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From the Uniform to the Unique

Comparing a remote Catholic academy to Nova High School


Photo courtesy of FreakingNews.com

    One of my first thoughts upon entering the gates of Holy Rosary Academy was that I would never be able to truly fit in. How could I? I was not a Catholic in practice even though I had been through all the hoops, including Confirmation. My father told me to fake it for awhile to make the transition easier, and that is exactly what I did. I went to the tiny chapel, sang the songs, memorized the prayers, and, to my surprise, I enjoyed myself. By any means that did not mean I considered myself a true Catholic, but the structure and community within the Academy walls was one that helped guide me to academic success. That is not to be mistaken with the statement of, “I was successful academically in Catholic school,” because I was not (by a long shot at that). However, the tools that I developed while in an academically and religiously foreign environment have formed me into the learner that I am today.

“The structure and community within the Academy walls was one that helped guide me to academic success.”

    The two tools that have gotten me furthest in life, school, and society are simple: persistence and the ability to fake knowledge. Of course, many people fail to admit the total vitality of “fake it ‘til you make it,” but it really is the most valuable thing that thousands of dollars poured into private school taught me. And that mindset works hand-in-hand with persistence. In order to be persistent one must discard their vanity and push for what they want through work, failure, assistance, anything. In the Academy everybody knew everything about everybody. Therefore, if someone were to fail a class all 113 students would know about it. Now this by no means implies that Holy Rosary was harboring a hostile environment, but the incentive to achieve at least mediocrity was much higher. If someone failed in a public school with thousands of students then the class is taken over and over and over again with minimal repercussions. Persistence and “faking it” were survival tools in such a closed community, and have made life far more productive since.

“...Public school allowed me to explore my personality and find my place in a much larger society.”

    Private school ended up being a blessing to my learning and functionality/ And what effect did that experience have on my acceptance of subsequent schools? After four years of Holy Rosary Academy, high school began and I chose to attend a public school. The informal environment of my first public high school allowed me to explore my personality and find my place within a much larger society. That is, until I moved to Washington halfway through junior year. At first my new school seemed manageable but soon the facade of intelligence and excitement gave way to a far more strained foundation. Standardized testing and the International Baccalaureate program poisoned public school at the roots. All motivation to improve perished and learning became monotonous and painful. In colloquial terms, it was total shit. Such a traumatic experience drove me to the edge of dropping out of school until Nova, an alternative learning project, was brought to my attention.

“Standardized testing and the International Baccalaureate program poisoned public school at the roots.”

    At the point of entrance I was nothing but skepticism. Orientation was difficult; what was the point of me attending a new school that would cause a two hour commute for the last year of high school? I barely allowed myself to enjoy orientation, but at the urging of my mother, I signed up to go anyway. School began in early September, and by then my skepticism had turned into a desperate need to learn anything to break the boring spell of summer.

    The first day of school was a mix of horror and cautious hope, but mostly utter despair. During the summer the paperwork needed to drop me out of the Bellevue School District and into the Seattle School District was… lost. According to the Bellevue School District I was a dropout, Seattle didn’t even know I existed.

“...The paperwork needed to drop me out of the Bellevue School District and into the Seattle School District was… lost.”

    I was not a student. But, hope emerges. Every staff member I came across was understanding and put forth far more effort and care into my admission to the school than I could have ever hoped for. Their assuredness that I would become “one of them” in no time allowed me to remember my ultimate lesson: persistence. By the second day of school I allowed myself to have fun despite not legally being a student. I was assigned to a coordinator, made friends, and even enrolled in every class I had hoped to get. Everything was more complicated than it should have been, but if I had not needed to push myself, would I truly appreciate my current circumstance?

“...Students had access to so many liberties that I would have never dreamed of in past years of high school.”

    Even two weeks into the school year I remained in a sort of systems-limbo. I was not in “the books”, yet I was in files, knew the teachers, had classes, and was able to do anything that any other student had access to. And students have access to so many liberties that I would have never dreamed of in past years of high school. We could use the copying machine without permission? Post fliers on the walls without signatures? We were practically being treated as adults. These informal practices began to remind me of somewhere I had been before. Holy Rosary Academy was a school that allowed students to do almost anything after a certain point in their academic career. High Schoolers seemed to have every right in the world. They could leave campus, hang fliers, even teach classes if they wanted to. Their “powers” seemed unattainable. Nevertheless, for three years public high school afforded me a small fraction of those privileges. Now, at Nova, I see more similarities with a small Catholic school in Alaska than another public school in the same state.

    This is a topic to be revisited. I am still a relatively new student to Nova High, and may have some differing opinions in a matter of days, weeks, or months.
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