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Public or private -- which school is best for you

This fall, I went to visit my old school. I am a junior at Kenmore West High School and when I say "old school" I mean the school where I spent my freshman and sophomore years; Mount St. Mary Academy. Choosing between private and public high school can be tough for teenagers and their parents. There are aspects of both types of schools that must be considered in the decision. Some teens don't have a choice or already know where they want to go, while others make this decision twice.

For me, it wasn't that hard. I knew that I wanted to go to private school like my brother had. I don't really know what it was about Mount St. Mary Academy that I liked, but I wanted to be there. I definitely wanted to experience a tight-knit school community and I wanted to attend a school where it would be easy for me to focus on school work. Mount was both of those things, but I wasn't able to adjust to the environment there so I transferred to Kenmore West this year.

The question that I get asked most often is "Why did you transfer?" My answer is usually short and incomplete: "I didn't like private school." But there is definitely more to it than that.

Until high school, I had attended public school my entire life. My middle school had about 600 students and Mount St. Mary's had about 400. It doesn't seem like a huge difference, but walking through the halls at Mount is much different and easier than at public school. There isn't the same hustle and bustle at private school and the walk from class to class is much calmer.

When choosing a high school, teens should really think about the size of a school. It's something that everyone has to consider once they start looking at colleges, but it's important in high school as well. You have to figure out if you'd rather be in a small private school, a larger private school or a huge public school. I realized that for me, Mount St. Mary's was just too small. I wanted to have more people to interact with every day.

Kristian Walker, a junior at Mount St. Mary's, transferred to Kenmore East this year, but didn't like it and transferred back.

"The hardest thing to get used to was the size of the school," said Kristian. "It was such a rush and difficult to get around."

On the other hand, I like being in a big school and it wasn't difficult for me to adjust to the difference in size.

Another important aspect to consider is the people you will be spending your days with. At Kenmore West, I am surrounded by more than 1,000 people of many different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. This diversity encourages an open sharing of ideas and opinions on current events and the topics that we are covering in class.

Tori Tuhovak, a former Mount St. Mary Academy student who now attends Niagara Wheatfield put it this way: "I think I'm getting the same education but I feel like I get different perspectives. There is a more diverse student and faculty population which circulates more ideas and gives a broader range of thoughts."

Another aspect of being part of a larger school community is having more options in terms of clubs, activities and classes.

Many teens want to live the typical high school experience: prom, pep rallies, football games, homecoming, and all the things that people associate with their teenage years. At Kenmore West, there is a club, activity or team for everyone and there is something happening every day. Private schools are no different. They offer the same opportunities for sharing school life, just on a smaller scale. Although Mount St. Mary Academy does not have a football team or homecoming game, it fields teams for almost every other sport and has spirit week, prom, a marching band, class sleep-outs and Mountstock (an annual battle of the bands).

There is also a difference in the classroom atmosphere.

Classes in public school are larger. An average public class size is about 23 students, while in private school the number of students in a class is usually under 20. And don't forget that in a public school it's also a lot easier to get distracted. Since there are girls and boys and no uniform, students really have to work hard to keep their attention focused on the schoolwork.

In the end, the choice between public and private school comes down to finding the best learning environment for you. Many factors have to be accounted for before you make a decision that could influence the path you take through high school and beyond. Your high school years are supposed to be some of the best of your life, so it is worth the time it takes to determine what's best for you.

Mary Hartrich is a junior at Kenmore West High School.

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