Back to Their Roots

Stuyvesant teachers who had been Stuyvesant students share their experiences.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ever since Stuyvesant’s establishment in 1904, hundreds of thousands of students have come and gone. As alumni, these students achieve higher levels of education and accomplish new goals in different walks of life. Whether directly after graduation or 50 years later, many alumni pay tribute to the high school that influenced and enabled them to do incredible things. Some achieve this by donating money and delivering a speech at Stuyvesant; others do this by volunteering at events. However, a certain few come back to Stuyvesant as teachers who influence the next generation of students.

One such teacher is technology teacher Joseph Blay (‘09). As a more recent graduate, he is very familiar with Stuyvesant’s culture. “It’s competitive, a lot of people trying to do well, a lot of people are very smart, and it's kind of awesome to have that in your peers, to have all your friends just crazy smart,” he explained.

Regarding Stuyvesant’s culture, English teacher Annie Thoms (‘93) added, “In any room that you’re in, you are probably not the smartest person in the room. I think that is very humbling in a positive way.”

English teacher Maura Dwyer (‘04) finds similarities between her current students and peers at the school during her time as a student. “I have so many students who remind me of friends of mine from Stuyvesant in sort of eerie ways,” she said.

Every student goes through the process of adapting to a new school. Biology teacher Dr. Maria Nedwidek-Moore’s (‘98) initial experience with high school was similar to many others’ experiences. Dr. Nedwidek-Moore wrote in an email interview: “The entrance exam was terrifying, and the first day was welcoming. My middle school experience was difficult. I was with students who struggled academically there. This made friendships more challenging. Stuyvesant was comfortable and people were friendly. That was easy to adjust to!”

Thoms, too, has fond memories of her first few months as a student. “[Stuyvesant] was still a school full of nerds, which was great. I came from a junior high where I was one of the biggest nerds. I came here, and I was no longer one of the biggest nerds,” she said.

For many of these teachers, Stuyvesant offered opportunities for growth in fields in which they currently specialize and teach. “I never would have become an academic scientist without this type of immersive environment,” Dr. Nedwidek-Moore stated. “I was exposed deeply to fields and subjects that were special and new. This gave me the intellectual tools to pick biology as a career and to love all science and math.”

Other teachers share similar experiences. Thoms recalled, “My writer’s workshop class changed my life. The teacher there was Judith Kocela. [She] was just amazing.”

Advancements in technology account for differences between the experiences of teachers when they were students and the experiences of current students. “My students now don’t sleep. [There is] too much internet,” Dr. Nedwidek-Moore said.

Dwyer’s take on technology was similar: “You guys have so much more technology in your lives than I did when I was a student. Facebook was started the year I graduated. So I didn’t have Facebook, or Instagram, or really social media at all when I was a student and that has really changed this for the student experience at Stuy[vesant],” she explained.

As alumni, these teachers have the experience and knowledge that current students have yet to discover. One of the many problems students face is receiving a low grade. When Dwyer encounters a student in that situation, she tries to remind them one grade does not define them. “When a student comes in crying, upset about a test having gone badly or thinking a test has gone badly, [I tell them,] ‘You can still be a successful, happy person even if you get a 50 on your math test,’” she said. “‘Those moments aren’t what define you as a person or as a student even if it feels that way.’”

Many teachers feel that when they were a student, they did not appreciate the various opportunities available for students at Stuyvesant. “The number one thing I missed out on when I was a student was the real value of all the different things that you get to learn at Stuy[vesant]. You get to really go in depth in so many subjects, and if you’re really interested in something you can pursue it,” Blay said. “I feel like if I could do it all over again, I could have […] taken away more of knowledge and be a more well-rounded person.”

One thing students may not plan for is life after high school and college. Though high school may seem like the most important aspect of life, Dr. Nedwidek-Moore advised, “Don't lose sight of your future. You cannot control it by what college you get into. You control it by being your best person and looking for good relationships and caring for your family and yourself. These are valuable attributes. A diploma helps you get a career. Moral character helps you live a good life.”

Focusing on academics should also remain a priority, as important life skills are learned through academic practices. “Learning how to manage workload is vital,” Thoms said. “The workload here can feel very overwhelming. Figuring out how to plot it out for yourself [is important], and a lot of that does also mean turning off social media and actually concentrating on one thing at a time. Doing your own work is important on both an academic level and a moral level.”

Overall, one idea was emphasized by each of the teachers: Stuyvesant’s student body may change every year, but the nature of Stuyvesant students will stay the same—each year brings in a new crop of students who are eager and ready to learn. “Stuy[vesant] students make up the school,” Dwyer said. “They are the most important part of the school. People who are in charge can come and go, but it's the students who make up the character and personality of the school.”