Student Union Mid-Year Check-In

The Spectator reviews the progress of the Student Union and the Caucuses with their initiatives and campaign goals so far this year.

Reading Time: 13 minutes

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By Matt Melucci

Student Union:

Student Union (SU) President Vishwaa Sofat and Vice President Julian Giordano ran on a platform of inclusivity, transparency, and accessibility, themes into which they sought to incorporate all their ideas for bettering Stuyvesant. “When we ran last year as the VISIAN campaign, we had three main goals: inclusivity, transparency, and accessibility, and the work we’ve done fits into at least one of those brackets at all times,” Sofat said. This year, they have been working on their usual annual projects, such as the Club-Pub Fair, all the while initiating bigger changes, like the ones involving this year’s SING!.

The pair began their term with many ambitious goals, but the rise of challenges such as the physics curriculum change has compelled them to change their agenda and manage these tasks instead. “I’d say the biggest obstacles this year that we faced were the changes that were made in the physics curriculum, which was big news to us, mainly because it was announced out of the blue,” Giordano said. Alongside the Junior Caucus, Sofat and Giordano assisted the junior class with the switch from “Advanced Placement (AP) Physics 1” to “Advanced Physics with AP Physics 1 Topics.” They immediately met with Principal Eric Contreras, United Federation of Teachers Representative and chemistry teacher Samantha Daves, and Assistant Principal Scott Thomas in order to assess the situation and ease the transition. These meetings helped to open and establish a uniform grade-wide curriculum and guaranteed physics test prep books and sessions for students. The SU was able to host a Town Hall with Contreras to connect the student body and the administration regarding the physics changes. Furthermore, the school was able to provide refunds to students who no longer wanted to take the AP exam.

Sofat and Giordano have acknowledged that they have adapted to do what they believe is best for the student body. “We’ve tried to stick to the values we’ve created, but we have been flexible. As student government officials, we have learned in the past that not everything we want to get done will get done in that year,” Sofat said. “We’ve been able to adapt to those challenges that come our way but also be successful in making sure student voices have been heard along those steps at all times.”

One of the SU’s biggest changes this year was its alterations to the SING! schedule and structure, specifically the addition of a judged show on Thursday night, instead of an unjudged Wednesday “New Haven” performance. Though they are enjoying the SING! season, they are keeping in mind the financial aspects of the event and the management of security and supervision. “While we want the students to have this platform to perform one more day and to enjoy it, we also want to make sure all students are prepared,” Sofat said.

The SU worked with StuySquad this year to organize its performance, which was successful but ran into issues with faculty advisors and overcrowding. Despite these obstacles, the pair successfully organized apparel for all StuySquad members and helped the performance run smoothly. “We have had a great partnership with them, and we’ve helped make sure that we can support them the best way we can [...] we were able to do the most we could, so they all focused on putting on the best performance and not the organizational details,” Giordano said.

Sofat and Giordano have also been working on changes around the school, adding water bottle-filling stations in collaboration with the Wellness Council. These new stations are in addition to the ones purchased through social studies teacher Ellen Siegel’s participatory budgeting project this past winter. The SU furthermore anticipates a new printing station on the eighth floor this semester, which they have been planning since last summer. The last challenge before the station can be opened is figuring out where to place the printer without blocking hallways or obstructing the Fireway Code of Conduct. “We have all of the materials in place, and all we have to do is set it up, so we can have a second printing station in the school. Those are changes that the student body wants and will have the biggest impact on the grade,” Giordano said.

Besides these larger projects, the SU has worked on smaller initiatives such as the addition of pronoun identification on Talos. They have collaborated with The Spectator to livestream Stuyvesant sports games, as students who might not be able to watch games normally now have a chance to enjoy school events. Sofat and Giordano created a new cafeteria and hallway code of conduct, organized SU apparel, and hosted Stuyloween, BooGrams, spirit week, and the Club-Pub Fair.

