Since starting college, I have found that whenever the phrase ‘high school’ comes up in conversation I am bound to end up in a lengthy conversation explaining how my high school worked.
I recall the first time I casually brought up my headmaster’s first name in conversation with friends about our principals and was confused as to why my friends were taken back by my casual demeanor around it. These scenarios along with several other instances made me realize just how unique my educational experience was compared to what many others went through.
At the end of the day, I am extremely proud to be an alum of my high school and would not have changed those four years for anything.
From the outside, we are referred to as the “hippy school of Atlanta” and best known by other schools as “the school where they don’t have to wear shoes”. That being said, my high school was still a very difficult and challenging environment. Rather than taking an AP course because it would help us towards college, we took more specific classes at the same highly challenging levels. This allowed us to take classes we were truly interested in and let teachers teach topics they found interesting rather than the same dull material.
I still took the same sort of classes as other high school students across the nation. Instead of AP French, I took a class called “French literature and film” where we read and watched French classics. Instead of AP English, I took a course titled “Marching to your own drum” where we read books and plays by authors, or about characters, who didn’t follow the norms of their time.
In general, we did not really have a strict curriculum that teachers had to follow or exact classes we had to take.
That being said, there wasn’t a complete lack of direction or structure. We did have to take one science, one English, one math, and one history based class each semester. Besides these required courses, students could take whatever they pleased! Because of this relaxed structure, the teachers could come up with classes that they wanted to teach and share with students a topic that they are personally fascinated by rather than teaching the same boring material given to them by the school system.
From a broader sense, my high school was more relaxed than most in terms of rules. The teachers and administrators trusted us to make our own decisions. We were essentially treated like normal adults. We called our teachers by their first names and were able to gain a special bond with some due to learning about each other’s personal lives. While our relationships with our teachers were considered unique, so was the learning environment.
The school was made up of old homes from the neighborhood that had been converted into classrooms, as well as a few buildings built in between to be able to hold the increasing number of students. So, because of this some buildings only have three-five classrooms. This causes you to have to go outside and walk to the next building. Rather than being stuck in one building surrounded by concrete walls and tall windows you can’t see out of, we would be able to walk outside for five or so minutes between classes to get fresh air.
Also, we did not have a cafeteria because once again, the school was built out of old homes. Homes from the early 1900s were not built to include a high school cafeteria. Because of this, students ate in the hallways or classrooms. On nice days, the benches and walls scattered around campus would be full of students, as well as the park across the street.
We were not expected to raise our hands. In fact, it was seen as weird if you did. Every class, except a limited few, were set up as 100% discussion based. This meant you were expected to share your opinions when they came to mind, just as if it was a normal conversation with friends. You wouldn’t raise your hand in a normal conversation, so why would you need to raise it in a classroom to share your opinion?
Also, if you needed to leave the room to go to the bathroom or get water you just got up at an appropriate time and left. We were once again treated like adults and expected to know when it is and isn’t appropriate to leave the room.
I think part of the reason we were given this much freedom was that they wanted us to learn life lessons by making mistakes such as missing valuable material for a test by leaving the room rather than from being punished.
In my opinion, the most valuable part of the school leadership is that they have set up an environment where they want the students to be able to discover who we are by ourselves and to form our own opinions and values in our own time.
Additionally, we did not really have a dress code more than “be presentable”. In my four years, I never once witnessed anyone getting in trouble for what they were wearing. This factor is something that I really appreciate in my high school. I hear stories from people who graduated from the “typical” high school in which they had strict dress codes and couldn’t leave the room without a hall pass or an escort.
Overall, I will always be extremely appreciative of my high school experience. It definitely was a huge proponent of shaping me into who I am today -- both academically and personally.