Stuyvesant Implements Community Building Initiatives

In order to bolster student engagement during remote learning, Stuyvesant has begun various schoolwide community building initiatives, including tours around the buildings, homeroom Mix&Match meetings, and Flipgrid conversations.

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By Iris Lin

With social distancing and remote learning, students are experiencing a disconnect from the Stuyvesant community. In an effort to improve the connection, Stuyvesant has put into place several initiatives that aim to bring the students together. By implementing school tours, homeroom Mix&Match sessions, and Flipgrid discussions, the administration, in collaboration with the Student Union (SU) and the Big Sib Program, hopes to promote more engagement among the Stuyvesant community.

School Tours

Prior to the announcement of school closures on November 18, the administration had begun offering tours around the building for blended learning students to interact with their school environment and with one another. The tours helped to familiarize freshmen with the school building and engage blended students overall.

Typically, blended students stay in the same designated areas to adhere to safety guidelines. “One of the reasons I chose blended [learning] was [that] I wanted to become more familiar with the school. I was kind of disappointed that we had to stay [in] one place the entire time. During free periods, I would either do [homework] or do nothing,” freshman Eugene Park said in an e-mail interview.

The administration, however, recognized the lack of movement among blended students at Stuyvesant and decided to host tours so they could move around and interact with other students. “The need to take a break from our devices was evident,” Assistant Principal of World Language, Art, and Music Francesca McAuliffe said in an e-mail interview. “The entire team agreed that tours would be a great opportunity for students to move around, meet and speak to one another, get to see parts of the building or the surrounding area, and meet various staff members in person.”

Students could sign up for a 30-45 minute tour during a free period, when they would leave their designated area and visit various parts of the building and certain spaces outside of the building if permitted by tour guides, who were members of the administration. “Some of the people and places visited include the Department Chair, Guidance, & Administrative offices, the half floor, [English teacher Mark] Henderson’s classroom, the Principal’s conference room, [biology teacher Marissa] Maggio’s classroom, [the classroom of art teacher Leslie] Bernstein, [SPARK faculty advisor Angel] Colon in the SPARK office, [music coordinator Liliya] Shamazov’s chorus classroom, [Director of Family Engagement Dina] Ingram’s [office], and, weather permitting, Terry’s, Ferry’s, and the North Lawn,” McAuliffe said.

The tours catered to freshmen who otherwise would not have had the chance to familiarize themselves with the school surroundings. “My hope is that students who are new to the school can start to become comfortable here at Stuyvesant, and hopefully they are aware of the services that we have to offer and the people who are here to support them,” Assistant Principal of Security/Health and P.E. Brian Moran said in an e-mail interview.

The administration has reported an overwhelmingly positive response from participants, citing the social-emotional benefits they offer to not only freshmen, but also upperclassmen. “So far the freshmen that I have taken on tour have shared positive feedback and that it was pleasant to speak with [Principal Seung] Yu, get a piece of candy from [Pupil Accounting Secretary] Carol [Carrano], discuss their classes with one another, see the Mnemonics, meet some of their instructors in person, get some fresh air out of the building, have a football catch with [Moran] and [Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey] Pedrick, and speak with [Program Office Staff] Mr. [Hing] Li about his experience as a student,” McAuliffe said.

Many freshmen have expressed that the tours have helped familiarize themselves with the building and better assimilate into Stuyvesant. “Going on tours with the administration has been a fun experience for me because I got to become familiar with my surroundings, and I've learned a little history about the school,” freshman Maya Pulawska said in an e-mail interview.

Pulawska was also fascinated by the Mnemonics, or “Memory Cubes,” a public art project at Stuyvesant that uses clear glass cubes placed throughout the school to encapsulate moments in time at Stuyvesant. “[It’s] crazy how [there are] showcase boxes for years that literally haven’t been born yet, like the graduating year of 2078,” she said.

Overall the tours provided all participants, regardless of familiarity with the building, with the opportunity to have a break during the day and to socialize and connect with both staff and peers. “Students have connected with one another and with staff. They have had the opportunity to meet some of their peers, speak with staff members, and take a technological detox which many shared has been refreshing,” McAuliffe said.

Homeroom Mix&Match

The Big Sib Program has created Homeroom Mix&Match, a remote initiative for community bonding among freshmen and their Big Sibs. Without the opportunities for physical interaction normally provided by in-person school, the Mix&Match serves as a way for freshmen to get to know students from other homerooms.

The Big Sib Chairs started Mix&Match to increase engagement among the freshman class. “This [initiative] was inspired from a place of wanting to help the freshmen because this year, it’s harder than ever for the freshmen to meet new people,” senior and Big Sib Chair Henry Michaelson said. “It’s important for their high school experiences and careers that they get to meet people or as many people as they can in a setting that isn’t necessarily in class.”

