Say Hello to the 2021-2022 Big Sib Chairs!

The 2020-2021 Big Sib Chairs announced the 2021-2022 Big Sib Chairs

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By Daniela Maksin

Juniors Samuel Espinal Jr., Daniela Maksin, Alec Shafran, Aaron Wang, and Syeda Zahan have been selected as the 2021-2022 Big Sib Chairs. The incoming Chairs were chosen by seniors and outgoing 2020-2021 Big Sib Chairs Anaïs Delfau, Elena Hlamenko, Andrea Huang, Henry Michaelson, and Aki Yamaguchi. Both the incoming and outgoing Big Sib Chairs will continue to face and adapt to the challenges of a virtual school year.

This year, the Big Sib Chair application deadline and results followed an earlier schedule. The outgoing Big Sib Chairs made this decision to provide more time for the new Chairs to adjust to their roles. “We had a really rough transition process, where we found out we were Chairs two days before everything shut down. We wanted to make sure they had the technical aspect down and knew how to run events virtually with our guidance so that they’re not completely lost when we graduate,” Huang said.

The Big Sib Chair application process was similar to that of previous years, with the exception of virtual interviews. “We needed a recommendation from our homeroom leader, two Little Sib recommendations, and a teacher recommendation as well as the application,” Wang said. “And then afterward, you have to do a 30-minute interview with all five of the Big Sib Chairs as well as a few faculty members.”

The incoming Big Sib Chairs have participated in a variety of extracurricular activities that allowed them to gain familiarity with the Stuyvesant community. Espinal Jr. is involved in Speech and Debate and is currently the Treasurer of the Black Students League and Co-Vice President of ASPIRA.

Espinal Jr. was inspired to become a Big Sib through his positive experience with his former Big Sib Julianna Fabrizio (‘19), who helped him adjust to Stuyvesant. “I was just this Black and Latino little kid from a middle school no one ever heard of, so I didn't really know anyone. My Big Sibs helped me navigate through Stuy, specifically, Julianna, who was captain of Policy Debate and convinced me to join debate,” he said.

Maksin is the Director General of Model UN and the Director of Communications of Student Union (SU). She is also a member of ARISTA, Stuyvesant’s Honor Society. Additionally, she is a teacher and community organizer at her local Hebrew school and is passionate about medicine and neuroscience.

Maksin’s experience with her five siblings, including her brother, Leon Maskin (‘20), has influenced her to become a Big Sib to help others. “I chose to be a Big Sib to have a chance to combine my passion, which is the Stuy community, with what I care about, which is helping people to have a more smooth transition to enjoy their high school experience more,” Maskin said.

Shafran is the SING! Coordinator, President-in-Training of StuySquad, and a Speech and Debate member. He is also a Communications Director and member of the Donor and Shelter Relations team at Sparks Within Reach, a non-profit organization that helps provide resources to homeless youth.

Like Maskin, Shafran was also inspired by his older sibling, Mark Shafran (‘18), and wanted to be a resource for Little Sibs. “Like Daniela, I have an older brother, so coming into Stuy, I knew a little bit of insight as to how things are. So being a Big Sib, in a way, [allowed me to] become this resource and a walking help center for my Little Sibs,” Shafran said. “When you're here [as a Big Sib chair], it's like you're able to see everything through a bird's eye view of how all these different, interesting people are interacting with their Little Sibs and with each other. It’s just so rewarding.”

Wang is an editor for the Writing Center and a writer for the Humor Department of The Spectator. Additionally, he is the Deputy Chief of Staff on the Executive Council of the SU.

Wang credits the positive impact of his Little Sib experience as a motivator for becoming a Big Sib. “Because I know just how influential having a good freshman year is, I want to give this to all Little Sibs. I think all Little Sibs are deserving of a good first impression, especially to a school where you're going to spend the next four years of your life,” Wang said.

