Leaving Home Early: Residential High School

January 17, 2009
By Allyson Mead, Hot Springs, AR

On August 19, 2006, my parents drove me up to school, the back of the SUV crammed with boxes and my mom tearing up in the front seat. I was excited, but at the same time I was nervous. As an only child I had never had to share a room, and suddenly I was moving into a dorm room where I would have to share my room and my bathroom. Classes were about to get ten times harder. I would be relying on a cafeteria for three meals a day, a school nurse for all of my health problems, and myself for anything else I needed.

None of that is unusual for a first time college student. The unusual part is that I was sixteen, and a junior in high school.

In 1993, then-governor Bill Clinton established a school in Arkansas that focused on the study of mathematics and sciences. It was a residential high school that only taught high school juniors and seniors. Admission was based on a combination of community service, transcript, and interview, and two of my best friends and I had managed to get in.

Even though I would have them with me, and even though I had known I would be going to the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts since May, I still clung to my mother and cried at the thought of being left up there. I walked into the room that I was supposed to be sharing with a girl I had never met before in my life. I had been given her phone number a month before school started but had only managed to get a hold of her once.

When we managed to find my new room, I almost felt like leaving right then and there. Two people were supposed to sleep, study, and live in a room that was barely bigger than my bedroom at home. My roommate and I had been given two desks, two chairs, two beds, and a dresser. Anything else we needed, we had to get ourselves. The beds even had to be bunked because there was no floor space for both of them!

I didn’t know then that the dorm building for the school -- nicknamed ASMSA -- was actually an abandoned hospital that had been renovated and divided into halls. The next two years would be filled with broken-down air conditioners, weird smells, and ghost stories.

Since I lived closer to the school than my roommate did, I took the bottom bunk and the desk in the corner. Even though we had gotten along well over the phone, I was still nervous about meeting her. When I first caught sight of her, however, I realized that we were going to work out fine; she was carrying a Naruto poster. (Ah, the instant bond of anime fandom).

Eventually, the parents had to leave, and after crying for about an hour, I emerged from my tiny dorm room -- which my roommate and I nicknamed ‘the closet’ -- to explore the rest of the building. Even though the floors were separated by males and females, there were plenty of common areas, like the library, cafeteria, and computer labs. The classrooms were connected to the dorms by a walkway on the second floor.

Over the next two years, I came to realize just how much of a good thing I had done for myself. The classes were harder than any I had ever taken before, and suddenly I wasn’t a top student anymore. It was a good reality check for my ego! Even though I always had homework and was getting the first B’s and C’s of my life, I loved classes there. I was getting to take classes that some colleges don’t offer: Philosophy of Film and Literature; Topics in Genocide and Human Rights; and Heroes and Villains of History. My teachers stopped being just teachers and started being friends. There were fewer distractions during class because the students in there with me actually wanted to be there.

Within a month, my roommate and I had become best friends and I had even grown to like always having her around to talk to. I had gotten used to the cafeteria food -- not always an easy feat! -- and liked the independence that living at a residential school gave me. I got to choose what I had for dinner, when I went to bed, and what I did with my free time. I made some bad decisions, ate too many cookies, stayed up until midnight, and put my homework off until last minute. But even the mistakes I made helped me learn how to take care of myself. I learned quickly that no one is going to babysit me in the real world.

In August 2008, I began my freshman year of college and gained a whole new appreciation for my experience leaving home two years early. Some of the other girls in my hall had never been away from their parents for more than a few days, others expected their teachers to spoon-feed them the material. Going to a residential high school gave me some real advantages over the other students; I had to develop good study skills, learn how to manage my time, and brainwash myself into believing that the hair in my hash browns was my own! I knew how to write papers with APA, MLA, and Chicago-style citations, use online databases like ProQuest, and clean lab equipment. I had experience working as a teacher’s aide, and most importantly I had gotten concurrent credit and came into college with my first semester done. I have never regretted going to ASMSA, and I doubt I ever will.

The author's comments:
Deciding to go to a residential high school was the toughest decision I've ever had to make, but I don't regret it for a second.

I hope that sharing my experiance leaving home two years early will help others who are struggling to choose between staying at their school and going to a residential high school.

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