Happiness With Academy Choice

When we were 8th graders applying to BCA, we all had, at one point, stared at this school’s list of academies on our computer screens. Some of us knew which academy to apply to immediately, some were indecisive until the last minute, and still others fell somewhere in between. No matter where on that spectrum we fell, we all found ourselves at BCA, both nervous and excited about the next four years to come.

However, there are current BCA students who believe that choosing an academy at a young age has its downfalls: some students come to BCA only to realize that their academy ended up being not at all what they hoped for. The Academy Chronicle was interested in finding out whether this opinion was shared by the majority of the student population and what students thought about the current academy system.

According to a recent survey of 182 students we conducted, 22% of those polled wish they had chosen a different academy, and 66% of the respondents realized freshman year. When explaining why they have regrets, students shared a variety of responses. For example, upon entering the Academies, AVPA-M junior Gordon Sherman stated that he often regrets his decision because he realized that his interests differed from the other students within the music academy and that he wanted to pursue studies in the STEM field instead.

An anonymous AAST freshman also shared her thoughts about her academy choice. Because she has always had an interest in environmental science, she decided to enter the science academy, but she realized she didn’t feel the same passion for environmental science now as she did in 8th grade. She said, “I wish AAST could be split into two academies so students with vastly different interests wouldn’t have to study such a diverse field together.”

When asked about the hypothetical possibility of switching academies in freshman year, she said that, while she sometimes wishes she had that option, she believes that chaos would likely ensure. In her opinion, this chaos would outweigh the benefits of a flexible system. In fact, while some students agree that the current academy system is not the most efficient, many students also prefer to stay within their chosen academy. When asked the question, “If you could go back to freshman year and select a new academy, would you change or stay in the academy you are in now?” 76.7 % of students replied “stay,” while only a small 23.3% of students replied “change.” These results can be explained by a variety of reasons, such as a deepening interest in one’s academy through academy-specific classes and opportunities, or even a comfort in being with people and friends who share similar interests. Yet the data certainly shows that BCA has assisted students in feeling “unrestricted” from other academies.

However, many students seem to disagree with the early timing of the academy-selection process. AAST junior Michael Chu said, “Academy selection taking place before students attend the school is flawed, as actual knowledge of BCA during that time is limited, and not all kids have reached the point where they have a passion for something.” ATCS junior Brian Cho had a similar viewpoint, sharing that the first trimester should be available for students to transfer academies.

Alex Blumenfeld, a senior in ABF explained: “I don’t want to say that the existing academy structure ‘limits’ students, but I do think it has its greatest negative effects on the application process. 14-year-olds shouldn’t be expected to know what they want to do with their lives, and being asked to make a binding decision is tough. However, I also do think the large number of frees BCA students are given does allow you to get involved as much as you want.”

Other students were certain that the current academy set-up is most ideal. For instance, ABF senior Brian Kehoe stated that he understood students’ issues with the inability to switch but believed it would be impossible to do so. To prove this point, he provided a hypothetical situation in which students would not have to declare an academy until the end of freshman year so that they have time to explore each one. Brian gave an example of a scenario in which students’ schedules would be full of mandatory classes from every academy, both overwhelming them and giving them small glimpses of subjects without full understanding of what the academy is like.

He said, “As a result, the interesting, higher-level concepts would either not be taught at all or be rushed. No matter how you try to set up an exploration system, kids are pretty much going to enter their academies blind anyways.”

Brian added, therefore, that he thinks the current system is best, because students can at least “begin to explore their field early and free up more time for more advanced projects and topics as upperclassmen.” He explained that BCA has a diverse array of electives, clubs, and research opportunities so students can still explore interests they have outside their academy.

ABF senior Matthew Katz made a similar point, agreeing that students do not take so much coursework specific to their academy to the point where it is unbearable for those who do not enjoy their academy’s curriculum.

Sharon Ahn, a senior in AVPA-M, explained: “As restrictive as these original stipulations may be, the restrictions definitely depend on each person and how serious they are in getting involved in an academy that is not their own. I think it’s all about how your interests shift as you grow and how BCA accommodates that.”

In fact, choosing an academy in 8th grade can actually be beneficial in that it forces students to think about their future. Dan Hu, a junior in AAST, shared, “Half-forcing you into an academy actually somewhat makes you think more about what you want to do, and because it’s high school, you don’t actually have to stick with it. I think it’s a beneficial system. These ‘boundaries’ actually cause me to think about other fields more.”

Ms. Pinke agreed with this notion and shared, “I think it does force you to think about it, but it’s not realistic to think that you’d be able to make that decision that young. Ultimately, we hope that you find something you like, but we absolutely expect you to explore other areas.”

However, AMST junior Agustin Velasco did not agree completely with this viewpoint. He stated, “I don’t think AMST kids who are not interested in their academy have a lot of freedom to explore. For example, why can ABF students participate in HOSA, but AMST students can’t do DECA?”

He continued, “I understand that I made the decision to enter the medical academy, and it obviously makes sense that AMST will have a lot of classes related to science and medicine. However, I think that, especially as a junior juggling all the work from my academy-required classes, I don’t have time to do much else.”

Overall, it is clear that the students of BCA have quite mixed opinions on the current academy system. Although some students view the system as helpful in finding their passion, others find it difficult to navigate beyond an academy they chose at such an early age. Ultimately, it is up to BCA’s students to make the most of what the school currently offers and create a one-of-a-kind high school experience that maximizes their happiness in their academy.