School Within a School (SWS) is a program that gives students the opportunity to take classes based on a democratic pedagogy. The students in this small community take two classes with only other SWS members and participate in weekly Town Meetings, but are otherwise integrated into mainstream classes, sports teams and extracurricular activities. Despite the integration of SWS students, there is an evident divide between them and their peers. There have long been tensions between the two communities, but lately it has flared.
Recently, a student running for legislature ripped his shirt off during a speech, evoking outrage from many SWS students due to the dress code disparities it demonstrated. Some mainstream students felt this was an overreaction and a Facebook firestorm ensued, with an obvious SWS versus mainstream underpinning.
While SWS prides itself on its social consciousness, many mainstream students feel that SWS students act with a sense of arrogant superiority based on their self-proclaimed progressiveness. SWS students are thought to take themselves too seriously, treat others with condescension and merely front a semblance of concern for social justice issues.
This rift within the high school needs mending. It comes from irritation amplified by misconceptions with little basis in reality.
As with any independent community, there are cultural differences and peculiarities that separate SWS from the mainstream. In reality, the difference between the students of SWS and the mainstream is negligible and student life in both institutions is strikingly similar. We all get stressed over school work, have hobbies and have our own individual opinions and passions.
To address this issue students should let go of the stereotypes. SWS is bigger than any one student’s actions and each student retains their individuality, so generalizing and stereotyping SWS students is counterproductive.
The two groups do not need to act as rivals to one another. It is possible and necessary for us all to coexist peacefully if we want a stronger school and community.