By Antonia DeSilva
Up until recently whenever I would walk past my middle school on 107th street and Columbus, I’d shudder. I’m sure you all know the story; long school days and hours of homework after school and on weekends. The schools I’ve been to, and most I know of, in this city are like the rat-race but for kids. I hated going to school. Most of my time there it felt like I would just go to sit in a chair for seven hours.
At Beacon, my high school before BFS, Ritalin colors a big part of my experience so I will tell you a little bit about it. I told my mother I couldn’t focus at school and that I thought I had A.D.D. After taking various tests with a doctor, we got a report saying that I had some degree of whatever, which is what I was hoping for. Then, I saw another doctor who was able to prescribe me.
I took it on my train ride to school and in ten or fifteen minutes the drug would wash over me. It felt like gulping down a large iced coffee in five minutes. As my C’s turned to B’s and my B’s turned to A’s, I felt like I was winning the system. After school I took a smaller dosage and would sit in the kitchen for hours pumping all the homework out. Around the end of Sophomore year, I started thinking about what it would be like if I could go to a different school. Except, I didn’t want to just go to another version of the schools I had already been to, I wanted something completely different, but I wasn’t even sure if that existed.
There was a lot of back and forth and not knowing what to do, because I was still in this school overwhelmed with work and my mom had to make a lot of decisions by herself that could affect my future. But she saw it through and supported me throughout the whole thing. She saw how bad things were and one day looked at me and just said, “You.Are.Transferring.” It was a relief. In the beginning of junior year, a friend of my mother’s told her about BFS.
My first day visiting the school was good to say the least. We started with morning check in, which I’d never had in a school. After classes, I remember seeing friends piled on top of each other on the couch. I wasn’t used to seeing so many happy faces at school. Overall, I got the sense it was a good place.
On my second day, I sat in the all-school democratic meeting which I don’t remember much of, though I remember that it was all very different to me; how the students were participating, their relationships with teachers, everything. It was a different world. Just a couple weeks later I was enrolled.
I can’t tell you enough how deeply happy and thankful I felt to be there. A huge weight was lifted off of me. Stopping taking Ritalin was the natural thing to do; I didn’t need to be amped up on medication anymore because my whole environment had changed.
A little later in the year, once I had gotten more adjusted, I wanted to try out having an internship. My friend had been a graphic design intern at a recording studio and it got me interested. I wanted to see how I could push my school work and learn outside of the building. I went with my resume to midtown where there is a hub of recording studios and got hired at Smash Studios. I worked a few shifts setting up studio rooms, picking up supplies, answering the intercom and starting to learn a bit about studio equipment. They asked me to be a closer though, which meant staying till 1 or 2 am and my mother wouldn’t allow it, so we parted on good terms. I found another internship at Jambox Studios where I worked twice a week after school and for the entire school day on Fridays. Jambox was like a wild card, I never knew what I was going to get when I clocked in. The bosses, Lee and Cathy, mentored me on everything Jambox related. They taught me how to manage the phones, set up studio rooms, open the studio, make spreadsheets, write in calendars and schedules, organize files and do accounting work. I cleaned, managed social media and went on conference calls every Sunday night. They also taught me how to greet clients, make transactions and were big on teaching me about what makes a successful business or team because they had built the studio from the ground up.
Back in sophomore year at Beacon, when college started coming into our weekly advisory conversations I was afraid about what life after high school would look like for me. Days were packed with school, school, school so although I wanted to get out of it, I didn’t know how I would spend my time without it.
At all my other schools, I was given a schedule which was more or less identical to everyone else’s. I never had to choose how I spent my time, it was just given to me. After school, I was given lots of work and studying to fill my time as well. It’s a great relief to have been prepared for the real world by BFS where for the most part you are in control of how you spend your time. I remember that last cycle there were a couple days during which I spent an hour and a half in class-time and the rest free. I felt like I was just hanging out with my friends all day. I don’t know how the D.O.E. would feel about that, but I promise it all works out. It works because it gives you the balance of how the real world is, where the ways you spend your time fluctuate and are always changing.
Next year, I’m looking forward to taking a year before I start college at the Eugene Lang School of Liberal Arts. At Lang the only requirements are a first-year writing intensive, an advising seminar and two university lecture courses. Other than that, the curriculum is open for you to create for yourself. Students work closely with their faculty advisor and are able to design their own course of study. This was attractive to me because I will be able to study what I’m naturally drawn to and passionate about.
Another thing that was important to me was the school’s emphasis on small class sizes, where you can usually see everyone in the room. When I went to the admitted students day, the professor said that in most classes students usually don’t raise their hand, they just respond to what others are saying. Having a class of ten is a very different experience compared to a class of thirty-two, and puts more responsibility on you as a member of that class to do the work and contribute. Going to BFS has given me the feel of these classes and has made me realize that they are a good fit for me.
At college, I will need to adjust to having a bigger workload and plan to use the support available at the school to help me with this. For instance, I will be paired with a Student Success Advisor and a faculty advisor.
Since I have been in school for almost all my life, I want to have a bit of time before jumping into it again. As I mentioned before, BFS has prepared me in a unique way for a gap year because of the responsibility students are given for how they spend their time on a day to day basis.
I was here in New York City last summer and had a lot of free time on my hands, in fact pretty much my whole summer was free time. A big way I spent that time was with music. I played for hours almost everyday, on the piano, the guitar, and singing. I would go, go, go until I was wiped out. It showed me how much energy I have for music; I never get tired of it. It will be a big part of how I spend next year and then on. I also sang in subway stations with my friend Madeleine. We had a mic, guitar, amp and song sheets and would play for around four-five hours. We’d lug all of our stuff to a nearby train platform and be oddly comfortable in what we were doing. And since then I’ve loved going to concerts, creating songs, learning guitar and performing at different places. It may seem small but that summer was a big testament to how much I have grown and why I feel so comfortable taking a gap year.
I can see myself having another internship or job next year as well. My time at Jambox and Smash Studios made me comfortable going into new workplaces, even if I don’t have much experience to begin with. I’ve worked at a couple of clothing stores too and a while back interned at the City Council Member’s office near my house. This year I started doing an internship with the Dolphins who are the Pre-K here at school. I would like to continue getting different work experiences next year.
I will not be able to fully express how much this school means to me, and how much goodness it has brought into my life and the life of my family and friends. A lot of people see BFS as this crazy school, but having experienced both ends of the stick I can tell you that your traditional public school is the one that is crazy.