“We have for years referred to them as mini-counselors. They are the ones getting to see the freshmen and the transfer sophomore students the most in the beginning, and are the most tuned-in to how they are doing in their transition,” Assistant Principal of Guidance Casey Pedrick said.
Even so, the guidance office has decided to play a larger role in Stuyvesant’s Big Sib program in the hope of improving its organization and effectiveness. In the past, the Big Sib program was completely student-run, from the application process and selection to homeroom management and Big Sib accountability.
Applications were not standardized and were based heavily on the Big Sib Chairs’ personal judgments, while attendance records were rarely kept for homerooms. As a result, the program seemed to be more oriented toward the privilege of being a Big Sib, rather than offering support systems to incoming students.
Of the Little Sibs surveyed, 48.9 percent reported knowing all of their Big Sibs’ names. This is certainly a mark of success, but it also means a slight majority of Little Sibs did not know their Big Sibs’ names. Five upperclassmen are entrusted with the responsibility to mentor 30 freshmen through Stuyvesant, and it does not require a large impression to be made in order to remember so few names. What it does require is initiative on the part of Big Sibs to introduce themselves and make legitimate connections.
At its core, these problems stem from an issue with the highly subjective selection of Big Sibs. “There are some people who either should not be Big Sibs or just don’t do their jobs as Big Sibs,” Big Sib Chair Kevin Li said. Also surrounding the program is the stigma of nepotism.
To alleviate these problems, the guidance office has revamped the selection process by adding an anonymous first stage with a rubric. “In the beginning, [the Big Sib Chairs] are giving points to things in different areas [based on] the rubric. None of that was ever done before. It was just them reviewing it on paper, taking their little notes, having the interviews. At least now you have an anonymous review with a rubric you are following,” Pedrick said.
A concern with a rubric-based application, however, is that it focuses too much on academic performance. It is important to have students with a variety of perspectives and achievement levels in the program.
In some instances, the rubric appears to be almost an afterthought—interviews, for instance, began before an interview rubric was finalized. This system was created in order to provide students with a concrete idea of why they may not have been accepted into the program, yet it should not exist simply to cover that base.
It is important to strike a balance between transparency and avoiding robotic selections. One important step that has been taken is lowering the grade requirement for Big Sib applicants from an 88 to an 85 and being more strict about maintaining this baseline; the new cut-off will allow more students to be eligible while also standardizing the process.
Many upperclassmen, once selected for the program, also find that there is no incentive to be an active participant; even with homeroom leaders, some freshmen homerooms are devoid of Big Sibs. “We’ll hear from teachers that no Big Sibs came to homeroom today or only three come consistently,” Pedrick said.
Under the restructured program, Big Sib Chairs will no longer be assigned to a specific homeroom. Instead, they will each oversee a batch of homerooms and provide direct guidance to homeroom leaders. Additionally, homeroom teachers may be asked to report any Big Sib absences to the guidance office.
Both the guidance office and the Big Sib Chairs recognize that Little Sibs often face issues that are beyond the scope of another student. In these instances it is important that the Big Sibs have a close connection with their Little Sibs’ guidance counselors so that they can pass on any larger issues. To promote this, most Little Sib homerooms will have at least one Big Sib who shares their guidance counselor.
To ensure that freshmen foster a relationship with their guidance counselor, instead of giving a generic introduction to their entire homeroom during Camp Stuy, counselors will hold smaller meetings in the hallway. “We want the guidance counselors to not only […] go to each homeroom and talk [at Camp Stuy,] but to talk to specific kids in homeroom. For example, pull out two or three [students] at a time to really introduce themselves and make themselves approachable,” Li said.
Camp Stuy, along with the Big Sib Little Sib Dance, is part of the frenzy of activity that the Big Sib Program opens up with each year. But by the end of the first marking period, apathy seeps into the program. To combat this, the new Big Sib Chairs are planning to hold events outside of school throughout the year.
“Homeroom is only once every two weeks generally for 15 minutes. We’re going to try to maximize the opportunities we have face to face with our Little Sibs. I know some homerooms [already] have little bubble tea meetups and things like that. [Now,] not only one homeroom is doing it, but all homerooms are doing it,” Big Sib Chair Charlotte Ruhl said.
However, a more effective way for Big Sibs and Little Sibs to bond would be through weekly, rather than sporadic, homerooms, which both would be required to attend. Homerooms should not only be a time to hand out forms, but a place for students to interact. In the past, Big Sib Chairs have spoken with faculty about having more frequent homerooms, but they have not been cooperative in helping underclassmen assimilate.
The guidance office’s involvement in restructuring the program has obvious benefits, but historically the Big Sib program has been entirely student-run. This autonomy is part of what makes Stuyvesant a unique school, and student-based leadership makes Big Sibs truly welcoming and inspiring. We hope the Big Sib Chairs continue to be the driving force behind the program.