The BASIS Independent Upper School Program is recognized as one of the most academically advanced high school programs in the country. By the time our students are ready to graduate, they have gone through extensive college preparatory courses of study, including a full year of economics in grade 8, a variety of AP course electives, and in-depth college counseling courses, fully preparing them to excel in college and beyond.
In order to provide insight into a high school program of this caliber, we sought to explore the details on the curriculum, classes, and teachers by getting the perspective of some of our students actually enrolled in the program. Our Associate Director of Admissions Sarah Ellerton sat down with four grade 9 students recently: Kamie A., Elisa C., Ethan H., and Zalan K. Ms. Ellerton wanted to gauge their thoughts and feelings on high school life on our campus.
How long have you been at BASIS Independent Brooklyn?
KA: This is my first year.
EC: Third year.
EH: This is my second year.
ZK: It’s my first year.
Why did you and your family pick BASIS Independent Brooklyn?
KA: Well, my mom is friends with someone else in the grade, so we heard [about BASIS Independent Brooklyn] from her and we really liked it. I liked that it was really academic and that it was more focused on specific things.
EC: I transferred out of [a G&T program] because there was a change in administration, and my mom was worried that the curriculum (due to Common Core) would slow down. She wanted me to go into a more academically rigorous curriculum. So she somehow found out about [BASIS Independent Brooklyn] because we live in Park Slope, and she heard about it from other parents in the neighborhood. I had volleyball where the school also had their practices. I really liked that the school would be a challenge for me.
EH: So I had to transfer [from another private school] because the cost kept going up a lot each year and my parents were really upset with the administration there. Somehow my mom found out about [BASIS Independent Brooklyn]; I think she has a friend who has a kid who goes here. I went on the Shadow Day and the interview and I really enjoyed the STEM focus of the whole school and that it was a sped up curriculum. I was like, sleeping in all my classes at [my last school].
ZK: We lived in Florida, and my parents were up here for work, and so they were looking around the neighborhoods and checking the place out. I guess they saw [BASIS Independent Brooklyn] and came to check it out. It was on an Open House day, and they really liked the school. I really liked the young teachers and the modern feel of the school. At my old school, there were a lot of older teachers and it was kind of traditional.
So do you think BASIS Independent Brooklyn has delivered on its promises so far? That the classes are rigorous? Do you like it?
KA: Yeah. I thought before I came here that it would be unmanageable. I feel like it is, in some ways, really hard to manage, but as I’ve been here it’s gotten a bit easier. The teachers are always there to help you, so that helps, and I also just work on time management myself, too.
EC: I definitely think so. I see what my old friends are learning versus what I’m learning, and what math class they’re in versus what math class I’m in. I told them I took an AP last year—because in 8th grade we took AP World [History]—and they thought I was lying. And I said no, I actually did, and they said, “You don’t mean an AP, right?” It’s just something very unexpected of [typical schools], which is kind of awesome, because we’re learning so much.
After three years, I’ve gone through kind of a learning curve, where in 7th grade it started off hard but it got better, and then 8th grade was terrible. I was struggling, but I managed to go to student hours and I got my friend’s help, and then I got better. But now I know what I have to do, and I know what’s required of me, so that I can really work hard to achieve what I need to achieve.
EH: Yeah, I completely agree with what both of them said. I really didn’t feel like it was that much of a change last year at the beginning of the year, but as soon as I started talking to my friends outside of [BASIS Independent Brooklyn] about the classes they were taking, it was a clear divide between what we were learning. It just felt different.
ZK: I like it. There’s a lot of good friends, students, and teachers that I really like. It’s a really big change from my last school, but I’m settling in well. We used to have a lot of sports. We had two hours of practice and half an hour of homework, and it was really nice. We still get practices and sports here but there’s a lot more work. But, it’s fun.
"Everyone is working hard together and it creates a sense of community that’s really awesome" - Elisa C., Grade 9
What’s your favorite thing about BASIS Independent Brooklyn?
ZK: I like my teachers a lot. They’re really nice and they’re really supportive.
KA: I like that it’s advanced, and I like that I can take more courses. I used to go to [the same school as Ethan] too and I couldn’t have taken AP Computer Science this advanced. Like Elisa, when I tell my friends I’m taking APs, even now they’re shocked: “That’s not possible.” So, I like that it’s advanced, and I can take more advanced classes. I also like my friends here too.
EC: I feel like the community that I’ve gotten from this school, from all the struggling and working hard… Because I feel like in other schools there’s this ability to slack off and still do well, but in this school you have to work hard. So basically everyone is working hard together and trying to learn together, and no one is like, whatever, I give up on school. Everyone is working hard together and it creates a sense of community that’s really awesome.
EH: Yeah, I really agree with that. At [my old school], I was doing no work, ever, but I was still doing fine in school. I had an A average. But here, it’s actually pushing you to work a lot harder, in all of my classes and all of my homework.
And you like that?
