Harvard Students Rate the System
"You can get through the Cambridge schools by doing nothing, or you can do tons and tons to motivate yourself," says Eric Prenowitz '87, a native Cantabrigian, adding. "It has to come from you."
Cambridge residents who have opted to spend four more years in the city, looking from inside the Yard, instead of the other way around, say they are happy with their secondary school education.
"I don't feel any less prepared than the other kids here," says Danielle A. Ausrotas '87, citing drama and computer facilities as areas in which the Cambridge schools excel.
But Ausrotas and other Cambridge alumni stress the fact that getting a good education at the huge Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, the city's only public high school, takes both motivation and hard work.
"The teachers and facilities are good, but they're not handed to you--you have to fight to get what you want, Ausrotas says.
Daniel K. Doyle '87 says a student needs "initiative." "You can take remedial math if you want, and get nothing out of it," he explains.
Doyle was part of the Fundamental School, a program within the high school that stresses basic academic skills. "We had four years of English, three years of math, four years of physed--back to basics," Doyle says. "I think it's the best program in the school."
Prenowitz says that he was one of the 180 students affiliated with the Pilot School, another of the educational alternatives at Rindge and Latin. "The Pilot School provided a group way of teaching and made life liveable--the main school was sort of an ocean and you could get lost," he says of his experience.
But Prenowitz adds that despite the advantages of the smaller programs, they tend to create a certain isolation from the main school.
Paradoxically, students say, the large size of the high school (2656 students registered in September) is the system's strength and its weakness. "It has a large variety of courses and lots of different kinds of people, but because the system is so large, you can lose students who will then float around for four years--it's a Catch-22 situation," Doyle says.
The students who are members of Harvard's Class of 1987 graduated too early to benefit greatly from the recent reorganization and desegregation of the school systems. Although some of the elementary schools did offer special programs, none were as extensive as the new magnet schools.
But students differ on the issue of whether of not the schools benefited from the reorganization. Ausrotas says her elementary school, the Peabody School near Porter Square, has gone downhill because of desegregation.
Prenowitz, however, says that the desegregation will bring to the elementary schools the same diversity existing in the high school. "It's not like Boston or New York where each neighborhood has its own school--we have all the different kinds of people who live in Cambridge together," he says.
And all agree that the system had improved in recent years. "There was a lot of racism and violence my freshman year in high school, but by senior year when everybody was in the new clean building, things were a lot better," Ausrotas says.
But students are reluctant to take sides on the debate surrounding the dismissal of William C. Lannon, Cambridge superintendent of schools, who has been credited with making the changes.
"I know he had a lot of support, but I don't know very much about him," Ausrotas says. "He was the man who cancelled school on snow days."