What’s it like to be a teenager in 2018? We figured nobody’s better plugged in than newspaper editors, so we checked in with the editors at Charlottesville High and Western Albemarle, as well as a CHS junior. Here’s what we learned about the differences between city and county schools—and what they have in common.
17-year-old senior at Western Albemarle High School
Co-editor of The Western Hemisphere
Biggest issues: “A lot of people are socially conscious. The statues were a big deal before August 12.” Student stress and academic pressure are “huge,” she says, and there’s parental pressure as well. Of the three Albemarle County high schools, half the students at Monticello and Albemarle take AP courses. At Western, “three-quarters do,” says Gallmeyer.
Characterize WAHS: High achieving. “I don’t think people care about what they’re learning. It’s get through this so I can go to college and begin my life.”
Also, “we are much whiter than the other schools.”
And sport heavy. WAHS is “fanatic,” says Gallmeyer. “It’s all about football in the fall.” And “Spirit Week is crazy here. You’re kind of ostracized if you don’t want to dress up.”
Coolest thing about Western: Lots of options. “We have a lot of support for independent study that people don’t know about,” says Gallmeyer, who has taken drama and worked on the newspaper for four years, and is taking statistics online. She’s also taking a women’s studies class, and she says there are lots of extracurricular activities, including a “super strong” robotics team.
Worst thing about your school: Although it’s improved a lot, Gallmeyer says Western has a huge culture of student stress, and mental health and substance abuse issues. “It’s considered the norm to be stressed, and students brag about, ‘I got four hours of sleep last night.’”
Risky behaviors: Vaping and JUULing. Alcohol use is common, and “weed is a problem also.” Not big: cigarettes and hard drugs.
August 12: Discussion in class began August 23. “To me it was hard to talk about,” she says. Teachers wanted to do it from an academic perspective.
Hangout: Brownsville Market for the potato wedges.
What adults get wrong: “A lot try to lump our age group with millennials.” They also assume teenagers know more about technology than they do. “If a teacher doesn’t know how to run a projector, we don’t know how to run the projector.” Also, “some of us like to read books.”
Obsolete in your lifetime? DVDs, CDs and watching a physical TV. “We do a lot more streaming.”
Describe your generation: “I think what’s going to be huge is coming of age after the 2016 election in such a polarized time.” Some kids have been out since they were 12 or 13. “Feminism and LGBT activism at our age is common.”
17-year-old senior at Charlottesville High School
Co-editor of The Knight-Time Review
Biggest issues: Little diversity in the upper-level classes. After talking to the city schools’ superintendent, Halvorson-Taylor is wondering what social and economic barriers are keeping black students out of AP and honor classes. “Black students are asked, ‘Are you sure you’ll feel comfortable?’ I wasn’t asked that.”
Coolest thing about CHS: “I love its diversity. Every student I come into contact with is passionate about something.” And teachers are their partners in crime, she says. “We aren’t just apathetic, slacking off teenagers. We have our interests. That’s what keeps me going.”
Worst thing about the school: The systemic issues, about which more communication and transparency would be “awesome.”
Hangout: Cook Out, where all high schools convene.
Risky behaviors: “There’s a lot of vaping.” And social media provides a platform for sexist and racist posts, which because they aren’t posted on school grounds, the administration can’t do anything. “That’s the most elusive beast we have,” says Halvorson-Taylor.
Describe your generation: “I’m still pretty hopeful. Local activism is getting younger. I still think we’re going to be the ones to address issues. We grew up with the message of hope in 2008 and 2012. Trump is pretty scary for us. And this wave of bigotry is something we have to actively address.”
What do adults get wrong? Many see technology as an evil that keeps them from seeing the good it does, she says. “I see Facebook as a way to get involved,” and a tool with a lot of potential. “It really is a revolution.”
Message to adults: “Listen to us. Engage us in conversation. Talk to us. We each have our unique voice.”
17 year-old junior at CHS
Biggest issues: Mainly educational—“Kids struggling with am I going to graduate? Am I going to college? Am I going to have a B?” And segregation. The school is 50 percent black, but in Fairchild’s five AP classes, usually there are only three or four black students. “That’s not unique to Charlottesville,” he says. “Segregation socially comes from academics because you hang out with the same kids you’ve been in classes with since the sixth grade.”
Rivals: Albemarle High, Western Albemarle, but mostly AHS. “We’ve always hated them because they’re the school next to us and we’re always playing them.”
Coolest thing about CHS: Probably the community. “Even though it’s segregated, the students and teachers are really committed to each other,”
Worst: “The lunches are not long enough.”
What do adults get wrong? “We’re not millennials. There’s probably some misperception about young people in this generation not being connected as much, not involved as much. That’s an old-fashioned view. People can communicate and get information in a fraction of a second.”
Risky behaviors: People still get a thrill out of drinking, drugs, and pot is the most popular, he says. “I don’t know anyone who has smoked a cigarette.” Kids are juuling, but it’s not as bad as cigarettes.
Stress: Despite taking five AP classes, Fairchild says, “Personally I think I deal with stress better than a lot of my peers.” Nor is he as worried about college as some. “I’m going to college but I can’t tell you which. Some are really stressed out about that.” CHS offers around 23 AP classes and doesn’t have a limit on the number a student can take. Fairchild thinks taking seven is too many and it should be limited.
Hangout: Cook Out
Biggest difference from older generations: Reading books. “My parents read a lot more.”
Some environmental things will be different, with whole cities underwater in 50 years, he says, and some issues will be the same: war, political issues, social justice causes.