The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

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How the Polygon is Returning to its Former Prestige

This article has been updated from the print version to accurately refer to Ben Kettering’s position at Poly as Associate Director of Admissions and Varsity Boys’ Basketball Coach, not a history teacher. Additionally, Miles Kastendieck’s extracurricular positions have been accurately updated to 1922-1923 Editor-in-Chief of The Polygon and Managing Editor of The Polyglot, not Editor-in-Chief of The Polyglot.


It’s no secret that journalism is on the decline: The total estimated number of newspapers circulating has dropped by more than 35,000,000 since 2000, newsroom employment dropped 26 percent between 2008 and 2020, and more than 2,500 publications merged or shut down between 2004 and 2023. And yet, Poly Prep’s The Polygon trudges on. While professional journalism continues to suffer, student journalism at Poly thrives: Tucked away in Dyker Heights, in a building marked with years of history, The Polygon enters its 111th year with a staff that has been increasing in size since 2020, a brand new journalism department, and several new publications.


The First High School Newspaper in Brooklyn

The Polygon, Poly Prep’s student newspaper, was founded in 1913 by former Poly English teacher Charles Stuart Mitchell. Mitchell, who had received numerous awards for his writing before he came to Poly, was committed to developing a stronger writing curriculum. He created The Polygon after a particular group of students responded enthusiastically to his rigorous teaching methods and wanted to continue working with him. The name was suggested by the first-ever columnist of the paper, Edward Hope Coffey, who thought the newspaper should cover the many sides of student life at Poly, just as a polygon has many sides.


The Polygon’s first issue was published in 1914 and cost each student five cents (The Polygon was not free for readers until the 1970s). This issue was cited in a Brooklyn Eagle article by Miles Kastendieck, who graduated from Poly in 1923 (and who would eventually leave the Eagle, return to Poly, and lead The Polygon from 1955 to 1982 in historic fashion) on March 31, 1939, as “the first attempt in Brooklyn to publish a newspaper in a secondary school.” For the first ten years, The Polygon struggled to manage its finances, but by 1928, it was making enough money to “make gifts to the school, furnish its own office with the most modern equipment, promote the Poly band, and inaugurate a drive for football bleachers and baseball stands,” according to the Eagle.


But as time passed, The Polygon became more than a trailblazer: It was a standout. The Eagle called The Polygon, which was a weekly paper at the time, “one of the best examples of high school journalism in the country.” Furthermore, between 1935 and 1952, The Polygon published the following headlines: “Polygon Editorial Wins First Place In [Columbia Scholastic Press Association], Contest 800 Papers Entered;” “Polygon Awarded First Class Rating Among School Papers;” “Polygon Takes Medalist Award In C.S.P Contest.” Mitchell would go on to advise The Polygon until 1955, covering all the happenings across the Poly Prep campus. 


The Polygon advisor position was taken over from Mitchell by Kastendieck, Editor-in-Chief of The Polygon and Managing Editor of The Polyglot from 1922-1923, who returned to Poly to teach English. Kastendieck would continue The Polygon’s success and Mitchell’s legacy as a weekly paper for the next 27 years until 1982.


Charles Stuart Mitchell via The Brooklyn Eagle

The “Legendary” Kastendieck


During his tenure, Kastendieck elevated The Polygon to a new standard. Kastendieck ran the original Polygon’s office, which published print weekly. During his time, he continued to distinguish The Polygon as one of the school’s strongest programs. “If you talk[ed] to alumni or teachers at the time, it was [regarded as] this legendary activity,” said Interim Head of School John Rankin, who advised The Polygon from 1986-1996. Kastendieck continued the success that Mitchell had found in his students’ writing. “He was on the board of the Columbia Scholastic Press, and they had won all of these awards all of the time,” Rankin said. Continuing his previous career, Kastendieck would spend his weekends writing music critiques for the Brooklyn Eagle while teaching at Poly.


Harold Bernieri ’85, who was at Poly for the Kastendieck era and returned to Poly as a history teacher, recalled the love students had for The Polygon. “When it came out, everybody wanted to know what was in the paper,” he said. The Polygon, still a weekly paper at the time, required extreme dedication from all of its staff to get the issues out on time. “It was every bit as big of a commitment as a year-round sport is,” Bernieri said.  For most staff members, The Polygon was the only extracurricular they were involved in. According to Berneiri, there was even a dark room where The Polygon’s photographers could develop their photos. 


