Harper attended the Brooklyn Waldorf School from 3rd grade to 8th grade. After graduating 8th grade in 2014, he went on to attend the Brooklyn Latin School, one of eight specialized public high schools in New York that aims to provide an education tailored to the city’s most advanced students.
I came to Brooklyn Waldorf right after I moved to New York from Maine. When I visited, I noticed there was lots of individual attention here. That made a big impression on me. I had a friend who attended the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School and his family filled me in on all the unique qualities of Waldorf education. Overall it sounded like a good fit.
The best part of grades 6, 7 and 8 was the time I spent with my classmates. I became very close with everyone. It was an intense social environment and I am really thankful for that. Most people hate their middle school years. But I loved middle school and I loved my classmates. This intimate, small-class community that Waldorf created a nice school environment. You can’t get lost in the crowd here. Three years after I graduated, everyone always says hi to me whenever I visit.
Looking back, Brooklyn Waldorf instilled a lot of confidence in me. I went into high school with a lot more confidence than my peers. That has paid off time and time again in my relationships with my peers and with my teachers. People respond positively to confidence. I find I can make new friends quickly. I believe I was able to communicate with my teachers in a good way. If I didn’t have clarity on an assignment, I had the confidence to email that teacher and ask questions. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but not having the confidence to do that really hurt a lot of my friends. They didn’t know how to ask for help. I was always happy to ask for help and to get the help I needed. I also have a lot of speaking assessments at Brooklyn Latin. Because of all the recitation work we did at Brooklyn Waldorf, speaking assessments at Brooklyn Latin don’t scare me.
Brooklyn Latin is known for its academic rigor and doesn’t offer art classes until junior year. But at Brooklyn Waldorf, art was a part of our daily experience. I think experiencing both extremes of the “academic-artistic” spectrum helped to even me out.
I think my Spanish class and our teacher was incredible. She really prepared me to actually be a serious Spanish speaker. By my sophomore year of high school, I was in a class that only spoke Spanish fluently. That was my favorite class at Brooklyn Waldorf.
I remember our 7th grade class trip. We went canoeing down the Battenkill River in southern Vermont. It was miserable weather — cold and rainy the entire time. We slept in tents that were wet. Whatever else you could say about the trip, it was definitely a bonding experience for everyone in the class. For canoeing, we had to split off in twos. I had some hilarious and simultaneously emotionally exposed conversations.
Our class play in eighth grade was an edited version of The Tempest by Shakespeare. I played the lead role of Prospero, a magician who manipulates everyone else in the play. That was an amazing experience to perform a lead role in a Shakespeare play at the age of 13. I was challenged – not just by the scope of the role and memorizing the lines, but also in speaking in and understanding Shakespearean English. It was pretty powerful. I think all of us felt that putting that play together. We did a really good job.
Right now, I’m taking the first year of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme at the Brooklyn Latin School. (Brooklyn Latin School is one of two specialized high schools in New York City that has implemented the IB Diploma Programme.) The IB Diploma Programme is similar to Brooklyn Waldorf’s curriculum in that assessments is about showing your understanding of the material (through group projects, presentations, research papers, exhibitions, performances, and timed exams) than simply filling-in test bubbles.
I also love my physics class. In addition to my coursework, I have an extra-curricular internship at the American Museum of Natural History where I work with a PostDoc Ph.D. researching rates of star collisions. We’re looking at how the number of stars and arrangements of starts affects the rate of solar collisions. We’re researching this as a way to study the theory of chaos and hopefully come up with a formula.
I’m also the opinion editor for my school newspaper, The Latineer. That’s been a lot of fun. My teachers at Brooklyn Waldorf used to tell me I was very opinionated and it’s nice that I have found an outlet for that. I think that arguing with my class teacher drove him crazy, but it taught me how to argue a point clearly and effectively.
I’m also involved at Brooklyn Latin’s Queer-Straight-Bi Alliance. Brooklyn Waldorf’s middle school was a good place to think about and explore one’s sexual orientation and gender identity: I dyed my hair bright blond and no one made fun of the way I talked. I think that’s to Brooklyn Waldorf’s credit. The faculty, administration, student body and parent body are very accepting.
I really love exploring and going on adventures around the city. To credit Brooklyn Waldorf’s attitude towards a screen-free media childhood, I consider any time that I spend watching television is wasted time. Go out and experience the world! Experiencing nature and the outdoors during my childhood has given me the ability to enjoy it. I believe I was given those joys when I was a student at Brooklyn Waldorf.
Well, to begin, the college search has been more fun than looking at public high schools when I was in eighth grade. Colleges have pretty campuses. New York City high schools do not.
The college search has been a bit overwhelming. The level of competition to get into college right now is really ridiculous and unprecedented. At Brooklyn Latin, I do well in my classes. But having straight A’s doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a shoe-in for top tier or second tier colleges. As I look ahead towards college, I consider it an opportunity to go somewhere where I wouldn’t normally go. It seems silly to me to stay in New York City for college. I want to go as far away as possible.
When it comes to dealing with the stress of college applications, I would say I am lucky in that I am not as “burned-out” as some of my current peers. When I was in middle school at Brooklyn Waldorf, I wasn’t stressed. I think if I hadn’t attended Brooklyn Waldorf, I would be so burned-out now. Brooklyn Waldorf gave me a resilience to be “fresh-out-of-the-gate”. I think by giving me the freedom to really explore my own interests, I learned at Brooklyn Waldorf that there’s more to life than simply doing the absolute best for every single class assignment. That’s not say I don’t try to do my best. But there is a difference between my personal best versus trying to be the #1 best. I think that difference determines one’s mental health.