“Feels like home.” “There is a sense of camaraderie.” “It is a welcoming environment.”
Those are some of the statements Briarcliff High School students use to describe their transition from Pocantico Hills to Briarcliff.
The Pocantico Hills Central School District serves students from pre-kthrough eighth grade. Each year, towards the end of January, the eighth graders at Pocantico (known as POCO) are required to select one of three high schools to attend. Briarcliff High School is one of the three schools.
There are many factors that go into making this important decision.
We spoke with several former POCO students to learn more about why they chose to attend Briarcliff, how that decision shaped who they are today and what makes the school special.
Being at Briarcliff can open your eyes to brand-new experiences. While Briarcliff is known for its academic rigor, participating in the arts – in all its forms – is crucial to a student’s sense of balance and to nurturing the soul. Whether it is the theater, performing arts or visual arts, Briarcliff is the place to get creative and express yourself in many ways.
Junior Brithany Martinez Urgiles remembers choosing to go to Briarcliff very vividly.
“My friends and I were discussing the different schools and we saw that Briarcliff has many clubs and sports,” she said. “As eighth graders, we realized that wanted to go to a school that has good academics, but that also offers us a variety of sports and other activities so that we could also have fun. We made the decision to go to Briarcliff together and we are still friends to this day.”
As a freshman, Brithany joined the Briarcliff soccer team and found it was an easy way to make new friends.
“I started soccer in the preseason, so I made new friends before school even started, which made the transition from POCO very smooth” she said. “Playing soccer is one of the best experiences I have had at Briarcliff.”
This year, Brithany discovered the theater.
“I heard from many teachers about the theater program and that it’s a great experience to watch and also to participate in,” she said. “After watching some of the productions, that made me want to join the theater and once I did – that was a whole new experience for me.
“Everyone made me feel very welcome and was very kind, including the teachers involved in theater – Ms. Jamie Mandel, Mr. Paul Kite and Mr. James Britt,” she said. “I was in the fall drama recently and it was an amazing experience, plus I made so many friends. It felt like home, like I was exactly where I am supposed to be. I like that being in theater gives you a chance to tell a story. That is inspiring to me. Each show tells a different story and I love that about the theater.
“I would recommend Briarcliff to anyone because there is just so much variety and so much to do here – you can be in the Asian club, Book club, Spanish club, theater, music, dance…there are so many opportunities to develop as a person and to develop skills, and you can always start a club yourself. Participating in all of those activities is a great way to make friends.”
Sports are big in Briarcliff; the Bears take their sports very seriously and bleed blue and orange.
Although the school is small, it offers many different athletic teams throughout the year and Briarcliff coaches help students grow both on and off the field.
Senior Sora Marable has played Varsity Girls Soccer since she was a freshman.
“I chose Briarcliff because of its rigorous athletics and well-rounded academics,” she said.
Sora, who recently signed a Letter of Intent to play soccer at Drexel University, credits the school and her coaches in helping grow her passion for sports.
“I have learned to be a better player on and off the field and I am very grateful for having been coached by David Villalobos and Lauren Pesce,” she said.
Sora recommends Briarcliff to anyone who is unsure.
“Briarcliff has been a welcoming home and environment for me especially coming in right after the pandemic,” she said. “I felt the camaraderie and I would love for any POCO students to attend the school and have the same experience that I had.”
For many students, Briarcliff High School can help pinpoint what they truly love and offer a sense of direction, due to the many options offered both during and after school.
Junior Serena Xu was leaning towards the sciences when she realized architecture was her true calling.
“I took the Science Research course because I was thinking of studying something science-related like biology, but I realized that it wasn’t for me,” she said. “Having taken art classes each year of high school, I noticed that I tried to incorporate architecture into my science research project and also I noticed that I wanted to focus more on the design and less on the science itself. High school is a time where you can try new things and Briarcliff gives you a lot of options. In one of my art classes we studied architecture, which is what I now want to study in college. There are just so many possibilities here.”
Serena credits art teacher Roxanne Ritacco with helping her pursue her passion.
“She is great – she always gives great tips about art. She also offers support with making a portfolio for architecture school.”
When Serena selected to attend Briarcliff, it was during the pandemic when there were no in-person tours.
“We had a virtual tour of the school and I remember students in the video speaking about how welcoming the school community was,” she said. “My experience turned out to mirror what the students had said; people are very friendly here and the teachers are very welcoming. Whenever I reach out to people, they reciprocate. I have definitely made friends here.”
When push comes to shove, the biggest draw is Briarcliff’s academic rigor and high ranking. Thinking critically, being willing to take intellectual risks and being open to new ideas are high on the list of priorities.
Teachers at Briarcliff are renowned for helping students thrive and reach their academic potential.
Junior Brady Lofaro has been able to pursue his passion for history and English at the school.
“I have a knack for learning, so I keep pushing myself,” he said. “Briarcliff is a place where I can do that.”
Being an incoming freshman, Brady admits there was a little bit of a learning curve in the beginning.
“In my freshman year I needed a little bit of help but the teachers were very helpful,” he said. “Whether you are into humanities or math or science, you will always get the academic support that you need from the teachers in Briarcliff and as long as you keep up the work, good things will happen.”
“I especially love Ms. Melissa Carnahan and Ms. Karen McCarthy – they have been amazing and very supportive,” he said.
“I chose Briarcliff because it has the best academics – it is the crème de la crème of education in New York and also has a good environment. When I come here, it feels like a second home to me. If I had the choice, I would do it again, a hundred times over.”