By Anita Li ‘21
“I’m so stressed out right now.”
“There’s so much pressure to get good grades.”
Almost every single day as I line up to toast my sesame bagel in the cafeteria, I hear NCS students ranting to their friends about how stressed out they are. Although I do believe that NCS can be very taxing, I don’t think that NCS is competitive.
Perhaps this is all relative. I was in a STEM enrichment program in middle school, so naturally everyone was competitive, since it was a program you tested into. At my old school, it was normal to ask your friends about their grades. Therefore, I would feel bad if I repeatedly got A minuses. My middle school was a lot easier than NCS, so the competition never got toxic or stressful; instead it motivated me to study harder. Also, at my old school there was a clear “intelligence hierarchy”: you knew who the smart kids were, and you also knew the kids that didn’t do too well. So, if I saw myself “falling” in the hierarchy, I knew I had to put some more effort into my schoolwork. Additionally, I also knew the kids who were a little smarter than me, and they helped me know what I should aim to achieve. We didn’t bully the kids that flunked their tests, but I had a good idea of where I was academically compared to my classmates.
When I arrived at NCS freshman year, it was shocking to see students treat grades and academic performance as a sensitive subject. As a result, I still have no idea how good my grades are compared to that of my classmates. Sometimes teachers would give a class average and there are definitely students that seem very academically strong, but everything is very vague. Additionally, NCS has no Honor Roll; we only have Cum Laude, awarded in senior year. Since I don’t know enough information about my peers to compare myself to them academically, I feel less competition at NCS than I did in my middle school.
Although now I feel a little less pressure to do well in school and NCS has a heavy workload (not a good combination for me btw), I’m really glad that the stressful environment is not coupled with students holding each other back to get a leg forward. Although we’re always getting screwed over by close readings and math tests, the environment is not cut-throat. People are always sharing Quizlet sets, answers to past quizzes, and study guides with each other and offering to help others study. I am not a senior yet, so maybe my opinion will change when Flag Day rolls around in 2021, but up until now, no one has ever been reluctant to help me so that they can do better themselves.
For all these reasons, I don’t think NCS is competitive or toxic. Yes, we may receive academic pressure from our parents or teachers, but I have never seen an every-student-for-themselves attitude at NCS, except when it comes to fighting for a chance to toast your sesame bagel two minutes before class starts.