- Schools & Programs
Aphrodite Megaris ‘15 comes to BHSEC from the Gifted and Talented Program at P.S. 122. For someone who admits to “getting a lot of work in middle school,” Aphrodite concedes that BHSEC is an even greater challenge.
BHSEC is unlike anything Aphrodite ever experienced, “the teachers really treat you like adults, like equals.” She credits her professors with transforming her education and the way she thinks. “The fact that my professors analyze why things happen, the fact that classes are so discussion based, it just keeps me intrigued.”
BHSEC’s academic environment opened up new doors for Aphrodite. “I used to feel like I needed to pick some sort of ordinary career, but I saw that I had a passion for helping people.” Her devotion to BHSEC and the opportunities it afforded her is reflected in her involvement on campus. Aphrodite spends her time volunteering for a wide variety of school functions. “I feel like it’s a give-back to the school,” she said.
“When I talk about BHSEC, I have a smile on my face.”
BHSEC had a profound impact on Declan’s personal and professional trajectory. As he explained, “BHSEC affords children a great opportunity to expand their horizons. Beginning in the ninth grade, I grew academically and philosophically and BHSEC is solely to thank for my growth. As a young African American male, social statistics do not bode well for me. Had it been left to society’s expectation of my demographic, I should be a member of the prison population. Thankfully, BHSEC has helped me to become a young man who earned his Masters in Political Science at the age of 22. My outlook on life completely changed because of the courses I took.”
The faculty and students at BHSEC had a significant influence on Declan. “At BHSEC I was given the chance to share a classroom with professors and students I might not otherwise have met. The teachers were not only instructors, but they were truly invested in students’ lives and our well being.” More than anything, BHSEC emphasized the importance of perseverance and patience. As Declan explained, “BHSEC teaches children that truly anything is possible through hard work.”
After graduating from BHSEC, Declan transferred all 60 of the Bard credits he earned at BHSEC to the New York Institute of Technology, where he graduated in two years with a bachelor's degree in English. In May of 2010, Declan earned a master's degree in Political Science from Brooklyn College. He is currently pursing a J.D. at Hofstra University. He hopes to become a law professor and legislative attorney after graduating. Declan credits BHSEC with his success: “I can honestly say that I would not be who I am today without having attended BHSEC. From my first day at BHSEC, I was forced to achieve and pushed to do more than I thought I could.”
Before entering the Bard program, Kayla and Bryan, like many high school students, were able to successfully maneuver through class materials without putting in much effort. Being in the Bard program challenged that habit, causing them to increase their academic ambitions and take great pride in the work they produced. “Before, if I had homework I would say, ‘I’m going to bust this out, I know I’m going to get 100’; with Bard it was like, ‘65, what’s that?’ So I took my time. And then I realized, this is actually work I can produce, I really have to work for my grade,” Kayla explained. Bryan added, “In English Language Arts (ELA) class we never had intimate conversations like those in the Bard program, and when we did, we only touched the surface. The work for regular ELA is easy, I don’t have to pay attention in class. At Bard I have to constantly be attentive.”
Kayla and Bryan’s ability to surmount academic obstacles and persevere made their successful completion of the pre-college courses all the more rewarding. Kayla described the academic struggle and long hours of work she had to put in, and the value she ultimately saw in the education, beyond the tuition-free college credits. “Before, I thought I’m just getting an associate’s degree. Now it’s like, wow, I can speak to adults, challenge them, and use these new words…I like that feeling. It feels more earned.” Bryan had a similar experience: “At first I thought Bard was going to look good on my transcript. Then Bard broadened my horizons – certain texts I didn’t expect to read, or conversations I didn’t expect to have, or for my writing to improve. All these skills I’ve learned at Bard.” Kayla and Bryan have both finished the pre-college program and will begin college courses this coming fall.
The Bard program challenged Kayla and Bryan academically, which impacted their performance in their traditional high school classes. As Kayla explained, “I became more focused and entitled to actually do my work, so my grades in other classes have improved.” Instead of rushing to complete assignments, she prefers to get work done thoroughly, and she takes pride in the work she hands in. Teachers on multiple occasions have told her they have noticed improvement in her performance. For Bryan, there was “a domino effect. Everything else falls in place because I’m doing better in the Bard program. Before, my highest grade in math was a 65, and I wasn’t interested in doing the work. Now my math score increased… because I was more focused in the Bard class.”
