a positive impact on my summer plans,” he admitted. “If it weren’t for the coronavirus, I would’ve been commuting to Brooklyn, but online, learning can be accessed from everywhere.” Whether the virus had a beneficial or detrimental effect on the course of the summer, it is clear that Stuyvesant students marched on through the tricky season and came out with a number of brand new experiences to boot.