By |Cora Rhodes
Going to Denver School of Science and Technology: Byers (DSST: Byers), a Denver public school, after attending Stanley British Primary (Stanley), a private school, allowed me to view the public school system differently. Coming from a private school where we did not have grades, to attending a charter school whose primary mission was 100% college acceptance, was not necessarily challenging but changed my perspective on education as a whole. From elementary to middle school, I spent my days at Stanley exploring the land of knowledge in an environment where success was self-defined and self-driven. Although one of the main differences between Stanley and DSST Byers might have been the level of education, I recall being eager to learn, read and advance my knowledge while attending Stanley. As opposed to DSST: Byers, where I was presented with grades and numeral improvements. I felt in competition with my peers, which changed my motivations for learning. Their definition of success influenced the way I perceived success. At DSST: Byers, to me, success was about improving my writing and my performance on tests, not for the sake of knowledge but for higher grades.
I would not say that it is DPS or DSST’s intent to make students feel like this, but perhaps unintentionally, this mentalitly places substantial pressure on the students. DSST Byers focus on passing grades and college acceptance causes the institution to lose touch with their student body and in turn, student performance suffers.. They wonder why performance isn’t as strong as they want it. Their definition of success and the pressure placed on students creates a disconnect. I was able to thrive in this community because my perception of success was somewhat aligned with the school’s definition of success. What about the students with different perspectives, needs, and different versions of success?
I have seen many of my classmates struggle at DSST: Byers because they were trying to fit into the school’s definition of success, but if it is not aligned with their beliefs, how is it truly defined as success? For example, forcing students to learn DSST Network way, get good grades, and attend a 4-year, high-performing college; benefits whom, at the end of the day? The students or the school’s ranking?
This past school year, there was a TikTok challenge called the “Devious Lick Trend.” It caused a lot of damage in the school community, not only at DSST: Byers but at other schools as well. In my Student Government class, we were presented with thinking of ways to communicate to our school community that this challenge needed to stop. The School Director took over our morning meeting, and she focused on our school rankings. I remember the days following when students felt as though the school only cared about the school ranking and not about the students. This has been a consistent complaint throughout my four years of high school—the school’s definition of success conflicts with the students’ definition of success.
Where does success stem from? Individual communities define success in different ways. A school consists of students from all types of backgrounds, different lifestyles, different morals, and definitions of success. I feel that the DSST network’s definition of success, being accepted to a four-year college, is narrow and may not benefit all students.
I have seen many of my peers feel defeated because they were accepted into community colleges and not the Ivy League schools. Why is going to a community college deemed unsuccessful? My classmates have cried in the dean’s office because they have felt inferior to the “high-performing students.” That may be the root of the problem. The key is that they did their best. I know that one of the six core values at DSST is “Doing Your Best,” but do they live by that within the community they’ve created? After leaving Stanley, I felt that losing the joy of learning had caused me harm and unnecessary stress.
At Stanley, the competition was within one’s self. Whereas at DSST, the competition was against peers and DSST Network’s desires for the community. I know that I continued to compare my DSST experience to my Stanley experience, and I understand that they are two complete stages of my education. However, I believe the joy of learning is at odds with the point of getting into college, and the pressure to accomplish this goal has altered how I perceive education and knowledge.
Cora Rhodes graduated from Denver School of Science and Technology: Byers in May 2022 and will be attending the University of Denver this fall. Rhodes plans to major in Engineering with a minor in business.