For many of us, thoughts of our high school days conjure up fond, wistful memories of homecomings, proms, yearbook scrawls, touchdowns, holiday concerts, favorite teachers, and favorite lessons learned from them. This is especially true in socioeconomically advantaged areas like Westchester, where considerable resources are spent producing superior public high schools that effectively mint legions of highly functioning, highly capable graduates who go on to great success in college and beyond.
But given the diversity among students in their aptitudes, interests, personalities, and ways of learning, even the most moneyed public high school doesn’t automatically meet the needs of all of its students. A surprising number of teenagers find themselves academically and socially disenfranchised because, for any number of reasons, they simply don’t fit the mold of the “typical” student that the school’s apparatus is structured to serve.
I speak from personal experience. Back in the day, I attended a very well-respected public high school in suburban Philadelphia that, on the surface, seemed to provide the model environment for any teenager to thrive—sparkling facilities, a venerated faculty, a hyper-vigilant PTA, and a case bursting with self-validating trophies and awards in its immaculate lobby. But by the end of my freshman year, I was a very unhappy camper, to say the least: Academically, I wasn’t being sufficiently challenged, and that led to subsequent disengagement and social isolation. Luckily, I found a way out (and up): I left high school after my sophomore year to enter college when I was 16. Drastic? For sure. But it was a truly life-changing experience—one that, thankfully, propelled me into a completely different trajectory at a very critical juncture, likely forestalling a horribly different outcome.
Fortunately, today’s teens have many more options to consider, as our high schools have acknowledged and responded to this critical gap in their formerly monolithic enterprise, developing highly successful alternative programs to meet the disparate needs of their students. In our cover story, we take you on a grand tour of some of these leading programs around the county. This is followed by our much-anticipated annual data chart on all 47 of Westchester’s public high schools, so you can see how yours measures up against the rest. And, for the very first time, we are pleased to present a look at our local colleges. While most teenagers’ instincts are to plot a course as far away from Mom and Dad as possible when it comes to selecting a college, there are some truly superb undergraduate programs right here in our own backyard—from nursing to filmmaking—that may convince them to stay at home after all. (On second thought…)