Same Room, Different Zoom

Transfer Student Program refocuses this year to acclimate transfer students despite new online format

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Humza Qazi and Vaasu Kakuturu

The wind blows softly on a brisk fall afternoon as Roman Bilanicz ’23 and Benjamin Eisen ’23 stand more than six feet apart and pass a soccer ball back and forth in Eisen’s backyard. Because Bilanicz is one of many students who have transferred to Stevenson during the pandemic, he has been getting to know his transfer buddy, Eisen, and other community members in more unconventional ways.

Typically, Stevenson has an influx of transfer students that the Transfer Student Program aims to help acclimate through group lunches, assigned buddies, tours of the school and more. Although the program can’t rely on such normal in-person connections this year due to E-Learning and the COVID-19 pandemic, student leaders and sponsors are continuing to do their best to support transfer students.

“We take our friendships for granted because we just have these connections, but these students come into the school knowing nobody,” Eisen said. “I know my buddy is very glad he’s met some of my friends because they even play without me sometimes when I can’t, and he just seems so happy meeting new people and actually being able to hang out with new people.”

Bilanicz, who recently transferred, agrees with Eisen. Bilanicz considers himself to be very fortunate to have Eisen as a transfer buddy. The two share many common interests, such as soccer and video games, and have developed consistent communication throughout their respective school schedules.

“As soon as Ben and I were introduced, Ben made sure to connect with me over the phone and in person,” Bilanicz said. “Ben always has been there to help me, whether it be finding the late-arrival bell schedule or studying for a math test.” 

Bilanicz admits that especially since he considers himself to be a very social individual, the introduction to a new school community with a severe lack of in-person interaction with his teachers and fellow students was difficult. However, he believes that in addition to his transfer buddy, his teachers deserve a great amount of praise for their efforts to make every student feel welcome and for encouraging cooperation among their classes. 

“My teachers made sure that I made new friends and have done everything in their power to make sure that I am transitioning as smoothly as possible and keeping up in class,” Bilanicz said. Although I am still learning [about the school], a piece of advice that I would give to any struggling student

 is to not be afraid to ask for help.”

The Transfer Student Program hosts optional group lunches on Fridays throughout the first couple of months of the school year for transfers to do just this. These lunches, which take place over Zoom this year, are mainly student-led and aim to build community and expose transfers to essential Stevenson information.

Carol Seeger, a counselor at Stevenson, helps run the program along with cosponsors Angela O’Brien, a school psychologist, and Raymundo Tad-y, a counselor. Although in normal years they run the program as a whole administratively and attend the lunches occasionally, this year they have felt a need to attend consistently in order to make sure everything has been running smoothly.

“Part of what we did in the groups was introduce events going on within the community,” Seeger said. “Our leaders met weekly with us to identify events happening in the upcoming week. For example, to encourage the transfer students to get out and explore the community, one of our leaders who worked at Didier Farms was like, ‘I work at Didier at five, come and see me and I’ll buy you an apple do

nut,’ so it’s just a good time.”

The other main aspect of these lunches –teaching transfer students about Stevenson’s essential aspects such as contacting tutors or accessing grades on Interactive Report Card (IRC) – has also been affected by the virtual format. However, the sponsors of the program still recognize that this kind of information is vital for the success of the transfers and have been trying their best to get it across.

“Doing this now for a couple of years, I would say the information was on par [with other years]. However, not being able to do it in person did make it a little more challenging, and I can say that it wasn’t the same,” Tad-y said. “But, we did the best that we could, and I think that the students that were there definitely appreciated it.”

Eisen echoes this sentiment of the transfer students enjoying and benefitting from the program. One of many other transfer student leaders, he has helped lead these group lunches every Friday and has witnessed firsthand how it has positively affected the transfer students.

“Everybody was shy the first day, but one student [went] from not saying a word to, at last week’s lunch, talking for the whole time, and I think he’s much more comfortable than he was before,” Eisen said. “It’s not just him. There are so many other students who come to the transfer leader lunches on Fridays that have adjusted well to Stevenson and just finally seem like their normal selves.”