Now that I’m looking at my NBHS education from the other side of 50, there are clearly benefits that I see now, but I undervalued during high school. During my days at North Baltimore High School, I always wished I had access to a wider variety of selections: classes, sports teams, and extracurricular activities. My cousins went to Findlay High School. I remember seeing their French books on the kitchen table, violins in the hallway, and listening to their exciting stories about extracurricular opportunities not even heard of at NBHS. Wow! Wouldn’t it be thrilling to go to a big high school, ripe with so many choices?
Still yearning for more choices, I headed straight for the biggest college in Ohio as soon as I graduated from NBHS. At OSU, I thoroughly enjoyed the wide selection of activities there. When it came time to decide where to raise our family, we settled in Findlay. I was proud that our kids would have access to the opportunities that I felt I had missed. Musically, they could pick between band or orchestra as early as fourth grade. Athletically, there were several sports per season for them to choose. When it came time to schedule high school classes, there was an incredible menu of choices. Our children participated in a wide spectrum of extracurricular activities.
Access to a variety of opportunities is definitely a selling point for a big school district, but it comes at a cost. A fourth grader has to choose between band OR orchestra. Many varsity sports virtually require that an athlete has been participating at a competitive travel level since a very early age and throughout multiple seasons per year. Oh, and don’t forget the sports camps and the private lessons! If a child dreams of participating in one of the best show choirs in the Midwest, she needs to begin to take voice and dance lessons at an early age. The list goes on.
When it came time for each of our children to choose a college, we embarked upon an extensive series of college visits. Over the course of college searches for three children, I guarantee that I have heard over 50 college admission speeches, most of them at small, private liberal arts colleges. Regardless of the locale, they shared the same message. They each go something like this.
Shut your eyes and picture yourself in a beautifully paneled room sitting in an overstuffed chair surrounded by leather bound volumes of books. Glance out the leaded glass window and look upon Gothic buildings, mature hardwood trees, and smiling students darting across the college green. Next, a college admissions counselor walks into the room, shares an inspirational video, and then shares why your child should attend this college. First, he will say that your child will have personal relationships with his instructors here. Your child will know his instructors on a first name basis and his instructors will care deeply about your child. Second, the admissions counselor will say, “This is the time of your child’s life when he will have a chance to try new things. An artist can learn a new sport; a science student can learn a new language; a musician can write for the school newspaper.” Finally, they share an amazing tidbit like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Longfellow sat side by side in the same English class here.
These were the moments when I really began to appreciate my NBHS education. We did have teachers who cared deeply about us at NBHS. We were lucky to have classes with some teachers several times throughout our high school careers so were able to build an especially strong and trusting relationship with them. They mentored us, cheered for us, and told us when we were out of line. They are still happy to see us around the community. And just as the college admissions counselor promised, we even called them by their first names, just not to their faces!
Most believe that the beauty of a liberal arts education is the chance to explore new things. I didn’t know it then, but we were especially blessed in this realm at NBHS. We could try a new sport in high school even if we hadn’t played on travel teams since age five. We could be a cheerleader without gymnastics lessons. We could be in the school musical without voice or dancing lessons. We could march in the band even if we never practiced our instrument outside the band room. We didn’t need to be a superstar to captain a sports team or a great writer to work on the school paper. NBHS provided a safe place for us to participate in many activities: to try new things, to identify our passion areas, to learn to lead. I believe that is why so many NBHS graduates have gone on to accomplish great things.
As for the admission counselor’s three specific selling points, I’m not sure that those pricey liberal arts colleges have anything to offer that we didn’t already get at good old NBHS, other than taking English in the same classroom as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Longfellow.