As a first-year teacher at BSGE, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my new school has a student-run newspaper that publishes frank and uncensored articles by its students on a regular basis. More than that, it has been really heartening to see that most students in the school eagerly read some of the articles written by its journalists, some of whom are not afraid to masquerade as my tenth-grade English students during the day. Without directly responding to any previously-published observations on the quality of the school, I’d like to offer my own in way of a little story.
Just after I finished tenth grade in Budapest, Hungary, my family decided to move to New York. Imagine leaving school in the middle of your high school studies, leaving behind all of your friends (without the modern benefit of instant messaging and emails) and plunging into an utterly foreign world with an utterly foreign language to master. True, I could write letters to my former classmates every day—which I did—and call my best friend from time to time—which I also did—but none of this was helpful in any way in finding actual living replacements for all my friends lost. Instantly, I went from a well-liked member of the student body in a school that was very similar to BSGE in its standards and student population size to absolute anonymity in a school that has since been closed as one of New York City’s most dangerous public schools.
I can still vividly recall my first impressions of high school in New York. It was of a gigantic security guard, about 300 pounds, stationed in a chair in front of the only door that was used to admit students in the morning, sipping a can of diet coke with a facial expression of utter boredom. When I approached this enormous man, he barked out two words with which I had previously been utterly unfamiliar: program card. He repeated the dreaded words many times, but I was at a loss as to how to respond since my English skills had been almost non-existent. It was only when I saw the other students, pushing and shoving each other in earnest and in fun, pull out a piece of paper from their backpacks that I understood what the security guard may have wanted. When I finally was allowed to enter the building, I was greeted by a stench that almost hurled me back again outside. As I later discovered, it was the noxious admixture of the wafting vapors of the reheated French fries, hamburgers, fish burgers and other food items emanating from the nearby kitchen and the perspiration of thousands of students shoving one another as they entered the building. To my astonishment, more than three thousand and five hundred students attended this school. Once in, we went to class like cows led to slaughter. Security guards were everywhere. Despite this, muggings, or loudly expressed threats thereof, were so frequent that I never took my watch to school. (In fact, I had only begun to wear watches again many years into college). Heavy black bars outside the windows obscured the view either to make sure students would not jump out (perhaps out of desperation or boredom) or break in after school (out of a desire to enrich themselves by taking all that could be moved). True, we had had some very good teachers. The English as a Second Language program was especially strong, and I had found a little island of toleration in the ESL classes amidst the sea of utter indifference of the mainstream “American” students I would later encounter in twelfth grade when I was finally “mainstreamed.” For me, this was high school “in America.”
All of this was a far cry from the school I had left in Budapest, Hungary. The brand-new building was sunny and spacious, and we had a small-enough school to develop real interest in each other’s work and lives. We even had an underground culture with a locker room into which no teacher ever stepped… Although much more modern in its construction, it was a school that very closely resembled BSGE. Yet, what counts the most in a school is not merely its physical structure but also its culture, and in that, my former high school in Budapest and BSGE are very similar. I find BSGE an open place where students are not afraid to strike up a conversation or two with their teachers; where teachers have extremely high expectations of students; where all of the teachers are highly qualified and have either been teaching for a very long time or have other kinds of real-life experience; where students know each other very well and, on the whole, want to help each other succeed; where chewing gum is allowed in some while disallowed in other classes (such as in mine as it has always reminded me of cows on a field, and I just don’t want any cows in my classes); where the administration is available for both teachers and students; and, finally, where it is a real pleasure to work. If I were a student at BSGE right now, I know that I would be “stressed out” by the amount of work and would even feel it unfair to have to do so much homework, but I would also think that BSGE provides the highest quality education that public and private money can buy. Having taught at two private schools and a private college before, I know it is so.
In whatever way you may view BSGE, I hope to see a continuation of uncensored and frank articles appear in the newspaper. What we can certainly do to make our school better is to eliminate comma splices, passive voice structures, fragments and run-ons from our writing.
Seriously, the one thing each one of us can do to make BSGE better is to make ourselves better in every way one day at a time.
Dr. Mandler teaches 10th grade English and twelfth grade Theory of Knowledge.