Meet the 2020-2021 Big Sib Chairs!

The 2019-2020 Big Sib Chairs announced the 2020-2021 Big Sib Chairs.

Reading Time: 10 minutes

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By Matt Melucci

Juniors Anaïs Delfau, Elena Hlamenko, Andrea Huang, Henry Michaelson, and Aki Yamaguchi have been selected as the 2019-2020 Big Sib Chairs. They were chosen by 2019-2020 Big Sib Chairs Harper Andrews, Kristie Chu, Victoria Wong, Frank Yang, and Patrick Zheng. Both the outgoing and incoming Big Sib Chairs are looking forward to future plans for the program in the upcoming year.

The outgoing Big Sib Chairs followed a thorough process while picking their successors. “Everybody had to submit a written application, and everyone also got an interview,” Michaelson said. “You needed two recommendations from two Little Sibs and one from your homeroom leader.” Applicants were also required to submit a teacher recommendation and were interviewed by the all five Big Sib Chairs and two faculty members.

Though they have only just begun working together, the incoming Big Sib Chairs have already established a close and friendly dynamic. “When I walked into [Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Ms. Casey] Pedrick’s office for the first time, I only knew [Hlamenko], and I didn’t know the other three Big Sib Chairs at all,” Huang said. “I was a little worried at first because it felt like some of them knew each other before, and I felt a little intimidated. I didn’t want to be the odd one out, but that didn’t happen. We just clicked.”

Delfau is the captain of the girls’ varsity volleyball team. She is also on a club volleyball team outside of Stuyvesant. She also takes photos for The Spectator and Humans of Stuy.

Delfau formed a strong and meaningful relationship with one of her Big Sibs, Amy Ren (’18), who inspired her to become a Big Sib. “She was friends with a couple people on the volleyball team […] she came to a game without me even telling her. I just mentioned it at one homeroom, and she was able to take whatever I said and find a way to help me and find a way to devote more value,” Delfau said. “That was a really big part of why I wanted to be a Big Sib [...] I wanted to be able to help people and show them that they were important because it’s so easy to get lost and overwhelmed at Stuy.”

Hlamenko writes for The Spectator Opinions Department and Caliper Magazine. She is a member of the girls’ varsity volleyball team and plays club volleyball outside of school. In addition, she is the Junior Caucus Chief of Staff.

Hlamenko has formed strong bonds with her Little Sibs and seen the positive impact of a strong Big Sib-Little Sib relationship firsthand. “I've really formed some really powerful relationships with my Little Sibs, and I definitely say that even as a chair and even as they become sophomores, I’m still going to keep in touch with a handful of the freshmen in my current homeroom,” she said. “Having those relationships formed [...] and having an idea of what a good Big Sib should be really inspired me to try to instill the same values and create the same environment for every Little Sib.”

Huang is a varsity debater for Stuyvesant’s policy debate team. She is also an art editor for The Spectator and was an art director for Junior SING! this past winter. Outside of Stuyvesant, she is a marketing co-chair for the New York City Asian American Student Conference.

Similar to Delfau, Huang was inspired to become both a Big Sib and chair by Jennifer Lee (’19), a former Big Sib Chair. “I met her outside of Stuy in the New York City Asian American Student Conference, and she was a mentor to me. I really looked up to her and was like, ‘Wow. This is really cool. I really want to do this because she is doing it,’” Huang said. “When I was a freshman, I believed that all upperclassmen knew how to mentor, but that’s not actually true. Learning from [Lee] taught me how to be a mentor, and I wanted to be a Big Sib Chair because of that.”

Michaelson is passionate about law and a member of the Stuyvesant Legal Society. He is also very active outside of Stuyvesant as a teacher’s assistant at his synagogue’s Hebrew school and the Director of Communications for his youth group.

Michaelson had a positive experience as a Little Sib, which drew him to become a Big Sib, and then a chair. “I had a really good relationship with one Big Sib in particular, and I kind of looked up to him as soon as I got to Stuy,” he said. “Once I became a Big Sib, I really valued the relationships I had with my Little Sibs, but I also knew that I wanted to have more of an impact in the program as a whole.”

