Observations on the High School Hierarchy

Amaya Mikolič-Berrios ‘21
Mishka Kapoor ‘21
EE Co Editors-in-Chief

With the beginning of a new school year comes a shift in the dynamic of high school. Seniors have graduated, juniors become the new seniors, and eighth graders, once the kings of middle school, are now the babies of high school. As the convenient scapegoats of the entire school, freshmen become the cause of every upperclassman’s (and even sophomore’s) grievances. A-Hall corner has stop-and-go traffic, lunch lines take an eternity, bathrooms are packed: It’s those dang freshmen again.

When the first day of school begins, anxious students stumble through the doors heading for their advisory classes. For sophomores, juniors, and seniors, this is a routine and mundane schedule: nearly automatic. Yet for incoming freshmen, bombarded by a sea of link crew shirts, the quest to find the right class is often overwhelming. “What’s ‘No-Name’? Why is C15 in the Literacy Center hallway instead of C-Hall? Where on Earth is M-Wing?” As rising juniors who no longer wander the halls in a stupor looking for their next class, it is sometimes slightly amusing to watch the struggling freshmen.

Yet, these upper grades easily remember the days when they themselves saw the halls as a whirlwind of lockers and walked in circles searching for their class. So, why does it appear so common-place to poke fun at the youngest grade? The irony is that the age difference between grades is negligible, often only a matter of months. Nevertheless, every grade a student graduates provides them with a sense of magnified maturity disproportionate to the level of education and life experience they have actually completed. Although the gap between freshmen and seniors is only three years, the perception is that seniors are adults in a school full of children, though many are still legally minors.

Freshman Harsimar Singh believes that being the new kids in school makes freshmen a convenient subject for jokes among upperclassmen. “I think the seniors feel superior because they believe that they’re the leaders of the school,” he says. “But freshmen felt the same way. When we were in 8th grade, we felt like we were the leaders of the school. As a freshman, I do feel that sometimes we are targeted just because we are the new students to the school.”

Perhaps the easiest year academically, freshman year challenges include social interaction with new peers and the search for acceptance in the place where they will spend the next chapter of their lives. Freshmen have yet to experience the rigor of high school, which gives them a younger view on life and academia in particular. Fresh out of middle school, they can carry a sense of disorientation and ignorance, making it difficult to fit in with the seemingly confident upperclassmen. The transition from middle school to high school is not an easy one, and for many freshmen it takes time to become accustomed to the new dynamic.

As young adults, a year is a relatively long time. 180 days are spent rotating with the same schedule, seeing the same people, and learning new material every day. For a 15-year-old sophomore, a year spent at school is 6.7% of their life thus far. It is common and logical to have a sense of pride in completing another year of tests, quizzes, projects, and notes. Nonetheless, the emphasis placed upon completing a year of school is excessive in comparison to the amount of life experience that can reasonably be earned in a mere year. No one year in school instantaneously provides students with maturity, independence, and life skills as insinuated by the change in attitude in students from one year to the next.

The freshmen, fresh out of middle school, are often treated with the connotation of being immature children. Yet many sophomores,who only one year ago were considered to be the immature freshmen, are relieved from this reputation of being the young, naive students, purely by the reality of being one grade above ninth graders. They have successfully completed their freshman year and have risen to an advanced position in the hierarchy.

Sophomore Norah Hampford appreciates this change of rank from freshman to sophomore year. “I think not being the youngest kids in school makes every sophomore’s reputation to be older and more mature than freshmen,” she says. However, she also concedes that the reasoning behind this is flawed. “Lots of people seem to have a better idea with sophomores rather than freshman, and in some ways I see why. We are more mature and we actually know what we are doing around the school, but there are also still some immature students and the difference is only a year.”

The largest difference between these two grades is the position they held the year before. Eighth graders, the most mature of middle school, are treated with the notion that they are of the level of maturity of middle schoolers the moment they graduate and enter high school. Sophomores; however, already have a year of high school experience under their belts and have outlived the indignity of being treated like an eighth grader.
Based on three years of observation, this disparity, though often subconscious, is what creates a double standard for underclassmen. Regardless of an individual freshman’s level of maturity, older students have an obstinate preconception of ninth graders that paints them as irresponsible, childish characters.Sophomores, though, are not completely clear of this prejudice. While they are through with being the butt of jokes, they remain subject to school status rules (such as no underclassmen in the Senior Lounge).

A second facet of the reasoning behind this hierarchical order is the status that upperclassmen have earned. Junior year, coined as ‘the most stressful year of high school’, is purportedly time when success is most critical for the goal of acceptance into college. Thus, seniors, who have completed this taxing year, and juniors, who are currently living it, are often treated with a sense of awe and admiration by the underclassmen.

Seniors, being the oldest, most adult-like kids in school, seem to be treated with a perception of invulnerability. They can also be characterized by the contagious plague of second semester: Senioritis. After college acceptance letters are received, the incessant pressure to maintain a high GPA is finally taken off. They have earned the right to look back at all of the other grades and reminisce about all the stress, tears, and work they have accomplished that the younger students have yet to encounter.

Senior Navya Ajay acknowledges the hierarchy and believes a senior’s presence at the school for four years provides a sense of knowledge that younger grades have yet to gain. “I feel like there is a sense of superiority to the other grades,” she says. “Especially when a freshman asks me about something, I feel more knowledgeable, because I remember when I was a freshman and I looked up to the seniors.”

As different as these grades may be, at the end of the day all students are a part of the school community. Students interact with each other regardless of grade level, which is a part of the reason why the school is so unique. Blended classes, school functions, and clubs promote the mingling of grades, and create a more united school experience.

However, each grade is faced with unique and difficult challenges, which deserve pride for having achieved them. A natural separation is present between the grades due to the different challenges they face as a class, contributing to the development of a hierarchy. Freshmen are challenged by the acclimation to a new environment. Sophomores are tasked with beginning to think about their post-high school career. Juniors are subject to countless standardized tests. Seniors encounter the daunting college application and admissions process. All of these factors establish distinct divergences in the nature of each grade, and thus, the students within them.

The importance of high school in relation to college admissions emphasizes these contrasts between grades. Freshmen, the majority of whom do not take AP classes and are focused on the transition from middle school to high school, are learning the ropes in regards to academic expectations and possible college preparation. Sophomores may be introduced to APs and are beginning to focus on creating a positive transcript for their post-high school career. Meanwhile, upperclassmen, particularly seniors, are occupied with preparing for life after high school, creating an evident division in the experiences each grade level encounters.

As a senior, Ajay believes the slight separation between the grades is a result of the different privileges each grade receives. “There are classes where all grades are mixed, but in a sense there is a separation. The Senior Lounge, and some events like Cotillion and Prom are for certain grades only, which naturally divides the students within each grade.” Events such as the sophomore ring dance, senior skip day, and spirit week are other examples.

The high school hierarchy has existed for as long as students and teachers can remember. This dynamic affects all grades, regardless of age, confidence, or popularity. It is an accepted system that the community revolves around, despite its flaws. To the underclassmen, this seems unfair, but to the upperclassmen, reaching the top of the hierarchy is a right that has been earned. The question remains: will the high school hierarchy forever dictate the lives of students as they pass through these halls?

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