Commonwealth Journal

January 10, 2012

Alumnus not sure about Science Hill High School

Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Having one or two cookies at a time is fine. Having a whole box/tray/jar full of them is liable to make you sick (to say nothing of your waistline).

I wonder if maybe that rule of thumb shouldn’t be pondered a little when it comes to the most recent big news out of Science Hill.

The Commonwealth Journal reported in Sunday’s edition that Science Hill School — which currently runs kindergarten through 8th grade — had submitted plans for a potential high school expansion.

I have a perspective on that issue that only a portion of readers would because I count myself as an alumnus of Science Hill School.

My diagnosis? I don’t know whether or not it would be good for the institution itself, but I’m not sold on the idea that Science Hill: The High School would be good for the students.

That’s not an indictment on the school’s quality in any way. Far from it: My experiences convince me that it’s best left the way it is.

In fairness, I only went there for one year after moving to Pulaski County, but that’s a year I’ll always treasure. Some of my teachers there, the friendships I made — many of which continue to this day, almost two decades later — and the advantages the school offered are aspects I remember fondly.

It was, in many ways, the ideal set-up for me. I was home-schooled up until that point, so unlike most of my peers, I was walking into a totally foreign situation. Showing up everyday, sitting in a room full of other people, having to learn at the same pace as them — it was daunting.

Yet I never had a lick of trouble. The environment offered by Science Hill was caring and nurturing. The fact that the school was so small — less than 40 people were in my graduating 8th grade class, as I recall — meant that I was able to receive plenty of personal attention, rather than just be a random face in the classroom. As a result, my grades were excellent, and I never felt like I had any trouble fitting in. I will always be grateful for the fact that the school took someone who could have been in way over his head, and allowed him to thrive instead.

When we left Science Hill, we had a choice: move on to Somerset High School, or move on to Pulaski County High School. For me, this was only the next step in an evolving introduction to public education. For my classmates, it was a big step indeed. Almost like going to college, since they’d be around so many new people in a totally new atmosphere (okay, maybe more like “Saved by the Bell: The College Years,” since a significant portion of their closest friends would be coming with them, but you get the point).

They’d been around each other for most of their lives, the majority of them from the start of their school careers. First grade, second grade, etc., the same kids in the desks around you. That was all about to change.

But honestly, that was probably good for us. As we got older, we took on new challenges. Our social circle was able to expand. We didn’t stay stagnant, in the same building, seeing the same people — students and faculty alike — sitting at the same lunch table. It was time to move on, and everyone benefited.

Certainly, our new high schools did. Pretty much every one of the former Yellowjackets who went on to Somerset High School with me in the fall of 1994 integrated themselves into the core of that class, becoming well-liked and active in school activities. We comprised some of the top academic students in the school too, assuming places on the honor roll, the National Honor Society, and in the assortment of Advanced Placement classes that Somerset High offered.

I have no doubt the same was true for our classmates who went to Pulaski County. My co-worker Heather Tomlinson is a testament to this. A Science Hill alum who attended PCHS, she was an excellent student there, a key member of the school’s dance team, and went on to study journalism and political science at the University of Kentucky before returning home and proving herself to be a superior journalist here.

She was a credit to Science Hill, and a credit to Pulaski County as well — just as I hope I’m a credit to Science Hill and to Somerset.

So no doubt about it, if students stayed in Science Hill and went to high school there, Somerset and Pulaski County would lose a lot. They’d be missing some of their best students on what I believe is an annual basis, youth who mix well into each class’s social group, and go on to graduate as students of which their school can be proud.

I’m sure administrators and teachers at those schools will be able to tell you how many Science Hill students they got to teach made an impact in the classroom, on the field of competition, in the bandroom and stage and elsewhere. Take those students away and keep them at Science Hill, and our other high schools will be all the poorer for it.

But will the students? Certainly, if you live in Science Hill, there’s a convenience to having your school right there close by in your community. I remember what the drive time from Somerset to Science Hill was like on a daily basis.

As I said earlier, however, going to Somerset from Science Hill was an important step. It forced us to adapt to something new — new hallways, new people, new expectations. For some students, it might have been a second chance. When you’re around the same folks for years, you develop a reputation, preconceived notions about yourself — maybe for good, maybe for bad. By going to a new high school, these students had an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. Anyone who wasn’t happy with the way they were perceived could change and win over this new crowd; anyone who had a sparkling resume got to prove that they were indeed worthy of it.

By staying at Science Hill all the way through high school, students would lose those chances. They’d miss the diversity that comes with being introduced into a new institution, with different people than they’re used to seeing.

Make no mistake about it, that diversity — in any type of community — makes us stronger. Learning how to interact with different types of people, becoming tolerant of them, understanding them — that makes us better people.

Science Hill students got the opportunity to do that four years before they’d go to college, or enter the working world. In either of those next steps, they’d have to establish relationships with unfamiliar faces. Doing so in high school was great preparation for that.

It’s true that in order for Science Hill to add a high school to its excellent educational offerings, the school population would have to grow. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the same people would stick together through time as has always been the custom. It’s doubtful there would be that much variation in the students sitting next to one another from year to year to year. Familiarity is nice, but the potential for personal growth would be stunted.

I’m glad I got to share my high school experience with some of the friends I made at Science Hill, but I’m even more glad they weren’t the only people with whom I was able to share it. By moving on to Somerset, I met even more wonderful, challenging and memorable people who made an impact on my life. Knowing both sets of peers was just as crucial; in retrospect, I feel like I would have been cheated to have known only one of them.

Science Hill School is a good thing. I’m just concerned that there could be too much of it.