Into the Unknown: From Private to Public School

Profile on students’ transition from private school to public school.

Reading Time: 10 minutes

The transition from middle school to high school is not easy for anyone, but it can be especially challenging when coming from a small private school. With most private schools having a graduating classes as small as a gym class at Stuyvesant, coming to a school with over three thousand students can be daunting. We spoke to five Stuyvesant students who transferred from private school, and this is what they had to say.

Camilla Green, senior

After attending a private school for 11 years, senior Camilla Green made the decision to come to Stuyvesant, a school that couldn’t be more different than the school she previously attended. Green attended City and Country, a private school located in the West Village. “It’s small, and it’s known for being one of the first big progressive schools in NYC,” she described.

With a mere 29 kids in her graduating class, Green said, “I can still name all of them alphabetically, if you call on me to do so.” Coming from such a small school allowed Green to learn how to deal with social problems. “If you were in a fight with somebody, you couldn’t just ignore it, or ignore them, or be like ‘oh, we are not really friends anymore’ because you only had twenty-eight other options for friends,” she explained. Coming from a small school, Green was in shock when she came to Stuyvesant and saw 33 other students in her class and over three thousand students roaming the halls. “It was definitely super different being around a lot of people where you have to find people you like, and find people you’re going to be friends with, as opposed to kind of being born into your friends,” Green shared.

Class size wasn’t the only difference Green noticed. Back at City and Country, “there were no grades, like for anything,” Green said. Instead of using the standard grading system, “teachers would write really long evaluations about you and how you are doing, and you would either get progressing, progressing with support, or not progressing for a bunch of different standards,” Green recalled. This system couldn’t be more different than the strict and straightforward number or letter grading system used by the Stuyvesant teachers.

Despite Stuyvesant being so different from City and Country, Green is happy with her spontaneous choice of coming to Stuyvesant. It wasn’t until the last minute that Green made the final decision to attend Stuyvesant. “My parents sent the deposit to one of the private schools because they thought I was going to go there,” Green recounted. “I was like, ‘No, I'm still choosing. I’m still choosing,’ and I was like, ‘You know what I’m going to go to Stuyvesant.’” Everyone was shocked by Green’s selection, but she doesn’t regret it one bit. Green said, “In the earlier years at Stuy[vesant], I thought about this a lot, and I wished I went to a private school, but at this point, no way.”

Alex Gattegno, senior

Senior Alex Gattegno had attended the United International School (UNIS) since his first day of kindergarten, so it was a huge change when he decided to leave UNIS and come to Stuyvesant. Though it was a tough decision, two major factors led to Gattegno’s ultimate decision to switch schools: “First was the academic part. UNIS was not as academically rigorous as my parents hoped it would be, so they wanted me to go to a place that was harder,” Gattegno explained. “The other part was, when we started at UNIS, it was $26,000 a year, and by the time I left, it was like $40,000. It’s a big increase, and it was getting harder and harder to justify that.”

Gattegno’s parents had wanted him to attend a private school, since that was what his father had done. They chose to send Gattegno to UNIS because it was a private school that was different than most. With most of the students being children of high-level UN ambassadors, “[UNIS] was sort of this more diverse place than your traditional New York private school,” Gattegno said. His parents also believed UNIS would offer him a more diverse academic background. UNIS had given Gattegno an overall, positive elementary and middle school experience. “The people there were nice; the staff was nice, and the teachers were great,” Gattegno recalled.

During Gattegno’s transition to Stuyvesant, a major difference he noticed was the class sizes. “[At UNIS] You know everyone in your grade. In Stuy[vesant], you get thrown into 850 kids per grade and 34 kids per class. That was a very big difference for me,” Gattegno shared. Back at UNIS, teachers used to know all their students, their stories, and their best way of learning. “At a smaller private school, the teachers have the time and capacity to do that, but at Stuy[vesant], that’s not true,” Gattegno said.

