The world of private school is a very unusual world. I’m not talking about Gossip Girl–style antics with rich kids running around in limos with no parental supervision, getting drunk and blowing cocaine—although, to be honest, there was some semblance of that as well. My experience in private school was very unique; I started my educational career at a small private school in a small, rich town in rural Virginia, then left after second grade and attended a bevy of public schools, only to return to the same private school in seventh grade. I experienced life on the inside, but always felt like an outsider.
From kindergarten on, there were about twenty-five kids in my class at my private school in beautiful Middleburg, Virginia. Middleburg is horse country, full of exquisite farms and old houses, and a blatant example of the rift between the upper and lower classes. The middle class was essentially nonexistent; it pretty much consisted of me and a handful of other families.
Grades K–2 weren’t much different at private school then what I imagine it’s like at other schools. There were the requisite nap times, recess, snacks, and reading groups. I adored my teachers and felt very at home. I had a lot of friend, and I loved school. My world was pretty perfect.
It all ended rather abruptly.
My father spent all of my family’s money building his dream house, or what I like to refer to as the House of Doom. We had no money left over, and since my older brother was in high school and couldn’t be asked to readjust, the burden of switching schools fell upon me. I began third grade at Middleburg Elementary, and it was a complete shock to my seven-year-old system.
As horrible as it sounds, I had never known anything but rich white children. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that I wasn’t white, that I was different than my private school friends. I so associated with them that when I entered my public school, the prejudices and judgments were already burned into my psyche. I felt uncomfortable around black kids. I did not like the overweight children in my class who had ugly clothes. I had a sense of elitism that was unbelievable for a child my age. I thought my classroom was dingy and everything around me seemed dirty. I suppose on some level I knew this way of thinking was wrong because I kept these thoughts to myself like a shameful secret. What was worse was that my old private school friends no longer wanted to be friends with me, as if I bore some horrible stigma. When I’d see them at the local ice cream shop, I would try and interact with them, to no avail. I distinctly remember making a conscious decision to let go of my old life. This was my life now.
I felt a horrible injustice had been done to me, but I persevered. It was probably the most important thing that ever happened to me.
Over the next few years, I forgot all about private school and fully immersed myself in life at public school. I felt challenged (in a good way) by school and found wonderful friends and teachers with whom I made great bonds. More importantly, I became aware of life outside mansions and nannies. One Christmas, I visited my friend Tameshia’s house. It was a shack, literally. She lived with several brothers and sisters in complete squalor and poverty, but she always had a smile on her face. Our school raised money and donations, held bake sales and toy drives for her and her family, as well as other poverty-stricken people at our school, and it made me feel good to know I had helped someone I actually knew. It was a very different feeling than going to a carnival to raise funds for some random charity, as I had done at my private school.
After beginning public school, my family moved around a lot, and I attended six different schools in four and a half years. I enjoyed all of them, met lots of people from lots of ethnic backgrounds (at one school, there were sixty kids in my class, and only three were white), and adapted very quickly, even though I was almost always “the new girl.”