Some of Sofat and Giordano’s objectives for this year have been more difficult to achieve than others. During their campaign, they proposed installing phone charging stations from the company LocknCharge. They, however, decided not to invest in this initiative, citing the $3,000 cost for a set of five to 10 chargers and student apathy regarding the stations. In return, Sofat and Giordano, in conjunction with the administration, plan to transform the SU room into an active study space with new furniture. A major addition to this space would be chargers for laptops, tablets, and cell phones. The room would be monitored by an adult and abide by school regulations.

Another initiative put to a pause is determining a uniform team mascot, which was put forward by William Wang (’19) and Sofat last year. The SU has already surveyed this year’s sports captains, who were largely willing to play under one mascot. The idea, however, cannot move forward until Public Schools Athletic League Athletic Director and physical education teacher Peter Bologna meets with the principal. Sofat has communicated with Bologna multiple times this year, but has not received a significant response. “It is always a time issue, as such a change has to be during the summer, and even then there is not a lot of time as preseason for sports starts soon after,” Sofat said.

Throughout this all, Sofat and Giordano have agreed that an important achievement of this past year has been improving relationships between the SU, the caucuses, and the administration. They were able to continue collaborating with the Parent Association and the Alumni Association as well, working with the former to organize the career fair and the latter to manage SING! ticketing. “These are relationships [with] benefits [that] will last far beyond just this one year and will help future leaders of the SU push change and continue working with parents, teachers, [and] alumni to create positive change for students,” Giordano said.

Freshman Caucus:

Freshman Caucus President Satvik Agnihotri and Vice President Iravan Bhattacharyya ran on a platform of diversity, inclusivity and continuity. They emphasized having a diverse cabinet, one that represented a variety of interests, to serve as the voice for the freshmen.

The largest event of the year that they have planned is the Snowball Dance, which is scheduled for February 14. Agnihotri and Bhattacharyya have spent the majority of their time in office planning the dance, which will have music, dancing, free food, and raffles.

After the Snowball Dance, they plan to focus on achieving more of their campaign policies. “We have taken some initiative. We had a meeting with [Principal Eric] Contreras, we’ve spoken with [Student Union President] Vishwaa [Sofat] and other SU heads […] to understand that [these] goal[s] [are] achievable, attainable, and realistic,” Agnihotri said.

Unfortunately, Agnihotri and Bhattacharyya have also come to understand the limitations of the Freshman Caucus, especially considering their lack of experience as freshmen. “As a caucus, we are not as capable of creating [all of] these policy changes, and we should aim for one a year,” Agnihotri said.

One policy Agnihotri and Bhattacharyya aimed to implement was to allow students to re-enter the building early during free periods and lunches, a common initiative that previous Freshman Caucuses had attempted to take on. Another policy they wished to pursue was to allow students to have one earbud in while in the cafeteria. However, due to their limited influence and the short term in office so far, they have been unable to accomplish either of these goals.

Despite the lack of progress made on their campaign promises and the limitations of their roles, Agnihotri and Bhattacharyya remain positive about the rest of their time as Freshman Caucus Presidents and will continue to advocate for the freshmen.

Sophomore Caucus:

While running last spring, Sophomore Caucus President Cynthia Tan and Vice President Elio Torres promised transparency, innovation, and teamwork. They campaigned to extract opportunities for sophomores from Internship Coordinator Harvey Blumm’s Weekly Opportunities Bulletin, add study guides for sophomores on the Sophomore Caucus website, implement a biweekly caucus update, and offer guidance to the new leaders of Freshman Caucus. Overall, they have accomplished all of their goals this year and have executed numerous successful events like the Escape Room fundraiser and gingerbread house building contest.

Tan and Torres hosted two successful fundraising events: the Sophomore Caucus’s Detective Mystery Escape Room and a gingerbread house building contest. During the Escape Room event, 12 teams attempted to “escape the room” in under 30 minutes by solving clues. The event completely sold out, generating more profit than what was expected. “It was one of the first Stuy has ever seen, and we’re planning to have another one soon,” Tan said.

