Minutes Away, Worlds Apart
By ALANNA LEVINE and RACHEL HOFFMAN
She pulls into the senior lot at 8:45 a.m., grabs her backpack from the rear seat of her new car, and complains about the two minute commute from the parking lot to the high school entrance. When she walks through the doors, she greets her friend with an iced coffee, and the two walk to their first period class together, arriving five minutes early.
Minutes away, another student gets off the school bus, takes out her student ID card, and gets in a queue behind her peers. She complains to her friend about the hassle of removing her jewelry before first period starts. They wait on a long line of students, who all have to put their bags through the scanners and walk through metal detectors very similar to those found at airport security checks. They are often late to class as a result.
These scenarios are everyday occurrences at two very different Long Island high schools that are only 8.7 miles and 20 minutes apart. Jericho High School, known for its prevailing academic excellence, and Hempstead High School, known for providing its students with assistance for daily needs, have more in common than one would expect, since both are much more than their perceived stereotypes.
Former principal of Hempstead High School and current Vice Principal of Jericho High School Dr. Dagoberto Artiles has a clear idea of the major differences between the two high schools. “The most significant difference is the socioeconomics,” since “race doesn’t matter when it comes to academic achievement.”
“Socioeconomics is something that Hempstead High School knows very well,” said Hempstead guidance counselor Ms. Graham-Alexander. “A lot of times, basic things that students would have are not affordable for this community. There are multiple generations living in one home, and we have a high population of students who are homeless or in foster care. With those issues at stake, the basic needs take precedent over their education. Food or shelter are really what is on their minds, and this makes it really difficult to navigate getting an education.”
Gabby Schmuter, a senior at Jericho High School and co-president of Student Council, moved to Jericho right before her freshman year. Of her school she said, “Ever since I moved here in ninth grade, I’ve really fallen in love with Jericho High School. The ambitious drive for success is amazing, even though it can be a little daunting. The students in our school always blow everyone away with their great accomplishments, and I know that we’ll always continue to amaze Long Island with our school.”
In a survey of Jericho students, 68.37% of respondents said that they believe Jericho High School is well above or above average academically when compared to other Nassau County high schools. When asked how they feel Hempstead compares academically with other Nassau County schools, 46.7% said Hempstead is below average or well below average. However,despite this stereotype, many students at Hempstead excel academically. Hempstead class of 2014 valedictorian Karen Lopez said that statistics don’t always “take into account the potential that lies within particular people.” Lopez is attending Columbia University on a full scholarship.
With the staggering differences in the socioeconomic statuses and cultures of these two Nassau County high schools, it is not surprising that the schools’ levels of spirit vary as well. According to the survey sent out to Jericho students, 90.8% of respondents believe that Jericho’s spirit is average or below average when compared to that of other Nassau County high schools, and 85% feel that Hempstead’s is average or above average. Jericho class of 2014 valedictorian and student council president Ben Kronengold worked hard to increase school spirit at Jericho. “Compared to my earlier years at Jericho, my senior year saw an improvement, hopefully because of some of the work that Student Council put in. We tried to create an exciting atmosphere where we feel pride for our high school, and are not only rooting for our sports teams, but for different academic areas to succeed as well, ” Kronengold said.
Hempstead student Jevaughn Porter explained that her school seems to demonstrate high levels of school spirit at certain times of the year, such as Homecoming and at various sporting events like football and track. However, throughout the year, their spirit fades when it is deemed unnecessary.
When Hempstead students consider the Jericho school district, they think of “student parking lots that are filled with nicer cars than the teachers’,” said Porter. “When we speak about the socioeconomic situation of Hempstead, the reality is, it’s not everyone, but it’s the majority of students who are just trying to survive on a day-to-day basis,” Ms. Graham-Alexander said. “Our breakfast program, our lunch program, and even now, our P.M. school, which also serves a meal, is very much needed. Students who are recovering credits at night could not make it through the night and focus without a meal. Those students are really trying to turn their academic careers around just because there is a meal that is offered in night school.”
Kronengold, who attends Yale University, understands the impact of socioeconomics on education. “In general, I think neighborhoods with more income can provide resources for students to meet high academic standards, be they public in-school resources or private classes and tutors,” Kronengold said. “From what I’ve experienced, extracurricular activities are also more widely available in a school like Jericho because of the available funds we have and the value we’ve placed on learning experiences outside the classroom.”
Dr. Artiles said, “Education is about making better people.” Despite their differences, Hempstead High School and Jericho High School both strive to do just that for their students.