There’s something of a social expectation that one “peaks in high school” and that the best years of one’s life are spent running the tiled halls.
I’d like to say I enjoyed the last four years of school. But in many ways, my experience has been more complicated than that perception of high school allows for. If I were forced to summarize it with a single word, I would have to answer “struggle.”
Oftentimes it was a struggle on the part of a new school. My graduating class, made up of only 47 students, all started as Year One (11th grade) students after transferring from other high schools. I had spent the first two years of high school at the Baltimore Design school.
At Bard High School Early College Baltimore, students, faculty and administration of this novel new school had to learn how to work together to build and shape the school community. We didn’t even have a real building our first year, instead working out of temporary trailer units.
Sometimes the struggle was against the bureaucratic hurdles facing the administration, the unfamiliar territory of college classes in a high school setting, or the constant need to improvise with the space and materials at our disposal.
Other times — oftentimes — it was a struggle against myself and the challenging academic work, my insufficient study habits that often led to cramming, or my poor sleeping habits. These struggles often led to anxiety and stress that I still am striving to handle.
But it’s not always the moments you “enjoy” that you learn the most from, is it? It’s the challenges that really push you, the seemingly impossible or insurmountable obstacles. Those are what push you to reevaluate what you’re capable of, force you to adapt and grow or be left floundering in the dust.
Amid all of the hurdles and struggles that faced me at BHSEC, I received a powerful education that has shaped me enormously.
When I first arrived, I thought I was already a great writer. But after two years of being pushed by my excellent literature professors to try new things and to exceed the limits of what I thought I was capable of, I can now gladly say that not only am I more skilled than in my first years, but also that I am able to fully recognize how much I have left to learn.
One of my absolute favorite moments was when my literature professor said on one of my first report cards from Bard that I “think like a writer.” Other times, teachers would ask me to lend my writing or graphic design skills to a specific project for the school, most recently the inaugural release of The Nook, Bard Baltimore’s new student literature publication. These moments have helped me to better understand my personal passions and guide me as I move forward with my education.
Though it took me two years, I finally achieved something of an ability to work on personal projects without external forces pushing me to do so, an ability that in the past my lack of would lead me into some truly dreadful feelings of self-doubt.
Now, I am constantly writing new short stories and uploading them online, to a sort of social media for writers. I have found a passion that I am driven to pursue outside of the classroom, but one that truly emerged through my classroom experiences at Bard. And what’s more, I am able to recognize how much I am still able to develop that ability, how much I myself still have to mature.
So no, perhaps I cannot truthfully say that I “peaked” in high school. I cannot really say that I enjoyed my time. But I also cannot ignore all the growth I now know I am capable of, thanks to my high school education. I cannot say that years of struggle and pride, of highs and lows, anger and joy, depression and elation, go unappreciated.
Yes, the experience was often extremely difficult, but as a plant does not grow without straining toward the sun, an environment of challenge is what I needed to become a more mature, more capable young adult ready to move forward with my college education and life.
Though my proficiency as a student still needs work in college, I have arrived much more capable of handling the challenges of my new school than I would have without my experience at BHSEC Baltimore.
Without a doubt, I have regrets, things I wish I could go back and do differently. But I fail to see how anyone could go through high school, much less high school and two years of college, and come out stronger, without making mistakes along the way. Mistakes are what define you, the challenge of learning from those mistakes is the foundation on which you grow, and on which the educational prowess of BHSEC Baltimore is built.
It may have been a bit more difficult than I would have expected.
But the program nevertheless pushed me hard through trial and tribulation so that I could come out stronger on the other side.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.
A recent graduate of Bard High School Early College Baltimore, Edison Estes is a freshman at Champlain College, where he is studying game design.