What are your favorite classes this year?
ZK: I feel like the most interesting class is AP Government, and I do really well in that. It’s easy for me. I’m also taking two electives: Computer Science in the morning and AP Economics in the afternoon. I like the Computer Science because it’s important nowadays to have a background and know a little bit about it. And Econ is just important for a lot of jobs and understanding how the economy works.
KA: I like Literature, and I like AP Computer Science overall but it’s hard for me. At [my last school] I only took Python as a club, and here we’re taking Java and that’s really advanced for me. I only went once a week to that club, but at [BASIS Independent Brooklyn] everyone took it as a class last year, so it’s hard for me, but I like computer science, so I like the course.
And why do you like Literature?
KA: I’m usually better at English… it comes a bit easier to me, and I like reading. We’re reading "Frankenstein" right now.
EC: In past years, my favorite class has always been History, it’s always inspired and motivated me. But right now I think my favorite class is either Math or Physics. In Physics it used to be more focused on memorizing of equations and application of them, but now it’s more problem solving and figuring out what pieces of the puzzle—parts of the word problem—can you put together to solve the equation. And right now, we’re working on personal projects in groups of two where we pick the physics of a sport or spaceship or anything and we’re working on explaining it. So I think that’s really awesome.
What did you pick?
EC: My friend and I are doing Apollo 11, so we’re working on how did they land a man on the moon. It’s due Thursday. We got the assignment [Tuesday]. You have to write a three-page summary and a PowerPoint.
EH: I really like Language.
Which language are you taking?
EH: Oh, I meant Honors Language, we take two English courses in the 9th grade.
Oh, sorry, I thought you meant French or Spanish!
EH: Oh, I actually love my Latin class as well, that’s really great. But, Honors Language has just been really enjoyable for me because it’s more about argumentation than analysis of stories, which I always struggled with. I never really excelled at any of that stuff, like… Literature, I’m not doing so good in that. But Language… it makes more sense and it’s something that I feel has more application to my life day to day.
What about favorite teachers?
EC: I know mine! Mr. Goldman and Mr. D [Mr. D’Amato] are my two top teachers, always. They inspire me every time I see them, they always have a positive attitude, they make the classroom environment so fun, and every time you walk in there you want to stay in there for longer. Those are the two classes where I find myself not looking at the clock. Like, when I’m in those classes, I’m not counting down the seconds until lunch or until I get home. I immerse myself in what they’re teaching, and it’s just an amazing experience.
EH: I completely agree. Mr. D was one of my favorite teachers ever. He was so fantastic and the environment he led in his classroom was so laid back, but we were still able to progress really quickly through a class that was really difficult—especially to me and the other new students who had never taken any sort of grammar before then. So it was extremely difficult, but the environment was in such a way that it didn’t put so much stress on us, and we were all able to still relax and have fun even though we were learning something difficult. This year, I love Mr. Thacker so much for AP Economics.
KA: I like Ms. Cushman, because in her class she can accommodate our homework. If we have too much, she’ll tell us you can not do this, or you can work on it in class. But she also teaches well. If we feel like she’s going too fast, she really explains it for us.
ZK: I really like Ms. Cushman too, the English Literature Teacher. I like Ms. Taggart a lot [Spanish], she’s really nice and the Biology teacher too, Ms. Saad. Ms. Cushman is really chill, she’s good to talk to about stuff and her class is really interesting. There’s a lot of creative thinking and critical analysis. We do a lot of creative essays; we just did one about somewhere we’d travel to and then we have to explain it. We can even make up a story, and… it’s really nice. It’s not like Language where we’re just supposed to write about something and try to support it. We’re just writing about ourselves and how we feel, not just about a topic, like an argumentative essay. Yeah, I really like that part.
Do you use student hours?
KA: I go to student hours sometimes.
ZK: Yeah, I was just there yesterday. I usually go before a test, or for a class that I’m struggling with.
Elisa, I know you play volleyball…what about you guys?
ZK: Yeah, soccer season just ended! It was good. We brought up some of the 8th graders to play with us on the high school team. But we’re a really young team, just 9th graders. We’re all really close. We had two practices a week, and one or two games a week. We did okay; we won like half our games. We practice in the gym, and Mr. McCollum coaches. He’s a really cool guy and a good coach. I might try another sport in the spring. I played a lot in Florida and I want to get back into that.
KA: No. I did before.
EH: I dropped things since I came to [BASIS Independent Brooklyn].
Because there’s a lot of stuff going on?
EH: Yeah, there’s a lot to manage and getting used to things. So, once I get more into the flow of things, I’ll start picking things up again.
KA: Yeah, same. I was going to do lacrosse, because I did that at [my old school], and I used to do cello too (and I’m going to restart that) but it’s a bit much now.
