Faculty, new students reflect on adjusting to different school settings


Photo credit: Melinda Wang

New ninth grader Noah Johnson sits on the far right side of the couch with other ninth graders who are not new to Archer. Johnson said she thinks there are cliques at Archer, which can be challenging for new students, but friend groups are always shifting throughout high school.

By Melinda Wang, Senior Reporter

Studies have shown that switching schools is likely to have a negative impact on the mental health and academic lives of students, but there are also potential academic and mental benefits of switching schools. Whether the school is public or private, new students face obstacles but also grow when adjusting to unfamiliar academic and social settings.  

Within Los Angeles, there are 47,870 students enrolled in 248 private schools and 399,201 K-12 students enrolled in 1,212 public schools, according to Los Angeles Unified School District. The California statewide average of students enrolled in public schools is 90%, and in Los Angeles, 14% of K-12 students attend private schools, while 86% of K-12 students attend public schools.

According to the National Association of Independent Schools, an independent school has a unique mission and is governed by an independent board of trustees. Independent schools are mainly supported through tuition payments and charitable contributions. They can include elementary, middle and high schools, be coed or single-sex and may or may not be religiously affiliated.

Independent schools are under the umbrella of private schools. A private school refers to a learning institution that does not receive funding from the state government, while a public school refers to an institution that receives funding from public funds.

For the 2022-2023 school year, 95 new students enrolled at Archer, 324 new students were offered admission at Harvard Westlake and approximately 48% of students who applied to Loyola were admitted and later enrolled.

Reasons Why Students Switch Schools

Freshman Quinn Evans-Agard is a new student at Archer and previously attended Berkeley Hall, a coeducational independent school, for seven years. She said she switched to Archer because of its all-girls aspect.

“It was frustrating how the boys would always goof off and the girls would have to deal with their foolishness,” said Evans-Agard. “It was all around annoying and frustrating to deal with. That’s why I appreciate all-girls schools.”

Sixth grader Jayne Weiss previously attended a coeducational public school called Mar Vista Elementary before enrolling at Archer. Weiss said she had an older sister at Archer, which is what made her want to apply.

“My sister went [to Archer], and I have always been here for events. I know that my sister had a really good time here, and I also wanted that. [Archer] is an all-girls school — I feel like it’s calmer, and it’s easier to learn,” Weiss said. “Plus, I feel more comfortable with girls, so it’s a better learning environment for me.”

Freshman Selah Johnson is also a new student this year. Johnson previously attended West Neighborhood School, an independent coeducational school, for nine years and said she was interested in Archer because she wanted to be a part of a more connected community.

New ninth grader Selah Johnson works on homework during a free period. Johnson said an obstacle she faced when transferring to Archer was overestimating the number of clubs, extra courses and electives she could participate in.
New ninth grader Selah Johnson works on homework during a free period. Johnson said an obstacle she faced when transferring to Archer was overestimating the number of clubs, extra courses and electives she could participate in. (Photo credit: Melinda Wang)

“My mind has definitely changed from what I would have probably thought before Archer. Now, I definitely encourage an all-girls community a lot more than I would have before,” Johnson said. “Because with all girls, there is such a bond between your classmates and even your teachers. And specifically at Archer too, the community is really together – it’s not very divided.”

Freshman Ben Ahmad previously attended a coeducational public school called Lincoln Middle School and said his parents made the decision to send him to Loyola, but he learned to love the school and its community.

“Everyone at Loyola is really nice, so it’s not that hard to find friends. It’s all about finding people who share the same interests in the same community as you,” Ahmad said.

Learning to Navigate a New Environment 

While Johnson’s general view of Archer’s community focused more on its connection, conversely, Evans-Agard said a major challenge she faced was entering a grade that had already formed its own cliques.

“The first month of school was really hard and difficult because you don’t know who to hang out with. You hang out with all the new kids because you all have that common newness,” Agard said. “I do think it’s a problem that Archer [has] cliques, and I think it’s specifically [in] ninth grade. I understand since many people went [to Archer] since sixth and seventh grade, but it’s very frustrating to deal with it.”

Siona Kirschner attended Lincoln Middle School, a public school in Santa Monica, before transferring to Harvard Westlake for ninth grade. As time went on, Kirschner said she was able to become friends with both new and old students.

