For those of you who don’t know me, it’s nice to sort of meet you. For those who do know me, hi!... Hey mom (as he motions to cameras on either side) I’m on T.V., began Senior M.C. Lucas Calderon as he kicked off the 2012 A-school (Alternative School) graduation. The sense of warmth, community, and friendship which characterize the A-school were immediately apparent in Calderon’s opening speech. Dropping all formalities that one might associate with “graduation”, the witty M.C. opted for a more conversational style to address the collected group of parents, teachers, and friends who proudly and excitedly looking on as their loved ones said one last goodbye to the A-school. This year’s A-school graduation took place on a fittingly beautiful, sunny day--a welcome departure from last year’s rainy indoor event. A-school teacher-in-charge Howard Rodstein was second on the podium, and spoke of the importance of the A-school’s 3 cornerstone values, “Ownership, Caring, and Courage”. Towards the end of his speech, Rodstein started tearing up, saying that this graduation was particularly special because “ I am not just a teacher this time around, but a parent as well. One of my two sons is graduating from the A-school this year”. Though the Rodsteins might be the only biologically related members of the A-school, graduating seniors describe the collective group of students and teachers as one “big loving family”. Perhaps this rare, loving community can exist at the A-school because of the way the class is created each year. A place in the A-school class is difficult to attain, with over 150 applicants each year vying for only 26 student slots. In a way, the A-school admissions process is a bit like a miniature college admissions process, complete with an admission, rejection, and waitlist system. Those who are enrolled in the A-school feel that it is a real privilege to be a part of the intimate class, and thus respect and uphold the community values that the A-school supports.
In the words of graduating senior Andrew Feyer, “The A-school is sort of a small ‘liberal-artsy’ kind of place, while the high school feels more like a bigger university. At the A-school, you really make that special connection with each one of your classmates and each one of your teachers that’s near impossible to develop at a bigger place like SHS.”
Feyer explained that before joining the A-school, he felt a bit uncomfortable in the high school. His teachers seemed a bit too removed from him, and his class of over 300 was so big that he felt that he didn’t really know anyone.
Looking back, Feyer says, “The A-school taught me how to really understand people--to consider their perspectives in any discussion or argument rather than just sticking firm to my own beliefs. I feel like the smaller community built my interpersonal skills a lot”. He continued by saying “The school also taught me that teachers can be more than just professional educators, and that they can be your friends too”, citing an instance where a teacher helped him resolve a personal issue that he was uncomfortable discussing with his parents or friends. “I’m really going to miss the place”.
Christine Souchack, an A-school mother, also believed that the program had a profoundly positive impact on herdaughter, Holly, allowing her to freely explore her passions through the internship program that students engage in each year. Describing her daughter’s internship experiences, Mrs. Souchack said “The internships were diverse and challenging. Holly helped write and edit plays, worked in a marketing department of an established theater organization in Times Square and in her senior project, she interviewed residents of an assisted living community and performed a dramatic monologue of their life experience.”
But perhaps the most moving evidence of the A-school’s impact on the graduating senior class was the closing statement by graduating senior Will Hunnersen, the senior speaker chosen by the class. He started by saying he had no idea how he could show his love for the A-school in just one speech. Inspired by discussions during senior reflection week (a time when seniors got together to talk about how the A-school changed their way of thinking), Hunnerson spoke about about the way the A-school changed his way of thinking and closed by reading a poem which he wrote that encapsulated how he felt about the A-school.
Lesson Learnedby William Hunnerson
Time is relative.
For everyone it chooses
its own speed, and refuses
to listen to our complaints.
A lonesome student stares at the clock,
forcing the minute hand forward with his mind.
A squirrel obliviously nibbles his acorn
as a dog freezes for a lifetime.
The moon and sun exchange briefly,
asking how the past millions of hearts had faired.
A teen slowly rests his eyelids,
then wonders why an afternoon abandoned him.
But as I sit here,
flipping through the pages of my past
a failed math quiz, a fifth grade yearbook
brimming with toothless smiles.
I wonder why three years had to pass
so quickly, and I realize
the lessons learned in a place like this,
time cannot even touch.
Photos by Caroline Rodman - a junior at the A-school
(Pictured at top: Will Hunerson and his mom, Pictured above: Niels Mariager, Eli Nobler and Eric Berman)