Re-thinking High School

I’ll be the first to admit that I was the epitome of the overachieving student. My senior year of high school consisted of eight Advanced Placement classes and one test after the next. In fact, my high school career was a blur of tests, grades, tests, and grades. Success was defined to me as making the grades, making the highest standardized test scores, and getting into the best schools.

But hindsight is 20-20. Now that I am 12 years removed from high school, I feel I was misled. I went to a top-ranked high school and our counselors steered everyone – including my brother whose interest centered around auto-mechanics – to four-year universities. I never thought to question the advice I was given. So, I spent my high school and undergraduate years working on the grade.

I was fortunate enough to have teachers and parents that instilled a love of learning in me. However, others were not as lucky as me. I was steered down a path to a four-year university and I don’t regret going to the school. But, I also did not have to “foot the bill” for my B.A. Degree. It was not until I hit graduate school that I realized how astronomic the cost of secondary education was to students.

At high schools, we continue to steer students down the four-year college path, but are we setting them up for failure? My brother – fortunately our parents did not take the counselor’s advice for a four-year college – spent one year in a junior college and decided to move onto trade school. Now, he is a manager of his own autoshop. Is he successful? Yes. If he had gone to a four-year university, would he have been as successful? I don’t know. When you take into consideration the astronomical cost of attending school, the loans, and the lack of money some careers generate, you are forced to decide: is a four-year school worth my time?

So, I ask you: how can we change this? Why do high schools continue to assume four-year colleges are the best choice for students? Are we setting them up for financial failure? Many of my friends – who are all ten years removed from college – are still paying for college. So, financially – has college  been worthwhile? Sadly, the answer is no. With online courses, certifications, and a global society, why do four-year colleges have to be the most accepted form of education? How can we change this?

I’m now back working at a high school similar to the one I graduated from and I see the same students and the same pressures placed on students. How can we change this? The focus needs to be removed from getting into that school – which, thereby places the importance of learning on grades – and rather how to find that thing that makes you innovative. Do we want students with high grades or students who innovate? I’m finding the terms to not always be one-in-the-same.

As I prepare for this year with grade-focused students, I have decided to create a tech program that puts students in the teachers’ seats and teachers’ in the students’ chairs. Let students drive education. We say that, but do we actually do that? Aren’t we dictating what success is? How can we change our definition of success in schools?

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