Student exchange offers a unique perspective

Natasha Vyhovsky, News Editor

Walking down the hall, we passed lines of tall, bright orange lockers without any locks and dozens of people who smiled and said “hi” to everyone they passed, all genuinely happy to see each other. As part of the annual student exchange on Tuesday, I shadowed junior Tanner Johnson of Oak Grove High School (OGHS) in Oak Grove, Mo. He introduced me to life in a small-town, rural school that was refreshingly different from BVNW.

Immediately upon my arrival, I could distinguish the main factor that made Oak Grove stand out. There were only about 600 students in the entire school, with the junior class size somewhere around 150. Everyone knew everyone, and there seemed to be no friend groups or cliques whatsoever. Tanner’s second period Speech class had a total of 16 students who, with free time during the second half of the hour, all wordlessly formed a circle with their chairs and talked with each other like best friends — the entire class. Tanner told me that, since the school is so small, pretty much everyone gets along. However, during that very same hour, the room became more tense with the ambiguous talk of some school drama unbeknownst by me. “You can’t have secrets here,” Tanner said. “Everyone knows everything.”

On our way to his AP Government class, in which there were a total of 11 students, Tanner stopped by his locker. He explained to me that no one except freshmen at OGHS has locks on their lockers, simply because they all trust each other and stealing just doesn’t happen. On the top shelf of this locker, I noticed an open jar of Jiffy peanut butter sitting there, no lid in sight, to which Tanner explained, “Someone just put it in there. I don’t know whose it is. I’m kind of afraid to touch it.” Apparently at this high school, random food appearing in each others’ lockers is just about the worst thing that students do to each other. The immense amount of respect and trust these students have for each other is something rarely seen in larger schools, and it was a neat thing to experience.

By the time we got to the fourth class, I started to realize many of the same students were in each of Tanner’s classes. Everyone had completely welcomed me with surprising warmth at this point in the day, even some of the teachers. After Tanner’s Anatomy quiz, the teacher put in a video Tanner made with his friends for English class, and the entire class sat laughing with each other and bonding for a solid 20 minutes. This relaxed vibe that characterized the entire school and each class I visited was considerably different than what I am used to at BVNW. When I asked a few of Tanner’s friends what they were planning to do after high school, many didn’t know and weren’t at all pressured or stressed by that. The students of OGHS clearly show up each day to have a good time, to enjoy school and to build genuine relationships rather than constantly stressing about grades, tests and college.

As it was nearing my time to leave OGHS, there were a few students with whom I wanted to keep in touch after my return home. At their school, however, students are not allowed to even bring their cell phone out for a minute to check a text. Tanner explained that if a teacher sees a student’s phone, it will be confiscated immediately and the first offense results in a three-hour detention. The strict phone rules resulted in a little old-school improvisation on our part; instead of exchanging phone numbers, we wrote Twitter handles down on pieces of scratch paper and followed each other on the social network after the final bell rang.

OGHS allowed myself and 15 other students to be immersed in a school setting completely different from our usual for one day and to meet people we would never get to know otherwise. While the classes and rigor were very different from BVNW, one thing helped tie the Huskies and the Panthers together on Tuesday — the Oak Grove students’ willingness to accept complete strangers with the utmost level of compassion and the acceptance they showed each other. They, too, are a family much like the Husky Family.