High School Was A Time: Stay In School, K?

Before I say anything else, I have to say this: don’t ditch class. Just don’t do it. I say that as someone who did it a lot and just trust me, it’s a bad idea. Maybe, possibly, just one time, to try it out and never do it again, but even then, do it for yourself and have an adventure. Really, though, just skip it.

So here’s the story of why I ditched class. Or rather, why I did it on the regular. It was my second year at a public high school in Los Angeles, and contrary to TV-show lore, they are far from fancy educational institutions. They’re just a place to keep 9-12th graders (assuming you haven’t dropped out or gotten a GED) between 8am and 3pm. There were some administrative issues when I was in 10th grade and for most of the year no one was in charge. So when my teachers stopped teaching me, I figured I’d have life adventures and learn from them. Mostly because I was 15 and way smarter than everyone ever, but to be fair, I had a bio teacher who skipped work every other day (not even exaggerating, he’d come in telling us surfing stories and pass back tests we’d all failed because substitutes don’t teach), a history teacher who just failed all the Jewish kids (still no joke), and an English teacher who barely knew where he was or what he was doing and would simply give us the answers when a question on a test confused us.

And it was just so easy. My friend and I would leave campus via the back stairs and go get Chinese food for lunch, which for us included 4th period math. We would do a service learning presentation at the local middle school and just not come back. I would pretend to be sick and stay home from school one day, then ditch all day the next because no one called my parents to check on me until day three. My mom is aware of all of this, by the way, my sins have been confessed.

I would go hiking in the canyon across the street from school, listening to my walkman all day and writing in my journal. I would go down to the ocean and sit on the rocks watching the waves with a friend. Sometimes I would go to these bluffs overlooking the Pacific down the street from school, just because it was pretty and was a good place to think. It felt good to take these times for myself, and it felt liberating, but in hindsight it was such a temporary, destructive freedom that it scares me.

I had a 2.1 GPA at the end of that year. Granted, I worked hard to try and salvage those grades for several months, and the really bad ones were beyond my rescue not for lack of effort, but lack of teacher presence. Those few days of “adventure” could have landed me in a truckload of remedial classes with a GED and two years of community college in Santa Monica, instead of the liberal arts college I got to attend in New York after graduation.

I didn’t graduate from this same school, though. I transferred to a private school for my second year of tenth grade. That’s right. My secret’s out. I repeated tenth grade. My interview with the school went very well, and the woman conducting it immediately told me that they think I would be a wonderful fit and they see that I’m bright yadda yadda (I can’t deal with saying nice things about myself, just pretend I did), but if I want to get into college I need another year of school to balance out my GPA. It was worth it because I wanted so much to be in small classes with people who actually did the reading and wanted to discuss it, to be taught by teachers who weren’t overworked and actually cared, and to have a chance at being in AP classes even if I happened to be sick on sign-up day.

Adjusting was rough. Oddly enough, the fact that a single day’s absence warranted a call home (thus making it impossible to ditch) was easy. The toughest part was managing a real workload and wearing a stupid looking uniform each day. I really hated that uniform. Eventually I got a free period into my schedule when I realized that the benefit of repeating a grade was having already completed my phys ed requirements for life, and I actually spent it catching up on all my work. I got involved in drama, started an improv troupe with a few others, and even joined the basketball team (I know, right, me). And the funny thing is, it was so great to be taken seriously as a student and to have creative outlets that it didn’t even occur to me to bail, even for a smoothie across the street.

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