By Amina Levities-Cohen and Arielle Zabusky
Student Association President and Vice President
It is the utmost accomplishment to be an Olympic medalist. These athletes have worked relentlessly to perfect their sport, competed under unimaginable levels of pressure, and are heroes to their countries. And while gold medalists epitomize success, those who receive silver or bronze are celebrated with the greatest prestige and honor, too.
If we compare winning a gold medal to achieving an “A” on a school paper or test, then the same accomplishment that comes with a bronze or silver medal should come with a “B.” Both grades are a product of a combination of devoted studying, in-class preparation, and hard work. Earning a “B” can be considered an excellent grade in a challenging course or topic; a “C” could be a product of a bad day; these grades are not and will never be a “failure” as they have come to be called in our community. These grades are opportunities to grow as students.
The stigma at Barrack, called the “Barrack Fail” or “Barrack B,” has become a reflection of students’ idea that only perfect scores will get them into top-tier colleges. We must work to combat this stigma because every Barrack student, no matter the grade they receive on a single assignment, is prepared for college and beyond -- and has the potential to be successful wherever they end up.
In the isolated world of the COVID pandemic, it is essential to work against the “Barrack Fail.” We are all in this together and we should celebrate each moment and small success. We should never prioritize the internalized pressure and stress that many students feel when solely focusing on achieving an “A” over positive mental health. We must bring ourselves up, feel confident and proud. We must accept it is okay, too, to hang out with a friend instead of studying that extra hour for a test.
Daniel Bernstein ‘21, a former Student Association President, who now attends Brown University, recalls an experience that rings true for many Barrack students. He reported: “In junior year [at Barrack] I got a C on one of my math tests. It really freaked me out because I was used to doing well in math, and I was already stressed thinking I had to do really well in all my classes. My teacher was super nice and went over the test with me.”
In hindsight, Bernstein doesn’t think that the C on his math test affected his future. At a certain point, he “realized that not doing well on one test wasn’t going to change [his] life in any significant way.”
Gigi Kahlon ‘20 also experienced a similar realization. Now a student at Drexel University, Gigi says that “only once [she] got to college did [she] realize how [injurious] and ridiculous the Barrack Fail really is.”
Amina Levites-Cohen ‘22, the current Student Association President, has failed her fair share of math tests and lived to tell the tale. Now as a senior, Levites-Cohen focuses on working hard and prioritizing her mental health over her grades. In her words, “I think that the culture at Barrack around grades needs to change. When I get tests back in class, the first thing people will do is ask me what I got. Even if I get a good grade, I don’t want to tell them. It just feels weird to have people know my grades and focus on that part of me instead of who I am as a person and the effort I put into an assignment or test. In junior year, I would get Bs and Cs on so many math tests, but I would actually be really proud of myself because I knew how hard I worked for those grades.”
Mrs. Strick is Barrack’s beloved Math Department Chair. As both a teacher and administrator, she offers a unique perspective on the “Barrack B.” Mrs. Strick wants students to know that “hard work does not always culminate in an A -- you could be pushing yourself in a course outside of your comfort zone, and really strong success might be shown by the B.”
Mrs. Trajtenberg, Dean of College Counseling & Student Affairs, says, “the subjects you study at Barrack all provide different ways of understanding how the world works (from physics to politics). The purpose of your time here is to build the skills and knowledge base you need to make sense of the ideas and experiences you encounter. Your grades are really a by-product of the learning, not the reason for the learning. When it’s time to apply to college, the skills you develop will shine through in many parts of your application (essays, recommendations, even your activities)—not just on your transcript.”
As Barrack students, most of us have been immersed for years in a competitive environment. We go through the day thinking that each of our classmates is earning an A on every test in every class. We think that we’re the only ones struggling to understand difficult material or solve a complex math problem, but the truth is, every single one of us has struggled at one point or another. As your SA President and Vice President, we’ve felt confused before, we’ve studied hard for tests and received a B or a C. We understand the frustration attached to these experiences, but these instances have also helped us grow. We’ve learned to value each grade, not as a predictor of our futures or a measurement of our intellects but as a reflection of our work ethic and resilience.
Sadly, this realization has come as we’re beginning to transition out of Barrack. That’s why we’re writing this article: we hope to teach younger students that it’s okay to get a B (or a C). Not everyone gets the gold medal. Bronze and silver are pretty great too. But more importantly, we shouldn’t be celebrating the grade, we should be celebrating the effort it takes to earn the grade. Especially over the past few years, as our lives have been upended because of COVID, it’s essential to recognize the tremendous mental strength, optimism, and grit it takes to be a teenager. And so, Barrack students, we implore you to stop talking about your grades (however tempting it may be), work hard so you can be proud, celebrate your grades as symbols of your strength and resilience, and know that your grades do not define you.