Big Sib Program Hosts Virtual Open House

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the incoming Big Sib Chairs have organized a Virtual Open House for the class of 2024.

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By Andrea Huang

After incoming freshmen receive their acceptances mid-March, they and their families tour Stuyvesant, learning about the courses and clubs that fill our halls and classrooms. The Big Sibs cheer and applaud families as they file in and then take small groups on tours throughout the ten floors, from the pool to the library to the cafeteria. This year, however, the class of 2024 will experience their Open House online. Thanks to the efforts of the administration and newly chosen Big Sib Chairs—juniors Anaïs Delfau, Elena Hlamenko, Andrea Huang, Henry Michaelson, and Aki Yamaguchi—families of incoming freshmen will be able to get to know the Stuyvesant culture and academic life through a virtual Open House, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools.

The virtual Open House will contain information that would have been presented during a physical Open House, which was originally scheduled in March. It is composed of six different videos: one of the administration, one of the assistant principals of each department, one on extracurriculars, one on sports teams, one answering frequently asked questions (FAQ), and one a floor tour. The Big Sib Chairs aimed to capture what a tour of Stuyvesant feels like and what students would have seen had they had the chance to walk around the school.

The Big Sib Chairs, who were selected a week prior to Stuyvesant’s closing, predicted that schools would shut down in the near future and spent the last week filming footage in the building. “When we all found out that we’d become Big Sib Chairs, there was already a possibility that school would be closed due to COVID-19. And so in case of school closures, we wanted to be able to put something out for the eighth graders that were making the decision,” Michaelson said.

The idea for a virtual house tour was suggested by Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick and was spearheaded by the Big Sib Chairs, who received assistance from many other students and faculty members. They worked especially closely with the Faculty Oversight Committee, which consists of Pedrick, Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram, guidance counselors Sarah Kornhauser and Undine Guthrie, and pupil accounting secretary Carol Carrano. “By the time we learned that we were chosen to be chairs and needed to make a virtual Open House, we only had three days in school to film, so as you can imagine, it was extremely hectic. We had to contact a lot of people for their inputs in our videos, such as the Faculty Oversight Committee, [Principal Eric] Contreras, the assistant principals, and multiple different clubs. The previous chairs also helped us out throughout the process,” Huang said.

With the help of The Spectator Photo Department, the Big Sib Chairs first took videos and photos of the school building. “It was extremely difficult to take nice pictures because we couldn’t get our hands on proper cameras besides our phones on such short notice. Luckily, The Spectator Photo Department offered to help us on the last day before school closed,” Huang said. “We have multiple videos in the works currently; some are more completed than others, but we plan on finishing all six videos by the end of April.”

Yamaguchi added, “We also reached out to Big Sibs and asked them to talk a little about their experiences […] reaching out to many different organizations within Stuyvesant, we collected clips from leaders and footage to create the videos.”

Timing and gathering enough content were not the only obstacles the Chairs faced. “An additional layer to this process was that none of us had actual video-editing experience,” Hlamenko said. “Though our primary platform, iMovie, is fairly simple to use, working with a few hours of footage and the fact that not all of us have the platform available to us made the process lengthier and encouraged collaboration.”

While the Big Sib Chairs’ virtual tour will showcase the ins and outs of Stuyvesant, incoming freshmen may have additional questions. In preparation, the chairs are scheduling a panel to answer questions in real-time. “We’ve released a form to that class to give them a forum to ask questions, and then we’ll see how it goes from there. The video will be included with others on the website and is essentially a frequently asked questions page,” Delfau said.

The current Chairs are also recruiting previous Big Sib Chairs to answer questions. “[The FAQ] is […] a recorded Zoom meeting of Big Sib Chairs ’21 [and] Big Sib Chairs ’20, where we answer questions that are commonly asked at Open House by freshmen,” Huang said.

The Big Sib Chairs intend to distribute the finalized video on the Stuyvesant website, making it accessible to the entire incoming class. “We want the decision to be easier for eighth-graders, and so they can get a taste of what life is like at Stuy. [T]hough it’s not 100 percent possible to replicate what an in-school Open House would be, we want to get as close to that as possible,” Michaelson said.

Aside from their virtual Open House, the Big Sib Chairs have had to make other changes to their program. This year, potential Big Sib interviews are being held over Zoom. Additionally, the Chairs are beginning to map out the transition to an online Camp Stuy Part I. “We will be working with the administration, especially regarding placement exams and tryouts, closely for this project,” Huang said.

Yamaguchi is proud of how, despite the short notice of school closures, the Chairs have been able to meet the challenge of recreating an Open House. “It was definitely a little nerve-racking at first because we knew that it was unclear when school was going to be closed,” she said. “It’s honestly incredible how we jumped into this. I just loved how we all clicked and knew this was something that we needed to get done.”

On behalf of all the Big Sib Chairs, Huang would like to thank the Stuyvesant community for their patience and participation in the recording of the videos. “We would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the process of creating these videos,” she said. “It is difficult to get in front of a camera knowing that hundreds of eighth graders and their parents are going to watch you speak, but everyone has been so cooperative, and we are truly grateful for their contributions during these difficult times.”