A View From Within: A Student’s Perspective on School and Learning

The author's son at his desk
The author’s son at his desk

The Newcomer Journals by Anya Grottel-Brown’s returns with a student’s perspective on school, her son’s.

Parents, kids, it’s that time of year again.  No, I don’t mean Halloween.  I mean it’s the time of year when you need to get going researching schools for the 2016-17 academic year.  LAUSD magnet applications open in October and that’s just the tip of the research iceberg.

Last year, I wrote about the bewildering and exhausting school quest in Los Angeles.  If you persevere however, chances are that you’ll emerge victorious with just the right school for your child.  My husband and I have now had a blissful year of doing nothing at all; we’ve simply kicked up our feet and watched our son thrive in his new middle school, Thomas Starr King in Silver Lake.  (This is about to end; the first high school workshop is just around the corner).  Still, I thought it was time to do a reality check.  Time, I realized, to talk to an expert who knows the system inside out.  I cleared my schedule and sat down to interview my son.

Me:  How was school today?
My son:  Fine.  (OK, I’ve forgotten how much I hated this question when I was his age.  I should try something else.)

Me:  Now that you’re a 7th grader, what’s the biggest change from your first year in middle school?
My son:   Work and responsibility.  I have a lot more of each now that I have a teacher for every subject.  In 6th grade teachers were still holding our hand a bit, but in 7th grade they want to us to be more independent.  And teachers expect more of us.  We do a lot more projects and work in groups.

Me:  Let’s talk about King.  What do you like most about the school?
My son:  The breakfast!  Seriously, I like that all of my teachers are helpful and supportive.  All three of our magnets – film, environmental (we have our own garden!), and arts and tech – are really cool.  I am in the film magnet and I love that I can participate in film contests in and out of school.

Me:  What stuff don’t you like?
My son:  I wish we had a language like French, Spanish or Japanese.

Me:  How does it feel to be in a school with over 2,000 students?
My son: You’d think it’s overwhelming, but it isn’t.  Our school is half inside and half outside, so there are lots of places where we can eat lunch and be with friends.  Having good outside spaces is really important.

Me:  What are some of the cool things you’re looking forward to this year?
My son:   I know it’s hard to believe, but most things in my school are actually interesting!  I’m looking forward to learning absolutely new things that I didn’t know before!

Me:  So in general, what do you think makes a school great?
My son:  I think it’s great when teachers do things outside of their regular schedule.  My homeroom teacher, who is also our music teacher, started a music class before school hours where any one can come in and try an instrument.  Another thing that makes a school great is when kids can be creative.  In my film class, I’m doing a superhero project (we’re creating our own superheroes!) and shooting a scene from a Western!

Me:  What advice do you have for parents who are looking for the right school for their child?
My son:  First, they should be looking for high standards.  It’s important to know what the school is going to teach the child to make them really intelligent.  When you tour classrooms, you should look at how teachers and students interact with each other.   You should make sure that it’s a good environment, with good rules, good kids, and good things in the classroom.

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About Anya Grottel-Brown

Anya Grottel-Brown discovered Larchmont by accident while visiting LA on vacation and was instantly hooked. Anya was born in Russia and has lived in Canada, Japan and New York before settling in the Hancock Park area in the summer of 2013. An award-winning PR/communications expert, she specializes in amplifying the voices of non-profits, foundations and education-focused organizations through the media. Anya can be reached at agrottelbrown@ymail.com.

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