“In the beginning, there was a strong division between new ninth graders with kids who have been going since seventh grade. At this point, it’s blending in a lot, which is really nice,” Kirschner said. “I was excited and optimistic about going in, but I wasn’t sure what the social atmosphere would be like.”

Evans-Agard said she has learned to navigate friendships with students at Archer through becoming friends with different people and seeing who she gets along with.

“Now that I have dealt with all the different types of cliques and seeing how people act around each other, I can decipher who is meant for me to be with, but I think the cliques are much more of a harder process to navigate than the academics,” Agard said.

Freshman Alexa Kagiwada is new to Archer and previously attended John Adams Middle School, a public school in Santa Monica. Kagiwada said making friends wasn’t the hardest thing about being new, but rather making the switch from a public to an independent school.

“The biggest thing was adjusting to [Archer’s] culture. I don’t think I’m fully adjusted yet because everyone here cares a lot about school, and I’m not used to that,” Kagiwada said. “I’m more used to people acting like they don’t care. It’s a lot more competitive than public school, where a lot of the kids don’t care so much.”

Comparing Different Schools

Kirschner said she doesn’t prefer Lincoln over Harvard Westlake, as both schools have their advantages and disadvantages. Kirschner also recognizes how public school helped her grow socially.

“Public school has prepared me for a lot of things in life I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d gone to private school my whole life. I think in terms of preparing me for private school, I definitely learned a lot about navigating social situations, so I think I definitely had a solid foundation coming [to Harvard Westlake]. But there was a lot that was surprising, so I wasn’t fully set up,” Kirschner said. 

Ahmad said he prefers Loyola to Lincoln because of the academic differences between the two schools.

“I prefer Loyola more. It does a better job of preparing me in terms of academics. At Lincoln, I never had any homework, and now, I have homework every night,” Ahmad said. “Overall, my mindset has changed academically more than anything else, and I’ve gotten better at planning out my time and organizing things.”

Faculty Perspective on New Students 

Felicia Paik has been an admissions director for 11 years. Paik said she has noticed an alternative to new students’ common problem of belonging to a new community.

“If a student is feeling uneasy or not as comfortable as she could be, it usually is because the student needs to find an activity here at Archer that will engage them in the community and allow them to find a passion that comes with peers and friends,” Paik said. “Then you feel that you belong and that you’re working toward a common goal. Whatever you’re interested in, then if you join, that’s a way to be a part of the community.”

English teacher Lauren Sekula has been the sixth grade dean at Archer for six years. Sekula said that new students should understand the importance of making mistakes and trying new things. Sekula also spoke to the pattern she has noticed among her students that they are too focused on establishing a single friendship.

“We were coming out of COVID and remote learning, so people were learning how to be with people again. I try to reiterate to them that their friendships will change over time, but to be open to meeting everyone and to meeting new friendships and like bouncing around a little bit,” Sekula said. “And that if you don’t have your very best friend right now, that’s okay.”

Emily Gray is the ninth grade dean at Archer and teaches eighth grade history. In Gray’s second year as a ninth grade dean, she has noticed how friendships at Archer were impacted by quarantine.

“Especially this year and last, my heart has really gone out to new students because when everyone came back from the pandemic, even if they had gone to school in person here before, they were unsure about their friend groups and whether things were the same. I think a lot of time and energy went into — not repairing those relationships — but sort of testing them out again,” Gray said. “Oftentimes, the kids who were new were like, ‘Hey, what about me, I’m here too, you know.’ I noticed that it was even more difficult for new students to fit into the existing culture.”

As a dean and teacher, Sekula added that no one needs an excessive amount of friendships, and sometimes, a single friends is all that is necessary.

“Give yourself grace to try things out. Be yourself. Because we wanted you to be here, and we saw that you had a place in our community,” Sekula said. “Being anything but yourself is hard, and it does you a disservice. [Making friends] is like trying on a shoe. You’ve got to find the shoe that fits, only instead of a prince, we’re finding a friend.”

Johnson noticed Archer students were willing to connect with new students, but she also acknowledged that building connections and adjusting to a new environment takes time.

“There are always people who are ready to include you in what they partake in at school and make you feel like you have a place,” Johnson said. “It just takes time.”