From the leaky ceilings that threaten to drip on the foreheads of students below, to the flagrant lack of diversity of Hunterdon Central’s school board, most of us know that our district’s high school is far from perfect. But what if I were to tell you that, despite the plentiful flaws of Hunterdon Central Regional High School, we are all privileged to be here?
If you’re a student at Hunterdon Central, you have either heard or have been the one to say, “this school is the worst,” or some other gauche variation of the phrase. But I’m here to make the argument that this preceding statement is dull and, to put it bluntly, aggravatingly tone-deaf.
Privileges. According to the demographics of Hunterdon Central, almost every student has at least one. Whether it be white privilege, male privilege, economic privilege, many who attend have distinct advantages that go widely unacknowledged. Despite this over-abundant selection of privileges, one advantage is quite universal within the walls of Hunterdon Central: the privilege of attending a high school in a high tax bracket.
Now, this argument isn’t going to be an array of strawmans that compares Hunterdon Central with a high school in an impoverished area of a third world country. There are comparisons to be had between Central and our own neighboring districts, as well as other districts within the U.S.
Have you ever forgotten to eat breakfast before school? Felt around in your pockets trying to remember if you brought cash? In Hunterdon Central, students are afforded bagels free of charge every morning. With a swipe of your ID, you are given free breakfast regardless of income level. States in the U.S, such as Nebraska and Mississippi, respectively do not participate in free breakfast initiatives and do not require schools to participate in reduced-price or free lunch programs. Students in these states are not guaranteed the same food security at schools compared to those who attend Hunterdon Central. This can largely be attributed to the school’s large — over $70 million that is — budget that funds several different aspects of Hunterdon Central in order to make it more accommodating for students. Not to mention, Central was selected as having the best school food in New Jersey and is ranked third nationally for their cafeteria.
Much can also be said about the incredibly supportive, overworked, and underpaid staff at Hunterdon Central. Many have witnessed the disrespect and abuse several teachers face from students, however most teachers remain resilient in the face of their mistreatment. Many teachers continue to advocate and encourage their students. And in the wake of several anti-gay groups at the latest board meeting at Hunterdon Central, many teachers and staff-remembers have only further cemented their support for students in marginalized communities.
Central also employs staff that provide additional student resources, such as college counseling and therapy, which aids students with different adolescent conflicts they may face. There are several schools within the state of New Jersey who do not offer any sort of resource that help to equip students for the future. Central provides staff that ultimately work to alleviate the stresses of a high school student. After all, how many high schools do you know of that have a college counselor who can meet with you after a quick email correspondence?
Hunterdon Central also offers hundreds of different clubs and extracurriculars. Private and public schools only a few miles away from Hunterdon County do not have the same opportunities available. Music programs, such as band or orchestra, are virtually non-existent in other parts of the state and, if they do exist, are not nearly as well-funded. It is also relatively easy to start a new club. If a student would like to see their niche represented, our school does little to prevent a club from being created.
Many students, myself included, can have a pessimistic outlook of Hunterdon Central. If we go to school five days a week for 180 days out of the year, we are bound to find more and more flaws in our school system. We are bound to have a negativity bias, which is a cognitive bias that results in things of a more negative nature having a greater effect on one’s opinion than the positive. I’m not saying that Hunterdon Central should be seen through rose-colored glasses, but I’m saying that we need to understand the privilege that we have as a community. We don’t have to worry about going hungry at school, or not being able to play the viola in our school’s orchestra. Privilege is power, and we are fortunate enough to have it every morning walking through the doors of Hunterdon Central.