Thriving in the Bard program, as Kayla and Bryan are, would be difficult without the support of certain faculty. Both students highlighted that having extended access to Dr. McMorris, the program’s Academic Director, helped ensure their success. “When I was slacking, Dr. McMorris told us, if you want to be a Year 1 [college] student, you have to pass, and slacking is not an option…During lunch, after dinner, you’re able to contact Dr. McMorris anytime. We are able to text or email her.”
Bard has made a huge impact on Kayla’s and Bryan’s perspectives and goals. Kayla expressed that Bard has challenged her in numerous ways, allowing her to grow and revealing room for further development. “I feel like I’m not at the top yet, but I’m happy. I’m there, but I’m not there, I’ve still got some time. I’m waiting for that.” Bryan emphasized that Bard has truly been an eye-opener, “Before going into Bard I had the perception that everything was the same. When you get accepted into Bard you realize everything is not the same, you have to approach things with different perceptions and perspectives. I have an open mind, I’m able to do things better and view things differently.”
After graduating from Promise Academy and the early college program, Kayla hopes to attend Syracuse University and is interested in therapy and law as potential career paths. Bryan’s dream school is UCLA, and he is interested in majoring in neurology. He is also an avid football player, and is interested in a career in professional sports or medicine.
Lenina transferred to BHSEC after her sophomore year at Midwood High School in Brooklyn. "I loved it at Midwood. I was on the track team, I was doing well—things were really good." But, she mentions, "for all intents and purposes, I had already finished high school at Midwood. I was taking accelerated classes. There was nothing else for me to do. BHSEC came at an opportune moment, it filled in the gap about what to do next."
When she arrived at BHSEC, Lenina was immersed in the college curriculum right away. The new environment and the new academic standards changed her outlook on learning. "The experience as a whole was so impactful. People cared about what I had to say." One memory especially stands out for being outside of the norm: early during her first semester at BHSEC, Lenina's seminar professor had lunch with the class. "It really struck me; I never had lunch with a professor. Seeing professors interact with students, that was different. It broke every norm."
Lenina’s peers shared her thirst for knowledge. "We were all very inquisitive and we came from very different backgrounds. What linked us was our interest in things and learning."
After graduating from BHSEC, Lenina enrolled in Stony Brook University, where she transferred all 60 of her BHSEC credits. Lenina went from being part of a small cohort of students at BHSEC to being part of a large undergraduate class at the university. "The biggest difference between BHSEC and Stony Brook that I noticed was the class size. At BHSEC, I knew everyone and my professor knew me, but at Stony Brook, I didn't know my professors and my professors didn't know me." Although Stony Brook was radically different than BHSEC, BHSEC adequately prepared Lenina for the upper level science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes necessary for her biology major at Stony Brook. "I took a lot of STEM courses at BHSEC, from Calc III to Chemistry. I was well prepared."
Although she had her goals set on a career in medicine, a post-undergraduate work experience changed her future plans. Her first job out of Stony Brook was an internship at a magazine that sparked her interest in studying journalism. After that internship, Lenina decided she wanted a change. She then enrolled in Brooklyn College and majored in journalism.
In her journalism career, Lenina has written articles and covered topics on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from arts and culture to politics. She has her mind set on being a leader in an international media organization.
Lenina is now a board member of the BHSEC Manhattan alumni association and works actively with a core group of graduates to organize events and keep alumni connected. "BHSEC was home—it's still home today. That’s why I keep coming back."
“The moment I realized this was something bigger,” she said, “was when my dad was talking about it and telling some family friends. They were so fascinated by it and I felt great about it. I knew that I might be able to transfer over all these credits; but at that moment, I felt like I really knew that it was special.
Mamfatou is currently in her freshman year at Columbia University, where she appreciates the preparation she received from Bard. “I got so many skills from dealing with the intensity of BHSEC. I know so much better, now, how to handle heavy workloads. I would have been drowning now and freaking out about it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I know how to handle it.”
Mamfatou has been focused on her academics for her whole life. Her family had always stressed education and going to college. “Back then in middle school, I was getting all 90s and above. But when I got to my first year at Bard, I got a B+ and I cried over it! I was used to being at that A standard, and I thought it would be a breeze to get As there too.” She knew that BHSEC was going to push her to levels that she hadn’t reached before, and she was ready for it.
At Columbia, Mamfatou continues to challenge herself, but does express her gratitude for all the growth she experienced at BHSEC. She credits the nurturing environment at BHSEC for her smooth transition to Columbia. “ It is such a different atmosphere. Here, you’re kind of left on your own. Being here and seeing that people just expect you to go off and be independent made me appreciate all the support I received at BHSEC. They love you and they want to help you. I had a great support system with all my professors and guidance counselors and even the Dean and Principal. They all wanted to get to know you and help you with whatever they could help you with.”
