Is High School on The Upper East Side Really like Gossip Girl?
By: Christina Corbisiero
My fun fact since starting college has been some variation of “Gossip Girl was filmed on the steps of the Met right outside of my high school” or “my high school was one of the schools that Gossip Girl was based on”. I personally like this fun fact because it makes me feel a little cool to have a relation to such an iconic show, but is also a point of reference for people who aren’t from New York City to figure out where I went to high school, and where I am from. I live in Brooklyn, but for four years journeyed to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to go to an all-girls private catholic school. On paper, it seems similar to Dan and Jenny Humphrey, but in reality, I took the subway every morning at 6:30 in the morning, while I think they are shown taking the bus once throughout the show. Although there are quite some differences between the show and real life, going to school on the Upper East Side is one of the best decisions I made for myself.
Do people really sit on the steps of the Met? Yes, that’s actually a very common thing. I can’t speak to what life on the Upper East was like prior to Gossip Girl, but the steps (and the tables beside them) are a great place to eat lunch. When I was a sophomore in high school, my friend and I use to run to Chipotle which was about three avenues from our school and then eat it on the steps of the Met before going to our next class. Unlike Gossip Girl, there was no hierarchy of where to sit, but usually, people from my high school would sit with their friends. It’s a fun place to sit in the Spring because there are always performers there (and it’s also a great place to people watch).
Is everyone rich at private schools on the Upper East Side? There are so many private schools on the Upper East Side (Ex: Spence was mentioned in Gossip Girl and Riverdale, and Dalton was mentioned in The Devil Wears Prada), but opposed to popular belief not everyone who goes to these schools is daughters of heiresses and sons of billionaire CEOs. Most private schools are kindergarten through 12th grade, and the majority of the fifth grade and under are locally from the Upper East Side and are more on the wealthy side. As for the middle and high school sections of these schools, there are a lot of opportunities for financial aid, and scholarships, but also for students from other parts of Manhattan and outer boroughs. For my school, I started as a ninth-grader there after taking a scholarship exam; about half my grade had been at the school since Kindergarten, but the other half came in 7th through 10th grade and lived in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and New Jersey. The world that’s seen on Gossip Girl is slightly exaggerated. Most people follow their school uniform guidelines and don’t spend thousands of dollars after school; although some of the stores nearby are more pricey.
Do schools have sports teams on the Upper East Side? In the first season of Gossip Girl, there’s a scene of Blair and Serena playing field hockey, and that episode influenced me to also play that sport. All through high school, I played field hockey except my high school was combined with another all-girls school since we didn’t have enough players. Although only four high schools on the Upper East Side had a field hockey team, we had about 8-9 other sports teams (including badminton!). The most popular sports for schools on the Upper East Side are volleyball, soccer, track, and fencing. If you go to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park on a day in the Fall, you’ll find high school students from all the high schools going for runs (especially their track & field teams). As for other teams, Manhattan is very limited with space, so most schools have to go to the outer boroughs or Randall’s Island in order to have practice.
What does Gossip Girl not show you about high school? Although the characters of the show live glamorous lives and want to go to “only the best” colleges, there’s so much that they don’t show. The academics at private schools in Manhattan are particularly challenging, and the characters would’ve had to do a lot more studying (but that’s just not a good drama if they are actually doing schoolwork). My school was across from the Met and Central Park, and on rainy days you could find me in the museum (it’s free for high school students!) and in the Spring on the Great Lawn with my friends. We had a boys school right down the street from us, and would do musicals and plays with them. My private school was very liberal and gave me a well-rounded education, and I got to meet people from an array of places, not just the Upper East Side. Usually, class sizes are small and your grade feels like a dysfunctional family. My graduating glass was 56 girls, and I still will see most of them on breaks or while at college.
Part of the reason I chose my high school was because of Gossip Girl, but the main reason was because of the academics. The show makes the Upper East Side seem like a magical place, and it is but in a different way than the show depicts it. On Museum Mile there’s not only the Met, but the Guggenheim, Cooper-Hewitt, and the Frick; along with the French embassy that has the most beautiful bookstore. The Museum of Natural History lies right across from Central Park on the Upper West Side. Every time I go back to visit uptown manhattan, I always have such good experiences because although I do reminisce about my time in high school, there’s so much to do there...and it’s still fun to pretend you’re in Gossip Girl. I do recommend if you find yourself on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to grab a coffee from Le Pain or Starbucks on Madison Avenue, and sit on the steps of the Met to people watch...and you’ll feel like you’re in the show.