Size, opportunity at CHS draw senior Brooke McKay to switch schools for her senior year

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By Hafsa Razi

Senior Brooke McKay walked through the halls of CHS for the first time this fall. While most students would choose to remain at the same high school for their senior year, McKay decided to switch from Heritage Christian School to CHS. She said she found the move difficult but “well worth it” because of the numerous opportunities and size at CHS.

“I like that the school is so big,” she said. “There’s a lot of things at Carmel we couldn’t do at Heritage.”

However, according to counselor Stephanie Payne, McKay is a rarity in her decision. Most seniors, she said, given the option, would decline to switch schools.

“They want to finish out the school where they started,” Payne said, “where they’ve established all their friends…(and) all their activities.”

Because of this, the number of senior transfer students is generally low. According to Pat Barker, secretary of the counseling department, there were 42 senior transfers to CHS as of late October, not including foreign exchange students. This compares to 43 juniors, 45 sophomores and 123 freshmen. Seniors face similar complications to what other transfer students face but often have additional problems adjusting. Still, Payne said, many students find the benefits of moving to CHS outweigh any negatives.

McKay had been at Heritage Christian since kindergarten and decided to switch only at the end of her junior year. After her family moved from Noblesville to Carmel, McKay could have stayed at her old school—her two younger siblings still attend Heritage Christian and probably will continue there. But McKay decided that CHS had more to offer in its size and opportunities.

Switching schools, McKay said, was her own choice. “My parents helped me decide, but it was fully my decision,” she said.

A majority of senior transfer students, however, would not have chosen to change schools, according to Payne.

“I don’t think it’s usually a want issue more than it’s probably more of a need or the family (having) to transfer or move,” Payne said.

This was the case for senior Phillip Welch, who moved from Louisville, KY, because his mother’s job was relocated to Indiana. Like McKay, he had been in the same community his entire life. Still, Welch said when given the option of moving or staying, he chose to move. This was partly because he felt his mother would have better opportunities in Indiana and partly because of the quality of CHS.

One major factor that led Welch to this school, instead of other nearby schools, was the academic success. According to Payne, this draws many students from outside the district.

“I think the academic rigor and the numbers we produce (draw many students)…average scores and the college rates, you know, all of that stuff is positive for parents when they’re looking at, ‘where are we going to move and what’s the best school system for my kid?’” Payne said.

Sometimes, though, these high academic standards at CHS also cause problems for some transfer students, Payne said, depending on where they come from and the programs established there. For Welch, the level of academics here is much higher than at his previous school. Keeping up grades in harder classes is a source of worry for Welch and his siblings.

“(I) feel like we got cheated out of our education,” he said.

In some subjects, like math, Welch said he hasn’t covered some areas that students at CHS are expected to know. His old school didn’t even offer some courses found here, like economics and swimming.

Despite these inconsistencies, Welch said he is still able to meet all course requirements for graduation. According to Payne, transferring credits and taking enough classes to graduate usually aren’t issues for senior transfer students. However, they often face problems with teacher recommendation letters because they haven’t had time to establish relationships with their teachers. In fact, McKay said she went back to familiar teachers at Heritage Christian for recommendation letters.

Also in preparation for college, McKay said she visited Butler University twice, once before moving to CHS and once afterward. The first time, she found the prospect of adjusting to college far more daunting than she did when she returned this fall.

According to McKay, going to CHS will help her transition into colleges with large student bodies.

“(With) the school size (of CHS), it would be an easier transition into any college . . . than it would be to go straight from Heritage Christian of my high school class being, you know, 400 kids,” McKay said.

Welch said he agreed that size is an important factor at CHS. “It’s like going to college basically. That’s what it feels like to me,” he said.

But according to Payne, the large size of CHS sometimes deters people from coming here. This, she said, should not be an issue. “People will need to look at a lot of factors, and if they’re ruling us out for size only, then that’s their loss,” she said.

McKay said she found that CHS offers more opportunities for her than Heritage Christian had. In addition to a wide variety of classes, the women’s golf team competing at state level was an important aspect of CHS for her. An experienced golf player, McKay found golf here to be stronger than at Heritage Christian, where McKay had to play as an individual in order to reach state level.

Despite the benefits of moving to CHS, both McKay and Welch said they struggled socially with moving away from friends they had known for most of their lives. Welch said he still has difficulty establishing new relationships, especially since the dynamics of his old school and CHS are very different.

“I’m still looking,” he said.

While McKay said she had less difficulty adjusting, she still found the decision to move difficult. “There were pros and cons of switching at this time,” she said. “There’s a lot of different things that I never experienced at Heritage that now I get to experience, but then there’s also some things I left behind at Heritage.”

In the end, McKay said she is glad she moved. “Really it balances out,” she said. “Here at Carmel, because of the big size, you can do so many more things as a community, together.”