Life after high school: Students, staff reflect on East’s impact on graduates

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COLLEGE & CAREER CENTER AIDE TERRY GOTCHIE HELPS JUNIOR TAYLOR JONES SIGN UP FOR THE ACT. “I’M JUST GETTING ADDITIONAL THINGS TO HELP ME GET ON THE RIGHT PATH TOWARDS MY GOALS OF PURSUING COLLEGE AND MILITARY STUFF AT THE SAME TIME,” JONES SAID. PHOTO BY NAMRATHA PRASAD.

As the seniors take their last steps of high school, they look on to the future. Each day is closer to the time they have waited for since freshman year: life after graduation. Until they graduate, they have the support of numerous people. Friends, family, teachers, even counselors and administration gather in the stadium for one final goodbye. No matter what, these support systems will always be there, but somehow it will feel different. Regardless, everyone is anticipating the seniors’ futures; whether that involves college or not, life after high school will be different from anything they have ever known. As they move on to this unknown territory, they can only hope that East has prepared them for what is to come.

Does East prepare its students?

Senior Isaac Fertel said that as he heads to University of Illinois at Chicago to study nutrition, he feels prepared to take on the challenge. Although he admitted that he did not know the extent that East prepared him for life after high school, he said that taking AP classes might help him when he gets there.

“Taking AP classes has I think helped me a little bit. I’m hoping that it helps, but I feel like East could definitely do more to help,” Fertel said.

Fertel added that he believes that East should offer some classes that simulate the large lecture classes in college.

Rohan Pisharody graduated from East in 2016 and is currently majoring in neuroscience with a minor in music at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“East instilled a certain degree of independence in me through these teachers, which also led to vital skills such as time management,” Pisharody said.

Pisharody added that the staff were caring and always knew what was best for him. He said they pushed him to remember dates of tests and due dates of assignments, which he claimed was very useful to him in college.

Morgan McWethy, a 2011 graduate, explained that she was well prepared for life after high school. McWethy majored in music education at Illinois State University, and graduated from there in 2015. McWethy is now a teacher of general music at Southbury Elementary School. She said that she took classes that were rigorous and that these classes paid off for her, as they prepared her for some of her courses in college, and the level of difficulty of these courses.

“I was able to take many classes that allowed me to push myself and expand my interests,” McWethy said. “I took challenging classes such as calculus and AP Music theory, which prepared me for college level math and my core music degree classes.”

AP Calculus teacher John Shore explained that his calculus classes look at the big picture more than the tiny details, because he said that the details are not as useful as understanding that backing up answers with valid evidence is one of the most important parts of math.

“Having gone through those adversities, those challenges, and those struggles, as well as the triumphs and the victories help prepare us for what the goal is in front of us,” Shore said.

Kamaria Caldwell, who graduated in 2017, explained that the workload at East is not sufficient enough to compare to the workload in college.

“I don’t think that I was prepared for the course load of college. When you’re in high school you have 8 or so classes a day, but the amount of work per class is nowhere near the amount in college,” Caldwell said

Senior Chelsea McCullum attributed her success upon graduation this year as a result of not only the academics but also the diversity of East’s students. McCullum will be attending Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.

“I felt at home at East, being teased as a kid, being the only black kid in the class, but coming here, it was very welcoming,” McCullum said.

Caldwell said that her experience at East was overwhelmingly helpful. Caldwell is majoring in psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience. She said that East was almost too helpful. She explained that with all the services they provided, Caldwell felt like she would not be independent in college as a result of these practices.

“OE provided assistance for students in almost every aspect academically or administratively so having to do things on my own in college was difficult at first. So academically I was definitely prepared to move forward after graduating, but in terms of self sufficiency OE acted as a crutch,” Caldwell said.

For some seniors however, life after high school does not mean moving across the state. Geethika Inampudi, from the graduating class of 2016, moved to India to get her education after high school. She said that the staff tried their best to prepare her for college, but life in India was not something they could have prepared her for. She said she was nervous to go to such a drastically different environment, and that nothing the staff were equipped with could help her in that regard. Since moving back from India, Inampudi studies at Waubonsee Community College.

“[I was] very nervous because I was going to a new place for school, India specifically, and I wasn’t sure how ready I was for a little more of a challenging environment,” Inampudi said.

Prerna Mitta also said that high school prepared her through the rigorous and demanding AP classes offered. She is doing her undergraduate at Benedictine University and said that she owes all her self-sufficiency to some of the AP class curriculums at East. Mitta is majoring in computer science. However, she admitted that high school simply could not prepare her for all aspects of her college education.

“I feel like there’s only so much high school can prepare us for by nature. For example, we don’t live away from home if applicable, and we don’t take on a major and thus deeper coursework in high school, so East did as much as was possible,” Mitta said.

Caldwell included that she felt prepared for the academic side of college, and that East prepared her well for that. However, she said that she was not ready for college in terms of her mental health.

“In terms of mental/emotional preparedness I don’t think I was ready for college, but UIUC offers free counseling for all students which really helped me to adjust to all of the changes that starting college brought about,” Caldwell said.

