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What's Your Deal

Five Graduating High School Seniors Speak Their Minds

To mark the end of the 2022 school year, Hell Gate visited Esperanza Preparatory Academy in East Harlem to ask the important questions.

Esperanza Preparatory Academy. (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)

It has been a tough few years for everyone, but especially New York City's public school students, who have had their lives and education disrupted in unimaginable ways.

To mark the end of this school year, Hell Gate asked five graduating high school seniors at Esperanza Preparatory Academy in East Harlem the important questions: their plans for the future, what they'll miss about being in school, and their favorite bodega sandwich order.

Notably, every student we spoke with said they felt safe in school, and every student confessed that they had not eaten cafeteria food in quite a while.

Their responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.

Yamila Abraham (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)
Yamila Abraham (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)

Yamila Abraham, 17, she/her

Favorite class: Gym.

Least favorite class: Science.

One thing you want to remember: Always be yourself.

Advice for younger students: Always have someone that you're able to talk to in the school, whether or not it's a teacher, an admin, a school counselor, or someone that you can talk to.

Advice for educators: Try figuring out each student's way of learning because some students learn differently. Some students learn quicker than others. So when you're in a class and everybody else is behind you're not doing anything. That happened to me a lot this year. They don't give me more work. They're just waiting for everyone to catch up and that's not fair. They should adapt to each student and if they say the deadline is one day, they should keep it there.

One thing you;re going to miss: Always being the person that everyone looks for, for help.

Plans: Go to college and study criminal justice at Bronx Community College for two years and then transfer to John Jay.

Favorite bodega sandwich: I mostly get smoothies in the morning or salad, I don't really eat sandwiches anymore but when I did it was a bacon, egg, and cheese or a ham, egg, and cheese with ketchup and mayo.

Sports? I play volleyball. Sports help me because they give me a different focus. When you're a part of a team, you're with other people your age more or less or so, and you're learning something new. You're having a relationship with each one of the girls, where not only are you best friends but you're family, in a way, because you're spending more time with them.

Thoughts on cafeteria food: I don't eat cafeteria food. I don't like it. Uh-uh. I have a very delicate stomach for that.

Best part about growing up in NYC: The cultures. You go downtown, there's Chinatown. You go to Washington Heights, it's full of Dominicans. Each neighborhood has different cultures. This is El Barrio: Puerto Ricans.

Worst part: The gangs. Since weed turned legal, it's everywhere. Trains. Too many people.

How did the pandemic affect high school for you? I'm gonna be honest, in a way it did help me because now I'm graduating with an advanced diploma. But then, I didn't really learn a lot of things I was supposed to in high school because we had a year and a half off. I didn't have a full high school experience. So I tell younger students, enjoy it while it lasts. High school goes quick. If I could go back in time, I would do a lot of things differently. It made me think of things differently.

Song of the summer: Any song from Bad Bunny's new album.

One thing I'd redo in high school: Listen more to my art teacher because we just play around too much. That's something I'm going to take out of high school as well. I would have done this differently.

Anything else? I see [running a successful school] from both points of view because I'm the student representative of the school and I'm also a student, so I see it from the CEC [community education council] perspective and then as a student. So when I hear these kids complaining, I'm like, Yo, you guys don't know what it takes to run a school.

Edwin Guzman (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)
Edwin Guzman (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)

Edwin Guzman, 18, they/them

Favorite class: Science.

Least favorite class: ELA (English Language Arts).

One thing you'll remember: From kindergarten until high school, you get treated like a baby. But then, when you get to high school, it's all on your own. You need to make your own path. You don't have to follow other people.

Advice for younger students: Depends on what grade they're in. If they are in ninth grade: really focus on ninth grade because that's when the colleges see. Don't play around.

Advice for educators: Really know the students. I'm a visual learner. I don't like when teachers talk a lot, especially for math. I prefer seeing what they're doing so I could learn the steps but they just talk and talk and I don't understand.

One thing you'll miss: Not having too many responsibilities.

Plans: I feel like I have a purpose, like I know what I'm doing, but at the same time, I'm lost. I know what college I'm going to, I know the career. I'm motivated and it's what I want to do, but at the same time, I feel lost. I feel discouraged because I'm the first person in my family to ever go to college and there were a lot of smart people in my family that didn't go. At first, in ninth grade, I didn’t really want to go to college. I wanted to do like other Mexican people do: work two shifts and do other things like work in a restaurant. I tried that, but that ain't for me, if I'm being realistic. I want to pick a career that will help my mom and my family in Mexico.

Favorite bodega sandwich: Chopped cheese.

Sports? When I was younger in high school, I used to play soccer.

Thoughts on cafeteria food: I stopped eating the cafeteria food in eighth grade, so my whole high school experience, I've never tried. Not once. I remember in seventh grade, it was the best cafeteria food. There used to be sandwiches, these little ones with the plastic bag. For me, it was good. When they served pizza, they used to have chili [flakes] and extra cheese, but they stopped doing that.

