Is the grass truly greener on the other side of the school district?

February 10, 2020 — by Jeanette Zhou and Lihi Shoshani

 From APUSH to AP Physics and AP Calculus BC, many Saratoga High students complain that they feel caught up in an academic rat race to build the perfect college application that gets them into an elite college. 

Only 15 minutes away, Los Gatos High is looked at with envy by many Saratoga students. Common perceptions about life at Los Gatos are that campus life is more relaxed, teachers give less homework, fewer students take honors and AP classes, athletics are prized above all else, and school spirit is at the heart of the school experience with academics as a distant second.

But are these ideas accurate? Are students going there in droves to escape the Saratoga High pressure cooker?

Not so, says school registrar Robert Wise. This year, 23 students have transferred from Saratoga to Los Gatos while 60 students came here from Los Gatos — the opposite of the trend many would expect. In fact, for the past five years, he said, Saratoga High has gotten more transfers from Los Gatos than vice versa. Los Gatos has a school population of roughly 2,150, while Saratoga High has 1,350.

The reasons for transferring between the schools vary widely. For example, many of the students who transfer to Saratoga High have special education needs that are better accommodated on the Saratoga campus. The grounds and parking lots are easily accessible by ramps, classroom space is more available and there are specialized teachers and aides.

Many students who transfer from Saratoga High to Los Gatos, on the other hand, do so for reasons usually having to do with sports or academics or both. 

Sophomore Tyler Hamilton said he transferred to Los Gatos because of the school’s exceptional lacrosse program and the academic stress he felt during his freshman year here.

“(At Los Gatos) people aren’t as overwhelmed about grades and don’t stress as much as students at Saratoga,” Hamilton said. “I like how people aren’t as stressed about academics because it seems like it creates a more happy and positive environment.”

Math teacher Mike Navrides has seen what life is like at both campuses. In 2008, he transferred to Los Gatos High after teaching AP Calculus at Saratoga High for 11 years. He immediately observed the glaring difference in the emphasis on athletics and students’ different views on academics. 

“When you walk around Los Gatos, you can tell that students enjoy being there and embrace the high school experience,” Navrides said.  “I did not see that my last few years at Saratoga.”

The obvious differences in student stress stood out to him, and he began to enjoy teaching at Los Gatos, especially since he wasn’t surrounded by students who are anxious about their grades. 

“I believe the most successful individuals are the ones who have good balance in their lives,” Navrides said. “In my last several years at Saratoga, I noticed many students opting not to participate in athletics to concentrate on their academics.  While getting good grades is important, I saw the emphasis so heavily on grades that it came at the expense of students participating in other extracurricular activities.”

According to an article published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, a study done on high performing California schools showed that 70 percent of students often or always feel stressed out about school work, and 50 percent of these students have experienced a physical manifestation of their academic stress, including headaches or stomach aches.

Sophomore Maya Cranz feels there are hidden benefits to having to deal with the atmosphere here.

  “I think academic stress is a good thing because it keeps us out of trouble,” Cranz said.

According to US News, Los Gatos graduation rates are 97 percent, and  98 percent at Saratoga. According to College Simply, Los Gatos is ranked 155th among high schools in California while Saratoga is ranked as fifth based on the average number of students who are above proficient in math and reading state standardized tests.

Sophomore Stone Motooka thinks that although Los Gatos’ more relaxed nature might seem enticing, he would prefer to stay at Saratoga High to remain focused and learn how to succeed academically in the future.

“I’ve been to Los Gatos before. The school is bigger, everything is nicer and the grass is greener,” Motooka said. “But I prefer not only Saratoga’s environment, but also the people.”

Motooka, who currently plans to major in graphic design, said that even though Los Gatos has more art classes and other electives, he would still prefer to stay here.

Rally commissioner senior Risa Carter said she has noticed differences in school spirit and admits to some envy.

“I wish Saratoga had a little more school spirit because we go to an awesome school and students should be proud of that,” Carter said.  

Even so, she sees the environment here as welcoming and accepting. 

“The more I’ve gotten involved with clubs, sports and other activities around campus, the more I’ve met amazing people and made amazing memories,” Carter said. “High school really is what you make of it, and my experience at Saratoga has been great because I’ve participated in activities that boost school spirit.”

Though the envy of the perceived relaxed environment at Los Gatos may be exaggerated, there is one area where the Wildcats clearly dominate: athletics.

For instance, this past year, according to MaxPreps, Los Gatos’s football team ranked 97th in the state, while Saratoga’s football team ranked 530th (and fell to the Wildcats 52 – 38, the latest loss in a lopsided rivalry, with the Falcons winning only one contest in about 40 years (That win came in 2010).

Also, the 2019-2020 school profiles for both schools state that 65 percent of the students at Los Gatos participate in at least one sport, compared to only 46.5 percent of students here.

Los Gatos junior Kayra Cetin, who rows at Los Gatos Rowing club (LGRC), agrees that both schools are competitive; however, she also believes that Los Gatos is a better environment for student athletes.

“It’s constantly a competition between students at both schools to see how many APs you can take and what college you can get into,” Cetin said. “Los Gatos takes into consideration the academic portion, but also puts a lot of funding into their sports. We have very good teams, so we’re definitely a school for student athletes.”

Although there are major differences between the two schools, it seems as if the majority of students are happy with their respective schools. 

“Saratoga High is a great school with a teaching staff that is second to none,” Navrides said. ”Sometimes I miss teaching at Saratoga and not seeing people who I hold in the highest regard.”


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