In fragile economy, students choose public over private

September 22, 2010 — by Deborah Soung

His first class was P.E., and the shy freshman stood awkwardly alone off to the side in the weight room. As a Harker student who transferred to Saratoga High last year, Benjamin Yang could not recognize a single face during the entire morning of his first day of freshman year.

“I remember the first few weeks I didn’t have any friends except for the ones from Harker that came with me, but I didn’t see them that often,” said Yang, now a sophomore. “I guess I was mostly focused on getting my classes under control rather than fitting in because the system was really different compared to Harker.”

Parents pay $31,000 annually to send their children to Harker Middle School and more than $35,000 for its high school. The added cost has the benefits of smaller class sizes and a more competitive environment, Yang said, but it isn’t always worth the money.

“Tuition doesn’t cover uniforms, books, class trip expenses, laptops and their software and other various donations,” said Yang. “The money was only worth it if you had the best teachers. Sometimes you’d get a really bad teacher and you’d wonder why you even bother, but I think I got a great foundation from the school because I was more than adequately prepared for Saratoga High.”

Yang’s parents made him transfer to a public school because Harker’s high school tuition was too much, and they were afraid they would not be able to afford to pay for college if they sent him to four more years of private school. Yang, like most transfer students, had no choice in this decision.

Senior Yeon-ho Kim’s parents brought up the the idea of sending him to public school during the second semester of his junior year, but unlike in Yang’s case, Kim’s parents let him decide whether or not he wanted to leave Bellarmine to attend his senior year at Saratoga High. To save money for college, Kim ultimately chose to attend public school, but he still would rather to be going to Bellarmine if money was not an issue.

The all-boys private school costs about $15,000 a year, but Kim said the cost is “definitely worth it.”

“It’s a great group of guys [at Bellarmine],” said Kim. “In athletics we always win, and in academics, I felt like I was really being prepared for college.”

Kim knew about four other students at Saratoga High before he transferred last fall, but he felt welcomed by the others.

“School is not that bad because I made friends pretty quickly,” he said.

Kim attributed part of his smooth adjustment to this new environment to assistant principal Karen Hyde.

“Mrs. Hyde made me join the water polo team,” Kim said. “I swam with Mac Hyde for a long time before coming here, so our moms were pretty close friends.”

Kim made many new friends from water polo practices, as well as from his other elective, choir. His experience showed the important benefits of getting involved in clubs and extracurriculars when transitioning to a new environment.

On the other hand, Yang’s social transition did not go as smoothly as Kim’s.

“I didn’t know anyone in public school,” said Yang. “At first, I ate lunch in the hallways near the construction site by myself for a while. After the first few weeks I made a few friends in my PE class and from there I met more and more people through orchestra and clubs. “

Regardless of all the hectic confusion that tagged along with his school change, Yang accepted his current situation and adapted to it while still remembering the past.

“I had been with my friends from Harker for many years, so it was hard to leave them behind… [but] I think I’ve pretty much adjusted here, so I wouldn’t mind staying,” said Yang.