The second event was a gingerbread house building contest, hosted by the caucus’s events department. Groups of six were given around 75 minutes to assemble and decorate their gingerbread houses, which were later judged by Sophomore Caucus members using a blind voting system. The turnout for the second event was almost even with the turnout for the first.

Tan and Torres further aimed to collaborate with Freshman Caucus throughout the year. Last year, when Tan was Freshman Caucus President and Torres was Chief of Staff of Freshman Caucus, they didn’t have any upperclassmen supporting them as they led their caucus. This year, Tan and Torres held cooperative meetings with the Freshman Caucus to show how the Sophomore Caucus operates and help the Freshman Caucus. Tan has attended Freshman Caucus meetings to help Agnihotri and Bhattacharyya run them successfully. In addition, they organized for members of similar positions on both caucuses to meet one-on-one, giving the freshmen opportunities to ask any questions and understand their responsibilities.

The Caucus has also been working to support their grade with study guides for almost every subject. They started by refining Harvey Blumm’s Opportunities Bulletin, listing all opportunities available for sophomores. Tan and Torres have worked to improve the navigation on their website. Over the summer, they sent out e-mails to the class of 2022 to ask their classmates what study guides they would like to see and then reached out to upperclassmen. “We asked juniors and seniors to send us old study guides, and we would pile them up onto our website,” Torres said. They are planning to post the release of their website on Instagram very soon. To top it all off, the pair has initiated better communication by sending out biweekly e-mails to update their grade on the status of their projects.

For the second semester, Sophomore Caucus is working on new events and continuing to collaborate with the Freshman Caucus. The two caucuses, for example, hope to host a talent show. In addition to the talent show, the Sophomore Caucus is planning to host a successful semi formal. The caucus is shifting the focus of the sponsorship department from working mainly on student discounts to organizing speaker series, which would invite alumni to speak to current Stuyvesant students. Ultimately, the success of their projects this spring lies on Tan and Torres’ initial promise to provide transparency, innovation, and teamwork.

Junior Caucus:

Junior Caucus Co-Presidents Katerina Corr and Ayala Sela have continued to expand their initiatives from their Sophomore Caucus administration last year. They have continued the “So you want to be” program for career awareness and have been trying to expand the pen pal program to other languages besides Spanish. The Caucus has hosted multiple events in the last term, including a bake sale during parent-teacher conferences and a bake sale with a movie night.

The Caucus helped to transition the change from AP Physics to Advanced Physics. Because the situation was a significant shift for all of the juniors, they helped convey information regarding the change, how their physics classes would differ, and who students could go to with any questions or concerns. They also helped manage refunds for students who did not want to take the AP exams through meetings with the administration. This helped push for refunds, which were handled by Assistant Principal of Organization Dr. Gary Haber. Currently, Corr and Sela are working with Principal Eric Contreras to organize lectures and classes with a test prep company to teach the AP material that the school teachers are no longer mandated to teach. They have had one meeting with the physics teachers to discuss how to move forward with the class and plan to have future meetings. The relationship between the caucuses, SU, and the administration has improved through this situation, as they were able to work together to find a solution.

Corr and Sela are continuing to implement their policies, including the college newsletter, which is part of their initiative to aid juniors entering the college process. Corr and Sela plan to work with the guidance counselors to provide students with condensed information similar to the current newsletter and will know their next steps after the College Office Presentations.

Furthermore, Corr and Sela are working on sponsorships. Last year, they were successful in negotiating with Balloon Saloon and other companies such as Blick’s Art Supplies and are now aiming to obtain less food-based sponsorships and more academic-based and accessible ones. The pair is looking into neighborhoods for sponsorships based on a survey they distributed earlier this year to students that asked which stores and places they enjoyed going to. In order to find sponsorships, Corr and Sela are contacting several companies at once and following up every couple of weeks. Though it is uncertain whether a set sponsorship is planned to happen soon, they are currently in touch with a few groups.