Yamaguchi is the captain of the girls’ varsity soccer team and plays on a club team outside of Stuyvesant. She is a member of the girls’ varsity softball team, and manages the boys’ varsity, boys’ junior varsity, and girls’ varsity basketball teams. She is the Student Union Director of Event Planning and has been a member of the event planning committee for Caucus every year at Stuyvesant. She also writes for The Spectator Sports Department and is on the layout department for the Indicator.

Though she will no longer have her own homeroom, Yamaguchi is excited to have the chance to reach out to the entire incoming class. “For me, a big sacrifice of being chair is that you don’t have your own homeroom, and you can miss the personal connection. I know that despite being a chair, I’ll still be able to connect to freshmen; I’ll still be able to talk to them through other activities and reach out to them,” Yamaguchi said. “As an older sister, I have always been in the role of being a big sib, and so this program was something I wanted to do from the start, from when I was a Little Sib myself.”

Almost immediately after the Big Sib Chair results were announced, the program faced criticism about the racial, gender, and extracurricular breakdown of the incoming chairs. Ultimately though, the outgoing chairs felt that the compatibility and qualifications of applicants took priority over their racial and gender diversity. “We did have a smaller pool of applicants this year; in fact, it was 30 percent smaller than last year. From there alone, you have a less diverse pool of people to select from,” Yang said. “It’s also easy to say we should take the most diverse group, but that’s only when you are looking at all the candidates without looking at their merits, without looking at their applications, without looking at their interviews. We had to choose who is best from everything they gave us—their applications, their interviews, their recommendations—and from there select who we thought was best for the program.”

Huang added, “It’s definitely good to get criticism, and it’s definitely good to understand the problems with different programs and different racial and gender divides, but the five of us were picked for a reason, and that’s something to keep in mind [...] even if we are not the most diverse from the public’s point of view, we are still independent and separate people, and personality outweighs in a lot of ways because we work very well together. That’s more important when it comes to a program dedicated to creating more comfortable spaces for freshmen, which is our ultimate goal. If it means that we have three white chairs and only one boy, so be it, if it means that we are the most qualified applicants that work well together.”

The outgoing Big Sib Chairs, however, want to note that they did take diversity factors into consideration when making their choices. “It’s not like we ignored the race and gender breakdown entirely when choosing because at one point, we were also considering, ‘Is it okay to have four girls and one guy this year?’ And after we made our choice, we were like, ‘Hmm, the racial breakdown is very different,’” Wong said. “It’s not like we were throwing those out the window and not thinking about them, but just in the end, we thought it was most important to pick five people who we thought were competent and who we thought would work together well. And honestly, it’s good that we chose really competent people this year because the chairs are going to have a rougher time than usual with the virus outbreak.”

One of the first big events for incoming chairs, the Open House for accepted students, was cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an alternate way to welcome the incoming class, the Big Sib Chairs are compiling video clips of Stuyvesant to create a virtual Open House. “We started filming footage of the entire school from the first floor to the tenth floor and covering Stuy gems—the pool, the auditorium, the spin room—just a lot of things that make Stuyvesant a special high school facility wise,” Hlamenko said. “Then we also, the following day, got a lot of testimonies from students, Big Sib and non-Big Sib alike, and tried to get as much of the real Open House experience as possible in footage.”

To accomodate for the current crisis, interviews for Big Sib applicants will be held through video calls. The Big Sib Chairs, however, are still aiming to select a diverse group of Big Sibs personality-wise, even if they are unable to hold in-person interviews. “We want people to understand that we’re going to be fair when choosing Big Sibs and that being a certain race or having a certain personality trait, whether that's introverted or extroverted or other things, aren’t going to make or break somebody’s application and that everybody should apply, and they all have a shot at making it,” Michaelson said. “We are [...] sensitive, and we understand people’s criticism, and we want this to be as fair of a process as possible.”