A new era, a new epidemic: Mental health in college kids

Guidance counselor Melissa Gleason explained that a lot of students are ready for college academically because of the rigorous AP classes and that the current graduating class are one of the most prepared academically than in years past. However, as modern times are changing the way people view themselves, others, and the amount people depend on social media, Gleason said that the rate of kids who go off to college and develop mental health issues has skyrocketed.  

“We are hearing from the colleges that, yes, we are sending smart kids with good AP scores and dual credit under their belt, but their emotional stability is horrible. They’re saying these kids are not ready because [of those] phones, I call it the invisible umbilical cord,” Gleason said.

Anxiety is very common in college freshmen. McWethy recalled her anxieties about college as well. She said that without the support of her friends and classes, she would just feel anxious and lost at the university she attended, ISU.

“I was worried that I would get lost or be another “number” at my university,” McWethy said.

Gleason said that as time goes on, the role of the high school counselors has changed. Gleason explained that it used to be that students would go to her for guidance and information about schools, but now students have the access to all this information, but they do not know what to do with it. Gleason said that this is causing more social and emotional problems than she has ever seen in the past.

“That’s what our role has turned into is like bridging the next level of mental health, which is new to this generation,” Gleason said.

Pisharody explained that he was excited to go to college; however, he did have some anxiety about his coursework and major. He said that pre-med is a demanding major, and he was anxious about how he would do in his classes. The way his older friends described it made him anxious, but he got over the anxiety through the help of his counselors at his university.

“I realized the entire experience was not something to be afraid of, as for one, you always have a strong social network of peers, professors, and counselors that can assist you at any point in time,” Pisharody said.

Mental health is a growing issue at college universities. According to a study by Chadron State College, 25% of college students have been diagnosed with a mental illness in the past year alone.

“When they start to go to college is when they really fall apart because they haven’t developed those critical thinking skills about like life,” Gleason said.  

Gleason said that the number is going up every year at a startling rate. Students are less mentally stable than ever.

“It’s an epidemic. So much of getting students prepared for college is the mental and emotional issues they develop after getting there,,” Gleason said.

McCullum explained that she is going to attend Millikin University and play basketball. Going to college as an athlete is very difficult, and McCullum explained that she is anxious in terms of the athletics; however, she said she is also anxious about the class sizes.

“I’m nervous about fitting in with the team and the classroom environment … I know it’s a lot smaller, so I’m a bit nervous for that,” McCullum said.  

AP English teacher Tamara DiPrima explained how her rigorous class teaches her kids to overcome these frustrations and feelings of helplessness. She tries to assign projects ahead of time and makes sure her students are aware of future deadlines. She explained that her class is made to help kids know that frustration and stress are part of the education process, but at the same time, she said she tries not to overwhelm anyone.

“In an AP class, there should be times when it’s challenging and you’re frustrated. I think it’s part of my job to let you know that frustration is part of the learning process and something to embrace and work through and not something to stress you out or make you want to quit,” DiPrima said.

At left, 2017 graduate Rohan Pisharody now attends University of Illinois at Chicago, where he studies neuroscience. At right, 2017 graduate Kamaria Caldwell now attends University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I definitely enjoyed my four years at East,” Caldwell said. “Once I started junior year, I had developed relationships with teachers which made going to class fun.” Photos courtesy of Rohan Pisharody and Kamaria Caldwell, respectively.

What can East do in the future?

Even though the staff cannot always prepare their students mentally, the graduated classes still have suggestions on what they can do differently.

DiPrima explained that college preparedness is important because that is ultimately what most seniors want to do. In order to be prepared for this huge change, it takes a lot time and action for both the teachers and the students.

“Preparation is partly academic: obviously you want to do well in the classes you take there, but it’s also partly social and organizational,” DiPrima said. “I think if we can try to teach you how to manage, how to balance, how to be real people, and not let certain things stress you out too much, but also have that sense of responsibility, then it’s going to lead you to do well in college, and subsequently jobs.”

McWethy explained her need for a class other than consumer ed to teach students about the basic etiquette of college rules.

“I wish someone had sat me down and showed me how to handle my financial aid and scheduling at school, or how to ask my professors for help in a professional manner,” McWethy said.

Inampudi also suggested a class in which money and financial aid be discussed, because that process is confusing to many families, and money is such a prevalent entity in the world at this point.

“[I think that] money is a big deal in society and we aren’t taught about it enough,” Inampudi said.

Overall, however, East has done a good job in preparing its seniors, as Caldwell claimed. Students excel in their studies, and the staff is to thank. Caldwell explained that what made her four years enjoyable were mainly the staff, and their want for their students to succeed.

“I believe that the staff at East really care about their students which made my four years enjoyable,” Caldwell said.

Inampudi explained that she remembers some of the memories she made at East fondly, and in the end, East did prepare her for the coursework and workload of her education. She said that the staff cannot fix the mental health aspect for anyone, and that it is an epidemic that is hard to conquer, and nothing could have prepared her for that. However, she said she is grateful for her education at East.

“I did enjoy my experience at east. Although I’m glad to be out of high school, I can’t lie and say I didn’t like being there for those four years,” Inampudi said.

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