Students who attended private middle schools address stereotypes

February 5, 2016 — by Nidhi Jain and Caitlin Ju

Seventy-two students who currently attend Saratoga High came from private middle schools. Ten years ago, this number was 50 percent lower, indicating more local students are switching from private middle schools to public high schools.

Seventy-two students who currently attend Saratoga High came from private middle schools. Ten years ago, this number was 50 percent lower, indicating more local students are switching from private middle schools to public high schools.

Though that amounts to only 5 percent of the school’s students, this group sometimes faces stereotypes associated with those who attend private schools. Several of these students said they’re sometimes perceived as having snobby personalities or over-the-top competitive attitudes or unfair advantages in the classroom based on more advanced classes they have taken.

The most popular of the eight different private middle schools students here have attended is Challenger School with 22 students. The others include Basis Independent of Silicon Valley, St. Andrew’s School, Stratford School, The Harker School, Carden Academy and International School of the Peninsula, according to registrar Jeanne Jaimeson.

This number of students transferring has likely increased because public schools are seen as being equally good as privates, senior Michael Chyan said.

“A lot of people have probably realized that public schools offer the same and sometimes even better quality of education as private schools,” said sophomore Avni Madhani, who transferred from Challenger to Saratoga High before her freshman year.

Many of these students have enjoyed their transition from their private schools, such as Challenger, to Saratoga High, remarking on the sudden ampleness of freedom.

“In Challenger, it’s such a rigorous academic schedule with really little room for [extracurricular activities] because [the school] decides everything for you,” said Madhani, who attended Challenger from preschool to eighth grade and chose to go here in order to follow her older brother’s footsteps. “You’re forced to do certain things. At Redwood [and Saratoga,] you’re allowed to do more [activities.]”

While Madhani thinks the transition from private middle schools to a public high schools enhances a balance between academic rigor and extracurricular activities, other students have found that private middle schools offer an unfair academic advantage over high schoolers who have attended Redwood Middle School.

“[The Harker School] is a perfect example of a middle school that causes an unfair advantage,” said senior Andrew Weng, who attended St. Andrews from fifth to eighth grade. “They just keep drilling you and don’t let you fail, and if you [mess] something up, they help you [fix] it. Here at public schools, it’s not always like that.”

Weng and his parents chose to move to Saratoga High because of the high-ranking band and large-school environment. According to Weng, St. Andrews did not give him a much greater advantage because the school placed a much higher emphasis on religious and social values over rigorous academics.

For her part, sophomore Anaka Negin, who went to the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) in Palo Alto, said her school provided an important life experience rather than an unfair academic advantage.

“[ISTP] was a French immersion school, and my parents did not speak any other languages and wanted me to have an opportunity to learn a language and be immersed in it,” she said. “I can now speak French fluently.”

By contrast, Negin thinks her private school didn’t have the ideal social environment.

“When you’re stuck in a grade with 40 people, you’re kind of forced into friendships you wouldn’t naturally make, which is something I got to do here, so I feel like my friendships here [at Saratoga] are much more genuine,” she said.

Senior Meghan Shah has seen many similarities between Harvard-Westlake school in Los Angeles, where she went for eighth grade, and Saratoga High. In particular, both school have academic rigor and a competitive mindset. Although in some cases she finds Saratoga to be even more academically focused, she felt Harvard-Westlake sufficiently prepared her for the competition here.

Although Shah had the option of attending prestigious private schools like Harker and Menlo, she eventually chose Saratoga High.

“I ended up picking Saratoga because I honestly felt like it would be the type of school that was focused and yet grounded, and the grounded aspect was really important to me,” Shah said. “Especially in contrast to my past, I knew the type of environment I now wanted to be in.”

However, Shah also feels that due to the difference in class sizes, it was almost inevitable that her middle school teachers would be able to provide her with more one-on-one time.

“[My school] had a science professor office room and an English professor office room so you could go to their office hours and spend time with them all the time,” Shah said. “I had a lot more opportunities to connect with [my] teachers. I’m the kind of person that needs a lot more questions answered, so if I was just in public school my whole life and I didn’t get that extra help time, I wouldn’t have been able to learn the concepts well.”

Although Shah feels that her previous school may have allowed for more personal attention from teachers, she feels content with her choice to move to Saratoga High due to her love for the community.

“I was happier here because I found people with the same values as me,” Shah said. “Coming from a place where I was in a [rigorous] learning environment where people weren’t super supportive to here, where people cared about the same things as I did, was good for me. When I got here, I [immediately] knew that this is where I was supposed to be.”

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