Walking in the door after my first day of high school, I announced, "Mom, I heard the F-bomb more times just today than I have in my entire life." My mom, ever the optimist, reminded me that going to East High School had been my decision and that I'd surely get used to it eventually.
Every year since Wisconsin implemented school report cards, my high school has earned a "failing" or "meets few expectations" rating. Far from failing me, I credit Green Bay East High School with making me into the successful young adult I am; without East, I don't believe I would have gotten into Notre Dame. How can a school like this produce successful graduates, you may ask, and how on earth does it get someone into a top 20 college? Plain and simple, East changed the way I look at life. I firmly believe that although by state testing my school is "failing," it is by no means a failure.
On my first day of high school, I entered a world different from the sheltered Catholic elementary school that I'd attended for eight years, and, I'd argue, a world unbelievably different from the wonderful -- although limiting -- bubble where I currently live. At the time, high school seemed horribly intimidating: My fellow students in middle school had called East "the ghetto school;" they had written in my yearbook, "Don't get stabbed, Sophia!" Needless to say, I wondered the first few weeks why I'd turned down my admission at the local private high school in favor of culture shock and swear words shouted down the hallway. I saw exactly what I expected, and chose, to see: disruptive students, unengaged in their education.
However hard those first few weeks were, after a while, I realized my mom was right. I did get used to it. In fact, I learned to not just survive, but also thrive, at the "ghetto school." East gave me a perspective that so many people who live in these "bubbles" of selective, private, upper-middle class schools never gain. I had the challenge, and the privilege, of attending a school where I was in the minority, being Caucasian, and where seventy percent of students' families' incomes qualified them for free or reduced-price school lunches. (Full price, lunch cost about two dollars a day.) Students overcame situations that I've never had to face: The kid who drove me crazy in French class was facing his parents getting deported. Our cross country coach bought one of our best runner's shoes because his parents simply could not afford them. My friend could not participate in a musical because her single mom worked two jobs and there was no one else to watch her younger brother.
East High School's diversity has allowed me to define myself in whatever way I wish. There was no mold, no box that I needed to fit into in order to be accepted. At East, I lived in the real world: a world where people don't always get it right on their first, second, or even third attempt, but still keep trying. So, I can have permission to do the same. East is a world where everyone did not have the same opportunities as I have been so fortunate to have, allowing me to see how blessed I really am. East is a world where everyone approached a simple classroom discussion about immigration or single parents from a whole range of points of view, teaching me to see issues from multiple directions. I learned this and so much more from my four years at East High.
I believe that my "failing school" made me into the successful young adult I am today and will continue to shape my future. Because of my four years in this environment, I firmly believe that school report cards give a woefully inaccurate view of the value of a school. So much of what a school can teach a student cannot be quantified by two days of state testing, a graduation rate, and a handful of statistics.
East High School did meet few of my expectations -- and how glad I am that it did.