Zahan is the Vice President of Stuy Smile, a club that aims to host events to reduce stress and spread positivity. She is also a member of the SU Communications Department as a Morning Announcer. Outside of Stuyvesant, she is an intern for the Mark Levine for Manhattan Borough President campaign.

Similar to Espinal Jr., Zahan also had a positive relationship with her former Big Sib, Claire Bartholomew (‘20), who influenced her to later participate in the Big Sib program. “The Big Sib program helped me a lot, especially since the Big Sib I was assigned to went to my middle school. She was one of the main reasons why I wanted to become a Big Sib in the first place,” Zahan said.

In choosing the incoming Big Sib Chairs, the outgoing Big Sib Chairs looked for applicants who were not only passionate about the program but also had new ideas to improve it. “We were [...] looking for people who were passionate but also had ideas—who were looking for ways to expand the program. So we were looking for a lot of people who had ideas, but also people who could take those ideas and put them into action and ways to implicate them,” Delfau said.

During the interview, Espinal Jr. emphasized his ideas for the Big Sib program. “We all had to come up with our own different ideas to change the program. Mine was to come up with Zoom meetings to be hosted every period, but [with] different breakout rooms centered around topics that Little Sibs can come and talk about to one another to promote these freshmen friendships that are very difficult to make in a remote setting,” Espinal Jr. said. “[Doing] research to set a program that other Little Sibs could access was a lot about what personally my application focused a lot on.”

Additionally, it was important for the Big Sib Chair applicants to demonstrate passion and personality, despite the difficulties present in a virtual interview. “Over remote learning, it's a lot harder to communicate on what you're truly passionate about. When you're staring at people through a student screen, [a bit of] humanity is lost because you can't really tell as much as if you were talking to someone in person, Wang said. “Because of that, it was super important for us to not only stress our passion but also communicate our personalities in all of our responses as well.”

As the first Big Sib Chairs to operate the program in a virtual setting, the outgoing Chairs faced new challenges. “This past year has been characterized by a time of needing to be adaptable,” Michaelson said.

Without in-person conversations and meetings, the outgoing Chairs learned from current Big Sibs that it was difficult to connect with their Little Sibs. Many Big Sibs encountered a lack of participation and interest from the Little Sibs in a virtual environment. “There was no handbook or guidebook for us, so naturally there were some things we could have done better,” Hlamenko said.

To address the issue, the incoming Big Sib Chairs emphasized the importance of maintaining socialization efforts with Little Sibs. “As long as COVID-19 lasts, we need to emphasize regular communication between Big Sibs not just during homeroom by itself, but also just maintaining activity with group chats with their Little Sibs and just reinforcing bonding events,” Wang said.

Additionally, the new Big Sib Chairs acknowledge the significance providing general support and communication with parents. "It's also going to be super interesting to hear how parents are going to be navigating this new, online setting and being able to help them through the Stuyvesant process," Maskin said.

The outgoing Big Sib Chairs hope that the program will soon be in-person when it is safe to do so. “It’s a lot more fun in person. You get to see Little Sibs a lot more and it’s a lot more energy and interaction with the people that you’re helping,” Huang said.

While the incoming Big Sib Chairs are still awaiting updates regarding possible school reopenings in the fall, they are hopeful. “We would have to see what the precautions are when we're going back in the fall. We need to make sure that we're communicating and seeing what the Little Sibs and also the Big Sibs feel comfortable and safe, ” Zahan said. “I can speak for all of us when I say that we hope we can have in-person events as much as possible. I'm just hoping for the best, but definitely keeping in mind all the restrictions.”

Virtual or not, the outgoing Chairs are excited about the plans of the incoming Chairs. “Something I’m excited to see our events and how [the new Big Sib Chairs] imagine homeroom to be,” Hlkamenko said.

Moving forward, the new Big Sib Chairs are optimistic about their plans for the program. “Ultimately, I think what brought us together is our shared passion, our shared interest in just our compatible personalities. I think passionate people are drawn to each other and ultimately, that's why we're all here today,” Wang said.