Private schools offer transfer students a new perspective

September 18, 2016 — by Alexandra Li and Katherine Zhou

In the Bay Area, many students consider attending private schools. But since there are also many prestigious public high schools in the area, the question for many is whether the private school path is the right one for them.

Junior Chris Auches, then in his freshman year at Bellarmine College Preparatory, faced disappointment when he was cut from the freshman soccer team. Given that Auches played soccer competitively for 11 years, his elimination in the first of five rounds devastated him, opening his eyes to the reality students sometimes face in private schools.

As Auches looked over the list his coach had given him in areas where he could improve, he realized it was an unrealistic time commitment with the amount of schoolwork and his commitment to baseball. It made him realize that he wouldn’t be able to play the sports wanted to at Bellarmine.

Auches, after attending Saratoga Elementary School and Redwood Middle School, decided to attend Bellarmine with encouragement from his parents. However, he decided to transfer back to Saratoga for his sophomore year after his experience at Bellarmine.

In the Bay Area, many students consider attending private schools. But since there are also many prestigious public high schools in the area, the question for many is whether the private school path is the right one for them.

According to Auches, many students choose to attend private schools primarily for their athletic careers, so these sports teams tend to be more competitive with extremely dedicated players who practice all year round.

Private schools such as Bellarmine have the funding to offer state-of-the-art equipment, such as an all-weather track. Bellarmine can also afford to hire the best coaches, such as Larry Rogers, who led the water polo team to 14 CCS titles out of 15 years.

Sports, however, can also be the deciding factor in transferring back to public schools. After soccer team tryouts, Auches moved back to Saratoga, since he saw that Bellarmine’s cutthroat sports culture prevented him from pursuing soccer and baseball while still investing time in other interests.

However, a possible benefit of attending a private school lies in its course variety. With more funding, private schools like Bellarmine can offer specialized courses such as Biochemistry, Latin, Neurobiology, Hebrew Scriptures, AP Studio Art and more.

Like Auches, sophomore Satvik Narasimhan attended The Harker School, a private school in San Jose, during his freshman year before moving back to Saratoga High for his sophomore year.

After attending The Challenger School until third grade, Narasimhan transferred to Argonaut Elementary School, Redwood Middle School and then Harker for his freshman year. He noted that Harker’s teaching style was much stricter than Saratoga’s.

“[Private schools] try to nurture from a very young age to have a strong regimented environment, starting around fifth or sixth grade,” Narasimhan said. “[But] it just wasn’t for me.”

At a public school like Saratoga, it is common to have around 30 students in one classroom, but at Harker, a class will range from having six to 18 students.

“The class sizes were the main difference [at Harker],” Narasimhan said. “But for me, I didn’t really see the benefit of smaller classes.”

Although private schools have a perceived competitive academic culture, both Narasimhan and Auches found the classes at Harker and Bellarmine to be easier than the average Saratoga class, even if they had only experienced the freshman workload at their private schools.

Auches thinks Saratoga is more rigorous than Bellarmine, where his schedule consisted of 50-minute classes rotating four days a week, with classes starting at 8:05 a.m., a 2:45 p.m. dismissal Monday through Thursday and a 1:20 p.m. dismissal on Friday. This flexible schedule led to a lighter workload, especially with teachers assigning less homework.

Aside from academics, Auches  discovered differences in the social scene. At Bellarmine, Auches observed the students acted more like a “family,” as students from as far away as Gilroy to Milpitas bonded in their commitment to attend the school.

“It was ‘cool’ to be smart and a good student,” Auches said. “They chose it for robotics, for the variety of classes, for the sports, for the atmosphere, for the speech and debate program. There wasn't anything that wasn't cool or better than the other.”

Auches enjoyed the supportive and caring atmosphere at Bellarmine, especially the mission the school taught to help others.

Even with the stressful sports and competitive academics at private schools, Auches found Bellarmine to be more “laid-back” than Saratoga, as most students genuinely enjoyed going to school.

“There was a lot less stress, [and] people were a lot more friendly; you would see a lot more smiling faces waving at you,” Auches said.

Unlike Auches, Narasimhan noticed that there was “surprisingly not much of a difference” between Harker and Saratoga, with many social similarities such as the same pressures to learn and fit in, despite Harker’s reputation as a purely academic school.

Auches’ decision to return to Saratoga, in spite of the benefits of Bellarmine, was influenced by wanting to go to a school that was closer to home and participate in the school’s soccer and baseball teams.

Similarly, although Narasimhan also enjoyed his freshman year at Harker, he too moved back because he missed his friends here and felt that the environment fit him better.

“My personality was better for a public school, since it’s not as regimented, and you can have a better student-teacher relationship,” Narasimhan said. “[The strict environment of Harker] isn’t bad and works for many people, but it just wasn’t for me.”

Even so, Narasimhan doesn’t regret his experiences at Harker.

“If I hadn’t had that one year at Harker, I don’t think I would do as well with the rest of [Saratoga],” Narasimhan said. “Harker really prepares you for the rest of high school and college.”

1 view this week