Tales Out of School

No Laughs at Dalton, Trinity; East Side Gets Stooped

One day last spring, the senior girls at the Brearley School brought farm animals to the school. They put rabbits in classrooms and chickens in the administrative offices. The girls were just having fun, of course, in the tradition of “senior prank day” at New York’s private schools. In fact, prank day is usually pre-approved by the school administration. But this year, for the first time in several years, many of the schools were prankless, leaving the unsettling impression that the city’s class of 2001 is, well, just not very funny.

Schools where the seniors passed on their opportunity to prank include the Spence School, the Dalton School, Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School and the Trinity School. According to one Spence student, that school outlawed senior pranks two years ago, after seniors put Vaseline on the toilet seats and covered the floor of the junior lounge with water glasses so that nobody could enter. At Dalton, one senior told The Observer that the administration was purposefully making it difficult for them to find a day to do it. “You just got the feeling that they really didn’t want it to happen,” she said. Seniors at Columbia Prep came close-“One of the ideas was to let pigs loose with dildos tied to their ears,” said one underclass Columbia Prep student-but that grand plan was not to be. “The seniors were lame this year,” he said.

At Trinity, one senior said, “We just couldn’t get it together.” Said a junior: “They were really uninventive.”

The seniors at Brearley did come up with a prank in late February. On the designated day, juniors walked into their classrooms to find mounds of paper ripped from SAT workbooks and the phrase “You’ve been rejected” scribbled on the blackboards. One junior commented that it had been done before.

Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School’s prom, held on May 25th, was, for the most part, a pretty standard version of the year-end tradition. The prom committee chose to have it at 200 Fifth, a club on the first floor of the International Toy Building, on Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets. Juniors and seniors from the Upper West Side private school arrived in limos at around 8 p.m. There was a sit-down meal which nobody really sat down for, and a lot of dancing even though the D.J. was only mediocre. Around midnight, the students took the party to the Hamptons.

But Columbia Prep students did remark on one thing that truly set this prom apart from others: As the night progressed, it became clear that the students were being allowed to smoke-right there, right in front of their teachers.

“Kids were just going up to teachers and shaking their hand while they had a cigarette in the other hand,” said one prom attendee, who asked that his name not be used. “It was insane, and the teachers didn’t say anything.” He added that one teacher leaned in and said, “Don’t act too trashed, O.K.?”

In general, the city’s private schools have a very strict smoking policy: Students caught smoking inside the school are suspended, and those who are found smoking within a three-block radius during school hours are either kicked off their sports team or given detention.

Columbia is no exception. Alicia Kelly, a 31-year-old Social Studies teacher who is Columbia Prep’s prom adviser, said that the school does not allow smoking on campus, and that the school’s deans often walk to Central Park to look for puffing scholars. She also said that the school sponsors a program to help kids stop smoking.

She did say that the school’s antismoking stance was relaxed a little on prom night. “The prom is looked at a little differently,” she said. “Our No. 1 concern is safety, and what’s happened in the past is if smoking is not allowed at the prom, then they go outside to smoke, and if they go outside they are more likely to drink alcohol and take other drugs. We wanted to keep all the students together. I didn’t see students smoking, but I know that we were not policing in one specific room at the prom, which was more of a loungy type of atmosphere where the appetizers were served.”

When walking around the Upper East and West sides on a warm spring evening, you have probably seen clusters of teenagers gathered on townhouse stoops, talking, smoking and drinking beer. Now what used to be called “hanging out”-or, by less charitable observers, “loitering”-has a new name: “stooping.”

“Stooping is really big,” said Elizabeth Wolf, a junior at the Brearley School. “It’s when you just sit around on private-property stoops. You just sit there all night, and if you get bored you move to another one.”

Most of Manhattan’s teenage youth would like to think that living in the greatest city in the world might provide them with an activity more exciting then camping out on a stranger’s stoop for the evening, but it often isn’t the case. “Usually we’ll go to a stoop just as a place to meet before we figure out a place to go for the night,” said a recent graduate of Chapin. “But a lot of times, we never wind up figuring out another place to go.”

There are some private-school kids who are dismissive of stooping, however, perhaps because they’ve found easy entrĂ©e into neighborhood bars. “I think it is a same-sex school thing,” said one sophomore at Horace Mann who lives on the Upper East Side. “Maybe I’d meet my friends at a specific stoop if we were going to go out together or something. But if you want to hang out, why wouldn’t you just go to a restaurant or a bar or something?” When asked if he ever went stooping, a sophomore at Columbia Prep responded, “No, I have places to go.”

So far, it doesn’t appear that stooping leads to crime. Ken Moltner, chair of Community Board 8 on the Upper East Side, said that the board receives only two to four complaints a year from angry residents who want kids off their stoops; the board forwards the complaints to the police.

Some of the best stooping can be found on the East Side. There’s the so-called “Red Door Stoop,” which is on 60th Street between Second and Third avenues. Or the “Squirrel Stoop” on 74th Street between Third and Lexington (which features a pair of brass squirrels). Braver souls do their stooping on the “Mafia Stoop,” on 65th Street between Park and Lexington avenues, so called because, said one student, “there are always weird people who look like they’re in the Mafia going in and out of the building.”