Here are some examples of answers that I received when I conducted an informal survey asking students if they ever considered going to a SPARK club meeting or event:
“Who are they?”
“What does that mean?”
The fact that the majority of the responses questioned SPARK and what sorts of events they hold is evidence that the SPARK community is highly overlooked and underappreciated in Stuyvesant. Being able to change these perspectives is definitely a difficult task, but it’s one that many of the SPARK clubs, including the ones following, are striving to do.
Limitless: The Self-Esteem Dream
In the past, junior Marie Ivantechenko did not approach people unless they chose to talk to her first. Many people can relate to limiting themselves due to low self-confidence. At the end of the day, being unable to step out of one’s comfort zone keeps one from making friends and expressing their voice.
The new SPARK club, Limitless, hopes to combat this fear. Led by Ivantechenko and junior Alex Wen, Limitless hopes to help people boost their self-confidence by promoting self-care and self-love.
Ivantechenko and Wen started this club because of their own issues with self-confidence. They faced problems with body image and speaking up. “My self-confidence issues stemmed from being afraid to talk to people and letting my ideas out. I [thought] that people [were] going to look down [on] me,” Ivantechenko said.
They hope sharing their personal experiences in the environment of Limitless will inspire people to seek out help. “We started it with the purpose that if others were going through the same thing that we did, they [would] not [have to feel] alone and they [would] have somewhere they [could] talk,” Wen said.
Limitless meets every other week to discuss the mental health topic chosen for that month, such as anxiety or depression. During the meetings, the members discuss what issues they face with the topic, what they hope to accomplish, and steps for improvement. The meetings usually operate through group discussions rather than lectures. “We want the members to learn for themselves rather than us putting words in their mouth,” Ivantechenko said.
However, the club is having trouble with attendance at meetings. The first few meetings had decent attendance, but lately Wen and Ivantechenko were faced with an empty room. In an effort to gain more members, they plan to hold awareness events in February.
They feel that they need to distinguish themselves from the other SPARK clubs. “We’re new, and other SPARK clubs have expanded their horizons and [taken] over what we were going to do without realizing it,” Wen said.
They believe that in order to improve the effectiveness of SPARK and make them more well-known, the clubs should work together to promote a unanimous goal. “I think the most effective way is not by having all these clubs, but SPARK as an organization […] coming together,” Wen said.
Though SPARK has been present in Stuyvesant for such a long time, it rarely receives recognition and has minimal involvement. “ We don’t see how it connects to the real world problems,” Ivantechenko said.
“Stuyvesant is seen as this excessively nerdy and geeky school, and because of that, a lot of students in [Stuyvesant] are ruled by logic rather than emotion,” Wen said. “It’s harder to look into something that you don’t understand or see as important.” Wen believes the stereotypes of Stuyvesant students limit them to a stoic attitude towards clubs that promote emotional freedom.
Wen hopes for students to rise above their apathy. “[Stuyvesant students] need to realize that stepping out of their comfort zone is a big step towards helping themselves recover and addressing their problems,” Wen said.
Students Against Destructive Decisions: The Struggling Activism Club
When witnessing a problem, many people may just passively step aside and wait for someone else to deal with it. Seniors Rozi Xu and Michael Lin aim to bring attention and raise awareness about many of these issues that are looked over or ignored in Stuyvesant through their SPARK club, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).
SADD was actually founded a while ago; however, it became inactive because all of the members were seniors and had graduated. SADD President Xu credits the revival to the efforts of co-faculty advisor, Angel Colon, and guidance counselor, Di Wu. “Mr. Wu was talking about it. He had all this merch, and he was saying, ‘How can I restart this club?’ And that’s where I stepped in, and I was like, ‘This is a great cause [and] something we should definitely emphasize.” This interest led to Xu collaborating with Colon in order to restart the club.
SADD’s goals encompass most of the issues that Stuyvesant students face: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexual assault, and even mental health problems. “We’re activism in the way that we raise awareness and educate the student body,” Xu said. They inform the students on prevalent topics in the Stuyvesant community. They try to keep their topics up-to-date, so that they are issues that students actually want to learn more about.
For example, last June, they created a prescription drug abuse booth because of the eleven students that were taken to the hospital because of an overdose on the prescription drug, Xanax. “A lot of the issues such as drug abuse or alcohol abuse in the Stuyvesant community are prevalent,” Xu said. “But it’s not like we’re targeting specific students—we’re just here to say, ‘Hi, we’re here to help. First we’re here to educate you and raise awareness, but we’re also here to help you through your addiction.’”
Similar to most SPARK clubs, SADD is currently having trouble with membership. In their facebook group, there are about 50 people; however, at meetings, only 15 to 20 people arrive. Compared to other SPARK clubs, this is a decent turnout. However, most of the current members are seniors. So, unless they gain underclassmen members, the club may die out again.
