The options on where my younger sister — an eighth grader at Aptos Middle School — could attend high school are still unknown, but nonetheless, the impending decision has been a point of familial contention. My parents have been brooding over skewed admissions policies, encouraging entrance exam prep, and arranging diplomatic meet-and-greets with school members at her top choice — a coed San Francisco private school.
Despite all the fuss, they only want her to have option to make her own decision — and live with it. I can only say I wish the same; I’m just worried she’ll miss out.
Miss out on slim class sizes? Olympian facilities? Ski week? No. All of these, at least for a whiz kid like her, are inconsequential.
I’m worried she’ll miss out on more decisions, like which of eight languages to take, and whether or not to add another AP, and how to handle the frustration of an unfair and awful teacher, and whether to succumb to sleep or soldier on. Watching her wrestle with a decision-making process that I had found so harrowing just a few years prior has made me realize exactly what I’m worried she’ll miss out on. I fear she’ll miss out on Lowell.
I haven’t always felt this way, or even made it clear that I ever do at all. From my vantage point from the trenches, and especially following particularly grueling stretches, it can be easy to lose sight of how phenomenal our school really is. Thankfully, my peers never make me wait long for a reminder.
When juniors Sophia Li and Ofri Harlev were announced as the second and third place winners in the national Samsung App design contest, collecting $15,000 in prize money between them, congratulations, but not surprise, was in order. The achievement, no doubt extraordinary, is a routine blip in our culture of success.
It’s hard to find something meaningful that we aren't good at. Blue ribbon awards and Newsweek rankings aside, Lowell students have built one of the most exceptional smorgasbords of options for time-investment in the nation. JROTC, Forensics, Robotics, core math and science, clubs, AP offerings, the list goes on and on.
In a city that budded from the 49ers spirit of opportunity and success through ingenuity and perseverance, Lowell remains uniquely American, only there is enough gold here for everyone. It’s laissez-faire educational capitalism, where Stephen Bryer would be Rockefeller.
Our famous alumni list is longer than many privates’ graduating classes, and our price tag infinitely smaller. Graduates and parents know how incredible our education is; that’s why they supplement our faltering budget with almost half a million dollars each year.
Critics of public schools — and there are many — often point to unionized teaching as a haven for shoddy teachers. In truth, there are bad teachers here, the same as everywhere, and in some cases they are unavoidable. But there is not a single class without somebody who is a good teacher, even if they’re sitting in desks beside you. By steeping in the best and brightest students the city has to offer, osmotic learning more than compensates, if the great teachers don’t already: educators who are accomplished and ambitious and yet still philanthropic enough to teach at a low-income, inner-city public high school.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Lowell, (or at least it seems to me) has been a tremendously accepting place. Certainly most high schools should be a step up from the thuggery and relentless gossip of junior high, but here it seems especially so, and I think my sister would appreciate the adult social dynamic. It’s a place where the learning takes center stage, and where the stairs to success are long and tedious, but unobstructed.
I’ve heard many anxious parents utter in retreat, “Lowell isn't for everyone.” They would be right. If Lowell were for everyone, it wouldn’t set such high standards.
I hope then, that when the time comes, and the choices are before her, we’ll get to share a year here together at the school I appreciate so much. I wouldn’t want her to miss out.
Illustration by Hoi Leung and Kimberly Li