Updated: Sep 18
By Kayla Bleier
Centerspread Editor/Lead Editor
The class of 2020 has completed high school, or at least the classes part. Many of these graduating students have been at Barrack since their middle school days. What do they love at Barrack? What doesn’t tickle their fancy? What will they miss?
Over the course of two weeks, members of the Class of 2020 were interviewed. Here is what they had to say:
The interviews began with positivities surrounding their Barrack experience, and nostalgia.
What (dear seniors) is your favorite thing about Barrack?
“I've always loved how they incorporate Jewish life into Student Life. I think that it can be hard to get students excited sometimes... seeing Judaism coming to life after learning about it in the classroom,” says Serena Levingston. “My other favorite thing is how close the grade can get. Most people have known each other from kindergarten or have known each other from 6th grade or from 9th grade. Having that connection for so long can build a lot of comfort and trust.”
Helen Rudoler added that she is “going to miss having teachers who really care about the success of their students and use their own time to meet with you.”
From Rivkah Wyner: “[My favorite thing has been] my extracurriculars, particularly the theater department and my friends in the theater department and doing all the shows.”
Her advice to the next student director is that “it's a lot of work and you have to put your feet in every part of the process and prepare to be in charge of everything. Make sure to have fun. The more connected you guys are as a group [in the Drama Department] the higher the quality of the show.”
At the other extreme, what is your least favorite thing about Barrack?
Gabe Miller says that “coming from Allentown, there is definitely a Main-Line bubble which can be really hard to pop into if you're not extroverted. They don't come to you, you have to go to them.”
From a completely different perspective, Serena Levingston adds, “We’re all Jewish, so you get a more homogeneous body and when you identify differently than the norm, I think it is hard to feel safe and comfortable. [Changing this] is easier said than done. It kind of goes along with pluralism. Having a place for everyone to share.” (Note: This is an important subject that many students would not think of if they were not affected. It is imperative to consider what other people value and find uncomfortable.)
Similarly, on the struggles of a precariously balanced pluralistic school, Ira Scheer noted that “educationally, I have been through a lot of change at Barrack… No matter what they did, the ‘Judaism’ never felt right. They’re in a tough situation. Even a homogeneous body like Barrack is surprisingly different.”
Rivkah Wyner adds to this by saying, “One of the biggest problems I've had at Barrack was the Jewish Studies Department. I don't think that the studies for Jewish Studies classes are regarded as [being as] helpful as Math and English [as they should be].”
Similar to this thread was the question, what is one thing you would change about Barrack?
Ira Scheer states that he would change “the focus and Judaism…. I think there really is an atmosphere of JS being a joke; we don't take [it] seriously. I think that affected the way Minyan runs and the way all the Jewish activities run. It would be important to bring more daily life and love into it…. It feels like the love [is] a problem. People just do it. There should be a way to get people into it. [Maybe] if you were just given information, just flat-out information, go through the Torah, go through the Gemara.”
Scheer’s comment further highlights the struggles of a pluralistic school. No one student is the same as another, and Barrack’s struggle to balance Jewish and secular values proves that. “I think Barrack has a lot of overreaction and a lot of anxiety and there's a lot of pressure put on everyone that can give us negative feelings, and people feel overwhelmed,” Helen Rudoler says. (To students like Helen, it seems an ideal school environment would be an elimination of stress without the elimination of work.)
Similarly, Sophia Shapiro comments, “I think one thing that I would change, that SA has worked on and continues to work on with the next [SA] Administration, is the stress level and quality of mental health at Barrack. I think that we have made progress in trying to raise the overall mental health wellness of the Barrack community, but we are a long way from perfect. … We don't want students to be overwhelmed and be unable to do extra activities that they want.”
She adds, “I think Daniel (the next SA President) and his Administration have been working really hard during this Corona time. We have been working together to try and streamline our Administration with what he wants to accomplish with his Administration.” (This author is excited to go back to school and experience the class of 2021’s Administration in person.)
Stefanie Rose says that “our grade was the last one not to be leveled. I would have preferred if my [Humanities] classes were leveled. I am very English and history-oriented and there were times where I would be one of the only ones participating in a conversation that I actually wanted to talk about... With leveling you are able to see kids at the same level as you are and you can have... the same amount of engagement. [However], I'm kind of conflicted in part of the leveling system... It is all skill-based, but putting labels like “Honors” [can make it] a bad system because there will be kids whose parents will say, ‘I want my kid to be in this level,’ and then they get a tutor... to keep up in the level that they're not supposed to be in, but they want it for the title. It's good but it's also really bad.”
Moving away from the school environment, What teacher, department, or both has positively impacted you?
Helen Rudoler says, “The Math department and the English department. The Math department has been consistently great throughout high school.l I've never had a Math teacher that I never liked. There's something very great about walking into the Math department office and asking any question and any teacher can answer, even if your teacher isn't there. And [the] English department, they always want to help you…. I feel like I've really become a much better writer.” She adds about the STEAM Institute, “I really had a great experience in the STEAM Institute. I think the best thing [about] the STEAM Institute is that if you want something, you have to accomplish it yourself. You have great resources put in front of you but it's up to you how you use them. I think that's a great skill going forward in life… taking control of your own situation and advocating for yourself.”
Serena Levingston also begins with the English department, saying, “English and History departments, so the Humanities department has given me good preparation for college and creates a really welcome atmosphere. … It's always been a comfort walking to Mrs. Schuman’s Lit classroom this year. It was a nice experience, unlike other classes where you walk in and know you are going to be stressed.”
