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Why Do They Return?

The Beacon interviewed FHHS alumni to get a glimpse of their high school years…
Artist: Ethan Liu

Who would be crazy enough to come back to their high school? Many swore that after walking the graduation stage they would never step foot in their high school again. And yet, FHHS is home to quite a few returnees– teachers and staff who once strolled our crowded halls as students. 

Forest Hills High School has seen generations of students pass through its crowded halls, each with unique memories and experiences. What makes Forest Hills High School truly special, is former students returning as teachers, driven by a deep connection to the school and its community. The Beacon talked to three teacher alumni who were “crazy” enough to come back to teach at FHHS, all with their reasons and motivations. 

Graduating as Class of 1999, Ms. Herskovitz’s journey from student to teacher is intertwined with the relationships formed within the FHHS community. From meeting her husband at the school and forming connections with teachers like Ms. Fragias and Mr. Epp, there is this everlasting interconnectedness in Forest Hills. 

While originally going into college to study television, she also loved taking English classes. During this time, she found a liking to education through a few courses she had taken and decided to apply to graduate school for education. 

After returning to teach at Forest Hills, Herskovitz explains her relationship with her past teachers. Though it was initially uncomfortable, she has gotten closer to them as a colleague and person. Ms. Herskovitz comments on her interactions with Fragias, “It was comfortable because it was familiar. They [Fragias] knew that I was a good student and I knew they were good teachers.”

Now as a role of a teacher in FHHS, she reflects on the contribution she has in this community, 

“I consider myself reliable. It’s a testament to the teachers that were here and how the school was run that we all wanted to come back and teach here.”   

Ms. Herskovitz’s statement proves true, as Mr. Reifler, a graduate of the FHHS class of 2009, returned to FHHS in 2015 and is using his teaching position to create safe spaces and support networks for both students and staff.

Mr. Reifler is a history buff, a long-time local of Forest Hills, a heavily engaged community-oriented person, and above all, a conversationalist.

At FHHS, Reifler recalls spending lots of time with his big friend group, attending school events such as basketball games, S!NG, and the senior trip and prom. Often, he would grab pizza with his friends after school and just hang out. 

His favorite teacher during his time as a student was Mr. Parker, his senior-year honors English teacher. Mr. Parker stood out to Reifler in particular, because “he kept it real.” Parker was unafraid to be personable with students, sharing his story and teaching students with flair and compassion. 

Conversation plays a big role in Reifler’s life, inside and outside of school. He described “feeling like the mayor” when he walked around his neighborhood, as he had frequent conversations with neighbors, business owners, and anyone willing to listen. To him, having these conversations is a form of community service. 

Teaching naturally follows this same line of thinking. Reifler told The Beacon, “I teach because I want to support people.” Through Council for Unity, Reifler is able to apply these principles by giving students the space to engage in emotional, academic, and general life discussions. 

But returning to one’s former high school to teach takes a compelling reason— in this case, coupled with a love for community, it was convenience. Reifler has lived in Forest Hills for his entire life, attending elementary, middle, and high school in the same area with the same friends. While receiving offers from schools in other boroughs, the proximity FHHS offered was too good to give up, he described. 

Teaching at FHHS is a unique experience, especially as an alumnus. “When you graduate elementary school, and you go back during middle school, it’s small. When you graduate middle school and you go back to that middle school, it’s small. When you graduate from FHHS and you go back to FHHS it’s just as big,” Reifler explained. 

FHHS is a school known not just for its grand size, but for its diverse student body. At Hills, you can experience the world in one building– encountering people of many ethnic backgrounds, religions, experiences, and opinions. Ms. Huang, a 2013 graduate of FHHS, expressed similar sentiments to Reifler

By senior year, Ms. Huang knew that she wanted to teach. Having great teachers such as Ms. Fragias and Ms. Kelly, allowed her to learn and have a formative experience at the school. Whether that was teaching history or other subjects, she knew she wanted to come back. 

“I feel like history is one of those topics that kids usually hate because it’s boring. They haven’t had good experiences with history teachers who try to make it entertaining or story-like. I feel like I was that person to try to bring some life into all of that old stuff.”

Returning as a teacher, she sees her role as a conduit for building communities within the diverse student body, echoing the inclusive environment she cherished during her high school days. Spending time with friends, being a part of communities, and not having to worry about bills were the highlights of Ms. Huang’s days as a student. This is something she wants to pass along to the students, hoping to bring students together into communities. 

Ms. Huang points out how special it is to have a high school with a large population of returning alumni, returning the services given by teaching. Huang reflects on her motivating factor for teaching at Forest Hills, 

“I did this for the kids. I am able to converse with you guys on a daily basis. Kids I have and have had often tell me how I’ve impacted them, and that therefore, motivates me to continue impacting people.” 

 The return of alumni creates an environment where students can connect on a deeper level with those who have walked the same halls years ago. The presence of younger teachers adds to a relatable and comfortable educational experience for students, extending to shared cultural references and a genuine understanding of the contemporary challenges students face. We also have other notable alumni such as Mr. Levine, Mr. Pujol, Mr. Hovsepian, Ms. Glass, Mr. Cramer, and the list continues that have had so much impact on the school building and the students.  The educators integrate their own experiences as former students, fostering a sense of understanding beyond just a traditional teacher-student dynamic– making FHHS a place to remember and return to.

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About the Contributors
Salma Baksh
Salma Baksh, Editor-in-Chief
Salma is currently a senior and has been the editor-in-chief of The Beacon since the fall of 2022. They channel their love of politics, community, activism, and education into two clubs at Forest Hills High School: Youth Informed (which she co-founded in her junior year) and Double-Up (in which they are currently Co-President). Salma is honored to serve as editor-in-chief for her second year in a row and derives fulfillment from the immense growth The Beacon has undergone since its return. She aims to establish The Beacon as the core of Forest Hills High School-- a paper that inspires critical thinking, creativity, and hope.
Jenny Dun
Jenny Dun, Web Editor and Designer
Jenny is a senior in the Academy of Public Service at Forest Hills High School. She was the Events Coordinator and Social Media Manager for the year 2022-2023.  At FHHS, she is the manager for the Girl’s Varsity Handball Team. She enjoys writing reviews, specifically lifestyle for The Beacon. She loves listening to jazz, visiting museums, and cafe hopping.
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