Julie Sisler, Valley Student

My Dowling experience began with taking way, way too long figuring out what to wear. While this may sound like a trivial thing to spend a long time on, I wanted to fit in with the Dowling students I would be observing. I was terrified of sticking out and drawing unwanted attention. After settling on what a friend from Dowling said would aid me in fitting in, I headed out the door with Dowling-esque clothes on and butterflies in my stomach.

    Given that I grew up Catholic and surrounded by friends in parochial schools, a lot of my friends attend Dowling. Therefore, I’m used to the constant teasing about being a “Valley girl,” or being less of a Catholic because I attend public school when Dowling is just a few blocks away. Though this banter is all in good nature, I have also experienced the flip side. There have been incidents where my faith was questioned due to my choice of school, and where I was made to believe myself less than my peers at church because of that.

    The morning began with Elizabeth and me wandering the school to take pictures and get acquainted with our new home for the day. While the building is different than Valley’s in many ways—hallways appropriately labelled with class numbers, inspirational quotes and Christmas decorations at every turn, and far less ground to cover than in Valley—I came to realize that Dowling, just like Valley, is just a school building. The most notable thing I discovered in our exploration was the list of “JUG”s, or “Judgement Under God”s that were listed outside the main office, publicly declaring who has detention. Well, that and the number of crucifixes that rival the amount in my church.

    But to be honest, it’s not the building that concerned me. It was the students. Ah yes, I was terrified of other kids. I worried that once students found out I’m a Valley student, I would be singled out. To my surprise, the complete opposite happened. Students who learned I’m a Valley student warmly welcomed me. Teachers graciously allowed me to interview students during class, and invited me to join in school and class activities.

    The first class I attended was Advanced Economics, which was incredibly similar to our own economics class. The students spent time working on a project about financial planning. The teacher was kind and joked around with students the way so many instructors at Valley do.

    The only real difference was that when the bell rang to signal the start of class, students didn’t slide into their seats, but instead leapt up for morning prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. A student led the opening over the intercom, incorporating in a moment of encouragement for students to reflect on the true meaning of the Christmas season.

    I then went to AP Environmental Science, which also was similar to Valley’s. The students spent time with the plants they grew and made plans for what to grow after break. The instructor was funny and animated, truly passionate about environmental science.

    The most unique part of the class was that, due to block scheduling, it was three hours long! This is because on Tuesdays and Thursdays, students have what’s called “seminar,” which is basically a study hall. However, if students are in a fine arts class like choir, or an AP science class like APES, they go to those classes and have extra class time. That meant three hours in the APES room, only interrupted for a half hour lunch.

    Lunch was also different from ours. Lunch ladies put items that students choose directly onto their tray, and the selection isn’t as extensive as what I’ve grown accustomed to at Valley. Though the setup is different, a walking taco is the same here or there, whether I said grace before eating it or not.

    APES was followed by French class, which in itself was nerve wracking as I have only ever taken Spanish. Class began with students giving presentations similar to ones Valley students do. The rest of class, however, was occupied with an activity I would not see in public school. We watched a video (thankfully in English!) about the different Christmas traditions in Europe. The class then discussed their Christmas vacation plans.

    Throughout the day, I was struck by the similarities between Valley and Dowling. Aside from the prevailing influence of the Christmas season, crucifixes in nearly every room, and JUGs, the differences between our schools are minimal. Contrary to the belief of some Valley students, Dowling students don’t brag about their privileges or obsessively talk about Jesus while poring over their Bibles. Instead, they talk about upcoming tests and their after school jobs: just like us.

    The Dowling experience was warm and welcoming, and beyond rewarding. Both schools are exceptional learning institutions, each with their own advantages. While the intense rivalry between our school certainly adds to the pep at football games, it should remain on the field.