Why I never tell people where I went to high school

Whenever I tell people that I went to a religious private school from 1st–12th grade, they are always shocked.

I would like to think it’s because I don’t give off “private school vibes” (whatever that means), but it’s more likely the fact that I have removed myself so far from that time in my life that it no longer shows through when I am getting to know someone.

There are several reasons why I don’t like to be associated with my high school. Firstly, “private school” always sounds pretentious. Yes, maybe the school was nicer than most public high schools in the area, but we still had black mold in our administrative office and still had to hike up a hill at eight in the morning to get to class.

Besides these aesthetic (and possibly deadly) issues, my school took a turn for the worst before I graduated. It changed the way I looked at the place that was my home for the past 10 years.

My school was like a small commune. Run by a bigger company who made all executive decisions, we had kids from elementary to high school, a retirement community, summer camps and outreach projects — you get the picture. Despite my own reservations about religion as I got into high school (and a disdain for weekly chapel), I came to appreciate going to school in a tight-knit community. I knew all of my teachers, classmates and even administrators well, and I was comfortable.

Sometime in 2020, before the pandemic, I started hearing rumors about changes within the administration of the parent company. My mom worked as the elementary counselor at the time, so I had insider information on the inner workings of my school. A shiny new CEO had been hired, and with her came new, conservative stances on several pertinent issues within the Christian faith.

This surprised me. My school was in Seattle, one of the more liberal parts of the United States, so hearing such conservative rhetoric from someone in this position of power came as a shock. The news was contained only to staff at the time, so there was no widespread upset, but it felt as though a tidal wave was coming — and this new CEO was the earthquake that had started it.

At this point in my education, I wasn’t as connected to the Christian religion as I used to be. I grew up going to church every Sunday and had been in Bible classes all of my life, but watching my younger siblings leave the school I still went to, and the new distance I felt toward the religion as a whole due to the homophobia and sexism I saw within that space, led me to the conclusion that religion didn’t have a place in my life anymore.

I think this change is what made me so conscious of the discrimination I witnessed as the administration changed their stance on certain topics. Although teachers never spoke about topics like same sex marriage and abortion, there was a change made to the “faith statement” that all staff (including teachers) were required to sign before working with the parent company. Two points were added to the end: “I don’t believe two people of the same sex should be married” and “I don’t believe in abortion” (I’m paraphrasing here, I’m sure it was put more eloquently).

My mom started what she refers to as “a coup” at the elementary school. She held meetings with the teachers who also didn't believe in these changes in an attempt to rise above the administration, but their fight was unfortunately unsuccessful.

Word eventually got out to the student body, and while there were a lot of students who didn’t have opinions on the matter, there was also a group of us who were disgusted by these changes. Some teachers were also strongly opposed to the new statement they were forced to sign, but they couldn’t speak up about it without the risk of being fired.

A distinct memory I have about the consequences of this rhetoric was in my Bible class in 11th grade. Our teacher had a unit called “hot topics,” where she opened a discussion about Queerness, abortion and similarly sensitive issues. The unit turned into ignorant students raising discriminatory stances and our teacher using the Bible to “prove why these things were wrong.”

Hearing a figure of authority telling young women and potentially Queer students that they weren’t allowed certain rights disgusted me. I wrote a letter to the administration about my concerns. It was well-written, proofread and much needed. I never got a response.

As COVID took hold a few months later, all of this debate seemed to disappear as school closed and there were no more in-person conversations. But this had changed the way I saw my school, and my community, forever. Teachers left — some of their own volition, while others got fired for hanging Black Lives Matter signs in their classrooms. Funding from parents dropped as news broke outside of the walls of the school and kids were pulled out.

I decided to wait out the last year of school and graduate with my classmates. It wasn’t comfortable to be on that campus with people who I knew disagreed with me on basic human rights, but I toughed it out and supported those around me who felt the same way I did.

Honestly, I don’t have a nice way to wrap up this story — it still hurts to remember it. It was tragic to watch the place I knew and loved turn into something hateful and discriminatory.

I suppose now when people are surprised I went to a private high school, I take it as a compliment, and I wish only the best to students with a similar experience to mine.