In addition to BHSEC’s resources and extensive support systems, the liberal arts and seminar class styles introduced new perspectives and options, Mamfatou says. “When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a doctor, and then I got to BHSEC and was exposed to the seminar style classes and the readings we were doing. It was then I realized I like humanities.” The learning at BHSEC very much stressed the importance of community and the value in each individual’s voice. “In seminar,” she says, “we’d sit in a circle, see one another, and talk to each other. That’s where I realized that that’s the kind of thing that I like.” She references her experiences in seminar when looking for classes at Columbia that fit her best.
For Mamfatou, BHSEC’s passionate faculty made a real difference in how she approached the material. “One of my favorite classes at BHSEC was my globalization class with Professor Hymson—I loved her. I find it really comparable to a class I'm taking now: my modern Caribbean class.” What attracted her to both classes, she says, was that both professors genuinely seemed to like what they were` teaching, and showed that they are human just like their students. “The professors at BHSEC genuinely like what they are teaching. It’s not just a job.”
Mamfatou is entering her second semester at Columbia, and feeling confident in doing so. “It’s definitely comparable—I just know how to handle it. I’ve done it. That’s why it’s an easier transition. I’ve done this before, and it’s the same standards they’re holding us to.” Mamfatou is prepared for the work ahead of her at Columbia, and is grateful for the head start she received at BHSEC Queens.
“I did a lot of learning about how I learn. I learned a lot about myself as a student, and that helped me to go forward.”
Nick Gumas came to BHSEC Manhattan from the United Nations International School. He is currently enrolled at the George Washington University and is majoring in political science with a focus on public policy.
Nick had his eyes set on BHSEC during the high school admission process. BHSEC was his top choice, one of two schools he applied to. He heard of BHSEC from a friend “who went on and on” about the school. Soon enough, Nick fell in love with the school, too.
Nick believes that BHSEC’s academic culture, one that promotes inquiry and discussion, contributes to a thriving community. “Everyone here challenges you intellectually, our conversations rotated around current events or readings. The environment was very warm and accepting—it was a really great place to learn.”
Nick credits BHSEC’s engaged and knowledgeable professors with setting the stage for an atmosphere of learning. “Professors are attentive here at BHSEC, and that obviously benefits the students. More people are engaged in class discussions and have thoughtful things to say.” He fondly remembers discussions about postmodernism; “it was always a lively debate, never dull, never boring.” Like everyone, Nick favored some classes and not others, but he never felt alienated from a topic. “I genuinely enjoyed materials taught to me, even things that I wasn’t interested in were made interesting by the professors.”
Although Nick had always been passionate about politics, his experience at BHSEC cemented his views. “I was never much interested in education policy until going to BHSEC and then a large university. Interacting with students who have different high school backgrounds, you realize your experience at BHSEC is something very few people have the opportunity to experience. After hearing their stories, I became concerned and passionate about education policy.”
Since leaving BHSEC, Nick has become involved in politics. In New York, he interned at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and, while in Washington, Nick has worked at Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s office and the Human Rights Campaign. He was also chosen to be the student speaker at the United for Marriage Rally, organized by the Human Rights Campaign and United for Marriage. Once he graduates from George Washington, Nick has his eyes set on law school and public office.
Unlike Nyla’s previous educational experiences, love of learning and engagement in the classroom was the norm at BHSEC. “I came from an environment where learning was rote and regimented and I didn’t have the opportunity to be challenged in a way where I explored my own intellect.” Learning how to think critically was the cornerstone of Nyla’s BHSEC education. She was not told what to learn or how to interpret what she learned; she had to think. “I was given space to learn how to write and how to think. I wrote and rewrote papers until I was able to go beyond the context of the work and explore who I was within the work I was reading.”
Nyla still remembers much about BHSEC’s classroom experience. Although years have passed since she graduated, Nyla has many fond memories of Seminar and a class she took called Gender and Sexuality. “I learned to write in Seminar, and we read difficult texts like Freud, and Marx. I still have those books today.” Nyla remembers her Gender and Sexuality class because of the hands-on nature of the coursework. “It was an interesting class where we went out a did a lot of on-the-street projects. I had never been exposed to studying gender and sexuality, and I appreciate that I now have an intellectual perspective on the topic, rather than a perspective influence by religion or popular culture.”
Nyla credits her BHSEC professors with setting the stage for an environment where learning was of paramount importance. Like the students, the professors at BHSEC were learning and conducting research in their own fields as well; they were scholars who had a passion for the subject matter. “Professors at BHSEC love their work so much. They model what it means to be invested in their work and be intellectually challenged. We were a very tight-knit group of people.”
