A different education

Gabby Kepnes, Staff Writer

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Whether coming from a school 7,000 miles away or from just across the Hudson River, students have found different ways of adjusting to Horace Mann’s academic, cultural, and social lifestyle.

“Academically, [the transition] wasn’t bad, but socially, it was hard because Horace Mann was where I first met white people,” Faijul Rhyan (12) said.

Rhyan participated in the after-school program “Prep for Prep” for 14 months before he came to HM. The program is located in New York City and offers students of color access to a private school education that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend.

“When I came to HM, people had a lot of money which was weird to me,” he said. He was surprised to hear that people were spending thousands of dollars on certain events like birthdays which he never thought were such a big deal, he said.

Rhyan also felt the need to reduce the use of slang in his everyday vocabulary in order to fit in, he said.  He noticed that people at HM started to give weird looks to kids who used slang words they weren’t familiar with, he said.

“People were using more slang around me than with their other friends, and it made me uncomfortable,” Rhyan said. “From that, I decided to tone it down so certain people would stop being awkward and weird.”

At Grace Ermias’ (11) previous public school, there was greater economic and racial diversity, she said.

Compared to his New Jersey public school, Taimur Moolji (11) noticed that HM is a lot more liberal and that many more people are willing to engage in conversations about topics like race and ethnicity, he said.

“My old school was in a very republican district where all everyone ever mentioned was

‘MAGA, MAGA, MAGA,’” he said.

At Natalie Sweet’s (10) previous school in Queens, she and her sister were the only two girls on the co-ed basketball team. The fact that she could play with other girls at the school was a nice change for her, she said.

Janvi Kukreja (12), who went to a small public school in New Jersey, came to the school when she was in sixth grade. Because everyone at the school was willing to help ease the transition for incoming students, Kukreja never felt rattled when she first arrived, she said.

Even though she felt an increase in workload at first, Claire Yoo (12), who also came from a public school in New Jersey, thinks that the school does a great job with helping students transition to a new group of people, she said.

At HM, “people come from all over New York City, so it’s interesting to see how other people’s lives and experiences differ from mine,” Yoo said.

To make the transition as easy as possible, the school has a number of methods in place.

“In addition to our rather unique orientation programs up at the John Dorr Nature Lab, the school also begins the process of inviting new students to join our community by having several admissions events that provide access to the community,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said.  “For example, students and parents are welcome to attend any number of our open houses, which include tours of our campus and contact with both employees and students.”

Maya Nornberg (9), who switched from a small Jewish school in the city, said that the transition was easy because she met new people during pre-season and Upper Division Orientation (UDO) at Dorr, she said.

Programs like Horace Mann Orientation (HMO) and UDO provide a highly specialized look at the ins and outs of different aspects of life at HM, Dr. Kelly said. “They also remind new students that they’re all in this together,” he said.

Mikayla Benson (10), who came from a small private school in New Jersey, was not used to having to make friends because at her previous school; she knew all her classmates since she was three years old.

“Creating new friendships felt different, and it felt exhausting to create my own friend group,” she said. “It’s hard for people to come to a new school because everyone that is already at this school has friends that they’ve known forever.”

It was not until Benson started participating in the school’s shows and musicals that she found a group of people she feels really close to, she said.

Michael Ortiz (12), who came from a public school in the South Bronx, was also startled by the already well-established social groups he encountered when he entered the school, he said.

Nornberg had to adjust to a larger amount of people around her, she said.

“There are some people in my grade and I don’t even know their names,” Nornberg said. “This is what’s considered normal, but it’s definitely different than what I had before.”

Rhyan found that having a diverse group of friends was important to him, as most of his friends from Prep for Prep were people of color, he said.

Amman Kejela (11), who came to HM from a grade of 30 people, feels that rumors and gossip are a much bigger part of life at the school.

“At my old school, a rumor wasn’t a rumor if all 30 people knew each other,” he said. “You couldn’t get mad at person A and tell person B because everyone was friends with each other.”

In addition to gossip, many students experienced shifts in the topics of discussion at HM.

“Everyone at Horace Mann was constantly talking about their mental health,” Benson said. “I wasn’t used to an everyday discussion about stress and how much work we all have.”

The idea of being stressed out and talking to other people about it was completely foreign to Benson because at her old school, everyone was stressed so no one felt the need to talk about it, she said.

“There are things people say at Horace Mann that I probably wouldn’t have heard

at public school,” Sweet said. “For example, complaining about your personal elevator being broken or that your nose job appointment got cancelled.”

For some, the transition mainly revolved around academics, including a change in workload, a competitive culture, and a multitude of resources provided at the school.

After transitioning last year from YCIS, an international school in Shanghai, Gabriel Banks (9) noticed a number of differences in the academic culture of HM.

“In my other school you made friends by doing well and getting good grades,” he said. “Instead, people at HM will notice you more if you’re outgoing.” Hard work and achievement were highly recognized at Banks’ old school, he said. “If you succeeded, the school made sure everyone knew you were the best,” he said. “This motivated me to be the best.”

“All the teachers at my old school emphasized those two specialties whereas at Horace Mann, in addition to academics, they also care a lot more about athletic ability and personalities,” he said.

Amishi Desai (10), who went to an international private school in London, took many more classes at her previous school, including multiple languages and histories. She also took courses such as geography and religion.

“Even though I was taking biology, chemistry, and physics at the same time at my old school, I like how there’s more focus on specific classes here,” she said. “I have gotten more advanced in the sciences I’m doing right now.”

Sarah Acocelli (11), who went to a small NYC private school similar to HM, said that since she was in a small environment, her school was already really competitive, she said.

Acocelli noticed the frequent discussion and comparison of grades when she arrived at HM, she said.

Even though YCIS has a more advanced math program, Banks feels that the humanities at HM are a lot more challenging, he said.

“Since there were many kids that weren’t native English speakers, my old school had to slow down the English curriculum for them,” he said.

The biggest change for Ermias, who transitioned to the school in ninth grade, was the number of resources available to students at the school, as well as the resources students had on their own, such as books and electronic devices, she said.

“There was limited funding at my school whereas here, the school has tons of ways to fund the amount of resources,” she said.

Ortiz felt that one major change was the school’s expansive campus, he said. “The school is designed to look lively, which is pretty nice considering my old school looked like a prison: dark floors, gated windows, walking in lines,” he said. “The freedom to go anywhere on or off campus was super liberating.”

Matthew Aponte (9), who came to the school in sixth grade from a public school, felt that if a student was struggling at his old school, it was harder to catch up on what he had missed, he said. It was rare to meet with a teacher since there was one teacher for all the subjects at his previous school, he said.

“You would ask them one question in the middle of class but otherwise it was more catching up by yourself at home rather than with a teacher,” he said.

Another change Ermias felt was the jobs that faculty were assigned to, she said.

Ermias also noticed that teachers are more focused on the jobs they are assigned to at HM. “At my public school, a lot of teachers might be taking on different jobs where one teacher could be teaching an English class, a math class, and at the same time might also be the head of the English department.”

Ortiz felt similarly about the level of engagement teachers have, admiring their motivation and investment in students’ success. “Teachers at HM aren’t just going through the motions. Everyone is over-qualified and pretty much experts at what they do,” he said.

Once Yoo moved to high school she felt she could be herself, something she could not feel at her old school, she said.

“People here celebrate you and what you want to do,” Yoo said.

Kukreja would be a very different person if she stayed at her old school, she said.

“The culture and the environment of HM changed and shaped me, but not in a bad way,”

Kukreja said. “I’m very glad that I came to Horace Mann.”