A program the pair has been continuing from last year is the pen pal program, which connects Stuyvesant students with those in a school abroad to exchange hand-written letters. These letters are partly written in both English and Spanish, so students can practice both reading and writing. The Spanish pen pal program this year has been successful, as Stuyvesant students have recently received their second letters from Spain. The program is in the process of expanding to Mandarin and French. As Corr and Sela communicate with schools from other countries through the language department, additional languages are expected to be available to students in the next school year.

One of the challenges that Junior Caucus has been facing is organizing Junior Prom, specifically with securing a boat. In the past, Stuyvesant has worked with HornBlower Cruises and Events, one of the major boat companies in NYC. Junior Caucus’s two year contract with the company, however, ended this year, and the company has not responded to Corr or Sela’s attempts to reach out since November. As a result, Corr reached out to a new company a couple of weeks ago, and the Caucus has started to move forward to get a boat. While the executive decision to move away from the old company has caused delay, the rest of the planning seems as though it will go smoothly. Most of the planning is about choosing a company and signing a contract, so currently, they are finalizing their choice for the boat and are determining ticket prices.

Overall, Corr and Sela agree that most of their plans for the fall term worked out well and the issues that sprung up along the way were resolved productively. Corr and Sela are looking forward to their plans for the spring semester and hope that their goals will be reached as well.

Senior Caucus:

Senior Caucus Co-Presidents Zeynep Bromberg and Hana Kim ran on a platform centered around four main pillars: accessibility, traditions and events, college, and convenience. Throughout the fall term, Bromberg and Kim focused on making the senior experience more enjoyable for everyone through community events and various projects concerning the two most important senior experiences: prom and graduation.

This year, Senior Caucus spearheaded several new events that they “hope will become cherished traditions,” Kim said. For example, they organized Senior Sunrise for the first day of school, during which seniors watched the sunrise together. They began a time capsule tradition, where seniors wrote letters to themselves at the beginning of the year; they will open the letters in June. These two community-building events work toward Bromberg and Kim’s goal of making their grade’s senior experience as memorable and filled with as much warmth as possible. Other smaller traditions include Movie Night and end of week hangouts with music and popcorn held in the senior atrium and Senior Turkey, during which seniors wrote about things they were grateful for. Looking ahead, the caucus hopes to host a senior breakfast, a faculty thank-you, a pi day event, and an informal spring dance.

To aid with the college process, the Senior Caucus has provided various resources, including a calendar marking important college-related deadlines and a series of college essay editing sessions. While their college-outreach initiatives have mostly been successful, they faced obstacles concerning student attendance at their college essay editing events. Bromberg attributes the lack of turnout to the fall semester’s heavy workload for seniors.

For the spring term, the caucus is preparing for highlights of the senior experience, prom and graduation in particular. They are working hard to ensure that “senior events this year will not only be happening, but [also] be amazing,” Bromberg said. This year, the caucus has partnered with a new graduation company SmoothUSA, which is smaller than its previous partner. Notably, SmoothUSA’s smaller size makes it a more accountable and personal company, and it is sponsoring the cost of graduation materials for a number of students. As for prom, Senior Caucus has been reaching out to the Alumni Association to secure funds to help a handful of students afford prom tickets. These initiatives are part of their pledge to make these senior experiences as accessible as possible to the entire grade. To further increase the involvement of seniors in these events, the caucus will re-open member applications in the spring semester so that students specifically interested in planning prom and graduation have an opportunity to do so.

In terms of goals for the spring semester, the Senior Caucus wants to focus on communication with the senior class by increasing interaction with resources like the senior calendar, getting more seniors involved in caucus events, checking in with their grade more frequently, and finding a balance in information output.

Overall, Bromberg and Kim believe that they have achieved increases in accessibility and enjoyment of senior events without many obstacles, and they are looking forward to the spring semester.