Going to private school: same city, different world

Marcus Garrette, 15, writes about the social and academic challenges he faced when he went from an Oakland public high school to a private school in the 10th grade, and how his outlook shifted during the year. -Katy

When I began school last fall, I thought that it was going to be an amazing year where my friends and I would spend time relaxing while working hard, seeing how we had already completed our first year at Skyline High School and we were now sophomores. I was taking a few advanced classes and the regular required classes, plus I was in the school jazz band and was happy, overall, with my schedule.

As my first week of school progressed, it was feeling similar to last year. I spent a lot of time joking around but getting work done at the same time. I was very content with how things were going. This would change VERY soon and VERY fast.

Towards the end of that first week, a fellow schoolmate from my jazz band walked up to me and told me something that my sister had told her. The schoolmate told me, “Marcus! You’re going to Bentley?!” and I quickly responded with “What? No I’m not,” because at that point, I had no idea what Bentley was. The only other time I had heard that name was in reference to a luxury car.

Upon arriving home I would soon find out from my mom that I would be visiting Bentley the next day to check out this private school. As I processed this information I quickly responded with “No.” It was as simple as that, I was bent on not having anything to do with changing schools, after all I was doing fine just where I was and besides how could I be expected to leave my friends, some of them which I had known for over four years?

As the evening wore on, and with much discussion with my family, I relented and decided to at least visit the school. What could a visit hurt? The next day, my mother, the person who helped create this opportunity for me, and I drove the fifteen miles or so out to the school.

It was a nice, breezy summer day which made the tree-filled campus look all the more inviting. We were shown around the campus and I was offered admission to the school. Overall, it was a nice visit into the realm of private schools and I reluctantly agreed to give it a try, all the while thinking about who and what I would be leaving behind. After all, I had already figured out my entire high school plan the summer prior to my ninth-grade year and I virtually had no time to say goodbye to all the people I had developed relationships with for years.

I quickly transferred to the completely different setting after missing the first few days of school. It first seemed like a sudden jump into another world, and I already felt behind and overwhelmed. I didn’t know anyone, and I had no one to show me the ropes. I drifted throughout the school, receiving introductions from students who would nicely say hello to me. They gave me a lot of attention at first, but that seemed to fade, and I noticed some of my teachers paid little or no attention to me. I felt like the kid that was left to sit off in the corner by himself. I felt isolated, though that was sometimes self-induced.

This is when I realized I would have to learn to be independent and fend for myself in this small community. I realized everything was different in this community’s world. The academic arena was more like college, and the social scene was out of this world to me. I didn’t receive all the classes I wanted, and I didn’t catch up for the entire first part of the school year. This was partially due to the complete difference of learning pace and lesson planning in the classes offered between public and private schools, and partially due to my indifference in this whole experience. This depressed me deeply for a great part of the year as I felt as if I was alone and had been abandoned by my friends from my former school.

After traveling the long haul home on BART every day, my mother would asked me the same question: “How was school today?” My answer rarely varied, it was usually “the same.” She would encourage me and tell me to hang in there, and she did everything she could to make it easier for me. She participated in parent events at the school, trying to fit into this world herself. She drove to the school many nights to pick me up, she met me at the BART station every day, she made my lunch, etc. She always told me things would change. Then as the year progressed, I learned to stop being such a crybaby. I learned that I was going to have to be the one to change my high school experience and that everything I needed to do so was already there.

Towards the end of the year a senior in my jazz band class asked me to participate in a play he was producing. I spent a lot of evenings working with him and some of the other students. I got to know them and they got to know me. I can say this helped to turn things around for me. I also developed a better relationship with some of my teachers during this time. I learned to appreciate the school and all that it has to offer. I figured that I could make it and realized that I wasn’t alone after all, as I ended up making a few more good friends, from both Skyline and Bentley. I guess I’ll always be able to find friends in new places, private school or not.

I feel I ended my year stronger, I did better academically and I am prepared for the next school year. I have made myself some promises that I plan to keep. After all, I’ll be more mature. I’ll be a junior and ready to go without all of the adjustments.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    Skyline Teacher: I reread your earlier post. Is it so wrong if the black boys choose – for reasons of their own – to have nothing to do with the academic track?

    Do you contend that we as a society have a right to force children (against any wishes of the student or his family) into classes they hate or don’t want?

    If the (majority of the) black students, or for that matter any other group – don’t want college prep classes why don’t we simply offer them other campuses and other programs and keep them out of the way of the students that do want college prep. This system is the norm in Europe and the UK and seems to work just fine there. All our problems with classroom disruption seem to involve people who do not want to be there. And I don’t blame them. They should not be there if they have no committment to the educational program.