Only one other student transferred to Stuyvesant with Gattegno. He said, “I didn’t know anyone, which is definitely a downside of transferring and coming from a private school.” This meant, unlike some students who came with an already formed friend group, Gattegno had to create his own friend group at Stuyvesant with kids he had never met before. Luckily, Gattegno shared, “It’s not so hard to make friends; it’s just that you need to recognize that that’s something you want to do.”

Though the transition to a new school might have not been the easiest, Gattegno adapted and is happy that he chose to spend his high school years at Stuyvesant.“Whenever you hear about Stuy[vesant], it’s about the students,” Gattegno said. “The kids I’ve met at Stuy[vesant] are so, so smart, and they’re so capable and driven. That’s an experience you don’t get anywhere else.”

Marie Check, sophomore

It was the middle of the school year when sophomore Marie Check and her family relocated from Canada to New York City. With middle school applications already due, Check’s sister, a middle schooler at the time, would have had to attend one of the less desirable schools. Upon the advice of a coworker, Check’s father made the decision to send both Check and her sister to St. Ignatius Loyola School, a small Catholic school.

After spending four years at St. Ignatius Loyola, Check decided to start her high school career at Stuyvesant. The transfer to Stuyvesant would be drastic for her, as St. Ignatius Loyola was “a very close knit community.” Despite knowing it would be a rough transition, Check decided that it would be in her best interest to go to a public high school.

The main reason for Check’s transfer was the expense of private high school. Check believed that it would be more beneficial to save that money for college. “I will probably thank myself later for choosing Stuy[vesant], because I saved myself $100,000 by not going to a private high school,” Check said.

One of the first major differences that Check noticed was Stuyvesant’s student body and how it affected her social life. At St. Ignatius Loyola, “you don’t switch classes every period because it’s such a small school.” This helped Check form friendships, as she was able to spend time with the same people everyday. In comparison, it took a lot more effort to make friends in Stuyvesant. “I knew it was a big school, but the fact that I didn’t see the same person twice made me realize that you have to put yourself out there to make friends or to get involved,” Check explained.

Despite this major transition, Check didn’t find it hard to get used to the differences at Stuyvesant. “It doesn’t take long for you to adapt because you’re honestly just thrown right into it,” she described. Check explained that putting herself out there helped her adjust to her new environment. “I joined a team, and I made friends from that, and I started participating in class more. That helped a lot because it didn’t feel like I was putting myself under pressure to be out there; it just happened naturally,” she said.

Joining extracurriculars also allowed Check to discover her interests and commit to them. Just like Stuyvesant, St. Ignatius Loyola offered a variety of clubs and activities to be a part of. Check was part of Science Olympiad, school musicals, band, and the yoga club. However, at her old school, it was hard to commit to one extracurricular more than the others. “One main difference was that teachers weren’t allowed to schedule that many club meetings per week, because the principal wanted to encourage students to participate in a lot of clubs,” she said. In comparison, Stuyvesant encourages students to highly commit to one activity rather than barely commit to many. “At Stuyvesant, I only have time to do the cheer team, but at my previous school, I did all of those clubs plus dance at an outside studio twice per week,” she said.

Stuyvesant also gave Check the opportunity to interact with new types of people. At St. Ignatius Loyola, the student body was mainly composed of people from high economic statuses, not allowing for much diversity. “I think that’s really interesting to meet different kinds of people,” she described. “The people who went to my middle school didn’t experience some things that kids at Stuy[vesant] have,” she said.

When asked if she wished she had attended a private high school instead, Check did not hesitate to answer no. “If I went to a private high school, I would say that I wish I attended public high school because I feel like I found myself so easily here,” she said. Stuyvesant offers so much through its activities, academics, and people, making Check forever grateful for her decision to make the switch from private to public school.

Julia Amiri, freshman

Freshman Julia Amiri attended BASIS Independent Brooklyn, a small private school in Brooklyn, for three years. In eighth grade, Amiri decided to attend Stuyvesant, a school that was quite different from what she was used to.

