Returning to High School 10 Years Later

I’m spending this week and half of next at St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma. Having gone to public schools through 8th grade, I chose to attend St. Vincent — a private, Catholic school — rather than the big Sonoma high school for a few reasons. The most significant was that Katie, a girl I’d become close friends with through our youth group, planned to go to St. Vincent and encouraged me to apply as well. Being very shy and insecure at the time, I thought that a more personalized environment would suit me well. I had gotten a little lost in the crowd of around 800 students at Altimira Middle School (there are only around 500 now), and I felt connected to very few of them. Though attending SV meant a 30-minute commute and a work-study commitment to help offset my tuition, I decided that the opportunity for a change would be worth the effort. I carpooled to and from Petaluma every day with several other students from Sonoma until I could drive myself.

The total number of students at SV was around 400, about half the size of just one grade level at Altimira at the time. Most of my classmates had gone to school together at St. Vincent Elementary from grades K-8 and already had solid groups of friends. Breaking into these circles took a few months, though everyone interacted with each other in a friendly way. Luckily, I had such a loyal friend in Katie that I didn’t feel that I needed much else, and I eventually came to know most of my classmates fairly well. After all, there were only 95 students in my graduating class.

The hardest adjustments were the early schedule — rising around 5:30 a.m. to get to school for zero period debate class — and suddenly feeling like a small fish in a big pond, in terms of achievement. The sleep deprivation and drive to achieve in such a competitive environment added up to a difficult four years for me. Somewhere along the way, I developed habits of perfectionism and workaholism that have stayed with me as an adult. One of the biggest motivations for Reschool Yourself is to break myself of these habits and, in my later work, ensure that other kids don’t develop them at all.

Though I’ve struggled with high school as an institution, I’ve always loved my high school community. The teachers, students, and administration of St. Vincent have been incredibly welcoming. I’m as glad to be there as they are to have me back, and I’ve enjoyed my first couple of days. I shadowed a freshman on Monday, and a sophomore today that I’ll continue with tomorrow. I’ll shadow a junior on Friday and next Tuesday, then conclude with a senior on Wednesday. Although I would have liked to spread out my time at SV, I’m leaving town at the end of next week.

I have so much more to say, but I’ve again stayed up too late and can barely keep my eyes open. More to come the rest of the week, including:

– Attending U.S. History, Religion, Algebra, and Biology, and P.E. classes taught by my old teachers

– What’s changed since ’98, and what remains the same

– Differences I’ve noticed between high school and the lower grades

– Taking quizzes — one without preparation, one with study

– The material I’ve retained from high school, and that I’ve forgotten

Bed now. Tomorrow’s classes include discussing Huck Finn in American Lit, taking an Algebra II quiz, and playing Ultimate Frisbee on the muddy field (my team kicked butt today). After school, I’m having coffee with an old teacher and then walking a meditation labyrinth set up by the Catholicism class. I’ll send Twitter updates throughout the day to keep you posted.

Comments (5)

  1. Darren

    I went to a Catholic school that was about the same size. The community was great; I had lots of great friends, some who I still keep in touch with today.

    After my first year at college, I visited the school and the principal asked me frankly how he thought the school had prepared me for learning after high school. I told him that I was disappointed that we’d done really no critical thinking in high school, no analytical writing. It was all set up in a way that allowed me to not do homework, halfway pay attention in class, and get meaningless A’s. The world doesn’t give A’s, though, and it wasn’t until I got to Loyola University in New Orleans that I felt pushed to do real critical thinking that’s served me in every situation I’ve since encountered.

    Reply
  2. Darren

    Also, will you go to Winter Formal with me?

    Reply
  3. Gilliebean

    Good luck in high school! I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go back now that I’m so old and wise. I used to go back to MY SVHS (the Sonoma Valley, not the St. Vincent) over Christmas breaks in college to use the fancy new darkroom they built right after I graduated, and I felt old and far removed from it all even then. And now I’ve been out for 7 1/2 years!

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  4. lynnie

    I went to a Catholic school too with about 500 in our whole high school (approx 125 per class). I too felt that I got those “meaningless” A’s (which didn’t feel so meaningless back then!) but I loved school. Part of what made it great was finding my inner dorkiness and doing work-study after school fixing computers. I went back to work every summer for a few years after I graduated although after the final time I felt that I was too old. EEK.

    I did love all my math classes in HS though, particularly Pre-Cal and AP Cal. Hated English classes. I’m pretty sure that’s evident.

    I can’t wait till you go back to SCU! Take lots of pictures of the innards of the library OK?

    Reply
  5. Melia

    Without the grades and testing in high school, I would have definitely learned more and enjoyed the process. I didn’t realize how meaningless grades were until the end of college, after I’d sacrificed a lot to work for them. I now wish I’d invested that time elsewhere.

    Lynnie, you’re good with words for someone who hated English. I’ll be at SCU the first week of December and will take plenty of pictures of the fancy-pants library. I’ve seen it from the outside, and it’s such an improvement on the 60s style, fluorescent-lit prison that it used to be.

    Darren, I would love to go to Winter Formal! What color boutonniere shall I get you?

    Reply

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