Private School Privilege

Looking at the benefits and drawbacks of private high schools.

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Private School Privilege

Julia Weiner '21, a past attendee of Regina Catholic Education Center, poses for a photo.

Julia Weiner '21, a past attendee of Regina Catholic Education Center, poses for a photo.

Victoria Weckmann

Julia Weiner '21, a past attendee of Regina Catholic Education Center, poses for a photo.

Victoria Weckmann

Victoria Weckmann

Julia Weiner '21, a past attendee of Regina Catholic Education Center, poses for a photo.

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 5.8 million students were enrolled in private schools as of 2016. 

“I know most of the people in my grade and I like that,” Becky Reinhold ‘21, a student who attends a private school in Manhattan called Trevor Day School, said. “Most of the students want to be there.”

Olivia Reibel ‘21, who attends The Putney School, a private boarding school in Vermont, tends to agree with this because of the unique communal experiences that private schools can offer. 

“Anywhere [you go] there’s going to be some amount of unhappiness and social status, but I find at Putney it is a lot better because the community tries to eliminate that as much as possible,” Reibel said.

However, private schools have still been known to struggle with diversity. The Washington Post reported that Black, Latinx and Native American students are underrepresented in private schools nationally.

“There is not much diversity [at Regina],” Will Lorenger ‘21, a transfer student from Iowa City’s private Catholic school, said. “They have foreign exchange students, but there’s not a lot of minorities. It’s just a lot of white people.”

Julia Weiner ‘21, another previous attendee of Regina, has also seen a difference in diversity between Regina and City High, describing some Regina students as “close-minded.”

“City High is a bigger school, so there’s more people, but it’s also more diverse. Everybody [at City] is really open and they talk about differences and I think that it’s a really good experience for students because everybody can feel accepted,” Weiner said. 

Reinhold has also noticed similar problems with the amount of diversity in her school.

“Socioeconomically, Trevor Day is not that diverse. Racially, it’s also not that diverse. In terms of kids with disabilities, it’s not very diverse at all,” Reinhold said. “[Diversity-wise,] I think it’s about the same as the other private schools in the area.” 

Growing up with this lack of diversity has been problematic for some students.

“There’s no kids with disabilities [at Regina], so I never really experienced or learned how to interact with them,” Lorenger said. “I joined Best Buddies this year and I feel like that has really opened my eyes and I’m learning how to be friends with kids with disabilities.”

Private schools do tend to be smaller, reported the National Center for Education. 

“I like some aspects of [private school] because they’re really small, so you know everybody and you get really close to everybody,” Weiner said. “It has this kind of community.”

Weiner explained how she believes that some parents push their kids toward private school because they believe that it will look good for colleges. According to Vox, kids from private schools are more likely to get accepted to colleges than kids who went to public school.

“I know some private high schools have really good college relationships, they have good connections, and they can get you interviews,” Lorenger said. “There are some private schools that just have really good education.” 

However, Lorenger does not feel that Regina provided him with a “really good education.”

“The academics at City High are the best and the teachers here are so much better. They really care about their students and they put effort into teaching and making sure you understand,” Lorenger said. “At Regina, the teachers didn’t really do much. They kind of sat there and they didn’t really care about us.”

Lorenger even found that the teaching at Regina affected him after he transferred to City High.

“I took Spanish at Regina and when I came here I tried to take Spanish three,” Lorenger said. “But because I was so behind, I would have to watch TV shows in Spanish to try to catch up.”

Some students have been turned off of private schools because they can have a harmful environment. After attending Saint Ann’s, a private school in Brooklyn, New York for her freshman and sophomore year, Reibel transferred to The Putney School for her junior year.

“I switched because I found the social scene to be really toxic,” Reibel said. “Even though the values were welcoming, I found that the people being celebrated in that community were people who were making it more toxic than it should have been.”

Lorenger also transferred schools after being tired of the negative environment that Regina provoked.

“The people at City High are a lot nicer. I came here being new and I knew no one,” Lorenger said. “I’m so glad that I switched because the people here are just so nice and open and welcoming. I made friends really fast.”

Lorenger felt overwhelmed at times because of the competitive environment at Regina.

“People are very intense, between getting great grades and being good at athletics. You’re always competing with other students,” Lorenger said. “But at City High, I definitely feel like I’m like working with other students so we can all get better. It’s not like I’m in a war anymore.”

For Reibel, at Saint Ann’s, the competitive atmosphere peaked when college admissions were brought up.

“St. Ann’s was a very competitive environment especially college-wise,” Reibel said. “There was lots of talk about going to Ivy Leagues and the school really endorsed having good relationships with a lot of those schools.”

After transferring schools, Reibel has also noticed that her new school has a better environment where the students are not always at odds with each other about colleges.

“At Putney, it’s a lot less competitive and people’s attitudes are more like, ‘As long as you’re happy, it doesn’t matter where you go [to college],’” Olivia said.

Julia has had a slightly different experience in that her outlook on life changed after switching from private to public school.

“In general, I’m more open and optimistic about my future because I really enjoy going to City High,” Weiner said. “I think that I’m a lot more open to meeting other people because I used to be really shy.”

High-quality education is more accessible for high-income families, who often view education not as a public good or a basic right, but as something to be bought, Vox reported. Regina’s full tuition for a year of high school is over $16,000. 

“I constantly feel like I have to tell people that I didn’t like [attending Regina],” Lorenger said. “You have to pay for Regina and I know that not everyone is capable [of paying] for it. I feel guilty and like I was given an advantage that other kids are not able to have.”

Other students attending private school have also felt similarly about their privilege.

“My privilege does cause me to feel guilty sometimes, so I just try to be as open and aware of it as possible,” Reibel said. “Generally, when I tell people that I go to private school, I definitely get a feeling of guilt, but it doesn’t overwhelm me.”

Reinhold, on the other hand, prefers not to talk about the fact that she attends private school at all.

“It is not something I would normally bring up. I don’t deny it if people ask, but I don’t generally like to talk about it because it makes me a bit uncomfortable to talk to people about,” Reinhold said.

Weiner thinks that some parents are willing to pay a higher price for education if the private school is a religious one.

“It’s not always about the money,” Weiner said. “For me personally, I’ve had a better schooling experience at City High than I did at Regina. I am a practicing Catholic, but when I was leaving [Regina] I was worried that I would lose some of that [part of myself].” 

However, Weiner has adapted to City High and doesn’t feel like going to a secular school has disconnected her from her faith. 

“There’s still programs at my church that I go on the weekends that help me keep up with my faith, even though I’m not taught with a religion aspect in school anymore,” Weiner said.

Lorenger sees the religious aspect of Regina from a different perspective, saying that it was one of the downsides of the school.

“I’m not a very religious person,” Lorenger said. “Religion felt so forced at Regina that I got kind of sick of it.”

Overall, Lorenger is happy that he transferred from private to public school, because he feels he is being provided with more life-enriching experiences. He regrets not going to South East Junior High, as he sees public school as a much better way to prepare for college, academically and socially. 

“Since switching to public school, [my viewpoint] has widened,” Lorenger said. “I get to see a lot more diversity, I understand different lifestyles better now than I did at Regina, and I respect seeing these things more.”