By Max Mah (article from the Stuyvesant Spectator)
April 18, 2019
The current method of admission for specialized high schools, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), is being held under more scrutiny than ever before. Critics point to the lack of diversity in the student populations of specialized high schools, especially Stuyvesant. The source of this issue is tied to a much larger problem: the educational gap that exists citywide. The disparity in the quality of schooling, educational resources, and preparatory services have plagued certain demographics, resulting in these groups struggling to demonstrate merit on the SHSAT and state tests.
The Stuyvesant Study Society (SSS) strives to tackle this issue from the ground up by sending some of Stuyvesant’s high achieving scholars to tutor students from disadvantaged communities. Stuyvesant students have been exposed to exceptional post-secondary opportunities, and members of the SSS have made it their mission to extend these opportunities to those who have not been as lucky.
The SSS was established in 2016 to provide tutoring services to students taking the SAT and ACT. The following year, seniors and Co-Presidents Ariel Melendez and Hao Hong Huang placed a greater emphasis on providing tutors for nonprofit organizations around New York City (NYC). This year, juniors and Co-Presidents Henry Liu and Owen Potter have continued in this direction, effectively changing SSS’s charter while making various organizational changes and improvements.
The SSS aims to provide free academic support to a diverse demographic of underserved students across NYC. Members can give back to the community and have a positive impact on the education of younger students from the elementary to high school levels.
As a middle schooler, Liu benefitted from services provided by non-profit organizations like NYGEAR UP and City Year. These organizations were committed to helping academically and economically disadvantaged students to graduate from middle school and high school and later pursue post-secondary education. At Liu’s middle school, these organizations provided mentors that helped with homework, talked about their experiences, and even coached the basketball team.
The support Liu received from these nonprofit organizations inspired him to reciprocate the help he received. “If it were not for the countless organizations [that] believe in giving back to the less privileged, I am not sure if I would be attending Stuyvesant High School today,” he admitted. “It is my duty to give back to the community that shaped me to be who I am. I believe being part of the [SSS] will help me fulfill the obligation of allowing motivated students to succeed.”
During his sophomore year, Liu was the tutoring coordinator of the club; his main responsibility was to pair students with nonprofit organizations. In addition, Liu helped the website chairs revamp the website and redirect the club charter by clarifying the mission to help disadvantaged students via partnership with nonprofit organizations. Liu was motivated to make these changes with the knowledge of how great of an impact the SSS could have on high school students across the city. “The mission of the club spoke to me, and coming from an underprivileged middle school, I realized how much of an impact the club could make on young students throughout the city,” he detailed.
Many members of the SSS share this mindset and are eager to be active participants in the club and join the SSS board. “The idea of helping underprivileged children through education is something that really touches my heart,” said junior Jackie Dong. “I think that if I were a member of the [SSS] board I would be able to provide my ideas and dedication to the project and propel the progress in work.”
Other students’ personal experiences drive them to work hard as a member of the club. “My primary motivation is coming from a low-income family, and therefore not having the resources readily available to do my best; however, supporting other students who also don’t have such opportunities would be a very humbling experience for myself,” explained junior Mahmudul Rapi. “Being a junior at Stuy has also given me a completely new mindset on effectively studying for exams and working hard in class. I am more than willing to put in the effort and dedication to truly lift the SSS and let ourselves be known for what we stand for.”
The SSS is currently partnered with several nonprofit organizations. These organizations include South Bronx United, an organization that encourages playing soccer to foster leadership skills; MasaNY, where tutors help students prepare for Regents examinations; Apex for Youth, which provides services to underserved immigrant children; and Reading Partners, an organization that focuses on empowering students to succeed in life by developing their reading skills.
Partnering with these nonprofit organizations has given tutors memorable experiences and provided them with a humbler outlook. When Liu mentored students at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC (BBBS of NYC), he realized that students there were different in terms of academic progress. “It opened my eyes. I feel like a lot of students at Stuy live in a bubble—we think everyone is smart like us. Once [Stuyvesant students] step out into the real world and work with these organizations, they will have a new worldview,” he remarked. “[The] SSS is a great way to come out of the Stuyvesant bubble that a lot of people are stuck in.”
Junior and SSS Vice-President Christopher Shi developed a personal connection with one of his mentees, named Kevin, at this same organization. “At first Kevin was unsure of himself […] often times scared to ask questions. However, as time progressed, he slowly opened up to me. Not only was I able to help him with his English Regents, but I also was able to guide him through a few questions he had about the college application process. Through this experience, I was not only able to tutor someone but also was able to make a new friend,” Shi recalled.
The clubs most like SSS are ARISTA and Red Cross. Unlike these bigger Stuyvesant organizations, however, SSS does not have any tutoring requirements (several credits or hours) that must be met to obtain a certificate. In addition, SSS is open to students of all grade levels. Since many of the subjects that SSS tutors help with are at the middle school level, it is beneficial to have the participation of younger tutors, as they have a better memory of the material they learned in middle school.
One lasting effect of being a member of the SSS is gaining a sense of gratitude for the endless opportunities offered at Stuyvesant. As Stuyvesant students, we are immersed in an environment that enables us to take on a variety of classes that challenge us to reach our greater heights. Many other students across NYC struggle to learn in environments that do not foster their intellectual development. The SSS is certainly playing its part in remedying this issue by mentoring students in these disadvantaged communities—one student at a time.