Beyond the fences

Portage Community High School and Portage Northern each exchanged one of their staff members to attend the others’ school for one day. Here are both students’ take on their experiences.


Nicole Anderson and Olivia Cessna

Nicole’s Article:

As a former Portage Central Mustang, I hated high school. I never felt like any of the teachers loved their jobs, and a majority of the student body seemed, to me, to be fully immersed in themselves.

As a result, I never went to school. My attendance was shameful, and before I knew it, I found myself behind in credit and at Community High School. I was hesitant, but before long I realized that Portage had an interesting secret culture of teenagers who don’t necessarily “fit in,” but still capable of great things with teachers who care about them.  As a CoHS student, I think “every school should be like this.”

When I first found out that I would get to switch schools with Northern Light staff member Olivia Cessna for a day, I was excited and nervous. I had limited exposure with PN students and the experiences other had were not good. I prepared myself for the worst, and my day actually started out that way.  When I got to PN, nobody knew who I was or what was going on, and I had to sit in the office waiting on the assistant principal to confirm things. This took about 25 minutes and I alternated between feeling like I was in trouble and embarrassed.

My day was uphill from there. IB Spanish con Senior Hill was a natural fit for me, as I am Chilean. I was able to do the assignments and participated in group work. One thing that really impressed me was that there were a lot of kids in the class –upwards of 30- and literally everyone was respectful and paying attention.

When the bell rang, the girl sitting behind me introduced herself and explained that she shared second hour with Olivia and that she could show me where it is. I was grateful and surprised by this act of kindness. It was Ms. Nott’s English class, which was, for sure, an experience to remember! My favorite thing about this room was the couch corner, where you can spend class twice per semester if you are having a bad day. I also loved Ms. Nott’s personality; she definitely would have been one of my favorite teachers.

Next was AP Stats with Mr. Stevens. I introduced myself and he showed me where I could sit, but then one of the kids sitting there already gave Mr. Stevens a weird look about me joining their group. Without missing a beat, Mr. Stevens told him, “okay, I guess you can sit at that other table.” This made me feel better about the situation. I was nervous because it was an AP math, but I found myself surprisingly able to complete the tasks. I also learned an interesting fact: when the ice cream sales go up, so does drowning, but only because of hot weather and the beach.

Personal Finance with Mr. Paffhousen was very quiet. I attribute this to the fact that I think most of us were just about dying of hunger by this point in the day. When the class was over, I was fully ready for a cup of coffee and was very disappointed to find out that PN didn’t sell it. For the first time, I missed something about Portage Central.  By that point, I was exhausted from walking around so much more than usual and talking to so many strangers. Remember, at CoHS , we only have one hallway, 5 portables, and 150 students.

At lunch I met an old friend and former CoHS student who directed me to my next class, Forensics. I was extremely grateful for the assistance as I was fairly confused by the concept of the “lower level.” For a second my inner geek kicked in. Was this some sort of Hogwarts? Were they sending me to the dungeons?

Thankfully not. The class was doing a handwriting analysis activity that was actually mind-blowingly interesting. Aside from escaping a near-groping by a couple of jockish-looking guys, I had a really great time, and by the end of the hour, I was wishing that we had a Forensic Science class at CoHS.

I got to spend my last “academic” class of the day in journalism. The class was not in the room on my schedule, but in the  lab instead, and two girls came down the hallway to get me just as I was wondering what to do next. Some of the staff members were writing about topics I was interested in and we had great conversations. Mr. Neal even taught me how to use the design software to create an article. Out of all of my classes, I felt most “at home” in this one. The last hour of the day was seminar, and I didn’t really have anything to do other than prepare my article for the return trip back.

All in all, I had a surprisingly nice day at Portage Northern. Come to find out, Olivia liked her day at CoHS too. I do think Olivia and I are chameleon-like in that we have personalities that allow us to do well wherever we go, so the experience might not have been the same for everyone, but I sincerely want to thank the Northern Light and Portage Northern High School for giving me the wonderful opportunity to see for myself that not all normal high schools are evil or wholly worthy of my scorn.


Olivia’s article:

If you were to look at your neighbors’ lawn, with grass not mowed for weeks, weeds growing out of control, broken shutters hanging loosely, chipped paint exposing the structure, you might think your neighbors were lazy or irresponsible. Meanwhile, you may never ever consider that those strangers may be more than what meets the eye; the structure may not reflect the heart of the person inside. Unfortunately, that seems to be the situation with our nearby residents at Portage Community High (PCH). I spent a day at this facility, and to say the least, it was far from what I expected.

Portage Community High School (incorrectly known as PCEC) is no more than 500 feet away from Northern, yet along with sharing the same property, we also share judgments, stereotypes and assumptions about one another. “Most of the kids that go here struggled with bullying at their other high school, so they come here and feel more comfortable,” says Amanda Thorpe, history and journalism teacher at PCH. Every individual I came into contact with at PCH was friendly, helpful and generally accepting. The students are unique, non-judgmental, excited to learn and are not afraid to be who they are. They have a certain sincerity to them I’ve never encountered in any school I have attended.

Our neighboring students welcomed me with open arms into their school, their family. Every teacher and faculty member knew who I was before I arrived and their enthusiasm for me was contagious. My favorite part about this magnificent educational center was the sense of unity, togetherness and comfort. With merely 180 students, there is no such thing as an unfamiliar face. There is a certain level of friendship between teachers and student; the students genuinely know that their teachers care about their success and learning, creating an extremely healthy learning environment. “In order to teach here you definitely have to have an open mind, be comfortable and learn to accept criticism.” says Jose Vigil, math teacher at PCH.

Before I switched schools for a day, my teachers and classmates expressed their unprovoked worry for me by saying small comments like “Hope you don’t get hurt!” “Don’t be scared, it’s only one day,” and “Try not to get stabbed, bud!” I dismissed these comments before, but thinking about it now, it is sad because mostly because I received a level of acceptance that I’ve never felt at Northern. Although I only spent one day with our neighboring school I felt more at home there than I have ever felt in three and a half years here.

I did not witness a fight. I never heard a student curse out a teacher. At no point did anyone offer me any type of drug. I did not depart from the property with any stab wounds or bruises. I left a great school with a great experience. PCH is the kind of neighbor that’ll lend us sugar,