Finding That “Right” School: Two Paths to Travel for College Prep
Charter schools and comprehensive school offer unique educational programs, but the fundamentals are the same. Even though the underlying school structure is different, the administrators and teachers at both of these types of schools want each student to succeed and fulfill college requirements to a high level.
In Redwood City, we have two charter schools: Summit and Everest. We also have two comprehensive high schools: Woodside and Sequoia. All four schools are similar in that the students for the most part come from the same area and often know each other. Also, each of these schools is a college preparatory school that prepare students for the material in college. The differences are not easily seen by the naked eye.
Summit Preparatory High School was founded in 2003 by Diane Tavenner, co-founder of Everest, and parents because they felt the neighboring high schools were not preforming to their standards. So they created a small school environment that they thought would give students the needed support to advance in life.
To attend Summit, interested students must enter into a yearly lottery. If a prospective student’s number is called, he or she has been enrolled into Summit or possibly put on the waiting list. A common misconception is that there are requirements to enter into the lottery. Todd Dickson, principal of Summit, explained that the “only requirement of a student is to participate in school and do well.”
Summit’s goal is to have every student accepted into a four-year college and the charter school offers various classes meant to achieve this. Every junior must take a course called College Readiness which focuses on completing the college requirements. Todd Dickson, the principal of Summit notes that “the juniors aren’t always thrilled about going the extra mile, but they know that it will help their future.” They are also offer SAT prep classes, the English department helps with college essay writing, and students learn about financial aid and visit colleges as well.
Summit practices the theory that smaller class sizes give students a more direct education because they allow teachers to give each student more individualized attention.
However, there are sacrifices made in order to obtain the small classes. In Summit’s case they offer a no-frills curriculum: no athletics, no performing arts, and no cafeteria. But as Todd Dickson explained, “Every student must complete 100 hours of physical activity and they can choose from a variety of varsity sports.”
As part of the California College requirements, students must take one year of a practical art and one year of a visual art. To fulfill this requirement, Summit has Intersession, a period of two months in which the students take the mandatory electives and complete unfinished schoolwork.
Unlike comprehensive schools, which are given funds targeted to selected programs, charter schools are given one pot of funds to implement their curriculum as they see fit. Todd Dickson stated that this freedom provides the ability to support Summit’s mission within limits.
On the other side of the public school spectrum is Woodside High School, a comprehensive school founded in 1958. Although Woodside has nearly 2,000 students, the administration also believes in the merit of small class size and this year has put additional money towards that goal.
A main goal that Woodside sets for all students is to try your best to succeed and Woodside staff members put their best feet forward to make that happen. In principal David Reilly’s words, “Woodside High School serves all students, from those who are highly motivated with engaged parents to those who are unmotivated with disengaged parents.” Woodside has specialized programs that are meant to give these unmotivated students extra attention to help them succeed.
Programs offered at Woodside include Advanced Placement classes for all subjects; BUILD, which allows students to experience the business world by creating their own business; and College Prep classes, which give seniors the necessary help and information for college life. The school also contains two school-within-a-school academies: the Green Academy, which focuses on sustainability and awareness of the environment and the Business and Technology Academy, which focuses on entrepreneurship and different areas of business or technology.
Woodside also offers electives such as Digital Photography, Drawing, Ceramics, and Audio Production and Digital Journalism, but those are only a few. The languages include Spanish, French, Mandarin and Latin. There is also a wide range of sports to participate in: football, basketball, baseball, softball, swimming, and many more. Students who enjoy a particular sport or art find that pursuing those interests through available classes helps to relieve the stress that may come with school. Junior Matt Ennis, a standout player on the varsity basketball team, says that playing a sport is “a time to take a break from school and have fun with friends.”
For many, Woodside is a fantastic school that truly has the students’ interests at heart, but others believe that that may not be true. In the recently released documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’, director Davis Guggenheim (director of An Inconvenient Truth) criticizes Woodside, one of the featured schools. Woodside is criticized for fulfilling the educational goals of 50 years ago instead of those of today. In particular, the film claims that Woodside still prepares a certain group of students to be the doctors and lawyers of the world, others that are the accountants, marketers and teachers, and the last group, the laborers.
Principal David Reilly takes issue with the way Waiting for ‘Superman’ describes Woodside appearance as a “private boarding school” amidst a community in which the average price of a home is $1.1 million. He points out that, “Had the filmmaker accepted the district’s invitation to learn more about Woodside High School, they would have discovered that we are a Title I school, meaning we receive federal funds based on our percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is currently 38 percent and has been as high as 40 percent in recent years.”
Junior Belinda Rivera is not concerned with people perceiving her as a Woodside student, “People need to know the facts about the school before they make their judgment. Unless you go to the school, you don’t know the inner mechanisms of the classrooms.”
Other students are uneasy with the way Woodside is portrayed in the film, feeling that colleges may reject them. “Because of the film, colleges may look at applications differently, but it would also be their fault because they should be aware of these situations from a viable source,” stated junior April Adonis.
The aforementioned types of schools fit different students. If you want a small school environment, then a charter school is for you. The advantage of the charter is that it is a small school around 100 students per grade, but this comes with the drawbacks of limits on academic and elective subjects and a no-frills curriculum. If you want a larger school with a variety of subjects to choose from, then a comprehensive school is for you. In a school with about 500 students per grade, students experience diversity in family backgrounds and extracurriculars A drawback is that students become overwhelmed with the choices offered and are more easily lost in the crowd.
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