I started at Seven Hills right off the bat in pre-k. My mom worked at Doherty as the school counselor and before that had been a Unit II teacher, and my older sister Julia was also at the school. I left to go to another school for fourth through sixth grade and then came back to Seven Hills in seventh grade.
Reading comprehension had always been a struggle for me. In seventh grade, I remember having Mrs. Hayes as my English teacher and my adviser, and she helped me to access the books we read in a way I hadn’t been able to before. She also really taught me about patience — patience with others and with myself. In high school, my chemistry teacher, Ms. Utah, like Mrs. Hayes, is just very understanding about what we’re going through as students. She appreciates that school is hard, not every subject might be our favorite or assignment will be easy for us, but she still tries to make it as enjoyable as possible.
Two of my favorite things in Upper School have been the Club Fair and the time when seniors present their Challenge Projects. Both of those events really show the range of students’ interests. The Club Fair happens during lunch every fall, and the upperclassmen all try to get you involved in the clubs that they’re part of: Vintage Video Game Club; Operation Smile Club, a club for students who think they want to be future healthcare workers; and so many others to choose from. Most are low maintenance, and it’s a great way to make friends with students who are older than you. One that I joined is the Jewelry Club. We just paired up with the Be The Match Club, which supports marrow and blood stem cell donations. We made bracelets that we sold at school and then that money — around $400 — went to Be The Match.
For the Challenge Project showcase, the seniors fill the school’s hallway and you can walk around and hear their presentations. You get to see what opportunities the students have access to and how they’re supported in doing things that they find interesting and are passionate about. For her Challenge, my sister Julia has worked on building a car from scratch with my dad. They started with a frame and a bunch of pieces, and they’ve been working on it for over a year now, so it has way exceeded the required number of hours.
COVID, of course, changed so much about being a student. I think the school did an amazing job navigating it and taking appropriate measures to make everyone feel safe, but the pandemic was still an up-and-down roller coaster. The latter part of my eighth grade year, when we were online, was very tough for everybody. Nearly halfway through my high school experience, there were some teachers whose faces I’d never fully seen. As teenagers, that took away a lot — not seeing people’s faces. The social aspect was the hardest.
Some parts of how abnormal it was kind of make you laugh. In my first two years of high school, we only had one school dance. It was for Homecoming, which happens in October. The dance was outside in the courtyard-lawn area. It was really cold, and the girls were in little dresses. We tried to go into the bathroom just to warm up, but the teachers didn’t want us in a small, enclosed indoor area. Some of the seniors tried to start a mosh pit and that didn’t go over well either. So, it was not a normal high school dance, but, hey, it got to happen. It makes you better appreciate school spirit opportunities, because they are not a given.
Whether it’s been the pandemic or the killing of George Floyd or the Capitol riot, I think the school has done a good job of addressing these things head on — not just having them be in the news but go unaddressed at school. When George Floyd was killed, class was already happening online because of the pandemic, so we weren’t physically at the school. When we came back in the fall and school was in-person again, there were panel discussions of students from different race and faith backgrounds, where they would share their experiences and tell their stories. I remember sitting and hearing from people whom I’d passed in the halls but not interacted with, and for me, it helped to take this big, national reckoning that was going on and make it more concrete. I remember one student saying they didn’t feel like they could really be themselves at school. That stuck with me, because that’s a burden on top of the stress we all have keeping up with school and extracurriculars and everything else going on in our lives.
Having students share these experiences and having the school tackle these issues head on is important because diversity is a special part of Seven Hills. I might be sitting at lunch and a student will naturally bring up how over a holiday break they went to India to visit their grandparents or say how over the weekend they talked on the phone to their Greek relatives who live in Europe. At lunch, some students might bring in a sandwich but others will bring in leftovers from last night’s dinner, and you’ll smell aromas from around the world.
A defining part of Seven Hills is that, as students, we’re given so much trust. That trust and respect have made me so much more responsible than I would be at another school, where the attitude is, “We’re going to puppy-guard you and look over you, then send you off to college and hope you can survive.” Because of how Seven Hills integrates trust, freedom, and responsibility, as someone who’s a teenager, I already feel very independent.
Last year, I broke a rule by leaving school during a free bell to go get food off-campus with a friend. My mom found out and she made me tell the school. I emailed Mr. Brott, the dean of students, and let him know that I’d broken this rule and was extremely sorry. It felt like a mess at the time, but I was able to own up, and the conversation I had with Mr. Brott is what really stuck with me. He said, “Riley, I’ve had you as a student. I believe you’re a good kid and that this will be just a blip in your record — but our school gives you its trust, and now that’s going to take some rebuilding.” It was a great learning moment for me about owning up to my mistake and seeing how valuable that trust is and how much I didn’t want to lose it again.