Rankin remembers going down to the printer shop and hearing the tales of Kastendieck’s legacy from the shop owner, who had become familiar with Kastendieck from his weekly visits over his 27 years. 


Additionally, Kastendieck’s impact on students, specifically those involved in The Polygon, was immense, even after he left Poly in 1982. Rankin remembered a former board member and Poly student, sharing a story about Kastendieck’s impact on him. “He was a student in the 1960s and he went into business consulting, but had a Ph.D. in History from Harvard, and he said this whole time through undergrad and graduate school, Miles was still the most memorable teacher he’d ever had,” Rankin said that among the alumni community, many people still talk about Kastendieck and his impact on the students and The Polygon.


Rankin, who has worked at Poly for almost 40 years, has yet to see Kastendieck’s greatness replicated. “To the people who were close to him on the paper, and those students of his, it was a pretty legendary life in this school. I’ve never quite seen anything like it in my time. Maybe a couple of people that came close, but I’ve never seen anything leaving that kind of indelible impression on everyone.” His legacy can even be seen on Poly’s physical campus, in room 124, with a rusted copper plaquette that reads The Miles Merwin Kastendieck Room.


Changes In the Late 80s and 90s


When Rankin took over The Polygon, he said he felt a need to rebuild and revitalize the work Kastendieck had done––but this proved to be more difficult than expected. “It was very much a learning curve. I had virtually no experience [with running a newspaper],” said Rankin. He struggled to keep up with Kastendieck’s demanding weekly schedule, and traditions like engraving planks for each year’s staff were lost in the transition period. “I think there was a big letdown from this giant production that Miles Kastendieck had run,” Rankin said. But after a few years of experience advising The Polygon, Rankin finally felt he was getting into a groove. 


As for the actual coverage, Rankin said that during his time, The Polygon did a good job at balancing straight news and editorials. The students’ work covered relevant and hard-hitting critical stories about the school. Rankin remembers the school, particularly Headmaster Bill Williams, being especially sensitive to the stories The Polygon would publish. Rankin recalled a certain issue of The Polygon being pulled by the administration in which a student criticized the racism he had felt around the school. Ultimately, Rankin had to leave The Polygon in 1996 after becoming both Head of the English department and the Upper School Director of Studies. 


After Rankin, John Rearick, a current English teacher, became faculty advisor. According to Rankin, people felt better with Rearick in charge, as he had a previous background in journalism. But by then, things had already begun changing. “Students were already doing so many different things. The editor could be editor of the newspaper and also in the school play and also playing two sports and taking lots of AP classes.” As the years passed, he found that “people’s time was really scarce, so getting people to sit down and do the stuff was difficult.”  


However, not all was bad for The Polygon. David Gauvey Herbert ’03, a former Editor-In-Chief of The Polygon and current journalist, remembers The Polygon as an integral part of his experience at Poly. “For the core six or seven of us on the paper, this was the thing we did when we weren’t studying or practicing. It became this identity that I don’t think it is now, It wasn’t like we met for 40 minutes or after class. We really had a lot in common.” And still, Rearick recalls The Polygon as an important part of the community. “It was a tremendous honor to be on the newspaper,” he said. “Students were very serious about their writing.” 


Caesar Fabella, a Poly history teacher, remembers the 2000’s Polygon as a major deal. “It was the heyday of The Polygon. It was a big deal.” Rearick added that during his tenure, The Polygon won awards in about 75% of the competitions they entered. Fabella added that Poly students were invested in the newspaper. “It [sold] like hotcakes. And it was a sought-after group.” 


The Tower Times


Fabella was an integral part of The Tower Times, Poly’s middle school newspaper, from 1995 to 2010. 