    I believe that over time – like in the early ’60s – you would have more strivers and brights of all colors making there way into the academic track. What we have done by forcibly mixing the strivers and the dulls usually wrecks the educational program entirely. Allow those who want out to opt out. This makes better progress for the borderline candidates who won’t have the losers around to emulate and join up with.

    Our schools shuld default down to a basic program with basic ed, survey courses and legal minimums with a vocational track. Allow high school students to declare a vocational goal(s) at 9th grade while opting out of college track. We can suggest certain candidates push for college track or at least start on the prerequisites. I think more of the black students may have talent they didn’t know but without the discipline issue resolved they are DOA in society.

  • Debora

    Nextset: The problem as I mentioned in an earlier post is that students of color through grade inflation and an artificial “self-esteem” believe they are prepared for a University Education. They are on the Honor Roll, they are rewarded at all school meetings. Their parents are active in the child’s life and are told at Open House and in report cards that their child is succeeding.

    When they get the standardized test scores in the mail, they are told the tests are race biased, this is even said about the math problems because they are word problems. The parents believe what they are told. And they have at least 21 report cards between middle and high school to prove it. Then their child does not get into University and they don’t understand why, and they believe it’s about race. Or maybe the child does get in but then struggles and either makes it or drops out. The dropout rate for black students from UC Berkley is substantially higher than that of white and Asian students.

    But the student had good grades, felt good about himself or herself and was accepted, what happened? That is the deceit that many black children in Oakland are facing. I have an example right next door. Great kid, could work up to the standard with a lot more effort, but doesn’t try much harder because she’s on the honor roll. When faced with a chance to take a summer school course offered by UC Berkeley (age and grade appropriate) she is spending 5 hours on homework for every hour she was told she would need to spend to complete assignments.

  • Nextset

    Debora, boy did you hit the nail on the head.

    And what they (Educrats) are doing is resulting in crashing and burning for the black students when they don’t make it. One relative was accepted to UC Berkeley and wouldn’t come out of his bedroom after he started. He dropped out in 2 quarters. Another relative was gone in less than a year also (This was 30 years ago). The family send later kids to Morehouse and elsewhere. These college freshmen were Affirmative Action UCB admits but they had the GPAs that were top of the black pool if nothing to brag about compared to the white pool.

    I believe the black drop rate then was that 7 out of every 8 black students would quit and be out of UC completely after trying UC Berkeley. I could say that 7 out of 8 of them never should have been there in the first place. They were admitted knowing that they had no reasonable expectation of graduating in order to cover a racial quota. They should have been referred to a college where they would fit into the student body – like Cal State Somewhere Else. A later transfer into UC could be considered.

    Every time we pat these kids on the back for doing what they are supposed to, every time we blubber over them for doing C work, every time we spoonfeed them, this is what they are being set up for. I’m afraid this is what OUSD does to the black students. I have no idea what they are doing to the white students – that’s another chapter.

    As far as the Standardized tests being biased – they are not. People don’t like the Rorscharch Ink Blots either. Get a clue. The way the tests work is that they compare people who score like the subject did – regardless of why. People with low SAT scores don’t graduate. And the margin of error gets smaller as the scores are more extreme. The fact that someone doesn’t think it’s “fair” to be quizzed on the definition of “regatta” is beside the point. People who can graduate from a real college typically know the definition of “regatta” even if they are black. Because they read a lot. (The Ink blot tests work by comparing the answers given to the answers of people with certain known problems. It was discovered that those who answered the same way in certain cases tended to have the same tendencies. Why your subject chose an answer that statistically matches the disordered group is irrelevant.)

    I once posted a blog entry about my interviewing a black 12th grade girl who said she expected to go to UC Davis – her reading level tested at 6th grade level. I was the first one to tell her to her face that she had no chance at all of surviving UC anywhere and if they let her in it was only to fill a quota and she would fail right away. Her best bet to do college work would be to get into a intensive reading & literacy program and start at a Jr College and maybe transfer later. To her credit she didn’t throw a temper tantrum but said no one had ever told her this (and her failing reading/verbal tests went back years). I said she would never see me again but should confront the educrats at her school and elsewhere and tell them what I said and make them explain it all.

    Ambition I can work with. People skiing out of bounds and off cliffs I cannot work with.

    If I were (still?) in education and got ahold of some of the ambitious kids early enough I could find more in life for them. You can get a lot in this country just being average & disciplined, more if you have SOME smarts also. Untrained and Dumb are going to be in terrible trouble nowadays.