Ira Sheer says, “I think that the History department is pretty incredible. I've never been a fan of doing work, I'm quite the procrastinator, but I've always really felt that I've had a relationship with my History teacher. I don't think it just made me a better History student, but a better student in general.”
Giving some love to the JS department, Stef Rose adds, “Rabbi Razin really impacted my lifestyle at Barrack. This is my first year having him... The thing that amazes me about Rabbi Razin is that you're able to connect with him the minute you sit in class... I was able to speak my mind without being censored... He made people think harder about what they believed and decide if they really believed... I've never had a teacher challenge what I believe.”
Ira Scheer, Stef Rose, and a student who wishes to remain anonymous were asked about their experience in JLI.
Anonymous said, “I did enjoy my time and there's a lot of good about it, but I need to recognize the issues as much as the good parts. I have to say I've heard people say that it's a lot of responsibility and hard work and because of that not to do it…. If you're going to do it you have to really understand it's a ton of responsibility at times when you don't want to do it and you've got to be willing to put in the extra work... It's a very weird responsibility... You really have to want to be a JLIer.”
Ira Scheer says, “My favorite part was probably [the leadership]… I've always wanted to take on the leadership position… I like to help as much as possible and there have been times throughout this year [I was able] to successfully run an assembly where you work with younger kids and [watch] people ‘join Judaism’ and it's been really great and really fun.” However, nothing starts perfectly: “ In JLI, when we found out who we were going to have to work with, we were all pretty scared. There were a lot of different backgrounds and a lot of different people and it was really tough. At first, we really were pretty fractured too, but at the same time it really helped us come together... We really were able to come together and become people who worked well together and I think we had a pretty successful year overall.”
Stef Rose says, “I think the behind-the-scenes stuff was definitely messier. That was one of the things I didn't enjoy. You got to see how people were as leaders and how they treat leadership for better or for worse. But overall I did enjoy being in JLI...You're working as a group but at times you're going to need to stand alone.” (That is something important to keep in mind when you hold any leadership position.)
During the interview, the students were asked about their emotions. How do you feel about leaving high school and Barrack?
Gabe Miller says, “I'm really excited to leave Barrack. Not because I hate Barrack, but I think people shouldn't want to stay in high school. You're supposed to move on and I'm kind of on that right now.”
Helen Rudoler adds, “I'm really looking forward to just having complete autonomy. I'm being responsible for my own situations and being able to take charge of things.”
Stef Rose says, “Definitely [leaving is] bittersweet for me. There's been days where I feel... I just need to get out. But I...step back and think that this is only one bad day out of so many good days. Just the fact that I've been with [my class] for four years... I'm really going to miss the fact that there are 60 people whom I can just feel comfortable around…. I'm going to miss being able to talk to everyone.”
Finally, what bit of wisdom can you give to the school? Something you have learned from your whole time at Barrack.
To the middle school, Helen Rudoler says, “Just get through it, it gets so much better after middle school.” And to the high school she says, “Just take a deep breath and don't flip out about the history reading or the history test. Just do the reading and study for the test. If you can calm down before doing it, it'll seem a lot more manageable.”
Sophia Shapiro says to “take advantage of every relationship and opportunity that is presented to you and run with it, because a huge part of Barrack is growing yourself outside of the classroom and enjoying the things that you're doing. Take advantage of all of the great clubs and try to figure out what you really enjoy doing.”
Rivkah Wyner adds, “Generally speaking, I would probably say, try not to get too anxious about too many classes at once... I think for me and 9th grade I was so anxious about school work and had too much going on in my head and I felt really absorbed by all the work…. Starting in 10th grade, I was able to take a step back and put more energy into the things that I cared about... acknowledging that not every homework assignment is the end of the world and you have to take your battles school-wise and recognize what you can do.”
Stef Rose added to her prior statement that “what really got me through high school is [this piece of advice]: “You're going to have bad days but the good days always outweigh... you really need to give everything your all. If something bad comes of it, so be it. You just brush it off because tomorrow is a new day... You go in every day with a clean slate.”
Serena Levingston says, “I think it just feels like you're going to be at Barrack for so long, it feels like it took to get to 12th grade forever… It really isn't that long and you should try to make the most of it. If there are people that you think are cool and you don't know how to talk to them, just talk to them and start up a conversation, because after school ends it's hard to get in touch with people and the relationships you make there can stay with you your whole life. If there's something that you want to do, just do it… gotta make a move. Sometimes I worry [how] people are going to think of me, but then you leave Barrack and really who cares.”
Gabe Miller adds, “I took both AP Gov and AP Lit, and now Trajtenberg is calling it, ‘The Gabe Miller,’ so I'd recommend doing The Gabe Miller. [Also] classes are great, but try to get involved in other stuff... clubs and extracurriculars. That was the most fun I had. Get heavily involved in two or three.”
Last but not least, from Ira Scheer to middle schoolers, “I probably want to say to middle schoolers, just chill out... There's a lot of stress and a lot of it is just people getting worked up over very little. There is a lot of work and a lot of pressure... At the Club Fair this year, there were two or three middle schoolers running around looking at clubs and one of them said, ‘Come over here. This one's good to sign up for college applications.’ If you're in middle school and already making decisions for college applications, [I’m] sure there is a benefit to that…. but I really think there's so much more ... [if you're able to] just chill out a little.”
That concludes the interview compilation. Thank you Class of 2020 for everything. Barrack wishes you all the best of luck!