At each Mix&Match session, homerooms are paired up to participate in games and activities, such as Among Us, Mafia, and Jackbox. “We know that the freshmen […] already know each other from their own individual homerooms, but we wanted to branch out,” senior and Big Sib Chair Andrea Huang said. “The first 15 minutes [of the Mix and Match] are just [conducted as] a regular homeroom session. The next 45 minutes, they meet up with their mixed homeroom Zoom meeting […] of about 30 to 60 people […] and within those 45 minutes, they play games together in breakout rooms.”

The Big Sib Program is planning to hold Mix&Match sessions every three weeks, with each session corresponding to a different theme. The first session, held on November 6, was Among Us themed. “We were discussing having it every three weeks, just so the freshmen always have something to look forward [to],” senior and Big Sib Chair Aki Yamaguchi said.

The Mix&Match sessions will be split up into breakout rooms for freshmen to choose the activities they’d like to play and interact with new people. “The freshmen get a lot of flexibility in what they want to play, as long as they have maybe a couple other people [who] also want to play the same thing as them,” Huang said. “But [the groups are] also big enough so that there’s a bunch of new faces they’ve never seen before.”

In addition, homeroom matches change during each session to provide more opportunities to meet new people. “1AA won’t be mixed up with 1BB anymore. It’ll be 1B[B] and 1C[C] together instead,” Huang said.

Big Sibs have freedom to choose activities for their own homeroom as well. “[In] one of my homerooms, we started off with sharing embarrassing stories about ourselves. So, […] some of the homerooms pick their own path, and they don’t necessarily have to follow the theme,” Yamaguchi said. “We always usually let our Big Sibs pretty much run their own sessions,”

As Big Sibs and Little Sibs continue to bond, activities for different homerooms have become more tailored to the interests of the freshmen. “A lot of the Big Sibs in the homerooms that I oversee [… ] get to know what [their Little Sibs] like and what they don’t like. And so, they’ll kind of do activities that they know everybody will have fun with,” Michaelson said. “One of my homerooms has started their own Minecraft server with their Little Sibs.”

The Big Sib Chairs have received positive feedback from freshmen after their first session. “[Guidance counselor Jo] Mahoney from 1XX was telling her Big Sibs that when she had her homeroom meeting with her Little Sibs, that’s all they would talk about and how much fun it was, so it’s really nice to hear the feedback,” Yamaguchi said.

Many freshmen found the sessions to be conducive for connecting with not only other freshmen, but also upperclassmen. “For the second [activity, my breakout room] talked so much that we forgot to actually play the game […] I was able to find people who were in some of my other classes, so it was pretty cool being able to get to know them better,” freshman Eshaal Ubaid said. “This [session] was really helpful because I got to know more upperclassmen, and I got advice from even more upperclassmen, which is always helpful.”

The Mix&Match initiative is one component of the Big Sib Program’s larger effort to promote community engagement among freshmen. They have previously held a virtual field day and concert and hope to include more virtual gatherings and live Zoom tours for the fall Open House in the future. “Our secondary goal is to have videos installed and in-store for Stuyvesant to use even for years to come, even when the city opens up again,” Huang said. “For freshmen who aren’t able to visit the school for whatever reason during Open House night or their families can’t visit the school, they can have an online option.”

The Big Sib Chairs hope that community-building initiatives like Mix&Match can continue to provide casual and engaging occasions for freshmen to meet, even remotely. “We honestly just want the freshmen to have fun,” Huang said. “And we think that if Big Sibs could do anything to help, we’ll take the opportunity to. And Mix&Match is our solution that we’ve come to after a lot of brainstorming.”


The administration has recently introduced a schoolwide Flipgrid, a community-building platform to connect students and faculty virtually. With a new prompt each week, students and staff have the opportunity to hear from one another and react and respond to the prompt before the next is released.

Flipgrid is a free-to-use application that allows teachers to post message boards and prompts, to which students and invited users can post short video responses. The administration took advantage of this platform for this initiative due to its practical features and accessibility. “Since Flipgrid allows us to see, hear from, and respond to one another, [the administration] thought it would be an effective way to get together even though many of us are physically apart,” McAuliffe said. “The goal is for our entire school community to come together virtually and share some things about ourselves so that we may both learn from and get to know one another to a greater extent.”

These Flipgrid videos create a space for students and staff to express themselves outside of academics through short weekly prompts, such as “What are three facts about yourself?” or “Introduce your favorite pet or animal!” “Flipgrid is a quick burst of sunshine. There is not a commitment for students to invest a lot of time on the site but can click on for a little break between classes and homework,” Pedrick said.

While the administration is enthusiastic about the initiative, there has yet to be significant participation from students. “The Flipgrid created by the administration is a great attempt at increasing engagement, but that, unfortunately, hasn’t gained traction. [Instead], students have embraced more student-led activities, such as those led by clubs and other extracurriculars,” senior and SU President Julian Giordano said in an e-mail interview.

Despite the lack of student participation, the administration is hopeful for Flipgrid’s potential to bring together a virtual Stuyvesant student body. “We are open to receiving feedback and suggestions and hope to encourage additional student and staff responses soon,” McAuliffe said. “It would be great for the student body to eventually create weekly discussion topics and for [student] voices to take the lead on this.