This week we asked Entropy contributors to tell us about their high school– the neighborhood, the building, the experience. What happens when you try to stuff as many high school kids as possible into a giant box of a building?
I went to high school in a rural county in East Tennessee. The high school was located in the city limits of Clinton, TN, which had it’s own high school. This caused a lot of boring, local drama and student-body rivalry. The high school I went to looked like a prison camp, from a distance. The outer edge of the property was surrounded by a fence with barbed wire. Behind the fence there was a long grass area that led up to a parking lot, and a collection of dull, red brick buildings. There were three or four main buildings that students would navigate through between classes that were arranged in a sort of square shape around an open court yard, which offered a lot of dead grass and a few cement picnic benches to eat lunch on. At the far edge of the property, on a small hill, there was a technical-school, which had classes in things like auto-body and construction.
The main building of the school was essentially two long hallways that ran parallel to each other. The left hallway was located by the art and music classrooms, and is typically where I and other drama club/band students would hang out. The right hallway, beside the gymnasium, was the self-proclaimed “red neck hall”, which is where the giant truck-driving students, who got suspended periodically, for wearing rebel flag t-shirts, would stand by the trashcans and spit their tobacco dip. Sometimes, students would get dared to walk down this hall to see if they could make it to the other side without being yelled at, or coerced into a fight (fights usually didn’t happen, there was just a lot of posturing). This was occasionally fun to try, if you were stoned at school, because the hall had an absurd amount of trashcans from where students would drag trashcan from other places around the school, so that there were more containers to spit dip in, which created a sort of maze-like effect to try to walk through.
My high school in Los Gatos, CA was an imposing neoclassical structure with a giant lawn in the front. The front façade was used by Saved By the Bell and also The Amanda Show as the setting for Moody’s Point. It is literally the archetypal high school. I remember enjoying high school. We used to eat lunch under these enormous palm trees on the lawn. Once a squirrel fell out of one, and I swear it was in free-fall for several seconds, landed on the ground dazed, and then ran away. I don’t know how it survived that fall.
My high school had no walls. It was built during the 70’s on a local “open concept” hippie education kick but really nobody wanted to spend money on an actual building. Classes were really loud. The rooms were separated by rolling blackboards and hundreds of lockers. This sounds like a joke but it isn’t. The building doesn’t exist anymore; they tore it down the year I graduated to make a state of the art rich kid school. I used to go sledding on the huge hill in the back. We called it “Death Valley” because it was so steep and you slammed into the school if you weren’t careful. Last year I went back there for the first time since I graduated (15 years.) In order to build the new school’s parking lot, they had steamrolled and flattened the entire hill. I was so startled and confused that I cried. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sad necessarily, just so struck with the reality that you simply can’t return to certain places in this life.
I went to Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens. It had about 4000 students and they had to bring in trailers because there just wasn’t enough room for all the kids. Senior year I had two classes in the trailers and it felt so luxurious. There was air conditioning (no AC of course in the actual building) a bathroom, and I loved being able to walk outside, even for just a minute. I also loved sneaking cigarettes in the back of the trailers. Ok, I smoked cloves in high school, not cigarettes, of course. At lunch, if you wanted to smoke, there was a “smoking ramp” that was packed with kids even when it was raining. There was grassy field just past the ramp where my friends and I went outside for lunch and sat under a tree. In the corner, there was a hole someone cut in the fence and we sometimes snuck out to get iced coffees at Dunkin Donuts. My friend teaches there now and says they don’t let anyone outside at all for lunch anymore. I find that heartbreaking. That outside time was necessary for the soul.
Also, there were spots in the hallways, between classes, where it would turn into a mosh pit, except no one moved. Clogged with people, pressed together, unable to move an inch. We were always late for class. A few blocks away, there was a lake and this is where we went if we wanted to cut class. We fed ducks. And there was a trail that led into the trees. You had to really commit to staying at the lake all day, though, because cops always came by and picked kids up to bring them back to school.
John F Kennedy High School in Granada Hills. The Brady Bunch episodes with football or cheerleading were filmed there as it was an unfinished school then. I won a writing award after years of floundering and had a teacher jump out of the shadows like a sweet rabid bat at graduation to tell me to keep writing which I am forever grateful for. The place was a sterile semi-brutalist 80’s cinderblock prison for us all. The cool part was the 80 something years old principal who wheeled out a tiny rickety cart at lunch and sold hot dogs in a big hat. He was a gentle cloud of a presence at the edge of that cafeteria. We had an undercover narcotics officer date a star football player senior year.
I went to Cardinal O’Hara outside of Philadelphia. We had a freshman class of 1004, diminished to just under 980 by the time we graduated, the largest class in the school’s history. My homeroom had 80 students and most classes were around 60. It was in a long 3-story brick building, with that prison aesthetic mentioned above. I associate that hospital-interior mint green with it, so I guess that’s what the walls were painted. There was a lot of concrete and a massive parking lot out back, and over 50 school busses. There were some fields for sports, but nothing green, because we’d trampled it all. Underneath the building was a typical cafeteria and a smoking lounge for juniors and seniors. It was a locked campus, so you were stuck there all day. Since there were so many of us, there were lockers everywhere. Because of the uniforms, we were this sea of navy blue—there was gridlock all the time and a couple bad pile-ups on the stairs. I went there from a grade school that was quite small (25 in my eighth grade class), so I was relieved to have all these new people to pick from. We were pretty much reduced to our ID numbers as far as the administration went. As evidence of that, I’ll offer the great trauma of my youth: my guidance counselor sent home a note to my parents that I wasn’t a likely candidate for college, and therefore she wasn’t registering me for the SAT or for the prep class. She hadn’t even looked at my file. (I took it cold, as a walk-in, out of spite.) The school had a sort of Lord of the Flies meets West-Side Story thing going on: lots of fights; you’d see nunchucks and small knives in guy’s lockers, and a lot of drugs. There were a few informal gangs, and the girls’ ones were the worst. It was a feeder school, and the town (well, really, the parish) you came from played into the social hierarchy.
As a short, smallish kid from the sticks, I just kept my head down. Despite the mayhem, I had a somewhat okay time there.