At a recent new parent coffee with our head of school, parents were sharing stories about what it is like to be new at Randolph. The experiences had been very positive for the younger children. Someone wondered what the experience was like in the upper grades. At this point, one parent who had been fairly quiet, talked about her son’s experience as a new 10th grader. Admissions Associate Kelly Emerson and I caught up with her afterward to learn more.
What brought you to Randolph?
My husband’s job entailed a relocation from Dallas-Fort Worth to Huntsville. Up to this point, Jake had attended public school as had our older two children. My husband and I decided that a smaller, independent school might help ease the transition for Jake.
I had attended a small independent school myself; over the years we had discussed this as a possibility for Jake. We had always ruled this out because, like Huntsville, we had good public schools; the nearest independent school was a 45-minute drive away.
The move really gave us the push we needed to make that change for Jake. We felt that a smaller school would not only benefit Jake academically, but socially as well. With 2,000 students in a large public high school, there are only so many spots on each sports team or roles in a play; typically only the best of the best get the opportunity to participate at this level, which leaves a large number of students behind.
A smaller school opens up more opportunities for students to participate in whatever activities interest them. In a large school, there seems to be a reliance on cliques; students carve out a smaller group to which they belong and there is not a lot of mingling. At Randolph, the number of students is not overwhelming and the students don’t feel the need to create these cliques. It is perfectly acceptable to have friends across a wide range of activities and to even have friends who may not be in your grade (something unheard of in Jake’s old school!).
How was the transition?
We all remember the social minefield that is the school cafeteria; those 30 minutes or so can produce a great deal of anxiety for students (and, as a result, for parents too).
Every day at the start of the school year, I would ask him how lunch had gone and, most importantly, who did he sit with. From day one, Jake always had a group that would include him at their table; by the third or fourth week, he had a regular lunchtime group of friends. This was a refreshing change from prior years when tables would fill up quickly and you did not dare buy your lunch in case your table filled up while you were in the lunch line! Jake buys his lunch every day and never has to worry that he won’t have a place at the table.
We have watched Jake grow and mature so much both socially and academically in the six months that he has been at Randolph. Jake has been included in a larger variety of group activities this year than at his old school. He played on the basketball team and joined both the movie club and the video club. He was elected to the Homecoming Court, representing the 10th grade as the sophomore prince.
Socially, Randolph has been great. Jake would be the first to admit that Randolph is more academically challenging than his prior school; he would also be the first to admit that this is not a bad thing. He freely admits that you have to work harder at Randolph, but that is okay.
At his prior school, homework was often a worksheet – sometimes even a word search; at Randolph, homework revolves around reading and critical thinking skills. Sometimes Jake will say, “I wish I could have a worksheet instead of this essay,” but if you give him the option of returning to a public school the answer is always an emphatic “no.” Now, he feels like his first year of high school was a “wasted year.”
What are the opportunities for you to get involved in the Randolph community?
There are so many different ways for families to be involved in the Randolph community. First, the communication from the school is phenomenal. At public school, parents have to rely on their students passing the information on or parents have to search out the information on the school website. Many times, information never makes it home or there is a lot of last-minute scrambling.
In the six months we have been here, I have attended more meetings at Randolph than the entire time my older daughter and son were in high school back in Texas! Second, there are ample opportunities to volunteer and be engaged with the Randolph community. I have volunteered during both the Fall and Winter athletic seasons; I worked the teacher appreciation luncheon and Under the Christmas Tree.
Randolph is very reminiscent of the independent school that my siblings and I attended. It is funny. We moved hundreds of miles away from our family, but, it feels like coming home. It feels right. We feel lucky to have found Randolph and we are so grateful that Jake has a school like Randolph where he can grow and flourish for the next three years.
Photos: Rebecca Moore, Debbie Tomlinson, Jeff White