Would you like to go to a private high school?

By Marc Mouallem, 15, Crespi Carmelite HS
Print This Post

Marc Mouallem is happy to be at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, where he feels like he fits in.
Photo by Managing Editor Libby Hartigan

To many, going to a private, all-boys school sounds like a real drag, and to be honest, after spending kindergarten through eighth grade in public school, it also sounded like one to me.

In February of eighth grade, when all my friends at Beverly Vista Middle School were talking about going to Beverly Hills High, my parents came up with the great idea of sending me to a private school, and even worse an all-boys school. I wanted to say no but I knew I had no choice. Arguing would have led to yelling and tension between my parents and me, and I would have had as much chance of winning as Iraq had against the United States.

Besides, I knew going to a private school would have some advantages, like I would be able to get into honors classes. I also believed that I might have a better chance of getting into a good university. I have to admit I was not entirely bummed about the decision. By the summer I had applied and been accepted to Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino.

As the first day of school approached I grew nervous. Never having been to a private school, I thought that it would be some uptight institution. I imagined classrooms filled with hypnotized, statue-like students sitting at their desks. Dead silence would fill the school building, except for the faint sound of teachers handing out papers and tests.

Would the administrators be like dictators?

I was worried about the administration, too. I had this image that the dean of students was a guy who could see through any lie, and that students would enter his office with confidence and leave as brainwashed and defeated soldiers.

Beverly Vista had been so laid back. During math class we usually had only about eight students paying attention, four students with absolutely no clue, 10 passing notes or playing tic-tac-toe and the rest eating, chatting and sort of forgetting they were in a classroom. I could not picture surviving the environment at my new school.

As I went to my closet to get dressed for the first day of school, by habit I reached for my jeans. Just as I laid my hand on the comfortable denim I remembered the dress code and glanced into the distant corner of my closet where three pairs of never-worn khakis were hanging. I looked at them with despair knowing I had no choice but to put them on.

Riding the school van on the first day I was a little scared, but mostly excited. I even met some friends on the van. My first class that day was art, which went smoothly. Our teacher seemed easy-going.

My next period was English. I was a little worried because I thought that it would be a hard class. But as Mr. Strippoli stood in front of the class explaining how we would spend the year, he just told us what his expectations were and asked us to make the right decisions. He spoke to us as equals, and treated us with respect so we respected him. No one made snide remarks under his breath. As soon as I walked out of that classroom I said to myself, "As long as Mr. Strippoli stays our English teacher, I will get though this year."

After the first few weeks of school I realized that even the dress code was not too bad. We were required to wear Dockers pants, a polo shirt (tucked in) and a belt. However, the polo shirt or the Dockers could be any solid color. At least it wasn’t a jacket and tie.

As a freshman, not knowing the tricks of the uniform was a disadvantage. Most freshmen wore bright polo shirts and beige dress pants because they were easy to find. As I caught glimpses of my fellow freshmen, walking down the hallway between classes, I thought to myself that we looked like walking pieces of fruit. Wondering if I was alone in my opinion I asked a friend if he thought we looked like idiots in our outfits. He did not admit that, but he did say that the bright polo shirt looked a bit "dorkish."

With the upperclassmen as role models and some common sense, we were able to modify the uniform so it looked like something we might actually wear. I sometimes wore my ski jacket, which was long enough to hide that my shirt was untucked. I also went back to the mall and found black polo shirts, which were pretty cool. And since Dockers pants are not the most comfortable or most stylish, I sewed a Dockers label on the pants of my choice.

I could be myself

One day about a month into the school year I was sent to the dean’s office. As I walked down the hallway past the freshmen lockers I tried to remember what mischief I had caused in the last month. I had no idea what would happen and I was scared to death. My hands were shaking. Every step I took closer to his office I became colder and colder. I feared I might be suspended, or worse, expelled. Would they call my parents?

Up ahead was an upperclassman. As he saw me head toward the dean’s office he nodded his head and I swear I heard him mutter "dumb-a** freshman."

Soon I was at the door. I felt my heart race as I turned the handle. My schedule and record were on the computer monitor, which made me more terrified. The dean started to speak and as soon as I heard his voice I was at ease. He was not angry. He simply informed me that I had missed a detention and I would have to make it up. I apologized and told him it must have slipped my mind, because I was caught up with a lot of extracurricular activities.

I was relieved that nothing too bad had happened. I turned out to be wrong about the dean. He is a nice guy who always gives students the opportunity to defend themselves and make up for whatever they did wrong.

At Beverly Vista I never raised my hand more than once a week even when I knew the answers, because I didn’t want to look like a study freak. At Crespi, once the bell rang, hands rose from all ends of the room. I was now also participating in the discussions. I was releasing a new side of me, which would never have been seen in a coed classroom. I raised my hand two or three times a class and I did not feel embarrassed if I got the answers wrong. And I wasn’t labeled a nerd if I got a few right.

Being in an all-boys environment, my classmates and I felt more comfortable joking around with each other and even our teachers. Teachers could even make fun of students’ love lives, asking a student about a dance and if he got any numbers. We were having all this fun, but no one seemed to appreciate or even realize it until about halfway though the year. That’s when we had our first exchange day.

Girl invasion

Exchange day occurs once a year, when the girls from our sister school, Louisville High School, come to Crespi and we have classes with guys and girls. On that day the funny bodily noises in class cease, jokes are left unsaid, and I don’t recall a single one of us raising our hands to answer any questions. Everything went back to the way it used to be in coed school. All the guys were afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of the girls. Most of us spent a good portion of the class checking out the girls. The hottest girl with the shortest skirt was the center of attention.

On any other day, when I walked down the halls at Crespi it was hard to find anyone who had brushed his hair. However, on exchange day all of us were looking sharp. For the first time many of my friends had styled their hair. It looked as if we had actually used shampoo and conditioner. As they say, we were dressed to impress.

Lunch showed the same types of changes in our behavior. On exchange day we acted more like gentlemen and less like cavemen. We washed our hands before we ate. No one talked with his mouth full or dripped barbecue sauce on his shirt, and most of all we didn’t dare release gas.

As soon as exchange day was over though, manners once again lost all significance. As we walked out of the lunch line we grabbed the fries hanging from our plates with our teeth, and when we finally settled down on the benches we ate with our hands and chewed with our mouths open. When the girls were gone we could again do things like sway at our desks to the beat of the music, while we studied "poetry through music" in Mr. Strippoli’s class. As songs such as "My Girl" played on the portable boom box in front of the room, some of us even had the nerve to sing along.

Unlike many of my friends in coed schools, I have an undoubtable loyalty to my school. I wear my school shirts proudly and occasionally defend my school to my non-Crespi friends. Crespi is the place where I don’t have to worry about what others think about me.

Throughout my time at Crespi I have become more aware of who I am. I have been free to say that I enjoy listening to oldies and that I really dislike most rap music made today, with the exception of a few good rap artists such as Eminem. No one looks at me weirdly when I say that some of my favorite artists are Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Foreigner. Nobody thinks I’m a drag because I am interested in politics. I can even share my interest in computers with others who think that it’s cool. When I am in school I can act and feel as if I were at home. It is through all this that I have gained such a love for Crespi.