Love, Life Stories

Transferring to a smaller high school changed my life – for the worse

My high school experience and my identity changed forever.

The two painfully long years I spent in middle school were some of the worst of my life. I was the poster child for “awkward new kid.” It had been four years since I’d moved to America, but my Indian culture still lingered on every mispronounced word, every hopeless joke, every mismatched outfit I picked. I felt out of place and I was deeply unhappy. When ninth grade approached, I realized I would be spending the next four years of my life in a school of six thousand students. I wasn’t ready for new, anxiety-ridden encounters.

[bctt tweet=”In middle school, I felt forgotten by the overworked, underpaid teachers.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I didn’t know if I could do it.

I applied to a local school that was gearing up for its second year. It was a small building (smaller than my middle school), but housed K-12 students. The main selling point was that it offered the International Baccalaureate Diploma program (basically a fancy alternative to AP classes). I’m sure most of the students there chose the school because of the program, but I mainly just wanted a small environment where I could make friends more quickly and where I hoped I would feel more at home.

I visited the school and immediately recognized that it was woefully underfunded. Still, the apparent transparency of the administration, the academic-oriented mentality, and the general vibe I got really appealed to me. In middle school, I had felt lost among the sea of people, forgotten by the overworked, underpaid teachers. Here, I felt I could make closer bonds with teachers and since the school had uniforms, I could avoid the struggle to ‘look cool’.

[bctt tweet=”You don’t have to sacrifice a social life to go to a good school.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The question stood: do I make the switch? Do I abandon the big high school that I was zoned for, where I had a much wider range of courses and my pick of extracurriculars? This school offered only Spanish – I had a year of French under my belt – and didn’t have a debate team, which I had been looking forward to.

I was used to making decisions deliberately, usually with the aid of a pros and cons list or a Venn Diagram. But when August came around, I left behind my charts, my Google searches, and all my meticulous research, and I did something new: I went with my intuition. My gut feeling was that this small, intimate school felt right, and it was where I needed to go to be happy.

Or so I thought.

By foregoing the school I was zoned for, my high school experience, my identity, changed forever. The strong points that had made me choose the school were great, but only because I didn’t know any better. All I had known of high school was this environment, and by my junior and senior year, I grew aware of all I was missing out on.

[bctt tweet=”The small environment of my new school stunted our social growth.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The small environment of this school stunted our social growth.

My graduating class is thirty five people. Thirty five. There’s literally no way you can avoid seeing someone. There’s zero opportunity to meet new people, and that’s coming from me, a renowned opponent of small talk. We are treated like children right up until the moment we graduate, and then we’ll be thrown into the cold waters of adult life. Some of my friends are eighteen, yet all high schoolers are constantly grouped with the rest of the K-8 students in policy and practice.

[bctt tweet=”We are treated like children until we graduate, and then thrown directly into adult life.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The underfunding was mildly annoying, just something to laugh off, until we realized how little resources we had to support our “college prep” education. The small library is shared among TWELVE grades, and this year they removed senior access to it completely.

And the worrisome thing? While it’s a “college prep” school, I feel incredibly unprepared for college.

Don’t get me wrong, the school is unbelievably rigorous, but the social environment of a small K-12 school has done nothing more than stress me out. Adjusting to an environment where college students have the independence to pursue things they love to do will be a welcome change, but a very big one. We don’t have a track, or a stadium. I’ve never been to a football game with my school playing. Everything, all the time, is about being academically oriented, and it’s stolen a large part of my high school experience.

[bctt tweet=” I’ve never been to a football game with my school playing.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I’m not here to bash this specific school, but to offer a cautionary tale to others considering a smaller environment. I ardently believed that I could never fit into a regular high school because I was an awkward kid during middle school. But honestly, middle school is awkward for everybody. I mean, if you peaked in middle school, it must be a really long way down.

Unless you have something that would really hold you back from attending a medium or large school, I encourage you to try it. Gut decisions sound like a good idea, and happiness is always important, but large high schools aren’t just filled with a chaotic throng of sweaty kids.

Among those sweaty kids are groups where you could fit in, and you don’t have to sacrifice a social life.