An (East Coast) education

An (East Coast) education

Sara Yang

A firsthand experience at a New Jersey high school

This project relates to content in the Feb. 2 El Estoque Print issue.

Northern Valley Regional High School in Demarest, N.J. has approximately 1200 students and is a Blue Ribbon school. It has a sister school of the same name in neighboring town Old Tappan. Photo by Hazel Hyon.It’s 5:30 in the morning and all is still—until I’m summoned from the world of dreams to reality by the shrill ring of the telephone. Sharp and unforgiving, the cold stabs me in the hands and feet like a knife as I tiptoe downstairs, crossing my fingers for the message I’m waiting for. Most of the time, my wish comes true, and the flurry of snow cancels school.

At Northern Valley Regional High School in Demarest, N.J., where I spent my freshman year as a Norseman, there are more deviations from MVHS than having snow days. Let’s take a look at a few.

1. Size: Although NVRHS at Demarest consists of students from three different towns, the school population is about 1200, less than half of that of MVHS. Naturally, the class sizes are also smaller—my Spanish 2 Honors class had just 15 students. People are more aware of each other, but they still tend to socialize in specific groups.

2. Demographics: The majority of NVRHS is Caucasian, while approximately one-quarter is Asian. There are relatively few blacks and Hispanics. Most students come from affluent families—Demarest’s median household income as of 2009 is $128,076 (statistic taken from

2. Structure: Because of the unpredictable weather of the Northeast, most East Coast schools tend to be inside multiple-story buildings, not outdoor campuses like that of MVHS. NVRHS fits the model of a typical American high school depicted in movies and books, with glossy corridors lined with lockers and a brick exterior—think “Grease” or an East Coast version of “High School Musical.” At NVRHS, P.E. classes are called “gym” because they often take place inside the gymnasium, which is divided into two with a movable wall during the school day (interestingly, rallies are held outdoors).

3. Academics: Just as MVHS is known for its academic excellence, NVRHS is one of the top schools in the area as well, having received the Blue Ribbon Award in 1994. Instead of dividing the school year into two semesters as MVHS does, NVRHS splits the year into four quarters. Students are first ranked in their sophomore year according to their GPAs, an enormous source of stress for most. There is noticeably less emphasis on mathematics and sciences at NVRHS—for example, it lacks AP Computer Science and AP Environmental Science but provides classes such as AP Studio Art,  AP Art History, and AP Modern European History.

4. Extracurricular activities: At NVRHS, students are heavily involved in sports and clubs, which range from cultural groups to Military History Club. One of the most popular extracurriculars is the All School Production, a year-long project to produce a musical in which any student can take part, whether it’s auditioning for a major role or working backstage. The athletics department consists of 25 sports (including bowling and ice hockey) and 51 teams, which compete in a league with 12 other neighboring high schools (information taken from

5. Happenings: On Nov. 16, 2010, NVRHS had a school shooting threat and scanned every student through metal detectors before he or she was allowed into the building. On Jan. 24, 2011, the school’s midterm exams were delayed when the office received a package of drugs from an unknown source. Though renowned for its serious approach to schoolwork, NVRHS has its share of pranksters as well—and often, the jokes explode into something much bigger with law enforcement involved.

When I arrived at MVHS from NVRHS two years ago, I initially believed that I faced a radically different environment. I had never seen a school so into pearl milk tea, bhangra, and science, never mind such strong school spirit. I emerged from my first MVHS rally with a red face and dizziness, overwhelmed by the intense energy of it all.

But eventually, I realized that the meaning of high school is the same anywhere—exploring the choices you have and building friendships that last a lifetime. At NVRHS and MVHS, I’ve had the privilege of succeeding in both, and for that I will be forever grateful.