By Gabi Liebeler ‘20
Throughout our freshman and sophomore years of high school, the extent of our co-educational experiences on the Close lie in awkward waves walking to and from art or language classes and forced ice cream socials planned by our well-intended parents. But all that changes when you reach junior year. Suddenly, by August before 11th grade, you’re thrown into a whirlwind experience that begins with the flurry of texts you receive all concerning the roster of your future English class. When September comes, however, pretty much all excitement, anxiousness, worry, and ambivalence flees after your first co-ed English class meeting. In all honesty, junior year English is pretty normal.
I took AmLit at STA during the fall semester, and the main issues I faced were the disparate backgrounds of the students entering the class, and the divergent teaching styles between NCS and STA teachers.
During 9th and 10th grade, NCS students are tailor-made to be analytical writers, having completed numerous assessments in the form of short, paragraph close readings, argumentative essays, and even a 10-page research paper by the end of sophomore year. In addition, we consider ourselves experts in the art of Harkness method discussions, making text-based inferences, and ~politely~ conversing with our classmates over a large wooden table over classic texts in order to synthesize our own opinions of the author’s arguments. Typically, our teachers take a more hands-off approach, guiding us into formulating arguments all on our own, but with the help of contextual presentations, discussion questions, and explanation when necessary. I believed, that with that kind of background, I was prepared to conquer any English class.
STA English was not what I expected though, given that STA students have their own unique experience during freshman and sophomore year. They studied different books, learned how to write essays, were more calibrated in grammar and studied poetry for a semester in 10th grade. I was surprised at the analytical skills that the STA students in my class possessed, which unraveled my own superiority complex that NCS girls were far better English students. In terms of my own class, the girls in AmLit were well matched.
Speaking on the class structure, I found that success in my English class was heavily dependent on memorization of key-words, definitions, speakers, and contextual events in works we read. In the first semester, I had two English tests, an assessment of sorts that I haven’t taken since middle school. At NCS, assessments are in-class close readings, formal essays, and research papers. While I believe that my previous years in English prepared me well for writing close readings and essay-types, I went through a sort of adjustment period, where I had to re-learn how to succeed in my new English class, especially in assessments where I was not allowed my book to interpret text on the spot. I was thrown for a bit of a culture shock, but eventually learned how to prepare for assessments, and write in the ways that my teacher expected.
As for the social environment, the class was always lively, filled with the same sort of typical class banter. I looked forward to going to class, knowing I would always be entertained. Despite the initial struggles in a new class structure, I stand by the opinion that it’s worthwhile to break the barriers of single-sex education in high school. After all, that’s what the rest of life is like, so figuring out how to operate in a co-ed educational setting is a skill one should learn early. While I often complained at my disagreement with the nature of assessments, or my preferences of writing an argumentative essay over studying for speaker identification questions, I came out of the class able to adjust to a new system of learning. Unfortunately, throughout the rest of our careers in school, we’ll have to realign ourselves and our natural learning inclinations to match whatever situation we’re in. I can’t say whether NCS or STA English is better and I can’t decide the timeless question of which student body is smarter, but I can say that I had fun and learned new skills in a co-ed English class.