EC: With volleyball, it’s something that I find releases any stress I have from the day, but it’s also really hard because… well, I do volleyball here and I also play volleyball somewhere else. On my other team we play nationally and compete regularly, and basically it’s really hard. I have practices from 7–9 PM an hour away from school, because Red Hook is not very [accessible]. I could see that if I didn’t do volleyball, my life would be so much easier; but also, it’s a way to release stress and it makes me happy.
You’ll have great time management skills when you get to college though! Tell me about volleyball at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. How’s Mr. McCollum?
EC: We had three main people who were always there for our volleyball team: Mr. McCollum, Coach Brown (who came from outside of the school), and Ms. Rodriguez. We won a lot of games, and it really created a community. We have kids in 8th through 10th grade on the team. Basically I’ve known them for a while, but also we have some new girls on the team. If they need help on a test, then I’ll help them out particularly if I took the class they are in the year before and know the material. And Mr. McCollum was always there for us. He was one of our biggest advocates. When you compete in sports at this school, since it’s a fairly small school with not a huge sports program, everyone knows that you’re doing that sport. There’s an amazing sense of pride that you’re in that sport.
That’s awesome! I saw you had the pep rally….
EC: And signs on our lockers.
So I heard BASIS Independent Brooklyn is going to be starting a Yearbook and a Leadership Club…are you going to participate in those?
EC: Well, we’re all in Leadership. So basically right now we’re working on the formal at the end of the year, and we decided on the DC trip. So, if we want to do decorations for the school, or if we want to do the fall mixer or organizing activities for half days or things like that, it’s basically all done in Leadership. Ms. Das is our advisor. We all have an app that we take polls on [about activities or trips, etc.], and we all come together at a meeting during lunch and we come up with ideas and plan how to execute them.
Who takes the polls? Just the people in Leadership, or does everyone have access?
EH: Everyone has access to the polls.
Why did you decide to be in Leadership?
KA: It relates to what I did at [my old school]. I was part of a club called WISE: Women in Science and Engineering, and when I first came here, me and my mom on the tour and the Shadow Day talked to the school about it and they said I should talk to Ms. Das about it. And then Ms. Das said I should do Leadership. [Kamie is working with our Auxiliary Program Department to get WISE up and running, too!]
What is high school student life like? My office is off the high school lounge and I hear you guys hanging out in there.
EH: Outside of school, everything has been really low key. Since we’re such a small grade, everyone at [BASIS Independent Brooklyn] knows everyone else here so it’s a pretty tight knit community. And it’s a great community to be a part of.
EC: To be honest, our social life isn’t amazing compared to other schools. I’ll talk to my other friends and they’ll be like “oh yeah, we just had this crazy party….” For kids at [BASIS Independent Brooklyn] it’s not like, “we just had this crazy party,” it’s like, “we just had this intense 3 hours of studying on Friday night, I feel great.” And it gives us a sense of satisfaction because we know we’ll do well on the test. And although it might not immediately be as fun as going to a party or hanging out with friends, we know that in the long run it’s going to benefit us. I mean, I wish there was a little more time to hang out. That’s why I joined Leadership, to try to build more social time at school.
EH: That’s why I joined too.
KA: Yeah, a lot of my friends at [BASIS Independent Brooklyn] have extracurriculars after school, so they can’t hang out. So I end up hanging out with all of my friends outside of [BASIS Independent Brooklyn], and they have way more time to do things.
ZK: I’m friends with basically everyone, we’re all cool. But I don’t have much time to do stuff [late] after school, because I spend the majority of my time working. But after school, my last class ends at 4:10 and I usually hang out in the student lounge with a bunch of friends and we just like, hang out there. Sometimes we order food and we’ll hang out there until 5:30 or 6 and then I go home to do work. I use Citi Bike; it’s not far.
What are you excited about for the rest of high school, given that BASIS Independent Brooklyn is a growing high school program?
EC: Senior Project.*
EH: Senior Capstone.
KA: Capstone Senior Project.
EC: That was a big factor for why I stayed [at BASIS Independent Brooklyn].
KA: Elisa, we want to do Girls Who Code.
EC: Oh yeah! We’re trying to start Girls Who Code. We’re both really interested in doing that when we’re older. It would be really awesome if we could get a foundation for that. So I’m excited for that. Oh, and I think it’s awesome that once I get into college I’ll be able to skip so many beginner classes because of all the APs I’m taking. Mr. Brauch, last year, had us plan out our APs, and the amount of APs I’m taking has me set to skip so many as long as I do well on them, so I think that’s pretty cool.
ZK: Well, I’m really looking forward to AP Computer Science and maybe AP Psych, next year. And I think the soccer team is going to be even better, and I look forward to that. And AP Literature, because I really like Ms. Cushman’s class.
Thank you to our 9th graders for helping us get a glimpse into their high school experience! We are extremely proud of our students, and it is exciting to think of all that is in store for them.
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*The acceleration of the curriculum allows BASIS Independent students to continue their studies in grade 12 so they can participate in two profoundly influential aspects of the BASIS Independent Upper School program: Capstone Courses & Senior Projects.