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Up until last year, I had spent all of my life in public school. I started kindergarten at Central Elementary School in Wilmette, Illinois. It’s the place where I learned how to tie my shoes, read the “oh so scary” chapter books, and where I learned to speak my first Spanish words (besides what Dora the Explorer taught me). Central School was where I began developing my craft as the next gym class all-American. Sadly, I graduated Central School in fourth grade. But instead of moving on to the next local middle school, my family and I moved to New Jersey. I enrolled at Lafayette School, in Chatham, New Jersey, an elementary school for fourth and fifth graders. The school where I learned to take responsibility for my new phone and where I learned that it can be taken away. After Lafayette, I somehow finessed my way through Chatham Middle School and then I had made it to high school, where swirlies were regular, the secret pool was only for seniors, and where freshman ate in the bathroom stalls. (Ok, not really.) But there was the famous Chatham High School vortex, where five hallways met to form one colossal intersection. The only way to get out of the vortex and avoid being late to class was to latch on to an upperclassman or someone really tall.
When I arrived at Collegiate, my first private school, I couldn’t help but notice the differences. The scheduling and lunch was the first thing I noticed. At public school, we had a four-day rotating schedule, dropping two classes a day. All classes were an hour long, with every grade eating during the 60-minute lunch. But if you had science right before or after lunch, you would have a lab, which meant your science class went 20 minutes into lunch or class started 20 minutes earlier. School started at 7:40 a.m. and ended at 2:35 p.m.
Here at Collegiate, we have an eight-day rotating schedule, dropping two classes a day. We have 55 minute classes, with two one-hour-and-twenty-minute classes, along with a thirty-minute lunch. School starts at 8:35 a.m. and ends at 3:20 p.m. (except on Fridays, where school ends at 2:25 p.m., and Wednesdays, when we start at 8:50 a.m.). My preference is Collegiate because of the later start, and since our schedule changes so often with assemblies, Creative Flex, and advisory, it keeps everything relatively fresh.
Food was another unexpected change that impacted me right away. During lunch at Chatham, lines would usually be out the door for a custom-made Boar’s Head sandwich. Anyone could order one before school, and it would be pre-made and ready by the start of lunch. The hot and ready lunch was very repetitive, but the occasional mozzarella sticks or chicken nuggets would draw a long line.
The deli was usually open from a varying time in the morning to about thirty minutes after lunch ended. There were the usual Doritos, pretzels, and drinks available to buy throughout the unforgiving time frame. At Collegiate, the Estes Café snack bar is open from 7:30 a.m. to about 1:30 p.m.. However, a new snack bar opens in McFall Hall in the afternoon for people who need a quick bite before practice. The cafeteria offers three different hot lunch options each day, with a salad bar and homemade soup. I prefer Collegiate’s food over Chatham’s, and I think my snack bar bill will prove that.
Academics, believe or not, was one of the few things that remained very similar between the schools. Both Chatham and Collegiate provide hard-working teachers who are dedicated to giving students as many opportunities to come in for extra help. For the past two years, Chatham has been voted the number one public school in New Jersey. Collegiate is no slouch, though, consistently being a top ten private school in Virginia. One of the very few differences is that Collegiate does not include a required physical education class in the Upper School and does not offer an AP English class. Unlike Collegiate, Chatham requires three years of home economics in middle school (two years of cooking and one year of sewing). Chatham’s high school also requires a half-year financial literacy course to teach students about budgeting, buying/renting homes and cars, and how to use Word Excel. I have been beyond fortunate to attend both these outstanding high schools.
There were no sport requirements in Chatham, which meant very competitive try outs and, indeed, cuts. Chatham has a reputation for bringing a large and rowdy student section to football, hockey, basketball, and lacrosse games. Being a Chatham Cougar meant something. You had to wear your Cougar pride on your sleeve in order to become a leader in the student section. As the seasons progress, space in the student section comes at a premium. For instance, the last two years when Chatham’s basketball team were in the playoffs, tickets were sold before school days in advance. I was told by one of best friends at Chatham, current senior Pat Cosgrove, that “By the time I got to school at 6:30 a.m. to get a ticket, the line was already wrapped around a hallway and a half.”
Here at Collegiate, the school physically does not have the same number of students to put together the same student section as Chatham. Collegiate may have more athletic success, but that might be a product of the weight training program that starts in seventh grade. Chatham has nowhere near the athletic facilities as Collegiate does, nor the coaches with the amount of athletic background and experience. My athletic preference is Chatham’s. No matter how nice the Robins Campus is or how great the coaches are, nothing in the world beats playing in front of what seems like the entire high school, with a gym that feels like it’s vibrating.
Social life is a significant part of high school, no matter where or what type of school it is. Although it technically may be outside of school, it is still a part of each school’s community. Chatham is a small town in northern New Jersey. The friendly neighborhood lifestyle and tight knit community is something that realtors pitch to potential buyers. In Chatham, no one really lives more than ten minutes from each other. Anyone can walk from one end of town to the other in about 40 minutes. Being in walking/biking distance is crucial for socializing, since 17 is the age that young adults can get their license in New Jersey. Chatham’s social network branches off to New York City. New York City is one quick forty-minute train away from Chatham. Metlife Stadium, home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets, is only thirty minutes away, as is the Prudential Center, the home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
Collegiate is a little different, being surrounded by a city. It takes me twenty minutes alone to get to school every morning. Collegiate does have numerous opportunities for students to get involved in the Cougar community, with lots of SCA events and multiple school dances throughout the year. Collegiate is a relatively small institution, and that can sometimes even be stifling. As one classmate here, who wished to remain nameless, stated, “The problem is that with a small grade and small school, everyone finds out each other’s business.” I prefer Chatham’s social scene over Collegiate’s because I love being so close to all my friends, saving gas money, and being able to walk and carpool to places.
There is no question that I love both Chatham and Collegiate. Each school and community will always have their own characteristics and way of operation. I am beyond thankful for both my public and private school educations. I consider myself lucky to split my high school career at two very different institutions and have both perspectives under my belt. I know my time at Chatham and Collegiate has prepared me for whatever university I end up attending. One thing is for sure, I’ll always be a Cougar for life.
Featured image credit: Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons.