Rebecca Brandel, a freshman at Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore, and Sabina Mogavero, a freshman at Pioneer High School in Yorkshire, both just getting accustomed to high school themselves, agreed to spend a day at each other’s schools – one a private, Catholic school for girls and the other a rural public school. Here is what they found:

Off to Pioneer

By Rebecca Brandel / NeXt Correspondent

When I was asked to participate in a NeXt school swap, I was extremely excited (and a little nervous). I didn’t know what to expect and I really didn’t know anything about the school or the girl I would be “shadowing” for a day, so I decided to send her an email so I could get to know her better. After about a month of exchanging emails, we were finally able to set up dates to visit each other’s schools.

When I first walked into Pioneer High School, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. With multiple corners and hallways that all look exactly the same, I was amazed anyone would be able to find their way around! It seemed to dwarf my school, which at the beginning of the school year I had found hard to navigate. This is considering the fact that I came from St. Christopher School in Tonawanda, a private Catholic school, and graduated with a class of only 47 students. At Mount St. Mary Academy, everyone knows everyone because there are only about 300 students. All of the teachers know you by name, even if you don’t have any classes with them. There is an overall feeling of togetherness because of the uniforms that make up our dress code.

Another difference is the location of our schools. Pioneer High School is about an hour-and-15-minute drive away from my school, and the two places could not be more different. At Pioneer they have a real tractor around the back of their school and a Future Farmers of America Club. Walk out the front doors of Pioneer and you will see nothing but trees and a few houses spread out. Walk out the front doors of the Mount and you will see fast-food restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores and cars.

Pioneer’s building has a more modern feel to it, while the Mount is located in a very old building packed with history.

I loved the lunch period at Pioneer, which is a full 40 minutes compared to our 20-minute lunch at the Mount. The cafeteria was massive compared to the one at the Mount, and I really enjoyed being able to meet all of Sabina’s friends.

I also found myself really enjoying the biology class at Pioneer! The teacher was so motivating and made something like photosynthesis seem interesting by letting the students participate in a really fun lab about the parts of a plant. The teachers were very friendly and seemed genuinely interested in learning more about me.

The students at Pioneer weren’t familiar with the idea of a “shadow,” someone who follows you around at your school all day. We have a lot of them at the Mount – eighth-graders who are considering coming to our school. At first I was asked a lot of questions (“Wait … so you’re new?”), but after a while, everyone seemed used to me being there and they were friendly and eager to talk.

The biggest difference at Pioneer was the boys. It isn’t like I’ve never seen a boy before; I went to school with them for nine years, but the Mount isn’t coed, and I’ve become pretty used to attending school like that. One question everyone at Pioneer seemed to ask was “When do you see boys?” They were interested to learn that there are boys’ schools just like Mount St. Mary’s.

The second biggest difference was the lack of uniforms. At Pioneer there is a dress code, but the students are generally allowed to wear what they want. At the Mount we wear plaid skirts, polo shirts and knee-high socks or stockings. At Pioneer, students’ outfits varied from cheerleading uniforms to jeans.

The principal at Pioneer was so kind and went out of his way to introduce himself to me and tell me a little about the school before I even met Sabina. Although Pioneer and the Mount are extremely different, they are both the same in wanting their students to succeed and learn as much as they can. I am so happy I was able to have this amazing experience, because it really expanded my horizons. Not only did I gain a new outlook, I also gained a new friend!

Rebecca Brandel is a freshman at Mount St. Mary Academy.

A day at the Mount

By Sabina Mogavero / NeXt Correspondent

When I heard about being able to do a school swap through NeXt I pounced on the idea. I was delighted and intrigued with the idea of stepping into somebody else’s shoes for a day, but not just anybody, someone with an entirely different educational experience than me. Rebecca and I traded emails and got to know each other. We started off at my school. After that, I was even more excited about the chance to visit her school.

Pioneer is larger than some schools and miniature compared to others, but all the same it is like a family. At Pioneer, we are all connected to each other somehow; our teachers are genuine with us and really know us and our learning styles. They are quite dedicated. When Rebecca came to my school she seemed dazed by its twists and turns that I quickly learned to navigate. She was stared at, asked why she was there and if she’d ever seen a boy. I said, “You’ll have to excuse them, I don’t think they have seen a ‘shadow’ before.”

What I experienced at Mount St. Mary’s was unlike anything I had ever seen. Mount St. Mary’s is an all-girls private Catholic school. The economic situations of the girls at the private school were obviously different from those of the students at Pioneer. I mean, after all it is a private school. I thought, “What would happen if you took all of the boys out of my school?” Expecting “Dramaville” and maybe even cat fights, I was delighted to be welcomed by smiles, “hellos” and interested stares. They have “shadows” there all the time, which rarely happens at Pioneer. I was asked if I was “going to go to school at Mount?” The girls, who call themselves “Mounties,” wear uniforms that consist of adorable knee-high socks, collared shirts with the school emblem and pleated skirts. I almost felt funny wearing normal clothes. The uniforms didn’t seem to restrict the girls’ creativity or individuality, because there were plenty of choices and combinations of outfits to wear.

Aside from the clothing, one of the biggest things that stood out to me was the religion in the curriculum. I was taken aback when the teacher said, “Let us pray.” I did a double take. This statement moved me and had me dumbfounded because I don’t see that every day. The teacher asked for “prayer requests” and then she prayed to God. To be honest, I liked it. This gesture made me feel an indescribable connection to the people in the room that I had never felt in school before. Many of the girls seemed to take this for granted, but coming from a public school system where teachers are discouraged from even mentioning a belief in a higher power outside of the curriculum, I cherished this experience.

Another thing that came to my attention was the many options given to the students. A dance class can take the place of conventional physical education instruction. Latin is an option for a foreign language. Many extra classes, such as journalism, were offered. Extra classes are available at Pioneer but only to upperclassmen.

The staff at Mount St. Mary’s was so kind and generous toward me; two very sweet office workers gave me a T-shirt and a lunch ticket. The teachers were very interested with what I had to say and were extremely welcoming. The teachers seem very committed to their work and for the students to learn. The workers’ characters on the inside of the building were as beautiful as the exterior of the building itself. The architecture was exquisite; it made me feel in touch with the history of the building to walk through the old halls and into aged doorways.

The students themselves were very similar to my friends. One thing I did notice was that the girls seemed to be unconcerned with their looks. I assumed that this was because there were no boys to impress. Rebecca said it’s easy to get ready quickly and go to school without worrying about being perfect. The behavior of the girls seemed to be commendable. Respect was paid to teachers and others. The atmosphere was, for the most part, quiet.

Going to another school for a day and experiencing different lifestyles was a great and matchless opportunity. It was not what I am accustomed to but that made it a fantastic time. The “Mounties” are their own kind of family, different than Pioneer but pleasant in their own way. I met many amiable people and experienced so much, but above all I made a new friend that I wouldn’t have ever met if it weren’t for our fun times and memories made during a school swap.

Sabina Mogavero is a freshman at Pioneer High School.