There are a lot of un-solved mysteries surrounding Montclair High School, and most other High Schools including but not limited to – What does the A stand for in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter? Are the Plastics real (and how do I become one of them)? Is there are a way that everyone can do “well” at the school? What is the Secret Life of The American Teenager? Am I really part of the lost generation? Unfortunately, over the course of my four years at the High School, I did not find the answer to any of these questions, but I did learn way more valuable lessons.
One of the most important things I learned about Montclair High School is that there is definitely more than what meets the eye. What you see, does no justice to the what you actually get once you step through one of the many doors at the school.
I learned this first from extra-curricular activities, because running track is what helped me adjust to the change of scenery. When I attended my 8th Grade Guidance Counselor’s Meeting at Renaissance Middle School, I was presented with a wealth of knowledge – as is expected. My guidance counselor, Jerry Citro at the time, had a lot of personal experience at Montclair High School, having sent a child there, and having spent time coaching the Basketball team for numerous years prior to our meeting. I remember him clearly advising me that the easiest way to make good friends is to join a sport or a club, and that I should always sign up for a challenging course load. He kept those blue books open during the meeting for reference. One of them was a list of all of the courses, and the other was a list of the extra-curricular activities available at the high school.
Looking back, what simply received paragraphs in that blue books meant the world to the people that participated in those clubs and activities. In terms of Track and Field, the Civics and Government Institute, National Organization FOR (not of) Women Club, National Art Honors Society and Peer Leadership what members were in for once they joined was way more than what met the eye. I joined the aforementioned in the given order, and have never regretted any of my decisions.
After that meeting with Mr. Citro, I graduated from Renaissance, and immediately started working out to prepare for track. I learned quickly in September that neither the number of miles I ran daily, or the circuit training I did at the YMCA would help me prepare for Track. Track was not just that race that Sonya Richards won that year in the 2008 Olympics, or the opponent that beat Alyson Felix in the 400-meter Hurdle Race, but it was that and the hug all of the team members shared at the end of the race. Track was about victories, losses, and the support system that I received from my teammates. Mr. Citro was right, doing extra-curricular activities allowed me to meet really good friends. I had a great time running track, but after two years, I decided to try other clubs.
My experience running track overlapped with my first year as a member of the Civics and Government Institute. I think a lot of people realize either their Sophomore year or when they join their second club how many people are at the high school. I realized when started CGI for two reasons: First, because I knew very few of the 200 students in the Small Learning Community. Second, because there were not that many people on the track team that were in CGI. There were a lot of members on the Track Team from the Center for Social Justice, AVID, and others who were not in any Small Learning Communities. My first couple of weeks in CGI was another new beginning. The advice Mr. Citro gave me echoed again in my head.
As all other students did, I joined a department, which was comprised of 20 students. The department I chose was called Special Programs. I don’t know what got in to me, but I ran for the Secretary position and won! Before I knew everyone’s names, I was given a leadership position in one of the best departments in the Institute. We planned an event called, The African-American Achievement Dinner that raised money for a scholarship for a minority student in the Institute. We planned other things, like a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, Senior Send-Off, and we raised money for an organization that supports research for a sickness that our advisor lost her mother too. All of those events occurred over the course of the year, but it did not take long before I found my place in the department, and in the Institute. That initial leadership position opened many doors for me in the Institute. I got to recruit other Freshmen to join CGI, I participated in a research project, I got a lot of volunteer experience while a student in the Institute, and my Senior Year, I was asked to moderate a Mayoral Debate (I said yes of course).
I think what was even more valuable than the opportunities I took advantage of a student in the Civics and Government Institute, was what I learned. I learned public speaking skills, which will help me in any field I pursue. I also learned so much about Government. We learned about the roles of everyone from the citizens, to the public service workers, to the elected officials, and their role in history as well. I had so many awesome history and English lessons from great teachers over the course of my three years in the Institute. And also, judging by the caliber of alumni who visited the institute to talk about their lives after CGI, I got to work with the future leaders of America.
I think it is more than evident, that there was much more to CGI than what meets the eye when you look at the students gracing the pages of The Montclair Times or on Barista Kids, when you see the recipients of the Minority Scholarship, or even in passing, when you look at our emblem on the third floor hallway. There is a model government, a place where students are challenged to think beyond the walls of Montclair High School, and a place that over 200 people feel at home.
I enjoyed my time in the Civics and Government Institute so much I did other clubs that were related to it. After I stopped running track, I became a permanent member of the NOW Club. The advisors were two of the CGI Teachers, Ms. Stein and Ms. Baney. We had great discussions about politics, pop culture, and current events during our weekly meetings. Talking was the most important thing we did. The NOW Club hosted numerous events in the High School where we talked about the modern issues that plagued females in our society. We got a chance to lead discussion with classmates, teachers and even scholars. I truly believe that our Womens’ History Month Museums, our MissRepresentation Movie Night, our poster contests, and our fundraisers also showed that there was way more than what meets the eye when you saw our yearbook picture, which was a handful of females (advisors included) and one boy.
That year, I was also chosen to be a Girls State Delegate. What was described on paper was only a fraction of the amazing experience I had. I spent 6 days with a group of 400 girls representing High Schools from all over New Jersey. We were all so alike, but so different. We were all intelligent, gorgeous, driven, and confident. We also had different interests, different goals, and different cultures from each other. Over the course of the week we learned about the New Jersey State government, and we “ran” for all of the positions that were available. In addition to learning about the government, we learned about each other, and we made lasting friendships with the people that we spent only a few days with.
Before I left Girls State, I had just finished a mural at the Montclair Neighborhood Development Center. I worked on it with two of my classmates as a project for the National Art Honors Society. After spending over 16 hours with those two girls, and even more hours with the people in the art classes, I developed a better understanding of the caliber of talent of the students in the School of Visual and Performing Arts. These people put their heart into their work – some more literally than others. They, like myself, developed a deeper understanding of themselves while honing their crafts. The drawers, painters, sculptors, photographers, graphic designers, all offered more than what people tend to limit artists to.
I also learned that in Peer Leadership. Also, before I left for Girls State I was notified that I was chosen to be one of 20 Peer Leaders. I knew that I did not know the names all of the people I was to work with in September, but it was not until I attended the annual retreat in September, that I realized how much I did not know about them. They have all dealt with different struggles, and have had different achievements. In addition to appreciating them, I learned to appreciate all of the students in the High School who have dealt with similar circumstances but did not let their struggles hinder their high school experience.
As I already mentioned, they, like myself, learned within the past four years, that the experience of being in a club is in no way limited to what is in the Blue Book; and that the bond with their teacher can not be described when they first introduce themselves and hand out their syllabi. They also know, after getting off of the Project Graduation Bus last week, is that there is way more than what meets the eye when you look at the artists, scholars, humanitarians, athletes, wallflowers, social butterflies, exchange students, and other people that make up the High School Body. Overall, what I saw when I was walking up the hill on my first day to school, was nothing close to the wealth of knowledge, the friendships, and the experiences I received over the course of the next four years.
Gabrielle will attend Smith College in the fall.