In each installment of the five-part SO LONG, SENIORS series, a graduating Octagon editor-in-chief will write a final piece before heading to college. Allison Zhang is the first in the series.
I’d love to write about how amazing an experience Octagon has been (some of my best memories have been during late-night paste-up in the Cave), how much more comfortable I’ve gotten interviewing and talking to strangers (I get slightly less tense when placing my order at In-N-Out) and how much better my writing skills have gotten (I’d rather not look at my first story).
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year — through the craziness of losing our former adviser, Patricia Fels, and all her pen-twirling glory, redesigning the website (shoutout to senior Joe Mo, a genius who saved us when it came to anything tech-related), and running Octagon practically on our own for a few months — it’s to omit unnecessary words.
This year, five of us can write something that will be printed a thousand times and distributed to students, teachers, faculty and alumni of Country Day.
I’ve read my fair share of these “senior goodbyes,” and rather than repeat stories about funny, memorable experiences related to Octagon and Country Day, in the remaining few inches of my last Octagon story, I hope to address something different: the shortcomings of the past 13 years that I’ve spent at Country Day.
See, while attempting to come up with an idea for this story, I Googled “fables about education,” which led me to a story written by George Reavis.
To sum up his story: There was a new school for animals to learn different skills, such as swimming, running, flying, etc. The duck was a good swimmer but a slow runner, and he had to spend so much time after school to practice running that his swimming skills suffered.
Many painful anecdotes about a “problem child” eagle and a squirrel that overexerts himself later, and I think the point has been hammered home: Students have different skills, talents and needs, and schools need to adapt to those so that the eagle doesn’t have a nervous breakdown and accidentally eat the squirrel (I took some artistic liberty here with the hypotheticals).
There are problems with this fable, but the moral rings true. So how does Country Day hold up?
Well, the tiny music room has a leaky roof, and the air conditioning hasn’t worked for years. Visual arts students are, shall we say, displeased with the mural situation on campus. There’s little school spirit for sports teams, and pep rallies have lost their pep. After 13 years, the words “social-emotional learning curriculum” still mean nothing to me.
And how many Asian teachers can you name?
Ask high schoolers about their current classes, and I guarantee you they’ll say for at least one, “Oh, this class is a joke. We don’t do anything, but it’s an easy A if the teacher likes you.” And when you approach an administrator with concerns about said class, the table gets flipped and the students are the ones blamed for being “unable to adapt.”
How can we pull Country Day out of this eagles-eating-the-squirrels cycle?
Look for more diverse backgrounds when hiring. Foster the artistic side of Country Day’s students, but don’t forget about athletics. We’re all talented, multifaceted students, and we don’t deserve a tiny music room, mural-less walls and empty gyms during games.
Most important, however, is to maintain the rigor and level of academics that I remember from a Country Day not too long ago. It’s amazing that we’re aiming to be a diverse, accepting community, but that doesn’t mean we can resort to giving points arbitrarily to keep everyone (and their parents) happy with a high GPA.
It’s easier said than done, of course. None of these changes can be made overnight, but change needs to happen.
Even though I’m graduating and moving on, I truly hope that the Country Day I know and love — the Country Day that helped the Octagon grow, not censor it and cut its budget, that let students be vocal with their concerns and did something about those concerns, that put strong academics before a facade of education-ese and fancy committees — will return.
—By Allison Zhang
Originally published in the May 28 edition of the Octagon.