In fact, the more a visitor tours each building's classrooms (class size at both maxes at 34), peeks in at the labs (whatever specialized equipment you might need, it's there), or observes students pausing to share a joke in front of their lockers or rushing through the corridors en masse to get to the next class, the more similar the schools begin to seem. That impression is only strengthened by interviews with students, parents, teachers, and administrators, whose raves about each school's pluses can start to sound interchangeable: Students are "incredibly bright" and "highly motivated"; the choice of courses is "awesome"; both schools emphasize "creative and critical thinking" and foster "a culture of learning."
Gripes? So much to do and so little time to sleep, goes one refrain. Another has to do with the commute, which for some can take up to an hour each way. (Fortunately, bus and subway rides provide time for homework, catching 40 winks, or hanging out with friends.) The schools are even alike in their diversity, both economically and ethnically (about two thirds of the pupils at each school come from Asian backgrounds; the rest a mix of Caucasian, Hispanic, and black). At both, too, because a fair number of parents are non-English speaking, translators are on call.
Stuyvesant graduate Jonah Peppiatt recalls that on 9/11, at the start of his junior year, students were evacuated from the school. He walked 5 miles to his home on Manhattan's Upper West Side with five friends, each from a different ethnic or religious background. "Here we were, emerging from a terrorist attack based on intolerance, and here was this diverse group coming together," he says.
Location, location, location. Not surprisingly—at least, not to Stuyvesant boosters—downtown Manhattan's urban buzz trumps Bronx Science's quieter setting. Stuyvesant's take: You get what you commute for.
Bronx Science's tart comeback: "We're worth the trip," proudly declares the school bumper sticker.
Then there is the very important subject of lunch. At Stuyvesant, a daily lunch period is required, no matter how loudly students clamor to squeeze in another course instead. Not so at Bronx Science. There, students may ask to substitute an additional academic course for lunch, provided their parents approve. So, when do those students eat? "The joke is, in AP biology, a kid will be dissecting a pig with one hand and eating a sandwich with the other," says Principal Reidy. (It sounds like an urban legend until you speak to a student who has come perilously close to doing just that.)
The lunch issue doesn't mean one school is more laid back than the other. "We have high expectations for ourselves," says Sharmila Ahmed, a Stuyvesant junior.
But they do find time to be teenagers. At both schools, you can spot kids—and staff—having a good time. At Stuyvesant one recent morning, Teitel threw back his tie and showed off his push-ups to the guys in phys ed class. At Bronx Science, senior Katia Lin donned an apron to serve the apple crisp she had baked in her nutritional science class.
Occasionally, it's the parents who stress out. "I've had parents come and tell me, 'My child has a 96 or 97 in a particular class, and how can they do better?' " says Teitel. "Sometimes I have to tell the parents to step back."
The students have already gotten the message, says David Colchamiro, Bronx Science assistant principal. After an assembly at which the winners of Intel's national science competition were announced, for instance, the entrants who had not won lifted the winners onto their shoulders and carried them into the principal's office to celebrate. "It's not, 'If you win, I lose,' " says Reidy. "It's, 'If I win, it's greater, but if you win, it's still great and I can be happy for you.' That's the maturity level we inculcate and want every student to have."