ARISTA Introduces District 1 Pilot Program Initiative

As part of their District 1 Pilot Program, ARISTA has partnered with PS/MS 34 Franklin D. Roosevelt School to tutor eight grade students to prepare for the Living

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By Rin Fukuoka

The ARISTA Executive Council (EC)—seniors President Emma Donnelly, Vice President of Events and Service Roshni Patel, Vice President of Operations Evelyn Ma, and Vice President of Web Development May Hathaway—has recently partnered with PS/MS 34 Franklin D. Roosevelt School for the District 1 Pilot Program, which aims to virtually tutor eighth grade students who are studying for the Living Environment Regents. The program is a long-term initiative that the EC hopes will allow ARISTA members to form partnerships with communities outside of Stuyvesant.

The District 1 Pilot Program was initiated after Principal Seung Yu connected the EC with superintendents from District 1. In choosing which school to partner with, ARISTA believed PS/MS 34 was the best option to start with. “Superintendent [Carry] Chan, from community District 1, recommended PS/MS 34 because there was a lot of change and growth going on at that school right now,” ARISTA faculty advisor Eric Wisotsky said. “And [PS/MS 34 Principal Brian Glover] really wants to bring in new programs, like how he brought in the Living Environment program, so [Superintendent Vivian Orlen] knew that [the principal] would really be interested in this program.”

Donnelly added, “It is the first time this school has been offered a Regents-based Living Environment, so that’s why we decided that this would be a great stepping stone to how we could help the New York City communities in District 1.”

Orlen played an important role in developing the program, which provides a bridge between ARISTA and PS/MS 34. “I see myself as a mere facilitator and connector to what [Wisotsky] referenced before,” Orlen said. “Sometimes, high school students want to do good work within the cities, and they want to support younger students, but trying to get into a school can be challenging.”

With the approval of Chan and Deputy Superintendent Christine Mustillo, deputy head of Manhattan High Schools Mark Rush, Glover, and PS/MS 34 Living Environment teacher Mattew Rodman, ARISTA members began tutoring eighth grade students every Tuesday after school from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., working closely with Rodman to adjust their teaching methods for their tutees. “The Living Environment test is not as deep as even introductory classes at the specialized high schools would be, so I’ve talked to the tutors about that and [gave] them an idea of where the deficits are in students that have not learned science really effectively,” Rodman said.

The EC collaborated extensively to plan and develop the program. “We [make] sure that everything we’re doing during these meetings is really building up to our main goal,” Patel said. “This means keeping meetings on track, ensuring that if there are students who pop in at the last second who need tutoring, we can make sure they’re placed somewhere, [and] there were a lot of meetings that built up to this program and during these planning meetings.”

In addition, juniors Matt Melucci and Leah D’Silva, who are ARISTA project leaders overseeing the program, have played a key role in bridging the gap in communication. “Our role basically has been to stay in communication with all of our tutors, making sure that they know what to review with the tutees [and] talk with [Rodman] to see what curriculum they might want to review,” Melucci said.

Before each scheduled meeting, the ARISTA tutors ask for the topics that their tutees are learning in class and any questions they may have. Tutors then pair up the students into small Zoom breakout rooms to answer questions or teach specific topics from the curriculum. “Before we started our first tutoring session, we […] got the blueprint of the curriculum from [Rodman],” junior and ARISTA member Si Ying Ding said in an e-mail interview. “The actual tutoring session varied depending on what the tutees struggled with and wanted to go over. For example, my tutee prefers self-study, and we usually go over topics of her preference instead of following the blueprint.”

As each tutoring session is conducted through Zoom, many tutors were able to incorporate online resources to their tutoring sessions. “I plan on providing [my tutee] with resources during our calls (Regents questions, videos, and interactive websites), discuss what's being reviewed in her class, and just make any misunderstandings from class clear by using diagrams and easy to understand explanations,” senior and ARISTA member Sakina Gulamhusein said in an e-mail interview.

Gulamhusein hopes to help the eighth graders navigate challenges that come with learning the Living Environments curriculum. “They are brave to take this challenging high-school-level course, and I want to help them to understand the materials better,” she said. “I want to make them appreciate the dynamic nature and real-life applications of biology outside classroom settings.”

Many tutors were able to provide not [only] help with comprehending Living Environment topics, but also general high school advice. “During tutoring sessions, my tutee asked me about my experiences in Stuy, high school life, etc,” Ding said. “If I were an eighth grader, I would appreciate the presence of a high schooler who can guide me. This program definitely offers this opportunity for eighth graders.”

Gulamhusein agreed, believing that the mentorship extended beyond just strictly teaching the academic curriculum to the eighth graders. “We’re not just tutors for Living Environment. We’re also mentors,” she said. “We want to be there for these kids and guide them through whatever help they need, whether that be the central dogma or how to study and manage their time in general.”

Rodman noted that the interactions between tutors and tutees could have a positive impact beyond the classroom. “As successful young scholars, the Stuyvesant students can serve as mentors. And just the implicit nature of working with somebody who has been academically successful will give my students access to habits of mind that they might not have had before,” Rodman said.

Once in-person learning resumes, the EC aims to expand the program to other schools and have longer but fewer sessions. “We’re hoping that we’re going to different schools and teaching different types of classes,” Patel said. “Hopefully, sessions are a little bit longer and more spread apart.”

Wistosky also hopes that the program will allow ARISTA members to gain valuable experience. “Bringing this holistic view, working with middle school kids, [and] building these personal relationships [are] going to be beneficial not just to the recipients and [eighth graders] [who] are getting the tutoring or the people that we do service, but in ARISTA itself. We want to provide opportunities for growth for our members.”

Moving forward, ARISTA hopes to continue to engage with the communities outside of Stuyvesant and create more personal connections and impact as an honors society. “We really see this program, especially the Pilot Program, as a stepping stone into reaching the needs of the greater New York City community and interacting with other communities that might be different from our own,” Donnelly said. “We really want to reimagine what an honor society could be […] it’s really a means to [make] a tangible impact in the community.”