Yamaguchi agreed, “It’s a big value in our program that we want to make sure that our Big Sibs can reach out and apply to all freshmen, not just the people who are more loud or more willing to talk, like the extroverts.”

Aside from the COVID-19 related modifications, the incoming Big Sib Chairs also hope to implement a sensitivity curriculum for all accepted Big Sibs. “We want to try and make a sensitivity curriculum about navigating relationships, such as introverted and extroverted relationships, as well as racial and economic issues that are definitely prevalent at Stuy that I think Big Sib[s] need to be aware of when they interact with their Little Sib,” Michaelson said.

Hlamenko added on, “We are definitely working with guidance and various representatives from the school community to talk about racial, sexual, economic, religious, et cetera, sensitivity and just try to reinforce a moral and responsibility about how some Big Sibs end up slacking halfway through the academic year where they don't focus their responsibility on their Little Sibs.”

To combat this, the Big Sib Chairs want to introduce a feedback system to hold Big Sibs accountable throughout the entire school year. “If there were any Big Sibs who were problematic, [with whom] Little Sibs didn’t feel comfortable enough […] or [whom] Little Sibs felt like weren’t the best Big Sib they could be—it would be a way for us to get feedback,” Yamaguchi said. “If this Big Sib had been doing things that were wrong that we weren’t aware of, it would be a way for us to make sure they don’t continue being a Big Sib.”

The Big Sibs Chairs wish to maintain clear communication between themselves and all of the Big Sibs this year. “If you want to get things done, you need to have a very positive relationship where both sides are heard and understood and make sure that everything is smooth sailing. On the other side, you also want to make sure that Big Sibs is staying true to what it preaches and what it practices, so you want to make sure that Big Sibs are being Big Sibs because they want to be Big Sibs,” Delfau said.

The Big Sib Chairs aim to host a second dance toward the end of the school year. “It’s sort of a nice thing for the seniors who are graduating to see all of their Little Sibs together. Homeroom is not [held] as often in the spring, so you don’t get to see your Little Sibs as much,” Yamaguchi said. “And at the same time, you are more comfortable at the end of the year. It’s only October or early November when the dance happens, so at the end of the year, you are definitely more comfortable with your Little Sibs.”

Outside of holding more dances, the Big Sib Chairs hope to have more events that will appeal to a great variety of freshmen. “As a Little Sib, I wanted more time to become friends with my Big Sibs. Because I was very hesitant to talk to people, I wanted more opportunities to talk to them or more opportunities for them to talk to me,” Huang said. “We are looking to develop more places where introverted freshmen are comfortable and events where Little Sibs and Big Sibs can talk one-on-one or one-on-two.”

The Big Sib Chairs are looking to start having specialized tour guides to talk with potential students who have interests in specific areas. “For touring, during Open Houses, I thought it would be a great idea to have some sort of specialized tour guides,” Yamaguchi said. “We would have athlete tour guides as an option, or someone who is into theater, or someone who is on Spec.”

The new Big Sib Chairs have also found that the homeroom picnics before the start of the school year have fostered strong relationships and hope to host them again this upcoming summer. “More picnics would definitely be fun because we don't have that many homerooms. You want your Little Sibs to have a great bond when they come in and not be super frantic,” Delfau said.

The Big Sib Chairs have realized that being able to communicate well and efficiently is their key for success this upcoming year. “If you come in with some kind of pre-established relationship or familiarity with each other, there's an inherent layer of trust that’s formed,” Hlamenko said. “Being able to be very honest and being able to communicate very openly with people who you’re going to be working a lot with through the year and a half [is] a very big strength and something that definitely marks the beginning of a very fruitful and healthy work dynamic.”

Despite the changes surrounding COVID-19 concerns, the Big Sib Chairs are looking forward to the year ahead. “We were able to formulate plans and go through ideas and talk through things in such a positive way because we all have slightly different views. Some people will take something, and we’ll add on, and by the end of two minutes, we have completely enhanced whatever we have started off with, and that’s such a positive dynamic,” Delfau said. “I'm excited for whatever we have to tackle next because I know we as a whole can do it.”