September 23, 2023

A household pal of mine lately took in a foster baby. She comes from a rural a part of Virginia and has by no means lived in a county with greater than 10,000 folks, not to mention the over 1 million in Fairfax County. 

I’ve lived right here all my life, and I went by way of the Fairfax County Public Faculties (FCPS) system from kindergarten to commencement. I’ve by no means recognized anything, however she has, which is why she was completely overwhelmed when confronted with the problem of choosing her class schedule for her sophomore 12 months of highschool. 

She might barely comprehend the huge vary of decisions she had for electives. Sophomores at many FCPS colleges even have the choice to take sure AP programs, which weren’t supplied at her earlier faculty. She might take a psychology course, or a journalism course, or a movie examine course if she wished to. She might take studio artwork or digital artwork, theater or tech theater. It took her all the summer season to decide on a course schedule. It might have been unusual if it wasn’t such a troublesome course of—the paths she might take and potential niches she might match herself into had been limitless. That have won’t be had at every other district within the state.

FCPS is the biggest faculty system within the state, and among the many largest in all the nation. The median earnings within the county is $54,708, although sure areas clock in a lot increased. FCPS has typically been lauded for its high quality of training, although it’s dwarfed in affluence by close by Loudoun County. Nonetheless, nice colleges.

The number of alternatives in FCPS most notably provides college students the prospect to seek out their very own distinctive id and type their very own expertise. I used to be capable of discover my grownup profession path, journalism, starting in seventh grade. I performed on my highschool’s area hockey group. I took seven AP programs (which I didn’t have to use for to enroll in), a lot of which I used to be capable of flip over for school credit score. The alternatives are plentiful, and in addition, the system’s make-up is wildly racially and ethnically various. 

In these regards, my expertise was optimistic—however the sheer dimension of FCPS additionally contributes to what I view as a number of the lesser elements of my expertise. At many FCPS excessive colleges, school would be the subsequent step for many college students. Thus, the atmosphere is fiercely aggressive and, at occasions, overbearing.

There aren’t any class rankings or valedictorians in FCPS, as a result of excessive colleges discovered that almost all of their college students had above a 3.0 GPA, making class rank an unfair reflection of a college students’ efficiency at school

The dearth of a category rank did little to quell the aggressive atmosphere. For 4 years, there was all the time an unstated rigidity within the air. In my lecture rooms, strolling down the hallways, everybody was keenly conscious that all of us considered each other as competitors. Everybody had this preconception of what precisely our lives ought to appear to be after commencement: Go to varsity, and higher but, a really costly one with a low acceptance charge. If you happen to didn’t do this, you’d be met with these vapid reactions and sideways appears that will make you want you labored just a bit bit more durable to get into UVA. It was by no means specific, all the time implied, simply quiet sufficient to make you query when you’re loopy for placing this strain on your self.

Now, I’m in my senior 12 months at VCU. It’s taken me these previous three years to recalibrate my mindset. There isn’t that very same aggressive atmosphere right here, not even shut—possibly it’s extra the intent of upper training that everybody’s on their very own path, or in their very own timeline. I nonetheless see reflections of my 15-year-old self once I discover myself staying up into odd hours of the evening to get forward on readings, or no matter, once I actually don’t should be.

If nothing else, rising up in FCPS taught me that “optimistic” and “damaging” will not be mutually unique.