Elijah Sivin: The Ripple Effect


Sacha Mendelson, Contributing Writer

While passing room 103A, the sound of excited ninth-grade voices swells in the hallway. It is precisely 11:45 a.m., five minutes into his lunch period, on a regular Thursday afternoon, and Elijah Sivin is entrenched in deep conversation with a student. The two of them stare intently at a computer screen, editing and going over the concepts within a piece. Almost immediately after assisting a freshman student, a senior rushes into his office to go over their service learning plan. Whether he is helping refine an essay, assisting in formulating a new service learning team, or teaching his History of New York City class, it is evident that no one interacts with every part of the Poly Prep community quite like Elijah Sivin.


Sivin’s multi-facetedness do not originate at Poly Prep. A born and raised New Yorker, from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Sivin attended Hunter High School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. From an early age, he could be seen running circles around an outdoor track or engrossed in one of his high school history lessons. “I like talking,” Sivin exclaimed with a wide smile and a laugh. “I have a tendency to focus on serious issues…that’s just kind of my personality.”


After graduating from high school and moving on to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Sivin furthered his love for history and political science. Sivin facetiously notes, “I was not terrible as a history student.” Around his junior year of college, he began to realize that it was time to start looking into a specific career path that encapsulated all of his interests into one. “Education was right in the middle of my Venn diagram,” he said. However, the course of his life was permanently altered the minute he stepped foot into a Summerbridge classroom as a 21-year-old college student.


“I got the [teaching] bug,” Sivin said, smiling to himself. After hearing about this San Francisco-based program called Summerbridge, now referred to as Breakthrough, from a friend Sivin decided to apply and see where it took him. The program essentially placed public school students who wanted to go to school during the summer into specific courses of their choosing. The classes consisted of 6-7 students and an engaging curriculum. 


The Breakthrough website describes their program as “a tuition-free, ten-year program committed to helping high-potential students from low-income families achieve

economic mobility through the transformative power of education. Beginning in middle school we provide the academic preparation, guidance, and mentoring our students need to apply to and succeed at competitive high schools.” Sivin committed many of his summers to this organization and was eventually swayed by its positive energy and the feeling that he could change someone’s life through education. Sivin joked, “I mean, I could talk about Summerbridge for a while.” He felt like he had finally found a purpose, the lessons he worked so hard to retain were now helping him relay knowledge to the open minds of his students.


“I felt like I could actually help alter the arch of people’s lives a little bit,” said Sivin, a tranquil expression setting into the creases of his face. With the California sun hot on his face, and a newfound passion for education, Sivin was ready to teach in a real school setting….or so he thought.


Staying at Brown for his senior year and then for his master’s in teaching and social studies, Sivin went on to be a student-teacher in “a somewhat rural area in Rhode Island.” “Real word teaching was a lot harder” and almost contrasted the “really positive vibe” that surrounded the Summerbridge program, he said. “[Student teaching was] super challenging. I didn’t really know the local culture, and a lot of kids had been held back.” He also detailed the difficult working environment at some of the public schools at the time, and how there were active strikes within the teachers’ union.


During his time student-teaching at this middle school in Rhode Island, the primary teacher in the room got sick, and Sivin was left to his own devices to teach this class alone. “It was tough,” he said, picking up a pencil and fiddling with the eraser. When questioned if this experience ever off-put him from teaching, he gave a resounding no. Instead, Sivin shared that he thought to himself: “If I’m in the right environment I think I can kind of do this.”


Aftera job at a private school in California, he came back to his New York City roots and began his career as a history teacher extraordinaire at Poly Prep Country Day School. Now he resides in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two daughters, and has committed his life to teaching history as well as service learning. 


Maggie Moslander, the head of the history department at Poly Prep, said that Sivin “really loves and cares about ninth-grade students, and that grade, in particular, is going through a transition moment into high school, and Mr. Sivin thinks so carefully and intentionally about how to help students make that transition.” A smile slowly stretched across her face as she spoke, displaying her respect and appreciation for Sivin as both a teacher and person.


Mid-conversation, Sivin and I traversed the vast Poly Prep campus and stopped at his bike chained to the crowded stand. Here, he changed the battery on his bike and we continued on with our conversation. Sivin rides his bike to work every day in an effort to be a little bit more sustainable and reduce his personal carbon footprint. This conscious action to bike instead of drive a car displays his awareness and understanding of the environment and the ever-changing world around him.


Moslander notes that Sivin is “the person who’s brought really amazing classes on New York City History to the department.” Intertwining his identities as both a history teacher and a New Yorker, Sivin finds a way to allow his true personality to shine through all of the courses and other extracurricular activities that he leads. 


Moslander adamantly described that “there are few people who impact the Poly community more than Mr. Sivin.” It is evident that Sivin works every day to implement the same joy that he felt on the first day of the Summerbridge program into the courses and activities that he leads at Poly today. Like a rock that is tossed into a lake, Sivin creates noticeable ripples within any environment that he is dropped into.