I loved my elementary school, but it was the kind of place where I could hide under the desk without the teacher noticing I was gone because he had thirty-five other children to worry about.
In the summer after fifth grade, I was accepted into Prep for Prep, a program that, in its own words, works to “identify New York City's most promising students of color and prepare them for placement at independent schools.”
Translation: I busted my butt for two summers and a school year dissecting frogs, writing essays on books like To Kill A Mockingbird and The Color Purple and crying over my failed math tests in order to get access to a better education.
Although the program placed me on the right track educationally, Prep for Prep ruined my childhood. For a young girl like me, time spent in Prep's classes in addition to regular schooling was torture. Every summer morning before boarding the cheese bus, I'd vomit from stress; and at night, I'd sit in the park doing my homework by lamplight while my friends played Manhunt.
All that work prepared me for everything except for the difficulty of socially integrating into the new world of independent school.
In public school, I was the odd one out because I was quiet and my parents lived in a co-op.
In private school, I was the odd one out because I was Puerto Rican, my parents didn't own a country house and I couldn't afford a Kate Spade schoolbag or Prada shoes.
I wish I had had some more support besides the commiseration of my friends of color. Maybe if someone had warned me about real life and the deep gashes between socioeconomic classes and its correlation to race, I would have been better prepared for the racism and classism I faced in my new schools.
I know for a fact that these feelings of not fitting in and of being an outsider contributed to the early stages of my depression, and it upsets me that I couldn't find a way to address them.
If I could go back in time, I wouldn't change my places of education because I appreciate all of those teachers and the academic rigor that shaped my mind today. But I do wish that I wouldn't have been so scarred emotionally and socially by the experience.
This post is also linked to Five Minute Friday.