No elite child left behind

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By bumping shoulders with enrolled students and hearing them chat about the AP’s offered, the 100% college acceptance, and high graduation rate, Townsend Harris students feel elite the moment they walk in. After a selective screening process, we enter knowing that we are among the best in the city. This elitist mentality is what sprouts from an amalgam of high caliber students and an environment that encourages success. There is a correlational relationship: a well-functioning school makes elite students, and elite students make their school better.

When high school acceptance letters were opened in middle school, getting into Townsend Harris or a specialized high school was your ticket to lifelong splendor. The highly selective system denotes a sense of success and this perpetuates the reputation Townsend Harris has as an elite school. Statistics show that about 3,000 applicants put Townsend Harris as their first choice, but it only has spots for less than 10%.

Townsend Harris nurtures an environment of high expectations. This allows its already high-performing students to thrive. Day after day, teachers remind us that we are “Townsend Harris students” and we “shall not leave our city any less but rather greater than we found it.” The effects of teacher expectations on student performance were discussed in the 1968 book Pygmalion in the Classroom by Robert Rosenthal, in which scholar James Rhem wrote:

“Simply put, when teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways.”

Unlike your run-of-the-mill public school, students at Townsend learn just as much from their peers as they do from their teachers. Peer-pressure works on the opposite side of the spectrum here; students encourage high-performance and “over-achievers” are not disparaged for working hard.

When asked what makes Townsend Harris elite, Emylia Rochyadi, sophomore, agreed that the small class size, safe hallways, and faculty are important factors, but notes, “it’s the students around that don’t make me feel awkward for being a nerd. In my middle school, if you were smart other students assumed you preferred reading a textbook than going to the movies.”

Townsend may not offer a bottomless pit of resources, but this isn’t what makes a school great. Being “elite” does not represent affluence, but instead hard work and a thirst for knowledge. The students are talented and offer the school just as much as it offers them.

Up until the recent bell schedule change, Townsend did not try to be like other public schools. Its established traditions and unique academic goals are what set Townsend apart from the rest. The quality of education may depend on the quality of the students, but if those same students start to worry too much about their grades, nothing will be accomplished.

With any top-notch school comes the desire to succeed. Yet, with an increasing emphasis on the traditional 0-to-100 grading system, the true spirit of learning may soon take a backseat to outstanding grades and perfect test scores. Despite being a humanities school, Townsend Harris is becoming all about the numbers.