Feeling the quality of The Polygon at the time, Gail Karph, a former middle school teacher, decided that the middle school needed a voice, according to Fabella. She collected a team of well-read middle schoolers to introduce to the world of journalism, aiming to spark new passions while providing coverage to the middle school. And it worked: Many students, including Herbert, joined The Polygon after writing for The Tower Times. Fabella joined The Tower Times just a few years after its founding. “We were toe-to-toe with The Polygon,” said Fabella. At this point, Poly was taking strides towards a very solid journalism curriculum.


However, as the years went by, students became increasingly hard to retain. As Rearick had noted, students were taking on more extracurriculars. Karph told The Polygon in April 2022 that “there came a time when there were so many after-school activities that students had to make some difficult decisions. There were play rehearsals, sports events, etc, and the newspaper began to lose some of its members.” Additionally, money proved to be an issue for the advisors: “Ms. Karph and I, we didn’t get any stipends or money or salary. So when we heard that The Polygon advisors were getting stipends, we were like ‘What about us?’” said Fabella. Around 2010, The Tower Times shut down for good, leaving the middle schoolers without a voice once again. 


The rise and fall of The Tower Times can be seen as an example for the trajectory of The Polygon.


The Downfall

There are several potential factors that led to the downfall of The Polygon.


Varying amounts of attention from the administration: Rankin explained that during Bill William’s tenure, The Polygon was a hot topic amongst administration: “[The administration] thought about The Polygon a lot. We went through a period where they weren’t paying very much attention to it. So I think the period of decline might be somewhat associated with the idea that The Polygon has varying degrees of influence on the larger community—some years it feels like it has a lot and other years not so much.” Additionally, Rankin reasoned that when less thought was put into it, less money was put into it.


Declining interest in journalism: Since 1991, weekday newspapers have been gradually decreasing in circulation, and Sunday newspapers since 1994. This suggests that interest in journalism has been decreasing since the 90s, which may have also extended to students. Andrew Giurleo, Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Polygon in 2015, noticed this trend by his time. “We sometimes had a hard time finding people to write articles. Especially finding people who would pitch their own articles,” Giurleo said. “It seemed like it either wasn’t a big interest or priority.” Isabel Tessier, Co-Editor-in-Chief along with Giurleo, acknowledged that even she was not fully interested in print journalism. “Even myself, I was not frequently picking up The Polygon and reading it all the way through.” Tessier added that the fact that The Polygon was a physical newspaper additionally hurt student interest, as print journalism, in particular, was suffering.


Increased rigor of college admissions: More value was placed on taking on a rigorous course load and robust extracurricular activity list than focusing on school involvement. For students at a college preparatory school like Poly, putting 100% of their time and effort into The Polygon as they did in the 1980s was nearly impossible if they wanted to get into a top school.


Lack of a consistent faculty advisor: For the first 83 years of The Polygon’s existence, there were only four different advisors. Between 2007 and 2015, The Polygon had five different advisors. The advisors, who were repeatedly starting from scratch on The Polygon and had to endure the learning curve Rankin talked about, likely had an impact on The Polygon’s success. Giurleo and Tessier noted that when the advisors switch so often, you lose institutional memory repeatedly.


Lack of attention from faculty advisors: Barring a few select advisors, like Kastendieck, faculty advisors often struggled with putting their full energy into the newspaper while teaching other classes and not receiving much pay for their work on The Polygon. After all, many advisors carried four or five classes on top of The Polygon. Rankin commented that his involvement wavered once the school promoted him to a higher position. Giurleo and Tessier remembered only having one meeting with their faculty advisor, Ben Kettering, for the first half of their terms as Editors-in-Chief, leaving them to run The Polygon almost entirely on their own (his involvement was so minute they were hard-pressed to remember his name).  Furthermore, Kettering, who advised The Polygon only from 2014 to 2015, was also the brand new Associate Director of Admissions at Poly and Boy’s Basketball Coach, making his ability to connect with The Polygon extremely limited. “He had literally just come to Poly and had quite a few roles already. It didn’t seem to me like he had volunteered for this faculty advisor position at all,” Tessier said. 


Whatever the reason, when Dillon took over as the faculty advisor of The Polygon in the middle of the 2014-2015 school year, it was a shell of what it used to be, driven mainly by Gieruleo and Tessier: “It was a small group of committed students, not a lot of us…It had fallen on hard times,” she said. Though Tessier and Giurleo did a lot to try to revive The Polygon (namely, returning it to a more regular production schedule), Dillon said they were still struggling to get issues out on time. Moreover, the pieces themselves had lost quality. “I feel like we were trying to report on a lot of opinion pieces, like what people were thinking,” Dillon said. 


