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 virtual year.

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By The Stuyvesant Student Union

Student Union:

Student Union (SU) President Julian Giordano and Vice President Shivali Korgaonkar ran for office during an unparalleled year of student government leadership. However, their efforts to strengthen and maintain the SU’s role remains unwavering. “We’ve been trying to work on [...] bridging the gap between students and administration,” Giordano said. “We’ve done that in a lot of different ways, [and] a lot of that has to do with communication.”

At the crux of the SU’s work was the idea of fostering a renewed sense of community. They started several initiatives, such as the Speed-Friending Event, live Q&A Town Halls, and a virtual New Year’s Resolution Board. In building a community, the SU also adapted school traditions virtually. They held the Club & Pub Fair over several Zoom meetings in September, and sent Daily morning announcements, in the form of weekly short videos, to students’ inboxes.

Additionally, they released the newly revamped version of StuyActivities, a website that catalogs every official Stuyvesant club. Built by the SU’s IT department, the website helped to create a smooth transition for school activities to resume in a virtual setting. “We have created an interface now that's really easy for students to use, so they can learn about different clubs and access meetings and events online [...] so they can communicate with their fellow club members,” Giordano said.

This idea of community is not just for the students, but for the administration as well. The duo recognized the importance of acquainting Principal Yu, who became the new principal this past September, with the student body and vice versa. They hosted “Get to Know Yu” meetings once every two weeks, in which students and Principal Yu are able to converse in a safe and engaging space. “Part of what we do is making sure that student concerns are uplifted to an administration,” Korgaonkar said. “But we’ve also created outlets to make sure that students can take it directly to administration themselves.”

In pursuing policy advocacy, the SU conducted a school-wide survey on students’ mental health this past January after fervent discussions among Stuyvesant students on Facebook regarding the toll remote learning has taken on their health. They collected, analyzed, and presented data to the administration to push for policy reform. “We’ve reached the point where the pandemic has exacerbated behaviors that have [been] at Stuyvesant for so long. It’s become impossible to avoid how crucial it is to create systemic change in so many areas,” Giordano said. “It’s causing us to [...] use the Student Union in a way that we haven’t used before, and I think that’s difficult, but it’s important, and we need to be doing more of that work.” The duo hopes to continue advocating for this issue moving forward into the new semester.

They also hope to offer more community-bonding opportunities. “It’s really important that we make sure freshmen, sophomores are getting excited about these events [...] to make sure that students are not just aware of the things that we are hosting and the initiatives we’re leading, but they’re also excited and interested to be a part of them.” Korgaonkar said.

A hallmark of the spring semester is SING!, the schoolwide musical performance and competition. The SU traditionally plays a large role and hopes to continue to do so this year, despite adapting to a remote environment. “In a normal year, we work on selling the tickets and making sure that the budgets are in place. The theater is organized, concessions are there, merch is ordered,” Giordano said. “And this year, all of that has been thrown out the window. We’re going to be working a lot with the SING! Coordinators, and we think it's the perfect opportunity to engage students and to increase socialization that’s really been missing.”

Ultimately, Giordano and Korgaonkar remain positive as they enter the second half of their term as SU President and Vice-President and plan to continue advocating for the student body. “You can’t have a welcoming environment unless [...] students feel supported by the school. I just want to say that’s something we’re continuing to work on, and it’s very much a big priority for us,” Giordano said.

Freshman Caucus:

Freshman Caucus Co-Presidents Aleksey Olkhovenko and Unique Zhang ran on a platform of three primary pillars: communication, compassion, and community. During the fall, Olkhovenko and Zhang aimed to improve the freshman experience with community-building initiatives, such as virtual study halls. Their newly-formed cabinet consists of two Chiefs of Staff, a combined External Affairs/Finance department, an IT department, and an Event Planning department.

One such community-building event was the Holiday Extravaganza to foster more virtual socialization and connection among the freshmen. The event, hosted on December 23, allowed freshmen to interact with each other in a friendly environment. There were a total of 80 attendees playing games, such as Among Us and Family Feud.

