The life of an incoming sophomore

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As Townsend Harris students, we complain a lot. It is a rite of passage to whine about the amount of work that we get, vent about how we received lower grades than we thought we deserved, and to bemoan Townsend Harris because we were told it was going to be hard, but we had not thought it was going to be that hard. This is a knee-jerk reaction for most students who arrived here as freshmen, mainly because they have nothing to compare their high school experience to. The students that seem to appreciate our school the most are the ones that joined the Harrisite community in their sophomore year of high school.

Townsend Harris welcomes only a handful of incoming sophomores every year. According to the Department of Education, if students are unhappy with their high school during freshman year, they may apply to another school and transfer as tenth graders. This is a very difficult process, one that the DOE tries to avoid, so very few students become Harrisites as sophomores.

One of these students was senior Samantha Velasquez, who attended an all girls school her freshman year, The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria.  Samantha is extremely happy with her decision to attend Townsend Harris. Her previous school was a middle school that continued on to be a high school, so she had already spent four years there and felt that “it wasn’t the right environment to be in and spend [all] four years of high school.” A major factor that also contributed to her decision was the fact that her old school was overcrowded and underdeveloped, so it didn’t offer much more than the standard curriculum.

“I love Townsend more [than my old school]. Everyone complains about the workload, but they don’t understand how lucky they are. Townsend offers you so much as a student: AP classes, SING, FON, sports, etc. My old school didn’t have that, and I had a 100 average without trying. It wasn’t challenging, and Townsend challenges you and helps you find new things that you’re good at,” Samantha remarked.

Similarly, junior Karen Su left Queens Metropolitan High School because she felt it was underdeveloped and that she did not fit in. “Despite my constant involvement in the school community, I didn’t feel like I had much of an impact. I was a high achieving academic student, but I didn’t feel like I was experiencing any personal or academic growth. We didn’t have too many resources or challenging courses available, [and] two months into the school year, my teacher, my parents and I all decided that Queens Metropolitan was not the school for me to spend the next four years.”

Some students switched schools because of the student population. Senior Nimrod Gozum joined the Harrisite family after spending a year at Bronx Science High School. He mentioned that he changed schools because of his long daily commutes back and forth from school, and he added, “Townsend has a smaller community, and no one has to fight for the teacher’s attention. In Bronx Science, I felt like a number; in Townsend, I feel like a person.”

In comparison to other schools, Townsend Harris has one of the smallest student populations in all the public high schools across New York City. While it is known for its intensive learning curriculum, incoming sophomores also realize that the size of the student body allows more one-on-one time with the staff.

Nimrod continued, “Each teacher is willing to go above and beyond to help out his/her students, and I just can’t help but feel special. Even the Assistant Principals and Principal are such friendly people. I couldn’t imagine going to the APs at Bronx Science. I just feel so valued in Townsend, like I have my own special place that’s way bigger than me.”

Sophomore Aidan Moran, who transferred from Cardozo, also said, “The population at Townsend is fairly small, making for greater connections amongst students and teachers, especially in comparison to Cardozo.”

Incoming students have noticed a difference not only in class size, but also in the teaching methods and the content of the curriculum. Samantha explained that at her old school “the workload was small and classes were ridiculously easy,” and Nimrod noted that, “Bronx Science compensates for its indecent quality of teaching by piling on homework, so you can self-study. In Townsend, it’s the exact opposite; not much homework is given in Townsend because the teachers teach amazingly well.”

Senior Maria Mo, who decided to attended Stuyvesant High School over Townsend Harris as an eighth grader, said that her reason for transferring was because Stuyvesant just wasn’t a good fit for her.

Maria believes we have a better learning environment at Harris, and the mentality of the students is completely different. “I honestly think THHS is less stressful than Stuy, but less stress doesn’t mean less challenges or less pressure. I think there’s just a different emphasis and outlet for the stress in these schools. Stuy is stressful because everyone is grade crazy. We all forget to not let numbers define us sometimes, but Stuy just creates such a competitive environment that totally squeezes out the originality and individuality of the student body.”

She continued, “Stuyvesant was a great environment to meet new friends because of the amount of people they had. But having a lot of students doesn’t create the best learning environment. Teachers don’t look out for individuals because there are just too many names to memorize. So for people who complain about THHS so much, I wish they understood how much I would envy their position in freshman year because at least when they complained, someone cared.”

Karen also revealed that the environment of her previous school was not as comfortable as the one she is in now. “I stood out like a sore thumb. I would ask questions, bring up topics, and answer assignments in ‘odd ways.’ Unfortunately, many of my schoolmates didn’t appreciate it and gave me a hard time. I feel that at Townsend Harris, people can respect each other and their passions. ”

The transition from one school to another always seems to pose an issue for many students, but that was not the reaction any of the incoming sophomores had. That is not to say that some didn’t feel nervous about being the new kids in school, but most felt welcome and right at home.

Samantha recalled that “the transition was tough and overwhelming” because she “didn’t have that year that everyone took to build friendships and get to know others.” Although a “weird adjustment,” she made friends very quickly.

On the other hand, Karen felt that she couldn’t have asked for better support. “Honestly, I had the friendliest people supporting my transition process and it was almost painless. By the first day of school, I had already made a good amount of friends from track and I already had friends who were students at the school, so I did not feel so much like the new kid. However, there have been times where people would bring up, ‘Oh, you weren’t here during Freshman year! You wouldn’t know!’ Luckily, I quickly learned my way around and adapted to the Townsend Harris lifestyle.”

Aidan, who has been really enjoying his transition, added, “You have to get used to being asked, ‘How do you like Townsend so far?’ a lot.”

Incoming sophomores turn out to be as important to the Townsend Harris community as those who get to spend all their fours years there. Karen concluded, “Nothing can ever be compared to Townsend Harris. Period.”