Additionally, without The Tower Times, middle schoolers could not participate in any journalism in Poly. Current Editor-in-Chief of The Polygon and aspiring journalist Jordan Millar ’24 recalls her interest in journalism budding at the young age of nine, writing for Time for Kids Magazine, but being unable to pursue the same passion at Poly. “In middle school, there weren’t many opportunities for journalism at Poly. Middle schoolers weren’t really on The Polygon. So I didn’t do much journalism inside of Poly,” Millar said.


Over her years as advisor, Dillon, along with Carmelo Larose, slowly built The Polygon back up. They made deadlines for articles, added a managing editor and layout editor, and created The Polygon’s website. However, even Dillon faced a struggle she could never fully overcome—like Fabella faced with The Tower Times—finding the time that The Polygon needed.


The production schedule was upset once the pandemic began, despite a dedicated staff, and The Polygon’s print issue temporarily stopped.

First ever Polygon via The Story of Poly

The Hiring of Ms. Allen and Building it Back Up


Coming out of COVID with a rise in fake news and misinformation, Assistant Head of School, Academics Michal Hershkovitz felt she needed to make a change: “[With] the age of social media, the age, unfortunately, of fake news, [the need for a strong journalism education became] more salient, more pronounced for us.” So she decided to create a brand new department—a journalism department consisting of one teacher in charge of both The Polygon and The Polyglot. This teacher would teach only two classes as opposed to the previous advisors teaching four or more, allowing them to give more attention to The Polygon and The Polyglot. So the search for someone to fill the role began.


In Spring of 2021, Rachael Allen, a young Bowdoin graduate at the time who had previously worked at The Atlantic and Slate Magazine, began looking for a teaching position. Allen had always contemplated being a teacher, and after looking at multiple job listings from other schools in the New York City area, one stuck out among the slew of standard English teacher positions: a journalism teaching position. “This one was perfect because few high schools have a straight journalism teacher,” she told The Polygon in 2021. Allen, whose expertise was in journalism, excitedly decided to apply.


When she officially came to Poly in September of 2021, her goal was simple: hold The Polygon to a new and higher standard. Executing this meant a few things to her: getting The Polygon back to a consistent production schedule, creating a larger staff, establishing a fact-checking process, and pushing the staff to do more hard-hitting and real journalism. Allen started by building out the staff—since she joined Poly, some of the positions added include a layout team, a copy editing team, DEIB editor, business columnist, art critic, breaking news editor, and even cartoonist—-to make The Polygon as student-run as possible. “The goal is that I just advise and ask questions versus making the paper actually happen,” she said. Allen also expanded a Middle School section of The Polygon (there are over ten middle schoolers involved in The Polygon currently, the highest of all time), giving the middle schoolers a real voice for the first time since The Tower Times shut down. 


According to Millar, this year, Allen has been working with The Polygon to improve structural and organizational problems. One of these changes was introducing a beat system, where there are different sections of The Polygon that students are assigned to as opposed to each student just claiming the article they want. “It’s things like that that make the process easier,” Millar said. 


Allen has also strengthened Poly journalism in her Journalism and Advanced Journalism classes. “I really started learning the technical skills of how to write a proper journalism article and more of the grammatical or stylistic things [in class]. I think Ms. Allen helped me through The Polygon, but also through class to learn how to properly conduct an interview and craft effective questions,” said Millar. In Allen’s class, Millar also enjoyed exploring different types of journalism, including broadcast and podcast. It was Allen’s classes that helped Millar feel prepared and excited to take on her position of Editor-in-Chief.


Allen has also added new journalism opportunities beyond The Polygon, such as The Morning Devil, Poly’s TV broadcast show; The Blue Devil Briefing, Poly’s Monday morning announcements; and The Poly Record, Poly’s literary art magazine.


Although The Polygon has not returned to the weekly schedule it was on in the early days, the publications are often as long as 16 pages, four times what they were when it was on a weekly schedule.


