Stuyvesant Hosts Virtual Summer Discovery Program

Stuyvesant hosted the annual Summer Discovery Program virtually this year, with over 150 students participating.

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Stuyvesant hosted its third annual Summer Discovery Program, an enrichment program available for eligible rising ninth graders who took the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) and scored within a certain range below Stuyvesant’s cutoff score. This six-week-long initiative, coordinated by Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick and school counselor Shakira Rhiman, helps these potential incoming freshmen become accustomed to the Stuyvesant atmosphere by enrolling them in academic classes and providing them the opportunity to interact with members of the Stuyvesant community before the school year begins.

The program has increased in size each year: the first year, 2018, had about 20 students, the second year, 2019, had about 90, and this year had over 150. The program ran from July 1 to August 6, with classes held from Monday to Thursday. Each class consisted of about 25 to 28 students.

Stuyvesant is one of the eight specialized high schools (with the exception of LaGuardia High School) that hosts a Discovery program. To be eligible to take part in a Discovery Program for any Specialized High School, students should have a SHSAT score (within a certain range) below that high school’s cutoff score and attend a high-poverty school. Other qualifications include coming from a low-income household, living in temporary housing, or being an English Language Learner who moved to New York City within the past four years. Once these students finish the program and satisfy all of its requirements, they are granted admission into their respective specialized high school.

Many factors come into play when determining Discovery students’ admission into Stuyvesant. In addition to attendance, “the quality of each student's work counts as well, and we use those final grades as part of our recommendation. Students are aware of this, and the teachers and guidance counselors communicate this to those students and their parents who are in danger of not gaining admission to Stuyvesant throughout the summer. At the end of the program, the Discovery Program teachers and counselors meet to discuss those students we feel should not be offered a seat,” math teacher David Peng said in an e-mail interview.

The program was hosted virtually, though it’s usually held in person at Stuyvesant. Before each class, teachers held “small group instruction,” in which teachers could assist students or communicate with them about class material. Students attended three classes—English, biology, and math—from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., with each class lasting approximately 40 minutes. After classes, teachers held office hours where students had the chance to talk to their teachers about the class or Stuyvesant in general. Students then interacted with special Stuyvesant guests in the afternoon. “We designed the program to prepare the students for the academics of our school, as well as the social, emotional, and organization needs of our school,” Pedrick said in an e-mail interview.

One of the main purposes of the Summer Discovery Program is to ensure a level playing field between its participants and other Stuyvesant students academically—hence, the additional classes. “I actually learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t even learn in middle school,” freshman and Summer Discovery alum Shyann Rampaul said.

The Discovery Program also eases its participants into Stuyvesant’s academic rigor. “It was definitely more difficult than I thought it would be, and there was a lot of work I wasn’t used to,” Rampaul said.

The classes followed a structure similar to that of non-remote classes. For English, students focused on two books: Khalid Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and Jeanette Walls’s “The Glass Castle.” Students had daily readings and completed writing assignments.

In biology, students learned the curriculum of the first few units of Modern Biology. Assignments consisted of Pear Deck lessons, at-home lab activities, virtual labs, and group work in breakout rooms. “Many of the lessons we made this summer I plan to use again this fall,” biology teacher Marissa Maggio said in an e-mail interview.

In math classes, students brushed up on Algebra I concepts needed for geometry, including “systems of equations, quadratic functions, and linear functions among others,” Peng said. “I made sure to pick these topics to emphasize so that the students will be on equal (or better) footing with their peers in their math class.”

Students in the Discovery Program received a final grade for each of their classes; however, these grades are not weighed into their high school grade point averages or included in their permanent student records. “I told students to view these grades as a kind of measurement of their strengths and weaknesses going into September,” English teacher Eric Ferencz said in an e-mail interview.

In addition to academic enrichment, the Summer Discovery students were given the opportunity to meet student guests from clubs and organizations such as ARISTA, the Big Sib Program, the Stuyvesant Environmental Club, and StuyFlow. “It turned out to be very worthwhile and fun because not only was I able to reflect on my very own Stuyvesant journey, but I also had the opportunity to offer a helping hand to many underclassmen,” senior and StuyFlow President Raymond Xu said in an e-mail interview. “I elaborated by telling them that it’s completely fine if they do something different from their friends at Stuyvesant or even their friends that go to different schools; everyone has their own distinct journeys and passions and finds them at their own pace.”

Students in the Discovery Program enjoyed learning about the different extracurricular opportunities available. “I loved the special guest meetings. They let me know more about Stuyvesant and the programs it offers,” freshman and Summer Discovery alum Andrew Rafael said in an e-mail interview.

Despite the positives, some teachers expressed shortcomings in regard to the virtual Discovery Program. “I miss being in the classroom, seeing all of my students, and the random moments that occur that are not planned for,” Maggio said. “I miss the connection that in-person meetings create.”

Ferencz agreed. “I’d be lying if I said that I’ve completely adjusted to teaching a class remotely. While I’ve improved, I miss sharing a physical space with students. I don’t think I understood how much information a person communicates non-verbally, and it’s very difficult to read my students through online teaching,” he said.

Others, however, thought differently. “I wouldn't say any aspect of the summer class posed any more challenges than a regular class. As long as the students come into the program with a desire to learn and improve their math and critical thinking skills, my job in teaching the content becomes easier,” Peng said. “The Discovery students are no exception; they want to learn, and they want to commit to the program because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a seat at Stuyvesant if they successfully complete the program.”

Despite the challenges of teaching virtually, administrators and teachers were still able to connect with the students. “I was amazed at how well I felt I got to know my students toward the end of Discovery. Some of my favorite moments from this summer were when I was laughing with my students. I wonder what my neighbors must’ve thought, hearing me laughing in an apartment by myself. But in those moments, I truly felt connected with my students, people who I’d never met face to face.” Ferencz said.

Pedrick expressed her delight toward the success of the virtual program but hopes the program in the following years will be in-person. “While the virtual program was a success, we hope to continue Summer Discovery in person from here on out. There is nothing like getting to be in the Stuyvesant building, to experience changing classes, to interact with your classmates in person, reading body language and picking up on non-verbals,” she said.