The driving force that pushed Amiri to come to Stuyvesant was the small student body of BASIS. Amiri described BASIS as a small school with only 60 kids per grade. “I knew everybody, and I wanted a social life. I wanted to exist in a place that wasn’t confined to 60 kids,” she said.

Amiri also felt that the move to Stuyvesant would benefit her when it came to college admissions. “Even though [BASIS] was a good school, colleges didn’t pay much attention to it, and I figured I could get a better shot at a really good college at Stuy[vesant],” she said.

Like most students who came from a private school, the transition to Stuyvesant took some getting used to for Amiri. At first, the large student body shocked Amiri. “There [was] so many children, and it was really overwhelming,” she stated. However, the fact that some of her peers from BASIS also chose to come to Stuyvesant helped Amiri adjust.

Another drastic difference that Amiri had to adapt to was the ability to connect with teachers. “I also had to realize that not every single teacher is gonna know my name and know exactly who I am,” she stated. At BASIS, the small student body allowed Amiri to get to know her teachers more closely. However, this is more of a challenge at larger public schools, like Stuyvesant.

The diversity of Stuyvesant was similar to that of BASIS, according to Amiri. “There were mostly Asian and white kids, and like one black kid. Here, it’s pretty similar,” she described.

Despite the similarities between BASIS and Stuyvesant, Amiri sometimes wishes she went to a private high school. “Sometimes I wish that I stayed, because it’s kindergarten to twelfth grade,” she stated. In comparison to Stuyvesant, BASIS had more vigorous classes. For example, Amiri was able to take two Advanced Placement classes in eighth grade. “I wish I could do that at Stuyvesant, which makes me regret the decision a bit,” she said. But, if she had to make the decision again, Amiri concluded that she would ultimately choose Stuyvesant.

Andrea Khoury, sophomore

St. Joseph Hill Academy was the only school sophomore Andrea Khoury knew for the first ten years of her academic career. Once she graduated her academy, Khoury decided to make the switch to public school, a decision that she would be thankful for later.

One of the main push factors that made Khoury switch to a public high school was the size of St. Joseph Hill Academy’s student body. Like most private schools, St. Joseph Hill Academy consisted of an extremely small student body. “Private school could become a hostile, toxic environment, as you’re surrounded by the same 70 kids in all your classes. I wanted to move to a bigger school where there was actually a lot of different kids,” Khoury said.

Another aspect that influenced Khoury’s decision was the fact that she got into Stuyvesant. “If I hadn’t gotten into Stuyvesant, I probably would’ve kept going to private school,” Khoury said. She was aware that Stuyvesant wasn’t like other public schools. “The academic advantage can’t be matched anywhere,” she stated.

Private school didn’t offer Khoury a lot of freedom. “At private school, you’re watched every second, and there is very little autonomy given to students,” Khoury said. In comparison, Stuyvesant gives their students a lot of freedom, such as being able to choose your classes and clubs. “You feel more grown up at public school,” Khoury said.

The size of Stuyvesant’s student body is a shock to most incoming students, but it’s even more of a shock to private middle school students. The size difference was one of the first drastic differences that Khoury noticed. “In middle school, it’s just a small group of kids. It’s 60 kids per grade, and here it’s like 900,” Khoury stated.

Khoury also noted a difference between Stuyvesant’s diversity and that of St. Joseph Hill Academy. “In middle school, there was probably one Asian person. Everyone was white. Stuyvesant is extremely diverse, racially and geographically,” Khoury said. The different kinds of people with different backgrounds greatly influence Khoury’s experience at Stuyvesant. “I see that diversity in my school life everyday in classes, when we share our different life experiences and through the different clubs that exist specifically for all the different cultures people come from,” Khoury said.

Originally, Khoury did not have such a positive perception of public school. “They teach you at private school that public school is dirty and ghetto, but it’s obviously not. It’s actually really nice,” she described. Khoury’s move to the public education system introduced her to a brand new community composed of a variety of new types of people and educational opportunities, something that she wouldn’t have gotten at a private high school.