A different student viewpoint of West High

This was forwarded to the West High listserve with the request that it be posted as part of the current discussion about changes at West High.

When I read the anonymous email from a current West freshman who is defined as “talented and gifted,” I could not help but feel that I should write about my own personal experiences. I am in the exact same position as the previous writer (a current freshman at West High, defined as “talented and gifted.”), but I have completely opposite views. My time at West so far has been quite enjoyable. While some of the core freshman classes are indeed rather simple, I do not feel that my assignments are “busy work.” While most classes may be easy, they still teach worthwhile information.

In my geometry class, for example, I am getting very high grades and do not always find the work completely challenging, it is important to learn the theorems and practice them before I can move on to a more difficult class. To get a more stimulating math experience, I worked it out with my guidance counselor to take an elective programming class, which is not intended fo r freshman, and that class stretches my mathematical limits. I am both learning the necessary theorems for math, and broadening my horizons. My english class I have also found enjoyable and plenty satisfying for a freshman class. I feel that it is necessary to point out that there is more than one freshman english teacher, and the anonymous freshman writer may very well have a far more mediocre teacher than I do. If that person is not finding their english class challenging enough, perhaps they could meet with their guidance counselor to switch teachers. The english curriculum in my class I have found to be quite interesting. As I will be a sophomore next year, I was rather concerned with the prospect of a core english curriculum and, I will admit, was not at all excited when I discovered that it would being going through. However, when I took the time to read through the details of this class, I was quite pleased. I am very excited with the literature that will be assi gned in this class, and I feel that this new curriculum may very well be more rigorous than any previous sophomore options. In addition, there are nearly a dozen elective english classes that sophomores will have the chance to take. Such classes should satisfy any sophomore’s love for literature. There is also the option to take the extra english honor’s classes. Yes, I am aware that these will be during lunch twice a week, but I feel that this is satisfactory. If a student wishes to continue to discuss their love for a piece of work they are reading, they most certainly can continue a discussion with the other honors students after the teacher has left. As a student, I feel that if I am truly dedicated, I ought to be willing to sacrifice any other club that would be going on at that time for the honors class. In the real world, choices need to be made, and they cannot be adjusted to suit a small group of people, no matter how “gifted and talented” they are. I also feel that the core english class is necessary to “shake things up.” If the school created one separate class for gifted and talented students to test into, then this would defeat the purpose of having diverse classes (which is important, as West High is a very diverse school). I feel that if there were a separate honors english class to take in place of the core class, then this class would separate students – it would be a huge step back toward segregation in a progressive city. I believe that having a diverse classroom can be one of the most enjoyable and enriching experiences for any student. As for the new english curriculum, well, the combination of extra honors classes and elective english classes seem plenty to give even the most literature-loving sophomore a wonderful english experience. There is also one more thing that I would like to point out. Simply because a student is not “talented and gifted” does not mean that a student lo ves literature any less than any “talented and gifted” student. The opposite is implied when I read and hear “talented and gifted” parents rallying for a more rigorous sophomore english class. As a student, I believe that Mr. Holmes is doing a superior job in turning West High into an academically excellent school, and I am extremely pleased with the changes he has made so far as principal. I would like to thank all of the members of this group for taking my views into account and I am hope that they have given you a different perspective on the current changes being made at West High.

– An Anonymous West Freshman

4 thoughts on “A different student viewpoint of West High”

  1. Dear student,
    I’m glad that you felt comfortable enough to express an opinion contrary to many already posted on the blog. Good work!

  2. Here’s what worries me about whether your experience is sufficiently challenging, satisfied freshman. You wrote: “While some of the core freshman classes are indeed rather simple, I do not feel that my assignments are “busy work.” While most classes may be easy, they still teach worthwhile information.”
    When you get to college, I suspect you’ll find a fair number of peers who had a much more rigorous high school experience than you’re having.

  3. As a West sophomore, I must take issue with some of the points that you raise in your piece. You state at one point that a student can switch teachers if they so choose and if their current teacher is not meeting their needs adequately. In fact, as part of the SLC system, this is an impossibility. Last year, I found myself in an English class that was not even taught by a teacher in the English department (she was an ESL teacher, and hence our work was geared at a lower level to the high number of ESL students in the class) and yet the guidance department would not let me switch. In addition, “teacher shopping” shouldn’t be necessary to get a quality education.
    “As a student, I feel that if I am truly dedicated, I ought to be willing to sacrifice any other club that would be going on at that time for the honors class.” Indeed not. Many dedicated students have other interests and also do not want to be cast into the mold of “the bookish smart one.” Is it fair to bar a student from participating in another club so that they can spend extra time in an English class that meets their needs? Although you emphasize diversity, it must not come at the expense of education. Especially in English class, the motivation level of students can make a huge difference in the interest and challenge levels of the class. If being shunted into an English class with nearly half of the class ESL students who obviously have a lower level of English than I, then I fail to see how heterogeneous, diverse classes are an improvement over an honors class. The reality of life is that some students are more able and motivated in some areas than others. To pretend otherwise is pure folly and helps no one. An honors class that anyone could self-select into, therefore, would be extremely beneficial to high-achieving or interested students. Anyone — labeled as “TAG” or not — could take this more rigorous class with similarly motivated classmates.
    Is it fair to tell “average” students that they can have their needs met by going to class five times a week, then tell those with higher motivation or ability that if they want the same level of challenge, they must attend two extra sessions during their lunch period? Of course not.

  4. I find this conversation enlightening in many ways, and am glad to hear the perspective offered here. But I still must say I agree more with the second student’s comments here. When I was in high school, I was able to take ‘honors’ level classes in several different subject areas at the same time. That is not an option if I cannot get the honors material in my actual class time. If I attend the extra lunch time classes for English, I cannot do that for math and chemistry (say) as well. I have a close friend who always took two math classes all through school, to make his parents happy. yes, he enjoyed math, but he enjoyed English and history more. He could not take the classes he wanted to in those other areas, he had no free or study periods at all and a lot of homework, and he ended up so stressed and angry by senior year that he tried to commit suicide. And his parents were none the wiser for it either, because they were just happy he was taking two math classes at a time, even if it meant going to a local college his senior year and missing many of the on-site opportunities to socialize and/or generalize what should have been a happily challenging academic life in more than one area.
    If you take an English elective each semester during tenth grade, and do so in eleventh grade as well, it seems you will run out of English classes to take at some point. Also, part of the point of the 10th grade core is to make students have the same teacher all year to “build real relationships” between students and teachers. I fear it will be much harder than you guess to change teachers if you do not get along with the one you have, or find they are not sufficiently able in differentiation. Maybe if you have the most annoying and insistent parents, you might be able to do so, and have wasted “only” one to two quarters. The goals are laudable, and I do NOT think that Mr Holmes is doing a bad job. But I do think that this will not benefit everyone as much as they hope. And I am very glad they are not experimenting with this with my child or children. Of course, by the time my kids are in high school, they will be doing something equally as controversial and perhaps misguided in another area or the same one. Maybe even with required “core” curricula in math and science as well, even though they claim there are no plans to do so in the future. My son especially, is looking forward to getting out of elementary school so he can have more independence and choice in his education. Telling him “psych, you’re too late; we stopped that years ago” will not go over well.

Comments are closed.