Dear Los Angeles Times Writer James Rainey

Lauren Sonnenberg

We met a few weeks ago when you pulled me aside after my second period AP Physics B class to ask some questions about my experience at Harvard-Westlake. Aside from the lack of a range of student voices, your story in the Los Angeles Times portrayed our school as a place of “privilege and pressure.”

While some of the issues you brought up are legitimate, I believe your article fails to reflect the entire picture and, as a student here, I think the perspective of someone experiencing it every day should be heard.

Some of what you say is true; students struggle to balance academics and extracurricular activities, the tuition is substantial and sometimes the pressure gets to us. I would love for the hour of 3 a.m. to retain its mystery, but instead many of us know it as the hour suited to perfect a difficult lab report or to finish up government reading. You’d be hard-pressed to find any students or faculty members who wouldn’t concede that Harvard-Westlake is a high-pressure environment.

So, I’ll give that to you — Harvard-Westlake is hard — and maybe the administration should be trying to make it a little less stressful here, but, in my mind, that is a different issue.

The results of the work we do here are more than apparent, as we boast more National Merit Scholars than almost any other school in California, we’re home to one of the best newspapers in the country (okay, I’m a little biased on that one) and we have the reigning CIF champion baseball team.

We also have an amazing performing arts department and more than 25 AP classes, among other things — things that were not touched on in your story.

The benefits of Harvard-Westlake outweigh the negatives.  When our students get to college, they know how to write.  Our students know the importance of following their academic passions, they know how to think analytically and carry themselves among adults.  Harvard-Westlake gives us the skills to not only survive in college but also to thrive there.

So yes, this school may be too demanding at times, but that’s how life works occasionally.

You questioned whether the standards here are too high, and my response is: no, they’re not. Encouraging perseverance and hard work seems a reasonable goal. What’s so great about this school is that it inspires the individual to strive to do his or her best.

It’s cool to be smart here.  But not just book smart, smart as in thirsting for knowledge and being passionate about new academic opportunities.

Students here also know, through the late nights and hard work, that they can get through whatever obstacles are thrown their way. This mentality is something special that we recieve as we graduate and are welcomed into the alumni association by our fellow survivors.

You mentioned science teacher Antonio Nassar’s tendency to leap on the desk while teaching, portraying his passion for his job. In addition to having Nassar as a teacher this year, I’ve had at least one PhD holding teacher each year at the Upper School. They are emblematic of the quality of teachers here — those with or without doctorate degrees.

Likewise, my AP English Literature teacher Jeremy Michaelson had our class sitting on the floor last week discussing Hamlet as a Shakespearean “heartthrob.” This informal setting allowed for a contemplation of the character in a way more comfortable to teenagers. There is no disputing the quality of the teachers here and the breadth of knowledge they bring to class every day.

Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, there are times when I wonder why things are so hard. But at the end of the day, if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change my path. I would choose Harvard-Westlake again, I would take AP Biology again and brave Larry Axelrod’s meticulous lab grading, I would do it all again, and I will miss this place when I leave.

We appreciate the fact that you tried to get to know us, but I think you missed the crux of what our community is about. The stressful environment here does not define us. The character of our school — the community, the camaraderie, the drive of the students — that does define us.