How does South compare?

By Connie Gong
Published: April 2010

In general, I am a fair representative of an average student at this predominantly upper-middle class, liberal, suburban community of South. I feel the pressure of academic achievement, the stress of an honors-loaded schedule, and the expectations my parents and peers have for me.

Growing up in Newton has been a huge influence on who I am.

I feel lucky to be living in Newton. It is true that the population at South is in some sense homogenous, white and Jewish.

However, the environment at South is extremely accepting of diversity; in fact, much emphasis is put on celebrating our differences.

It is okay to be an individual: black, white, Latino or Asian, gay or straight, or anything in between. Cultural and ethnic differences are very much accepted at South. We may not be perfect, but we recognize the importance of acceptance.

Despite all our diversity and differences, there are very many pressures and influences that affect most South students. South is an academically prestigious school and there is a strong pressure to succeed. Being a relatively wealthy community with an emphasis on education, Newton spent an average of $14,254 on each student in 2008, higher than almost every other district in Massachusetts and the nation.

As a result, the Newton school district regularly performs better across all grade levels and all subjects on the MCAS than the state average.

High achievement only continues to create high expectations. It’s a common stereotype that South students take lots of honors and AP’s. We strive for straight A’s, perfect SAT scores and 5′s on AP tests.

For many students at South, there is the expectation that they will be academically successful, attend a top college, get a good job, and continue the tradition of an upper-middle class life.

A perfect example of this is the Wall of Shame. Students are encouraged to post up their rejection letters, obstensibly in order to create a less stressful environment.

This often backfires, however, because looking at the rejection letters received by seniors both emphasizes the caliber of colleges students at this school apply to, and creates even more pressure from fear of failure.

While I acknowledge that some of this pressure is self-induced, I must say that circumstances might be very different if I attended a different high school.

Newton South is filled to the brim with students who are so academically oriented that the pressure from those at the top gets passed down.

Of course, I think a high pressure environment has created the conditions for success for many. Because we are expected to do well, we push ourselves more than we otherwise might have.

Because we are put in situations where success is almost required, we do succeed. I am very grateful that South is the school it is, because I know without the environment of South, without the classes and encourage and expectations of the school, I would not have been given the opportunities that I have.

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