Opinion: Education from coast to coast through the eyes of a Jersey girl


Photo from nj.com, depicts the South Hunterdon 2016 Graduation

The East and West Coast might as well be on different planets. For all their differences, each are home to America’s two most internationally renowned cities: New York and Los Angeles, where dreams come true. Attending South Hunterdon Regional High School and Redlands East Valley High School, each just a couple of miles away from these major cities, has allowed for a unique perspective on the education systems of America.

Comparing a school deemed one of the smallest in all of New Jersey to a Southern Californian high school with over 2,000 students, the differences are inevitable. But does one provide a better education than the other?

Attending a small East Coast school, such as South Hunterdon Regional High School, will quickly acquaint one with an academic environment where the unrelenting pressure is nearly the school mascot. The courses seem faster and the competition grows overwhelming as every student has had their peer’s GPA memorized since the seventh grade. The overload of assignments and exams establishes a set of high standards that produce well-rounded and successful students. However, only a select few can truly keep up, leaving many to be grouped with the “just average kids.”

But the close-knit environment also allows for something special to occur within the classrooms of South Hunterdon, as each student knew every teacher, underclassmen and upperclassmen. Every athlete made the team, every club application was accepted, and every student had someone to eat lunch with, resulting in a system where few students fell through the cracks. South Hunterdon offered the means for meaningful, personal success and achievement by offering a high school education where every student got the one-on-one attention they deserved. But, once again, it is an abnormally small school.

Looking at the fourteen different states that make up the eastern coastline, there are many different types of schools all the way from private to public and ranging from thousands of students to just dozens. Just down the road, there was another school known as Hunterdon Central that had over 3,000 students. Hunterdon Central’s intense curriculum and breakneck pace without the closeness of a small school created at times dangerous situations for some students. From the perspective of a student attending a neighboring school, the reputation that Hunterdon Central garnered for its issues with elevated dropout rates and student drug abuse was not one to brag about. This isn’t surprising though with many different studies concluding that there are serious issues that arise in larger schools. The US Department of Education has determined that “big schools (1,000 or more) have 825 percent more violent crime, 270 percent more vandalism, 394 percent more fights and assaults and 1000 percent more weapons incidents.” There are also several cases involving drugs, alcohol, and violence at smaller schools, but the larger scale of these schools creates a breeding ground for these issues.

Between these two schools, just minutes apart in New Jersey, there are definitely qualities in each that produce very different students and members of society. This is possibly due to the communities that surround these schools. South Hunterdon is in a very small town with a population of about only 5,000, which creates a community where almost everyone knows each other. This creates a connected community were more students can be accounted for and involved in their town. Meanwhile, Hunterdon Central has students from many different towns and communities throughout the Hunterdon County area making it harder for every student to feel like an important member of their community. Despite the potential disparities between individual East Coast schools, they still provide an entirely different educational experience than the schools thousands of miles away on the other side of the country.

California certainly lives up to the expectation perpetuated by Hollywood when it comes to the palm-lined boulevards and the constantly sunny skies.  The city of Redlands is no exception. As one of six high schools in the city, Redlands East Valley High School can at a passing glance resemble the set of High School Musical with its occasional impromptu dance-offs and dance-club-like pep rallies. Typical for the season, it has not rained a single drop in Redlands over the past few months, while the summer of Jersey students has been rain-soaked and oppressively humid.

The teenagers walking REV’s halls are living and learning in a completely different way than the kids belonging to reasonable climate zones across the country. Beyond just the absurdly ideal weather, the West Coast’s different approach to education is most evident in the occasionally impersonal teaching common in these large West Coast schools.  At REV specifically, each student is completely responsible for themselves. Everyone must hold themselves accountable as there will not be a teacher or an adult chasing them down for a forgotten homework assignment or a bad test grade. Frankly, there are just too many kids at a school like REV to allow teachers to work closely with each and every student.

However, this type of mass education extends beyond purely academics, as every student at REV can choose dozens of clubs to join, nearly every sport under the sun, and hundreds of people to form lasting, meaningful relationships with. Students from REV have graduated and gone on to do great things in the community and some have even become somewhat of a household name, like Lil Xan, the up-and-coming rapper, and Landon Donovan, the professional American soccer player. Perhaps these alumni validate the touted tenets of R.E.V. W.A.Y.

But, there are some smaller schools that are present in the community of Redlands. Redlands Christian School is an example of such a school. The students there receive the same diploma but the curriculum includes the study of Christianity along with traditional academics. Within one community, there are two very different forms of high school educations that benefit certain students more than others.

Nonetheless, the students at both South Hunterdon and REV all naturally hold strong opinions regarding their respective school’s approach towards education. After speaking with two fifteen-year-old girls, each in their sophomore year of high school and working towards the same diploma just 3,000 miles apart, the similarities and differences of their personal academic experiences are noteworthy.

Eve Voorhees, a student at South Hunterdon, has resided in the same town her whole life and firmly believes she will graduate from South Hunterdon on time. Voorhees balances her studies with an array of extracurriculars as she is a varsity soccer player, varsity track high jumper, and a member of the bowling team. With a year of high school experience under her belt, Voorhees has a comprehensive understanding of the academic environment fostered at South Hunterdon. “I enjoy the small student-teacher ratio at South because it allows for productive one-on-one learning,” Voorhees explains, “At the same time though, there is a limited amount of AP classes and electives that end up limiting the opportunities for students to challenge themselves or enroll in new and exciting classes.”

Meanwhile, across the country, Ashley Mangione has had a completely different learning experience. Mangione is a sophomore at REV and previously attended Clement Middle School for her junior high years. As for extracurriculars, she is an active member of the French club, Comedy Sports, California Scholarship Federation, junior varsity volleyball, and participates in REV’s theater program. She believes that the “friendly students and teachers and the school spirit throughout campus” makes REV a school where there are constant efforts to engage the students and make them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Considering her wide on-campus involvement, Mangione also believes that “REV offers equal opportunities compared to other schools,” in reference to the education and extracurriculars provided. This idea of opportunity is the main difference between these two educations. The small school’s major flaw is in the opportunities that it provides to its students. With only so many students to fill so many clubs and sports, it becomes difficult to offer an equal chance to branch out compared to schools with dozens of clubs and thousands of students to join them.

The comparison of East Coast high schools to West Coast high schools demonstrates that, though the path to a diploma may vary, the destination is the same. The right school for a student depends on what works best for them, be it a small, close-knit environment or a large, athletically driven school. High school can be a major contributor to your success in the real world.  Maybe the diversity of people throughout the country is ultimately due to the different types of education students are receiving from coast to coast.

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