Why Do Some Students Transfer From Walls?
Jackson-Reed High School, where Saranda Rolett and Nicholas See transferred / Credits: Rachel Kolko
One left abruptly in the middle of his sophomore year. Another left as a senior to pursue an internship. Thanks to the pandemic, a third never had a class in the building and decided to keep it that way. None of them have regrets about their decisions.
Though Walls is a competitive high school to which students have to apply to attend, a small minority each year decide it’s not for them. Here are some of their stories.
Senior Saranda Rolett had only one year left of high school at Walls before she graduated, but after the first two weeks of her senior year, she transferred to Jackson-Reed. Why would she leave Walls so late in the game? Because she was bored.
“Just sitting in a classroom every day I started to get really restless, especially towards the end of junior year. I felt like I had senioritis prematurely,” she said. So, at the end of junior year, Rolett started to research possible internships that would help cure her boredom.
Luckily for her, Rolett stumbled upon a research-heavy internship in a neurogenetics lab at the National Institute of Health (NIH). The only problem was that the internship would require her to miss a good number of her classes each week.
“I didn't realize that I would end up finding something that would be like a full-time work experience,” she said. Walls requires all of their students to take a full schedule of classes each year. While students are occasionally allowed a free period for jobs or internships, Rolett’s program would have required multiple free periods, which Walls could not accommodate, even though she had completed most of her graduation requirements.
“I transferred to Jackson-Reed so that I would be able to only take the classes I had left in order to graduate,” she said, since Jackson-Reed has a less restrictive scheduling policy.
Given the choice of staying at Walls and not accepting the internship or transferring and pursuing it, her decision felt clear. “I didn't want to leave, but in the end, once I realized that my only option was to go to Jackson-Reed if I wanted to do the internship, it was a pretty easy decision,” she said.
So, for this past year, Rolett has been taking her remaining required courses one day a week at Jackson-Reed, and then spends the rest of her week at the lab.
Although she is happy with her decision, Rolett does wish that Walls had allowed her to stay and pursue the internship. “I feel like if someone is showing that they're trying to pursue their interests, especially academically, in a way that mandates them to take time off of school, they should really accommodate that.”
While Rolett attended Walls for three years before leaving, junior Dylan Park decided he wanted out much earlier in his high school career — after only a few months of in-person classes. Although he had been thinking about it for a while, one experience pushed him over the edge.
A few months into his sophomore year, Park was in class one day and had extra time to do some homework. “I wanted to get a science textbook, and one of the teachers yelled at me for going to try and get a textbook,” he said. “It’s like, man, this school is not it.”
Afterwards, Park started seriously considering the idea of transferring back to Washington Latin, the school he had gone to before coming to Walls. “I looked at the Latin return policy. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, like what if?’”
It turned out that Washington Latin allows high school students to return up to the start of the second semester of sophomore year. “I was literally looking at it a week before the deadline, so that's why I really had to make a decision, quick,” he said.
Looking back, Park said that had he not had that negative experience with a teacher, he might not have looked at Latin’s return policy in time to transfer.
In the end, he realized how much he missed his old school. “It feels easy to get involved [at Washington Latin],” he said. “I didn't feel that involved in the Walls community.”
Before leaving, Park also consulted some Walls upperclassmen to help him make sure he was making the right decision. “They were just waiting for college,” he explained, saying he wanted a different environment for his high school experience.
More than a year later, Park is confident he made the right decision. “Latin is just a really special school,” said Park. The only thing he wishes would have been different is having to leave in the middle of the school year. “If I could have stayed through 10th, I would have,” he said. “No one wants to switch schools in the middle of the year and leave all your friends behind.”
At one point, Park thought he might not have had to go back by himself. Both Ganesh Bhojwani (‘24) and Stephen Showalter (‘24), who had attended Washington Latin in middle school with Park, considered transferring with him. Similarly to Park, both missed the smaller, more tightly knit Latin community and were worried that Walls wouldn’t be able to provide that, especially after they spent their freshman year online.
“Latin seemed way more fun because we were familiar with it — that's because of the pandemic,” Bhojwani said. “But I think sticking it out kind of for me at least proved that Walls could be that place.”
Showalter decided to stay for one particular thing: the baseball team. “One of the leading factors for me coming to Walls was I knew they had a baseball team, and a competitive one at that,” he said.
But as he spent more time at Walls, Showalter found other aspects of the school worth staying for. “I get the benefits of a better, more rigorous education, and what I wanted when I was initially choosing to come to Walls,” he said. “So I would say as of now there's no regrets.”
Although Park, Bhojwani and Showalter felt Walls was too big, Nicholas See had the opposite problem with Walls.
“I wasn’t a fan of how small [Walls] was, how everybody knows everybody,” he said.
See, now a junior at Jackson-Reed, spent his freshman year at Walls. He had attended Alice Deal Middle School, the largest public middle school in D.C.
See doesn’t regret coming to Walls in the first place. “I think it was good for me to see if I would have liked a smaller environment more,” he said. “It clearly didn't work for me.”