The following is based on my personal experiences and I have no intention of demeaning the institution.
This week made a year since I graduated from McNair, and it was so relieving. I counted down the days to eagerly start a new chapter of my life. After seeing who once was my gym teacher suspended and the racist remarks of so many students, I felt inclined to talk about my experience at McNair Academic High School.
To sum it up, my experience wasn't what I thought it would be.
I entered the doors of what was the "most diverse" school, still confused that there might not be enough diversity.
Each time I introduced myself to someone and responded to the question of what high school I attended, they would immediately make surprised faces or blurt out,
"Wow! So you're really smart"
"Oh so you're a McNerd"
This made me feel a sense of guilt, each time because I knew that McNair wasn't as perfect as it seemed on the outside looking in.
When taking African American Studies, my teacher explained that the school accepts a percentage of each demography listed on paper, therefore if you don't look or identify with the demography you selected, you could have potentially taken the spot of someone that would look or identify with that particular demography (for example a middle-eastern person identifying as white). That being said, there's no way to fix this issue, because an individual chooses what to identify as.
This could possibly explain why the "most diverse" school didn't appear to be so diverse to me as a student, and as a Trinidadian-American, I felt underrepresented.
After leaving McNair however, I understood that the school was still very diverse because Jersey City is the most diverse city in the nation, and other schools in the city were also diverse. But when you leave Jersey City, the lack of cultural awareness of others hits, and you then realize that other people have not been exposed to people of other backgrounds until they go to college or end up in diverse workplaces.
There are certain things that should not have been acceptable, but it was, in McNair. Not allowing scarves or headwraps to be worn? Guidance counselors calling students out of class for no reason other than favoritism or when students wanted to be out of class? Security guards cursing at students? Allowing certain students to be out of dress code while others would be dress-coded for the same thing? Not allowing students to go to the bathroom as needed?
Mcnair's administration oftentimes ignored issues that warranted further consequences, or it seemed as if they only responded to issues when the felt like it, which makes sense that racist students are now being exposed because of social media. Students of all backgrounds and skin colors used the n-word with no consequences, it was treated the same as any other "curse" word. Another example would be threats to fight students that would be swept under the rug.
For a school that's supposed to live up to high expectations and have model students for others, McNair did not live up to his expectations.
Favoritism was a large issue. Faculty and administration treating students differently and gossiping about students were also issues. Making us feel like mistakes were intolerable was an issue. Treating us like kids was an issue.
Another reason why my high school experience wasn't ideal was that, in general, it was an unhealthy environment for teenagers. Expectations were at times, beyond measures. The competitive environment was definitely motivating for some, encouraging them to study as much as possible and score high, but it also hurt the self-esteem of others to the point where students felt "stupid" when compared to others or cheated to make sure they live up to the expectations of such a competitive environment. The scores mattered more than knowledge gained in some instances. With teachers praising the most academically inclined students while collectively treating other students as less, I did not like this at all. I believe praising all or none creates a better environment because praising the highest and disregarding others further creates a stigma within the student body as well.
In such a competitive environment, after every exam, quiz, report card, or anything academically related there would be a large discussion, with of course side comments and glances that made certain students feel some type of way.
To start with, my guidance counselor discouraged me from applying to universities with "low" acceptance rates, but after speaking with my friend from a different school and getting opinions from others, I decided to apply anyway, and it turned out in my favor.
When I was asked what college I would be attending and I responded, "NYU", I would get disrespectful comments from my peers, who in most cases, I knew for seven years because we attended the same middle school, Academy 1. They would react by saying, "Oh wow! That's crazy, how?" or "You're lucky you got into a reach school" or "Surprising. Congrats!"
This made me feel like I didn't deserve it, as if my acceptance was just because I got "lucky", and my low confidence because of this environment is still something I'm working on.
In McNair, I was afraid of doing what made me happy because of how others would react. It was always a competition with students belittling one another, judging them for their ideas, or downplaying their intelligence or potential.
Perhaps teaching students how to have healthy competitions, maybe having a more supportive or helpful administration or better administration? There are ways to improve the downfalls of high school, but it seemed like we were always expected to obey without hesitation, even if it was an injustice to ourselves.
I'm not the only alumni that feel this way, and though I disliked certain aspects of McNair and couldn't wait to leave, I cannot ignore the positive experiences, despite the flaws.
It was very annoying to deal with situations that could have been avoided, but there were a handful of teachers that made a lasting impact on my education/life, and I still reach out to them from time to time. It seems like the administration does not put enough effort into ensuring we have a quality experience, nor do they care about it enough.
Based on my experience, although there were faults in McNair, it was not the worst thing ever. Making the best out of your experience is important, and I did so by making a handful of (hopefully) lifelong friendships and using negativity to push myself forward.
I wouldn't have rather attended any other high school because McNair challenged me academically, mentally, and it overall shaped me to be a better person with patience and a strong mind. I now know to do what makes me happy, and to not deprive myself of a challenge or anything that may help me grow because of what someone else might think.
Since I knew that McNair was not offering me the glorified experience I wanted, I made sure to go to a college that would suit me. Now, a year later, I'm happier than I ever was in any school, and I am content with my decision to attend NYU.