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My School Within a School

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2013-07-03-558661_3639771953488_1325729538_n.jpg

by Justin Schnell

I refuse to go to the School of Tears and Tutors--that overwhelmingly large school within my school. I have friends in Tears and Tutors and I do not resent my classmates who are enrolled there. In fact, I estimate that 75 percent of the students at my high school attend Tears and Tutors. However I live by a different ethic, which stresses teamwork and authentic learning. This has inadvertently turned me into a leader in the small and alternative school that exist in the shadows of Tears and Tutors. I have named that school Teamwork Over Tutors, or TOT.

There are 15 of us in TOT. We are athletes who challenge the norm of jocks because of our strong intellectual cores. The lessons and ethics we have learned through sports guide the ethos of TOT. We do not have tutors for any subject but rely on each other for academic support. For example, I love physics and I will drop anything to help a fellow TOT student in that subject. Alvin loves English and he stays up for hours with me on the phone, helping me refine my ideas before I begin a literary critique. My TOT classmate and friend, Jason, and I work well together both on the court and in the physics room. Last January, we worked on a project observing the shapes of different planets' orbits based on the mass of the other planet it was orbiting. This experiment required a lot of outside research. We discovered an application called Orbital that models different sized planets and their orbits based on certain components. I created different examples of planets for us to observe while Jason wrote down his observations and compared each trial. By the end of the project, we had 10-15 examples that supported our thesis. We received an A, but the grade did not matter as much as the efficiency of the team effort. This is the beauty of Teamwork Over Tutors.

While students of TOT rely on each other, students in Tears and Tutors depend on tutors and experts to help lift their grades. They have at least one tutor--if not more--to help pour lessons into their minds. In Tears and Tutors students may forget a major lesson after a test. That's okay in their school; they are more consumed with grades than learning.

I remember the day I realized my school was really comprised of two different types of students and decided to divide my school into two. It was history class during my junior year. Our teacher returned a test and I saw a classmate who received an 85 begin to sob. She pulled out her cell phone as she left the class and called her mother. She cried into the phone and said she needed a new tutor. Around that time, it seemed that roughly 75 percent of Dalton students have tutors. I wondered why I never had a tutor and why I had never called home crying over an 85. I realized then that I valued learning over grades and teamwork over tutoring.

In the school of Teamwork over Tutors, my role is the glue of the team. I keep us focused on our school within the school. I love taking the leadership role in our group and suggesting who should do what based on everyone's strengths. Our success comes from my ability to instill a mindset that learning can be accomplished as a team and not just an individual.

Our educational model is actually ingrained in the founding of Dalton and the expressed values of the school. At Dalton's lower school, TOT values were stressed with the recognition of the progressive education values of Helen Parkhurst, the school's founder. She was a progressive educational thinker at the turn of the last century who embraced the philosophies of John Dewey. His ideas are congruent with team learning. By middle school, those values were fading at my school among my classmates. Yet, I found the sense of team learning that was common in the lower school classroom on the middle school basketball court. In fact, I became friends with most TOT students through organized sports, which began in 7th grade.

I have been conditioned for TOT through my experiences in athletics. Basketball was once just something fun, but now, it is the force that anchors my academics. In practice, you learn to work as one with your teammates, overcoming difficulties and prospering together. In physics class, your classmates make up your team in doing a group project. When you are doing an experiment, you are relying on your peers to work with you in an efficient way. On the basketball court it is the trust, organization, and effort of all 5 players on the court that leads to success. In the classroom, an organized team can produce the strongest moments of discovery and introduce students to broader perspectives than their own. Through TOT, I have learned that Teamwork is a true asset in any lesson. Whether you are an athlete, musician, or dancer, if you apply the lessons of teamwork from those talents to your academic life, you will receive a true education.

Justin Schnell will be a freshman at the University of Michigan in September and is a 2013 graduate of The Dalton School.