I had been in public school most of my life, but then switched to a private institution in the South Side of Chicago for my middle school 7th and 8th years. The differences were blatant. Although I was too young to understand it all at the time, I easily chose to go back to my public high school for my final four years.
The reason I did this was to take advantage of the wider range of academic and extra-curricular offerings the suburban high school was able to provide me with. Yet I got much more than that. I got an education that shaped my entire being and outlook on life. I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for the supportive staff there who went above and beyond, and for the opportunities they gave me.
My high school had numerous AP course offerings and other Honors or Enriched classes to give students lots of room for challenging themselves. We had all the sports you could imagine and other activites. Nor was my high school small, in physical size or population. We had the latest technology as well: smartboards, laptops, touch-screen TVs in the lobby with school events listed, a late-pass system that only asked you to swipe your school ID. We had an orchestra room with top knoch equipment. A full gymnasium, a pool, etc. I’m telling you, anything you can imagine, we had it.
Yet, a bit surprisingly this is not what made it a good school.
There is a Jewish saying:
Ask about your neighbors, then buy the house.
Since it is easily the people who make the place.
Yes there were some mediocre teachers, but some of them were down-right inspiring. Passionate not only about their subjects but about the students as people as well. They also made themselves available often: before and after school, and during some lunch periods in the Academic Center (which is the center I’m modeling my project off of), and of course through e-mail. They would tell us about opportunities outside of the classroom, such as essay competitions or different events that could enrich our academic lives. Seeing how much effort they put in made us want to put in effort too. They were and still are role models to me.
Even more importantly are the students within the school. Demographically we had large populations of White, Indian, and Asians, with a very small black population and even smaller Latino population. Indians and Asians are stereotypically known for being quite smart and these were no exception. They fueled competition among students, raising their GPAs above 4.0s and achieving high honors. See, when all your friends are getting As, it’s kind of hard not to get an A as well. Furthermore, and what I believe to be most influential, was the culture of learning and curiosity that we all fostered. I’m not saying there weren’t slackers and lazy kids – but the majority of our students were motivated. Not just motivated to graduate and get to college and have a successful future, but genuinely curious about the world and motivated to learn the material because they wanted to.
That’s the kind of stuff I wish I saw in every school. That’s the kind of stuff we need in our educational system. A love of learning.