Go Back to High School, But Make it Perfect
In this short fictional story, Peter Chu, a high school junior in Southern California, brings us along for an ideal first day of classes—if only in his dreams.
I’m carefully examining the contents of my backpack, referring to the not-so-comprehensive checklist I scraped together just 20 minutes ago. Mom told me to pack my things last week, but you know how I roll.
Notebooks, check. Binders, check. Pencils, check. Pens, check. Lemon-lime Gatorade, check. Lunch? TBD.
I’m anxious, but also excited. Okay, maybe I’m super anxious.
I haven’t been in a big social setting in a while, and I haven’t been in an actual school building in a while, either. It’s been over a year since I’ve had to pack a bag for school, you know, with the whole pandemic thing that’s disrupted the comforting structure and lives of the billions of people on our lovely planet Earth. (Dramatic gasp for air). Anyways, it’s a big day tomorrow, so I should probably get some sleep. Tomorrow is the first day of school.
The next day, I wake up to the cheerful chirping of birds, and warm, dancing sunlight streaming into my room through the crack in my curtains. I know it’s going to be a good day. I can just feel it.
The buttery smell of eggs and waffles is wafting into my room. (In my opinion, the perfect breakfast for the first day of school.) Post eggs and waffles, the all-too-familiar squeak of the school bus has me slinging my bag over my shoulder and sprinting out the door.
On the bus, I make my way to an empty seat my friend Zephyr is saving for me.
“Hey!” he says, with excitement in his voice.
“What’s up?” I reply.
“Nothin’ much,” Zephyr says. “You excited for Decision Week?”
“You bet I am.”
Decision Week happens during the first week of every school year. The entire school gets together to, well, make decisions. It’s our chance to ensure the school is working in the best interest of students. Discussions throughout the week range from what content is worth learning, recognizing bias and its effect in the education system, and the value (or lack thereof) of standardized tests.
This year, I’m hoping my school will finally stop requiring students to take the SAT in order to graduate—a move I have been advocating for over the past two years. I’ll make the case that the SAT’s importance has diminished in the realm of higher education and explain how the test, distributed by a nonprofit that raked in $1.1 billion in revenue just a few years ago, advantages and disadvantages students based on socioeconomic status and exacerbates pre-existing inequalities.
Decision Week is admittedly a very draining first week of school, but so, so important to the well-being of us students.
I peered out of the square bus window I was sitting by to see my school slowly getting closer and closer. The chatter in the bus gradually intensified as the bus squeaked to a slow stop. Our teachers and counselors were already outside, eager to see students in person after such a long time. What I love most about school are the teachers. While being a teenager in school is undoubtedly a confusing time of growth and transition, teachers like Ms. Baker make it easier. She’s who comes to mind when I hear, read, or see the word “teacher.” Ms. Baker was my homeroom teacher a year ago, which was the last time I set foot in a physical classroom. She always smelled like cookies and coffee, and she encouraged me to take risks and pursue interests outside of the classroom. She’s the embodiment of what I think students need in a teacher.
“Hey!” she said. “Heard you’re interested in chess.”
“Hey Ms. Baker! Yeah, I’m thinking about entering a local chess tournament, but I don’t want to embarrass myself,” I said with a chuckle.
“I had my own insecurities about becoming a teacher,” she said, “so imagine what would’ve happened if I had caved in to my own self-doubts. Probably wouldn’t be here with you.”
“Alright...” I said. “I guess I’ll enter.”
“And even if you don’t win,” she said, “the worst thing that can happen is that you get a little better and learn something new, right?”
Our conversations and her words of encouragement were always as simple as that.
I walked up the dusty steps to my school’s front doors, paused, and took a deep breath before striding into a place I realized I had greatly missed. As I walked through the entrance hall, I appreciated the sprightly splashes of color and the collections of artwork on display, reflecting the beauty of cultures from around the world. School was a place where creativity belonged.
Within these walls, I felt safe and respected by both my teachers and peers. Every aspect of my identity and life experience was accepted and embraced. Within these walls, the thought of running from the resounding echoes of bullets and hoarse screams ceased to even seep into my conscience. Within these walls I was excited. I was excited about what I was learning. I was excited to be here.
I had arrived at my homeroom. I reached for the doorknob, turned it, and pushed. The door was locked. “Hello?” I called out. “Could someone please let me in?”
Knock, knock, knock.
“Hello?” I said again.
Knock, knock, knock.
“Wake up, you have school!”
I stretched out like a starfish on my bed, an empty stare directed at my gray popcorned ceiling.
“Good morning, Mom.”
“Good morning!” she replied. “Let’s get ready. You don’t want to miss the bus.”
It was eerily quiet. I pulled back the curtains to reveal a gray and gloomy overcast sky.