Sunday, April 1, 2007

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Newton North sure is getting a lot of media play today

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have big stories on Newton North High School today [Hey, won't your children be attending this high school at some point?--ed. Yes, but that is many, many years from now and I'm sure the time will pass very, very, slowly.]. Sara Rimer's front-pager for the New York Times is clearly an excerpt from her forthcoming book an in-depth discussion of how talented and driven girls at Newton North High School cope with being talented and driven:

Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. “Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns). Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.

But being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life.

There's a lot of additional material on the Times web site -- including Esther's and Colby's college application essays.

I confess that I'm not entirely sure why this is on the front page of the New York Times. Is it a news flash that smart boys like girls who are smart as well? The thesis I gleaned from Rimer's story is that, despite all the internal and external pressures placed on these adolescents, they're coping pretty damn well. I suppose it's nice to see a long story about well-adjusted adolescents -- but I really have to wonder if Bill Keller is getting a kickback on Rimer's book advance.

As a Williams alum, however, my heart grew heavy when I read this section of the story:

Esther was in calculus class, the last period of the day when her cellphone rang. It was her father. The letter from Williams College — her ideal of the small, liberal arts school — had arrived.

Her father would be at her brother’s basketball game when she got home. Her mother would still be at the office. Esther did not want to be alone when she opened the letter.

“Dad, can you bring it to school?” she asked.

Ten minutes later, when her father arrived, Esther realized that he had somehow not registered the devastating thinness of the envelope. The admissions office was sorry. Williams had had a record number of highly qualified applicants for early admission this year. Esther had been rejected. Not deferred. Rejected.

Her father hugged her as she cried outside her classroom, and then he drove her home.

Esther said several days later: “Maybe it hurt me that I wasn’t an athlete.”

But she was already moving on. “I chose Williams,” she said, with a shrug. “They didn’t choose me back.”

About that thin envelope: Mr. Mobley, unschooled in such intricacies, said he hadn’t paid much attention to it. He had wanted so much for his daughter to get into Williams, he said, and believed so strongly in her, that it was as if he had wished the letter into being an acceptance.

It is actually Ms. Rimer who is unschooled in admission letter intricacies -- unless Williams has changed its practice in recent years, everyone gets a thin envelope. For those who are accepted, the thick envelope with all the pertinent information comes later.

So Esther, don't blame your father for not being clued in (click on the story to see which colleges were bright enough to accept Esther -- she'll land on her feet).

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Ralph Ranalli reports on the new Newton North High School that will be built in the next 5-10 years:

It is already tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts: a $154.6 million showplace, designed by an internationally renowned architect and awaited with some anxiety by the residents of Newton.

The new Newton North High School's design features a new outdoor stadium, an indoor swimming pool, state-of-the-art vocational education workshops, a glass-walled cafeteria, a restaurant, and an architecturally trendy zigzag shape. At 1,040 feet, the building is 200 feet longer than the Mall at Chestnut Hill.

But now, even before ground has been broken, some are wondering how the cost got so huge, and whether the project is ushering in a new era of budget-buster high schools.

UPDATE: Wow, in Episode #245 of How Gender Affects Interpretation in the Blogosphere, Bitch Ph.D has a very different take on the Times article: "Kinda depressing article.... high-achieving women feel a constant sense of inadequacy."

Maybe I'm grading on a curve, but by the standards of In-Depth Newspaper Stories About Adolescent Girls, the subjects of Rimer's story seem remarkably well-adjusted.

posted by Dan on 04.01.07 at 09:00 AM


I guess they need that new school because the old one obviously doesn't work very well.

posted by: JohnF on 04.01.07 at 09:00 AM [permalink]

A more interesting story would have looked at Lowell or Haverhill High (I forget which) where they just got new science textbooks for the first time in 10 years. How many of those kids were waiting for the fat envelope? Hey, my home town of Chicopee MA has built two new high schools in the last 5 years. I wonder if together they cost as much as Newton North?

posted by: msj on 04.01.07 at 09:00 AM [permalink]

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