The co-presidents also used events, such as the mental health presentation, in which the statistics of the recent mental health survey were discussed with administration and teachers, to address the concerns of students. They have demonstrated a receptiveness in listening to freshmen and communicating their experiences to administration and teachers to create possible solutions. “We were able to share a lot of the freshman’s views [...] because we were able to hear all of them and bring that into our experiences,” Olkhovenko said. “Because this year is so difficult, [...] our goal is to plan a lot of events and give freshmen a lot of resources, so that their experiences are much easier and much more fun.”

However, Olkhovenko and Zhang have also faced limitations in what they were able to achieve in the fall semester. For example, they faced challenges in increasing attendance at study hall events.

As Freshman Caucus elections were later in the fall semester this school year, the co-presidents are hoping to make more progress during the spring semester. “Because of how late we were elected in November or December and how late we released our cabinet, we did the most [we could]. Of course we are happy with the progress, but I’m a little upset because we couldn’t do as much as we could because of finals,” Olkhovenko said. “But this spring semester, we have a lot of good plans, and I think we’ll have much much more successful progress [and] do so, so much more in the next three to four months.”

Sophomore Caucus:

Sophomore Caucus Co-Presidents Daniel Jung and Ryan Lee ran with three major intentions in mind: transparency, progression, and inclusivity. Throughout the fall semester, Jung and Lee hosted community-building events within the grade and implemented new initiatives to achieve their goals. Their cabinet consists of two Chiefs of Staff, Internal and External Outreach, IT, Events, Finance, and Graphic Design.

To keep sophomores updated, Jung and Lee decided to create a new Sophomore Caucus website. The Graphic Design and IT departments of the caucus are currently working to improve the website’s functionality and accessibility by integrating features from the older version, such as the study guide database and departmental updates, while also adding new ones, like student resources and a sign-up page for events. While the website is separate from the SU’s website, it still falls under the SU’s domain. “We’re envisioning a new website with many new features and upgrades on old ones that has a cleaner design than the current one, and we envision it to be out by the end of the month,” Lee said in an e-mail interview.

The co-presidents recognized the difficulty of this endeavor, as they have not been able to meet in person and collaborate, but are nonetheless optimistic. “Quite soon, we will be able to have results and show it to the student body and we are really excited for that,” Lee said.

With the AP season approaching, the caucus hopes to support students with several upcoming projects to help students with their academic lives. They are starting a project called Study Guides, which will consist of compiling study guides from juniors and seniors for the underclassmen. The study guides, once organized, will be posted on the new Sophomore Caucus website.

In response to student concerns about mental health at Stuyvesant, the caucus worked with the SU to administer a schoolwide mental health survey and pressed the administration to further discuss this issue. The survey was sent out to allow the SU and the administration to gather more information on how to combat mental health concerns. In addition to implementing new initiatives, Jung and Lee have also continued policies and projects started by previous caucuses, such as the Senior Caucus’s “Career Options” newsletter.

In line with their pillar of inclusivity, the duo hosted movie nights, such as “Coraline” in October and “Soul” in January to promote community-bonding. “I feel as though they are a great way to bring the community together and they don’t require too much talking or interaction, but it's a really positive way to chat and enjoy a movie together,” Jung said.

In the upcoming semester, one of the goals the Sophomore Caucus hopes to achieve is to facilitate better communication between the sophomore body and the administration. “With the ongoing pandemic and virtual learning, it is becoming more and more apparent that especially this year, community building is going to be one of our top priorities,” Lee said.

Junior Caucus:

Junior Caucus President Cynthia Tan and Vice President Elio Torres ran with promises to increase accessibility to information and resources for the juniors. They have shifted their focus to events and resources rather than working with the administration for large policy changes.

Tan and Torres emphasized preparing juniors for the college application process by creating a How-To-Recommendations guideline document, which provides tips and information on suggested deadlines for getting teacher recommendations. “We’re going to explain the basics, like what is a recommendation, [which] colleges need them, what are the discrepancies between different applications, like the Common App and Questbridge, and how many recommendations you need,” Torres said.

Junior Caucus is also working to introduce a website that features a page with all AP courses and electives at Stuyvesant, in addition to a subpage on scholarship opportunities. The caucus’s Internal Affairs department compiled this information according to the relevance of these courses to different majors. “A lot of juniors are thinking about what they’re going to do in the future, and how to turn the Stuyvesant experience into a career, or where they want to go to college, [and] we wanted to make the subjects clear so that students that are interested in pre-law know to take civil law, know to take comparative government,” Torres said.