To overcome students’ busy schedules, Allen plans to use the journalism class time to incorporate more Polygon writing into her class so students have a proper place and time to write for the newspaper. This year, over 20 stories from the Advanced Journalism and Journalism class (including this piece) have been published.


Allen has also been working to restore her students’ faith and interest in journalism. “Students are very cynical of the media. I’m almost surprised at how cynical they are about journalism in general and I would love to show them some examples of solid journalism that still exist versus just writing off the entire industry,” she said.


This year, Allen said, has been The Polygon’s strongest year since she’s been at Poly. “There are at least a handful, six seniors maybe, who are true Polygon writers—who I can say ‘will you write a story?’ And I know the student will deliver and write a really strong story.”


Hershkovitz said she is beyond pleased with the impact Allen has had. “It began to improve with Dr. Dillon, and it’s really grown to new heights with Ms. Allen. No doubt, because this was Ms. Allen’s main job,” Hershkovitz said.


Dillon feels the hiring of Allen gave The Polygon necessary validity and strength. “When I was doing it, it was my extra thing. When we hired Ms. Allen, it gave it real integrity. It became not like a history teacher’s extra thing, it became part of someone’s job.” Dillon also believes that under Allen, The Polygon has been able to write stronger pieces. “I’ve been impressed with The Polygon under Ms. Allen. [She’s] really good at asking the hard questions.” 


Even Rankin, who witnessed the tail end of Kastendieck’s greatness, said The Polygon now is “at least as strong as it’s ever been.”


Allen’s goal is to eventually get The Polygon on its own feet and offer her support from afar. “I want to be the person in students’ corners when they have an idea for some kind of story or project that they want to do and be someone who can hold them accountable, but also give them advice along the way.”


But neither Allen nor Hershkovitz have any plans to stop here. They both aim to expand the journalism department, which currently just includes Allen, by adding new faculty who can offer different areas of expertise, like broadcast and podcast. Allen also hopes that by expanding, the journalism department will become an integral part of Poly as opposed to one that could just dissolve if she leaves.


The Evergreen Importance of Student Journalism


Though Allen recognizes the ongoing downfall of professional journalism, she believes it does not affect the value of student journalism. “I think it builds up your ability to ask questions, be curious, and be productively cynical, is how I think about it. It builds up basic writing and research skills. You have to make things clear and concise to an average reader, and that’s going to help in whatever academic or professional work you do,” Allen said. “I also think confidence—having to go up and interview people and ask them hard questions is really hard. And it’s even harder when you’re a student and there are weird power dynamics. So I think it’s great practice.” 


Millar added that student journalism will always be important for the students themselves. “I think in a school environment, the people that can best understand the student body are typically the students themselves. They’re members of that community and they understand what voices need to be heard, what perspectives are missing from conversations.”


Hershkovitz too, who was herself the Editor-in-Chief of her high school newspaper, does not see the importance of student journalism wavering anytime soon. “We really want to prepare you, even as everyone bemoans this dying career path. Journalism may take different forms, your voices may be heard in different formats and forums, but the art of storytelling, the art of seeking facts and evidence to tell stories that often go untold—that seems to me as eternal as any human endeavor.”


But perhaps of all the teachers, students, and faculty, Mitchell put it best back in 1916: “In writing for The Polygon a boy has a very real interest in his subject; a very vital motive—the desire to see his work in print; and he faces the absolute necessity of gathering his own facts, of selecting from the facts gathered those worth using, of arranging the facts in a logical and coherent order, and of phrasing sentences which are entirely his own—in short, of performing 100% of the work of composition for himself.”


Faculty Advisors of the Polygon Over the Years


Charles Stuart Mitchell 1913-1955

Miles Kastendieck 1955-1982

Lucy del Mastro 1982-1986

John Rankin 1986-1996

Hugo Mahabir 1993-1996

John Rearick 1996-2007

Michael Bass 2007-2013

Jennifer Ann Cohen 2013-2014

Ben Kettering 2014-2015

Carmelo Larose 2015-2019

Virginia Dillon 2015-2019

Elaine Levia 2020-2020

Linda Busetti 2020-2021 

Rachael Allen 2021-Present


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