By Joie ’22
From kindergarten through eighth grade, I had been a public-school student and would soon be the only one from my middle school to transfer to Harvard-Westlake. Not surprisingly, I had some worries about how that transition would go. However, my freshman year ended up much better than I imagined. Here are a few of the most notable characteristics of the HW experience that I observed in this process as well as a few tips for a smoother transition.
Characteristics of HW
Research-Oriented Library Resources
The Munger Library at the middle school and the Mudd Library at the upper school are truly wonderful. Not only are they great places to do homework (especially with the Silent Study rooms), but the library shelves are also brimming with nonfiction academic works that are especially useful for the annual history research papers. Even in our current era of distance learning, the library continues to provide access to many eBooks, magazines, and scholarly journal subscriptions, including JSTOR and ProQuest, which has been invaluable.
Elective Time Slots
At my previous middle school, students could take one year-long elective or two semester-long electives per year, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that HW middle school students can take two year-long electives or three semester-long electives each year. There is an assortment of interesting, fun, and interdisciplinary electives for students to choose from, all of which can be found in the curriculum guide.
At HW, students are pretty much always able to be placed in all electives that they request unless there is a time conflict between two electives that are only offered in the same time slot, which happens very rarely. I found this scheduling flexibility quite remarkable since it speaks to the volumes of work that the HW deans and schedulers do.
Small Class Sizes
A typical classroom size at HW is around 16 students; my smallest class in freshman year – Chinese 3 Honors – had 6 students total. I have enjoyed how the tight-knit classes allowed everyone to get to know each other quite well.
Tips for Making the Transition Smoother
Meet with Teachers
By virtue of the many free periods woven into the middle school schedule and the “Office Hours” block built into the upper school schedule, there’s always many opportunities to meet with teachers. I cannot stress enough how helpful it was to meet up with my English teacher in ninth grade; through my persistence and her willingness to provide feedback, I was able to swiftly make up for knowledge gaps that I initially experienced as a new student.
Take Advantage of Advisory and Fast Start
Fast Start is a one-week-long program held right before the beginning of school in August that introduces new 7th and 9th grade students to the middle school campus and daily school life through mini classes. That experience helped me make some of my first friends at HW, meet a few teachers, and decrease my apprehensions for the first day of school.
On the last day of Fast Start, new 9th graders are placed into Advisory groups, which consist of one teacher and 8-10 new ninth grade students. My advisor happened to be my history teacher, so advisory meetings were a great opportunity for us to get to know each other better as well as for our group to share our experiences as new students in a safe space.
Go on Retreat!
Retreat occurs for one week during the fall. In my year, the 9th grade canoed down the Colorado River and set up our own tents each night. Prior to retreat, I could still feel that the social circles of new students and returning students hadn’t fully blended, but after retreat, the residual social barriers had disappeared. It was a memorable experience, and it’s unfortunate that this year’s retreats couldn’t happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it’s safe to return to in-person learning and doing retreats, I highly recommend!