Additionally, they hosted an SAT practice virtual event where participating juniors took a mock exam in a monitored, timed atmosphere on Zoom to simulate the conditions of the real SAT. Though Tan and Torres have expressed interest in hosting another mock exam, they are uncertain due to the lack of official announcements about the March SAT from administration. `“We’re planning another SAT day because there is an SAT coming up in March that everyone at Stuy is supposed to take. [...] We want to make sure juniors are prepared,” Torres said.

Junior Caucus also collaborated with clubs, such as Stuy STEM Goes Red and StuyEats., to create community-building events. Junior Caucus also created Spotify and Apple Music playlists based on student-submitted songs. “We created a playlist for Spotify users, of songs that got people through quarantine, songs that made people feel nostalgic, and favorite albums. We made this beautiful mosaic of album covers,” Torres said.

The External Affairs department of the caucus hopes to implement a speaker series with Stuyvesant alumni as guest speakers to introduce various career paths to juniors. “Since they’re alumni from our school, we feel that the paths they’ve taken are really unique to our school specifically,” Tan said.

Despite this, the pair also faced the limitations of hosting events during virtual learning. “We know that a lot of people are Zoom fatigued and don’t want to go to another Zoom after they finish classes. [...] For example, we tested out a holiday Bingo versus different events, and the Bingo didn’t receive as much traction as the card sending event that we did in the winter,” Torres said.

Though the pair have faced obstacles throughout the semester adjusting to remote learning, Tan and Torres express that they will continue to commit to improving the junior experience.

Senior Caucus:

Senior Caucus Co-Presidents Katerina Corr and Ayala Sela ran on a platform focused on senior traditions, new school policies, transparency, and continuing past initiatives. Due to the shift to virtual learning, however, they had to adapt to the new circumstances and modified their platform to be centered around supporting seniors with their college applications.

The Senior Caucus collaborated with the Writing Center in November and December to support seniors in college application writing and organized three college essay working sessions to peer revise essays. “It was really encouraging seeing seniors return for every Senior Caucus x Writing Center event and tell us first-hand how helpful it was. It also gave us hope that virtual events could be productive and welcoming,” Corr said.

The pair has also been working on a handful of projects to alleviate stress from remote learning. These include partnering with The Indicator to organize spirit days, launching the “Senior Sunrise” survey to collect photos of seniors during their first week of school, creating a Virtual Senior Atrium group on Facebook, making a senior banner, and releasing virtual stickers for seniors, such as a Zoom background and Facebook profile picture frame.

Senior Caucus also focused on helping the rest of the SU grow. For example, they collaborated on their “So You Want to Be A…” career awareness newsletter with the Sophomore Caucus. They also helped the SU develop, analyze, and present the results from the Mental Health Survey conducted.

Looking ahead, Corr and Sela face a challenge in addressing the uncertainty surrounding this year’s graduation, prom, and senior package. “Due to the uncertainty of schools being open and policy about gatherings, it was crucial that we plan for both in-person and virtual prom, graduation, etc, virtually doubling the details we had to sort out,” Sela said. However, they are brainstorming solutions, such as re-allocating funds that used to be used for in-person events to expand the senior package, and are working hard to ensure that senior traditions are preserved, regardless of whether they are virtual or not.

In the next semester, Corr and Sela hope to create a college commitment map or Instagram account, make more activities in the newly-created virtual Senior Atrium such as a virtual senior letter capsule, host a panel with Stuyvesant alumni to discuss their college experiences, organize more themed events with the Indicator, and continue discussions surrounding students’ mental health.

The duo also remained optimistic about many of the benefits remote learning offers with regards to Senior Caucus duties, such as their partnership with the Writing Center, which would have otherwise not impossible had it been in-person since student editors are only available during the school day. “One of the great things about working online is that it offers us much more flexibility with scheduling, as we no longer have to accommodate the availability of different school spaces,” Sela said.

Corr and Sela are determined to make the next semester year a memorable one for the student body. “As the first semester comes to a close, we are excited to bring seniors a fun and memorable end to their time at Stuyvesant,” Corr said.