When I visited UHS as an eighth grader, I was especially impressed by the teaching atmosphere within the classroom. I came from a large public middle school of 1200 students, with big classroom sizes and very limited one-on-one, interactive learning. It was easy to get lost in a classroom that size and fall behind to, and for some students, it was easy to fall behind with the inability to take ownership of one’s learning. On my visit to UHS, I went to an English I class in which learning was interactive. The boundary between student and teacher was loosely defined. Raising hands was not necessary and the classroom discussion was guided by students themselves. What I had noticed is that the role of the teacher appeared to be more of stimulating the interest of his students and their conversation, rather than standing in front of the class and lecturing to students. The simplest thing that I admired greatly, was that students were speaking to each other and building off of one another. It was a space in which you could take ownership of your learning. The conversation, which was a discussion on The Catcher in the Rye, flowed easily in the direction that students were naturally taking it in. The small class size, only about fifteen students, ensured that each student’s voice was heard and relieved pressure and seriousness of talking in class. As a junior now, I can certainly say that I have appreciated and benefitted greatly from the unique classroom setting at UHS. UHS succeeds at making learning interactive and personal.
One of the many things that drew me to UHS was the control each individual student has over his or her own curriculum. While shadowing, I heard about the choices students have, especially in their junior and senior years, over which classes they take. As freshmen and sophomores, students can choose one (or more) languages to study, in addition to various art classes. But as juniors and seniors, the curriculum opens up, and students can focus on nearly anything they desire. Everyone takes four English seminars over two years, but they range in topics from Ethics and Argument to Greek Tragedy. Juniors take U.S. History, but seniors can choose from a variety of classes including Modern Middle East, Art History, and U.S. History Through Film. Also, there are a multitude of math and science classes catered to students’ particular interests including Logic, Astronomy, and Geology, in addition to advanced-level traditional courses such as Physics and Calculus. And, if there is anything missing that a student wishes to study, they can always design their own course with the Independent Study curriculum!
Coming from a public middle school, I had always imagined myself attending my town’s public high school. When my mother suggesting shadowing UHS, I was frustrated because I didn’t want to stray from my “predetermined” track. However, after my shadow, I was more than keen on applying to UHS. The community had made me feel warm and welcomed, and students were genuinely engaged in their classes. I was also fortunate enough to visit the drawing and painting studio. The room, which had high windows, lots of paint-covered tables, and an oil paint stench, made me really excited about the potential of being a UHS student. Until high school, I had not taken art seriously, but throughout my time at UHS, I have spent countless hours working in the art studio. Art is an overlooked aspect of UHS, but the drawing and painting program has been amazing, and turned art into a passion of mine, rather than just a class that I took.
When I first visited UHS, I had the impression that it was a very old-fashioned, lecture based school with not very many project-based classes or activities. However, going through the science department and their classes completely changed my perspective. Science classes at my middle school, Town School for Boys, were all pretty uninteresting, with the occasional projects or experiments, with content that was too confusing to fully understand. When I went to visit UHS, I saw a completely different way that science classes were taught.
UHS offers three main branches of science: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, and several more courses stem off of those main principle classes. When I walked into the Physics classroom in the lower campus, I was amazed at all of the different gadgets, projects, and experiments strewn across the room. Hanging off the ceiling was a spring of some sorts set up horizontally, and when pushed, mimicked the behavior of a wave. Throughout the rest of the room, I saw dozens of student or teacher projects ranging from circuit experiments to cars racing on a platform with wires. The coolest of them all was this giant electric ball that when touched would give you a little shock. All of this seemed so foreign to my experience learning physics at my school and so interesting at the same time.
However, the physics projects weren’t the only cool parts of UHS sciences. I was only able to get a small glimpse of the biology and chemistry classrooms, but from what I saw I was pretty amazed. In chemistry, all I saw was a giant tube with fire blazing throughout it and coming out of holes on the top; it was probably one of the craziest things I saw in a classroom. In the biology classrooms, I saw students planting their own gardens and trees.
All of this gave me the impression of UHS having a really innovative and interesting take on sciences, which I absolutely loved. I always felt that I learned things, especially concepts in science, much better when something is visualized or put into real world application. From my visit I clearly saw that UHS does that to its fullest extent by not only creating projects or demonstrations for the students to look at but also allowed the students to create their own projects and learning.
Coming from an 8th-grade class with a mere 15 students, I knew that I wanted to continue my high school education in a close-knit environment where I could find multiple adult teachers and mentors to guide me through my learning. I also searched for a place with many opportunities to pursue my interests in sports. I’ve played basketball competitively ever since kindergarten and was immediately attracted by UHS’s strong athletics program. I was shocked to hear that at the time over 85% of UHS students participated in more than one sport. While my time here, I’ve played three different sports, at various levels of previous experiences. Compared to larger schools in SF, I saw that UHS would provide me opportunities to pursue in a competitive atmosphere while giving me the chance to try multiple sports for the first time. I never would have participated in softball if it weren’t for the welcoming environment of the softball team and the coach support for new players. In terms of academics, UHS provided an environment where I could see myself be challenged and grow in my weaknesses. Especially through the unique independent study program, I loved how UHS students were in control of their learning. Even though I commute nearly two hours every day from the South Bay, I have never regretted my decision to attend UHS, as I have found a very supportive community where I am able to achieve my goals as both an athlete and a student.
Answering “Why UHS?” succinctly is almost impossible for me. There were so many factors and indescribable feelings that influenced this decision that has ended up altering the path of the rest of my life. To sum it up though, it boils down to opportunity. What I saw at UHS was something incredible; my parents couldn’t believe that this was a high school. The first thing I did after my shadow visit was page through the incredibly detailed, bright red, course catalog I received. At this point, I was just looking for details to add to my application, but what I saw was eye-opening. The range of classes was incredible. Everything from Ceramics, Ornithology, to Russian Literature, and US History Through Film was being offered. I was in awe. Immediately I decided that UHS was my number one choice. Nowhere else did I feel the same excitement when I was thinking about going to school for four more years. Now that I am almost finished with my four years here, I know that I made the right decision. I was able to dabble in Ceramics and Electronic Music while at the same time reading Crime and Punishment in Russian Literature and discussing Bodas De Sangre in Spanish class. My choice to choose UHS was shaped by the range and opportunities that I saw, and by the genuine interest every teacher exhibited; I couldn’t have made a better decision.