Freshmen First Impressions (2023-2024)

Freshmen First Impressions (2023-2024)

February. The midway point. On September 13th, 2022, freshmen spent their first official day at HSMSE. They were the first class in three years to start a “normal” school year – no mask mandates, zoom lessons or social distancing. Below are some reflections by the freshmen on their first semester of high school and their experiences adjusting to HSMSE.  



Most freshmen felt comfortable at MSE within their first few weeks. “Although there are technically a lot

of differences [between middle school and high school], HSMSE feels like the communities I’ve known,” freshman Jamie Chin says.

One freshman, Luke Duculan, pointed out the different

Jamie Chin

maturity levels at MSE. “There’s like literal adults next to people who haven’t gone through puberty yet…It’s kind of scary at first but you get used to it.”


“I expected HSMSE to be really strict and on you 24/7. But it’s not,” admits Adonis Capellan. Veronica B, another freshman, had similar expectations: “I thought that HSMSE would be more formal. I thought we would have to wear uniforms and be more stressed about everything. Like, oh, I better not mispeak. But it’s pretty chill.” 

Even though MSE is “pretty chill,” one of the most challenging transitions from middle school to high school can be adjusting to more rigorous classes and a heavier workload. Miguel Chicas says, “I’ve always gone to the neighborhood schools and I was in an environment where I was always top of my class and I just didn’t have to try. When I got into HSMSE, I told myself that I have to change my mindset toward school.” 

Another freshman, Macaelah A, had a similar adjustment period: “I didn’t take Algebra last year and so when I went to Foundations, there were a lot of people in my class who had already taken the Algebra regents and were already familiar with the stuff we were learning. When I looked at the work we were doing for the first time, I was super confused. But it was strange because everyone else in the room wasn’t. So I felt kinda isolated in that sense. But now I know it and I can do it. It just takes time.”


Veronica B

But some freshmen have found the workload to be less than they anticipated. “When is it going to kick-in?” asks freshman Luke Dotoli. 

For many freshmen, it is the first time that they actually have to deal with grades – the hottest topic among MSErs of every class. There is an undeniable pressure to receive good grades and sometimes, it stirs up competition. That can be hard to navigate, especially at first. However, the freshmen seem to have a good grasp of what grades are really all about:


Miguel says, “I’m friends with people who are very stringent about grades. I’m over here telling them that they’re fine with their 94 on the geometry test and then they go ahead and try to get a booster for like two extra points.” Welcome to HSMSE. 


At the end of the day, Miguel thinks “It’s all gradual, right? Everyone comes here with different standards. My standards are much different from someone else’s standards in the same classroom and in the same environment. It’s all about making smaller increments of progress toward the goals you set for yourself.”  Macaelah added, “my goal is a 90 or above but if I have 80’s I’m okay with that. I just want to improve slowly.”


Miguel Chicas

As we have become familiar and normalized by the grade-focused environment at HSMSE where a 90 is ‘so bad’, many of us tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. Macaelah has a word of advice: “when I get stressed over all the things I didn’t do, I try to think about what I did and how I can improve from 



Sometimes it’s necessary to take a time-out – especially on stressful days. Starting every class with 5 minutes of mindfulness, Mr. Choi’s Drafting class is a favorite among freshmen.  Mindfulness has “done wonders for me” says Adonis Capellan. “Sometimes you just have to take a breather, you know?” Quinten Cremers added, “I love Mr. Choi. And the mindfulness stuff works. It calms everyone down.”


Making friends, especially in high school, can be daunting, and it’s easier for some people than others. Many freshmen embrace the different personalities there are at MSE, like Miguel, who says “I’ve met more characters who resemble the personality I have. More people who don’t have a filter.” In terms of the social aspect, freshman Luke Dotoli says “It’s kind of the reverse of what the TV shows say about high school. My middle school was a lot more chaotic than it is here.” Nico Chin feels a similar way: “there is less drama and peer pressure. Nothing big happens…It’s kinda nice.” 


Quinten Cremers

For others, HSMSE just fits. “Because this school is a bunch of nerds, you have a much better chance of finding people who are interested in a specific thing. Like, for me, it was trains. My middle school had 600 people per grade, I did not find one person who shared that interest. Here, in one single class there are four other people who share the same passion for trains,” says Jamie Chin. 


Recalling his first few months at HSMSE and trying to find a group of kids to fit into, Joseph Afres says, “It turned out a lot of kids knew each other already from cross country. I felt like that set me back a little because I needed to fit into a group where everyone kind of met each other already.” 


There are many layers to “fitting in,” and the question of “do you feel like you fit in?” is never straight forward. When she first received admission into HSMSE, freshman Veronica’s mom showed her a post on Instagram stating that she was a part of the 5% of hispanics who received admission into a specialized high school. “It just surprised me,” she says. “I was like, that can’t be true!” In fact, the number hovers closer to 4%. According to the DOE, in 2021 (the year that the current freshmen class was admitted), only 4.3% of testers who received an offer into a specialized high school were Latino. In the same year, 22.8% of test takers were Latino. 


Lianne Annan

Lianne Annan, who came from a predominantly black community and middle school says that “coming here, coming to a more predominantly white school in a black neighborhood is just switching back and forth from what I can say, what I can’t say, who I can say it to and if I should even present myself a certain way.”


“There are always going to be those moments of culture shock…moments where I don’t fit in,” says Macaelah. “Different people are raised differently and do different things. When you talk about that part of your life, you may not always feel like everyone’s on the same page.” 


Adonis, who came from a predominantly hispanic middle school, says that HSMSE is more diverse than he expected. He says, “seeing a diversity chart dominated by one ethnicity is very intimidating and can make [students] feel like they don’t fit in. Having a diverse school can make people more comfortable going to school.” 


Luke Duculan says: “I’m Filipino, in my English class and my Foundations class, there’s another person that’s Filipino. It’s really nice to see someone who’s like me in that way. It just feels more welcoming and helps in terms of fitting in.”


Luke Duculan

Diversity is multifaceted. Many freshmen talked about how HSMSE is a host for all different kinds of people with many different interests, passions, identities and backgrounds. Luke Duculan says, “In terms of the different backgrounds people have, like LGBTQ+, HSMSE is way more diverse than my middle school.” 


Miguel adds to this sentiment, claiming, “I think this school does a pretty good job of outreach in different communities.” “There’s a lot of inclusivity,” Macaelah says. “Like, I’m in Black Student Union, there is a Jewish Student Union, there is a GSA. People have spaces to express themselves.” 


There is a key difference between “fitting in” and belonging. There are spaces in HSMSE; whether it be a club, a class or a group of friends that we can all belong in. Thankfully, you don’t have to fit in to belong. 


All in all, it seems like the freshmen are learning the ropes and settling in just fine. It was refreshing and interesting to hear from the newest members of our community – they point to the pieces of our school that many of us often overlook or neglect to appreciate. Usually the upperclassmen are the ones to dish out advice to the newbies but perhaps, there are a few lessons we can take from them.


“I made the right choice,” one freshman said, and many more echoed. 


– Special thanks to Mr. Zara’s Freshmen Academy Class. 


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