Head to Head: Senior Moments

April 30, 2021

First-year transfer 12th-graders share reasons for attending school in-person or not

Zoom at home for me

I felt confused.

My dad told me in April 2018, “ We are going to leave this country, and I’ll let you choose from the available options. The decision is yours. Your choice will determine your future. The U.S. or Egypt.” He wanted to have my vote, not snatch it from me.

As I was going to sleep that night in my humble Riyadh home in Saudi Arabia’s capital, my father called me and my brothers to the dinner table while he was drinking coffee to give us the opportunity to choose our paths. At the time, my older brother, 17, and my younger two, 11 and 9, respectively, chose the U.S. I chose Saudi Arabia, making the count 3-1, America.

I disagreed with my siblings because I had some doubts about that path of future and with its risks. “I don’t have much faith in Egypt because as a country it is based solely on nepotism,” my older brother said. My parents and other siblings sided with my older brother because they had the same perspective. 

Why would we do this, I thought. Will we succeed in the U.S.? 

At the time, I was in ninth grade at Qimam El-Hayat school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was a private school with a tuition fee of 12,500 riyals per year, which is $3,332.79 USD.

The schedule of the school consists of eight- 45 minutes- periods per day, where some electives were neglected, and mandatory subjects were prioritized. Every day was a mix of 8 of the 12 subjects. The system involved the same subjects across the whole 4 years of high school but with different chapters and difficulty levels.

I didn’t have to study much because tests literally came from a review sheet that was handed to students, and I expected the American school structure to be similar to high school movies such as “The DUFF.” I contacted some others who experienced it, and they gave me an understanding of the system which lowered my expectations.

When we moved to Houston in 2018, I attended an online school, Virtual High School, based in Ontario, Canada, for the first semester of 10th grade, as recommended from a friend, because I wanted to experience and compare the unique attributes of an online school to a regular high school.

Virtual High School offered a system in which students take credits at their own pace with the limit of 18 months for the course to close. However, by the end of the first semester, I hated the virtual school because the teaching methods could mislead students, who mostly depended on themselves to comprehend the lessons.

With a semester remaining, I switched to James E. Taylor High School in the second part of my sophomore year to attend a physical school.

After the summer break, I continued attending James E. Taylor for my junior year and found it to be fairly easy. When we moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it started to look complicated with upcoming work and ungraded assignments that created further stress despite the reduced amount of work.

After I finished 11th grade, my family considered moving to California mainly because we wanted to try a different special education system for my second youngest brother.

My mom wanted to stay in Texas, but my youngest brother and I wanted to move to California because Texas’s irritating hot weather made breathing a struggle. On the other hand, California has more sustainable weather.

Then, we moved to Fullerton on June 9,2020, as one of the safest options, and I came to Sunny Hills as a senior because of the school’s high rating. I expected the school to start off with distance learning, and I knew I wouldn’t get many physical interactions with classmates and teachers. I assumed the culture in California would be similar to Texas, and I didn’t have school expectations from movies.

Since we started the school year in full distance learning, it was easier for me to stay in Cohort C for the rest of the year. But when I visited campus to get my textbooks, the first difference I noticed was the open hallways here compared to my high school in Texas and its enclosed hallways.

Now that I’ve moved schools three times, I’m confident because that decision to change schools improved my adaptive skills and redefined who I am.

I don’t regret staying at Cohort C because my grades improved. I doubt if I returned I would have the same result. The online experience in Sunny Hills definitely succeeded in delivering a convenient system for me to pass my classes.

Although I couldn’t make friends this year, I am satisfied with the outcome. I know that I might change states in the future, and having few friends is the consequence of switching locations.

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In-person way to end

Stepping onto the Sunny Hills campus for the first time in over three years, I still felt like a freshman. 

Just like my first day of ninth grade in August 2017, I printed out a map of the campus and highlighted which classrooms I had classes in. I had known how the building numbering system worked when I was here the first time around, but that knowledge had faded.

The only difference: I was a senior, not a freshman.

I hadn’t been to Sunny Hills in so long because I made the decision to switch to homeschooling in ninth grade to accommodate my pre-professional ballet training schedule.

In eighth grade, I had chosen Sunny Hills over Troy because I loved the friendly environment, beautiful campus and closer proximity to my house. Although my brother (the black sheep of the family) is a Troy alumnus, my mother and her two sisters are Sunny Hills graduates; enrolling here felt like a preservation of the family tradition. 

I enjoyed being a student here at Sunny Hills, but at the time, I lacked flexibility when it came to reconciling my dance and school schedule.

The ballet academy where I danced was about an hour’s drive from Fullerton, and because I started to get more serious about my training the summer before freshman year, I began to have classes and rehearsals for three or four hours every weekday afternoon, with up to eight hours on Saturdays and four hours on Sundays.

Although it doesn’t work for everyone, homeschooling was a great fit for me because it allowed me to do schoolwork at any time that was most convenient (including weekends) and even take ballet lessons in the mornings.

Between my sophomore and junior years, I was lucky enough to study in Russia for six weeks with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Program. This trip wouldn’t have been possible had I attended public school because it ran until the end of August. Instead of missing school, I was able to add on a few more weeks at the end of the school year.

I loved ballet, but at the end of my junior year I realized that I no longer wished to pursue it at such an all-consuming level. As a result, I started thinking about coming back to public school to finish my high school education.

When I first told my parents I wanted to return to Sunny Hills, they were a little hesitant because they were worried it would be difficult to make friends so late in the game and because transferring back to public school would come with a lot of administrative paperwork.

While finishing up my senior year doing homeschooling might have been easier, I chose to take the risk and come back to Sunny Hills with my family’s support. Because my main social outlet previously came from spending hours at the dance studio, attending public school would help me avoid the social isolation that comes with studying alone all day.

While finishing up my senior year doing homeschooling might have been easier, I chose to take the risk and come back to Sunny Hills with my family’s support.

Luckily, joining the cross country team this year helped me make a lot of new friends, even when school was in full distance learning.

Senior year looked a lot different than my freshman experience because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am no less impressed with the caliber of education Sunny Hills offers. Despite spending months in distance learning, the teachers have gone out of their way to play their parts in the Sunny Hills mission of believing in the potential of all students and providing world-class educational experiences individualized to students’ post-high school goals.

Though I have not spent the entirety of my four-year high school journey at Sunny Hills, I am grateful for the opportunity to have experienced it for a short period of time. Come May 27, I will be proud to graduate as a Lancer, just like my mother and two aunts who came before me.

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