Driving to school one day toward the end of seventh grade, my mom told me that she and my dad could not afford to keep paying for my Catholic school. We had to save money for college. She told me that I might have to change to a public school.
How could she take me away from all my friends and my great teachers? I would miss Alex and Niko and especially Dom, who I have known for so long he feels like my brother. Students were expected to be on their best behavior at St. Ignatius so they rarely talked in class and never got into fights. Teachers rarely had to raise their voices. All of this I liked because when it’s quiet, I can concentrate more easily.
“I only have one year of school left,” I said. “Why can’t I stay here?” I asked my mom if we could stop doing my music lessons to save money, but she said it wouldn’t save enough. As I went through the school day, I tried to imagine what a public school would be like.
I imagined a classroom filled with kids shooting spitballs and tossing wads of paper across the room and kids sneaking out of class to smoke weed. I imagined a huge food fight in the cafeteria. I thought public school would be a madhouse.
I had once asked my mom why she didn’t put me in a public school. She told me that one day at her public school, her teacher walked into the room and told the class to read something from their textbooks and answer the questions at the end. He then sat down at his desk, began reading a magazine and completely ignored the class. My mom was the only one who did her work. Some girls were putting on makeup. One person walked out the classroom and started smoking a cigarette. My grandmother even told me a story about a time in public school when her teacher walked out of the classroom and the students threw his desk out of the window.
As the first day of school got closer, I had a pit in my stomach. I worried that I wouldn’t learn everything. I worried that the students would be wild. I worried that I wouldn’t make any friends and that kids would pick on me.
Finally, the first day of school came. Algebra was first period. The teacher, Mr. Bahn, made math fun. He showed us videos that helped us learn the material and talked with an excited voice and moved around a lot. I noticed that the students were paying attention. When the class ended, I was a little less nervous.
I liked that my teacher kept the class under control
My next period was science. In the middle of the class, someone made a loud noise that disrupted the class. My teacher, Mr. Bice, threatened to take away our lunch break unless whoever made the noise confessed and apologized when he got back. Then he stepped out of the room. Immediately, students began whispering to each other. I caught bits of sentences, like “Say something!“ and “He’s going to hold us for lunch!” When Mr. Bice came back, the person who made the noise said he did it and that he was sorry. I thought Mr. Bice’s reaction was a bit over the top, but I admired that he kept his students in line.
I thought everything was going great when a kid came up to me during lunch and told me that I had been in the wrong class. He explained to me that we wouldn’t have all our classes in one day. We would have the odd numbered periods one day, the even numbered periods the next day. He helped me figure out my schedule and told me where to go next. I realized that kids from public school were not as bad as I thought.
That night I wasn’t mad at my parents for making me change schools. But I still had some doubts. Were the teachers as strict as they were at my old Catholic school? I hoped that the rest of them were as strict as Mr. Bice. I know it sounds odd to want strict teachers, but I like that their classes are quiet. When everyone is talking, I space out. Then I miss whatever the teacher is teaching, or if we are working on an assignment I forget to do it. After a few weeks, however, I saw that the teachers were all as strict as my old ones.
My principal, Ms. Martinez, is also strict and dedicated. Every so often she would stop by our class and make sure we were paying attention. I thought that it showed how much she cared about the students. It made me feel better about my school.
I didn’t focus on making friends at first. I focused on getting the hang of the schedule and getting good grades. After about a month, kids came up to me wanting help with their homework. We began to talk about other stuff and it turned out we had things in common, like playing Halo and watching Family Guy.
Now, whenever I sit down to eat my lunch, I sit with some friends. Once when I had a packet of wasabi, which is a strong, hot dressing used on sushi, we had a blast telling people to smell it and watching their reactions. One of them accidentally inhaled it. His face turned as red as a tomato and he was sweating like crazy. He was fine afterward, and even he thought it was funny.
When I think about how I felt at the beginning of the school year, I laugh at myself for overreacting. My new school feels like my home away from home as much as my old school.