That is where the Director of Expansion, Michael Lin, steps in. Lin works to bring the group together and expand the club to attract newer members. Currently, his plan is to take advantage of the word of mouth. With the new people that are joining, Lin uses bonding activities to strengthen the feeling of community. “Some people that don’t really talk during meetings are playing games with each other,” Lin said.
They feel like these activities are the key to gaining more members, because once people realize that the meetings aren’t just ranting about your feelings or putting yourself in an uncomfortable position, meetings become enjoyable.
Xu and Lin said that they cannot measure the exact effectiveness of their clubs. All they know is that they are constantly making an effort to raise awareness. Last year, SADD members would enter freshmen classrooms and discuss their mission as a club and how the freshmen could join. “We asked the freshmen how many of them noticed our booths, and almost everyone did, which means that people do see us, but you can’t really measure whether or not it prevents them from destructive decisions,” Xu said.
It’s a struggle that a lot of SPARK clubs are facing. With very little coverage and feedback on their events or meetings, they cannot correctly gauge whether their attempts to help Stuyvesant students are working or not. Without this sort of response, the SPARK community is left in the dark, which is not something that can be easily fixed.
Xu and Lin advise students who are struggling with these issues is to talk to someone experienced and understanding, like SPARK coordinator Angel Colon. They also encourage students to face their issues head-on and embrace the communities in Stuyvesant that offer help. “I think some people or scared to come out of their shell and talk about what’s bothering them. They’re kind of intimidated by the faculty and afraid to talk to them about their problems,” Xu said. “And it’s better for them to talk to us than us to approach them.”
Venus Nnadi: A Personal Perspective
Junior Venus Nnadi represents the minority of black students in Stuyvesant. She is a proud member of the SPARK club Students of Color in Tandem, formerly divided into the Black Students League (BSL) and ASPIRA, which works to increase and celebrate the diversity within Stuyvesant.
Nnadi initially joined BSL because she needed a place to talk about how she felt walking into Stuyvesant. “The reason I joined BSL was because I [didn’t] see people like me in school, so [I needed a] safe space where [I could] talk to people about the problems [I had],” Nnadi said.
Coming from a predominantly black and Hispanic middle school, Nnadi was very surprised to not be able to interact with someone from the same culture as her at her own school. “I think the first class I had with another black student was [during my] sophomore year,” Nnadi said. “After that, I never had any classes like that again.”
Nnadi was aware of the demographics and the fact that Stuyvesant’s racial makeup would be very different from what she was used to, “But it didn’t really hit me until I came.”
Students of Color in Tandem helped smooth out Nnadi’s transition from the atmosphere in her middle school to that in high school. Even though she didn’t see people like her throughout the day, she was able to experience the community after school. “It was a place where you could talk about your day [or] anything,” Nnadi said. “You could talk with people who had the same culture as you and shared the same tastes in things as you did.”
Nnadi wants to dispel the assumptions that people make about culture clubs like BSL. “A lot of people think that our club is about black power or that it’s just for black people,” Nnadi explained. “But, it’s just a safe space for everyone. We speak about many issues that are going on today, like police brutality.” She emphasizes the fact that anyone who is passionate about issues surrounding diversity should join regardless of their race.
However, due to low membership. BSL and ASPIRA chose to combine. Nnadi feels that the difference in culture is not a barrier and can bring them together. “Even though people are separated by religions and cultures, we come together for bigger events, and everyone is generally welcoming and supporting because of our mission to help,” she said.“Recently, we talked about Trump’s election, how it made us feel, and how it would affect us because of our race.”
Currently, they are planning on going to different schools to reach out to students and discuss the importance of taking the SHSAT. “A lot of people who get accepted to Stuyvesant don’t [attend] because they feel that their numbers are too low,” Nnadi said.
But, Nnadi believes that not being born a certain race or religion shouldn’t have an effect on whether or not you join a club that advocates something that you care about. She is an avid supporter of the power of the SPARK clubs. “I do believe [the SPARK clubs] are effective,” Nnadi said. “People have their religion and culture at home and you get to bring that to school and share it with other people.”
Time is not an issue when it comes to participating in SPARK clubs. Nnadi has a busy schedule with multiple extracurriculars and barely any free days. “It’s not really hard to balance because it’s not a strict schedule,” Nnadi said. “We have our meetings once a week or once every other week, so it’s very flexible, they’re not super strict on attendance.”
Nnadi stresses that the main point is that you shouldn’t deprive yourself of these clubs and resources simply because you feel that you will stick out. “If you feel passionate about whatever topic or whatever issue the club advocates, you should definitely join and voice your opinion,” Nnadi said.