Best part about growing up in NYC: You meet different people.

Worst part: The crime.

How did the pandemic affect high school for you? I never had anxiety until COVID days and I experienced that. School-wise, I didn't learn as good as I would have in the building.

Song of the summer: I listen to a lot of drill rappers. I don't know what song is gonna pop up.

One thing you could redo: Don't worry about the future. Just live in the present.

Jaidan Scott (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)
Jaidan Scott (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)

Jaidan Scott, 17, she/her

Favorite class: Economics.

Least favorite class: English.

Most valuable thing learned: The connections that you make.

Advice for younger students: Try to build your connections early because they can help you when you're moving on. Build connections with teachers, maybe your principal, because it can really help to network you into other programs.

Advice for educators: Listen to what your kids say and help support them in any way possible.

One thing you'll miss: My friends.

Plans: I want to be an occupational therapist. For the summer, I'm going to be working at a camp with preschoolers.

Favorite bodega sandwich: Honey turkey and cheese.

Sports? I played volleyball and basketball. They taught me teamwork and leadership and how to balance fun with academics.

Thoughts on cafeteria food: Never eat it.

Best part about growing up in NYC: Exploring after school. There is a lot to do. Even if you just want to go 20 blocks to 86th street, you can go to the park, you can get food and it's very accessible.

Worst part: The craziness of it all. It's very hectic. There's a lot of tourists all the time.

Song of the summer: I don't know.

How did the pandemic affect high school for you? I used to be at a different school, so I transferred here during covid and it was hard because I didn't know anybody. Coming here my senior year I had to start over and make a whole bunch of new friends in such a short amount of time.

One thing you could redo in high school: I would not have too much fun too fast.

Cesar Guzman (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)
Cesar Guzman (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)

Cesar Guzman, 18, he/him (no relation to Edwin)

Favorite class: Forensic science.

Least favorite class: Precalculus.

Most valuable thing you've learned: I want to remember the hard moments I had because they helped me go through the year.

Advice for younger students: Make sure to keep up with your work. Make a schedule. You don't have to follow anybody that is a bad influence.

Advice for educators: Ask for the students' opinions on certain situations, like about a class or if the teacher is teaching them well or not.

Something you'll miss: The friends I made. The teachers I get along with.

Plans: I joined a program–the YMCA–for a job opportunity.

Favorite bodega sandwich: Bacon, egg and cheese.

Thoughts on the cafeteria food: I barely ate anything from there, only the pizza, which was sometimes alright. But I stopped in the last four years.

Best part about growing up in NYC: The opportunities, like careers, friends.

Worst part: Transportation.

How did the pandemic affect high school for you? I prefer going to in-person school because virtually, it was tougher. I missed all my friends. I missed talking to the teachers I got along with.

Song of the summer: I don't know.

If you could redo one thing in high school: Be more confident in school. Be myself.

Eskayla Leon (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)
Eskayla Leon (Edwina Hay / Hell Gate)

Eskayla Leon, 18, she/her

Most valuable thing learned: One thing I need to make sure I remember is that everything is possible. We went through the pandemic during school and I'm still able to graduate on time with an advanced diploma.

Advice for younger students:  No matter what they go through, they have to manage to get through their studies. Even if it feels like they can't, they can, if they believe in themselves.

Advice for educators: They should get more interested in students' mental health. In my case, there were times I couldn't focus because there was a lot going on in my head. So, I would tell them to make a communication with the students so that they could get a chance to tell them about it.

Something you'll miss: I'm gonna miss a lot of things. But I'm gonna miss the teachers the most, they were so nice with me.

Plans: For the summer, I don't have any plans. I'm just gonna let it flow. Next year, I'll be at college. I'm going to LaGuardia Community College for two years. Then I plan to go to Lehman. I want to be a nurse, then I want to become a mom myself.

Favorite bodega sandwich: Ham and cheese with lettuce, tomato and ketchup.

Sports? No.

Thoughts on cafeteria food: I don't like it. Yeah, that's a no for me. I tried to but I couldn't.

Best part about growing up in NYC: I came to NYC when I was ten years old from the Dominican Republic. The best part of growing up in NYC was the school because I made a lot of friends. So it was kind of hard but it was fun because I got to know different countries and different cultures.

Worst part: I had to spend four years without my mom so that was the worst part. I came here with my dad and my siblings. My mom stayed behind at first. But she's here now.

How did the pandemic affect high school for you? It impacted me because I insulated myself more. I was not really talking to my friends. I was all about myself. It was kind of hard because there was a lot of going on in the world and then I lost someone because of COVID. It was just too much.

Song of the summer: I don't really have a song right now.

Anything you'd redo: My 10th and 11th grade because they were during the pandemic. I would repeat it, but this time without the pandemic. That would be fun.

Anything else? Prom was fun! I was prom queen. We danced, we sang. It was amazing.

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