BHSEC not only changed the way Nyla read, wrote, and thought, but it also provided the seed for her future career goals. Nyla’s interest in Psychology was sparked by a lecture given at the school by a psychiatrist on teen suicide in the Navajo nation tribe. “That day, I was inspired to work with people who have mental illness, but it took me a while to find the work that I wanted to do… I finally decided on social work.”
In summarizing her experience, Nyla says, “BHSEC provides an intellectual environment where students are challenged in untraditional ways. I became a critical thinker and was able to recognize problems from many different perspectives. The school prepares you for some of best colleges in the country. I would send my children to BHSEC.”
Although she struggled at first, Olga managed to pick up her grades with the help of her professors and peers and graduated in 2003 with an Associates Degree from Bard. Although her early grades were not good, the prospect of the associate’s degree kept her motivated. Once she earned the degree, she was determined to transfer every single credit and save as much money as possible, which is what she did by continuing her studies at Bard College. Arriving at college with only a graduation gift of $50, Olga graduated in two years from Bard with a Bachelor’s Degree, and a higher GPA than the one she had at BHSEC. She was the first in her family to leave her neighborhood and the first in her family to graduate from college.
After college graduation, Olga returned to BHSEC as an admissions coordinator, while pursing a Master of Science Degree in Urban Affairs at Hunter College. She currently co-directs admissions for BHSEC Queens, where she leads efforts to recruit a diverse student body. “It was really important for me to come back to BHSEC to make sure that I would be able to find students who are in similar situations as I was to attend BHSEC. Recruiting a diverse student body, especially from low-income families, and making sure these families know about this great opportunity is why I'm still at BHSEC,” she explained.
BHSEC was a life-changing experience for Olga. As she explained, “If it wasn't for BHSEC, my life would have taken a different route. Coming from a poor family, a $40,000 price tag for a year in college is impossible. If you multiply that by four, it's just unimaginable. However, BHSEC did more for me than save me a lot of money - it challenged me and kept me focused on my school work despite everything else that was happening around me. There were a lot of obstacles and distractions outside of school but the fact that I had challenging professors who were caring and committed to see me succeed was a nice formula for my success.”
In Olga’s free time, she participates in a college mentoring program in Spanish Harlem through the East Harlem Tutorial Program. She helps a 12th grade student navigate the college application process. During the sessions, Olga is constantly grateful for her BHSEC education. “I am always reminded how lucky I am to have the opportunity to have attended BHSEC. The challenges that these students face are enormous. I wish we could have more BHSEC's and more early colleges to accommodate more students.”
Currently, Sherman is an Associate Producer for the CBS Sports Network where he works on National Football League, college football and college basketball coverage. He has been an integral part of the launch of Time to Schein, a sports talk show with host Adam Schein.
To this day, Sherman says the most difficult challenge he ever faced was getting through high school.
“I went to BHSEC because my parents thought it would be good for me. I had been deemed ‘practically illiterate’ by grade school and middle school teachers, and was a self-described sports nerd. I was forever playing catch up when it came to schoolwork. While I strongly disliked reading and writing, I loved being able to express my opinions.
It was at BHSEC that I actually learned how to read, write, think and cogently and persuasively express my opinions. The majority of credit for these accomplishments goes to my 9th grade English professor and BHSEC’s founding principal, Ray Peterson. The lasting effects of my BHSEC education cannot be overemphasized."
Sherman transferred all of his credits to the University of Missouri, which allowed him to take full advantage of what the university had to offer. He explained, "Although I walked out of BHSEC with a GPA closer to 1.0 than to 4.0, the critical thinking skills and study skills I acquired at BHSEC made it possible for me to thrive at the Missouri School of Journalism and win an Emmy Award ridiculously early in my career.”
Sherman expressed his belief that the best reporters, producers, journalists, and communicators are well-rounded. He explained: “Being well-rounded is not about the amount of activities and organizations you have on a resumé, but rather the leadership roles you take on in your life and your commitment and engagement with the things you love to do. I learned all about leadership and community engagement at Mizzou. Without BHSEC, my ability to engage and assume leadership roles at college would not have been possible.”
BHSEC helped Sherman achieve his dream job. “It has been my dream to be engaged in the sports field for as long as I can remember, and, while I didn’t understand BHSEC’s impact on me at the time, looking back, I fully credit BHSEC for helping me develop so many of the skills I needed to make my dream come true,” he said.