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High school confidential 

In exchange for anonymity, teenagers talk about what it's really like to be in high school — sex, drugs, skipping school, wacky substitute teachers and all the ways that parents still just don't understand.

click to enlarge SALLY NIXON
  • Sally Nixon

Girl, age 17
Rising senior
Hall High School

One day, my freshman year, one of my best friends asked me if I wanted to leave with her and her older sister. So I was like, "OK." We were in the car, and they rolled a blunt. They started smoking it, and asked if I'd ever smoked before. I was like, "Never. I've never done that." My friend was like, "Try it," but I didn't know what it was going to do to me. She was like, "It's not that bad. I promise." After that, I was hooked on it for my entire freshman year, and it was really bad. Surprisingly, it did not affect my grades. It was always in me to do my homework, do my classwork, to keep good grades. At the end of my freshman year, I was like "OK, I need to stop. I need to get it together." We used to smoke so much during the school day. We would leave all the time. It's always been easy to skip. You can walk out the front door and say your parent's waiting out there. You can just go through the student parking space and get in your car and drive off.

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My parents pressure me a lot. They expect straight A's, and I get my straight A's. I have a 4.5 GPA. That can sometimes stress me out, because I already pressure myself enough as it is. If I don't get an A on a test, I have to retake it. I don't care what I have to do, but I have to retake it. My parents, even if I get a 90, they want a 100. No 90s. They're not as hard on my little brother. He's going to middle school, but I feel like if they pressure me that much, they should do it with him. It stresses me out a lot. I play soccer, so that helps with the stress. I can go on that field and just put that aside and know that I'm playing for a reason.

The most difficult class I've taken was my AP Spanish class. The teacher expected so much of us. We have just regular Spanish classes for the kids who aren't fluent in it, and then we have native Spanish, which goes level 1, 2, 3 and then Advanced Placement. I took Spanish 1 last year. My parents are from Central America, so I've always spoken Spanish with them. The teacher expected so much from us, and the way I spoke my Spanish, it was more proper than most kids. He liked that about me, so he just sent me straight to AP Spanish this year. It was so hard, because we had to write persuasive essays. We had to do the speaking portions of it, and sometimes he would critique us so hard. When the AP Spanish test came, everything he taught us was on there. All of it. For that AP Spanish course, the test was easy, and the speaking part was the best part for all of us because we worked so hard on speaking Spanish. We couldn't speak English in the class.

My sophomore year, my English teacher was crazy. She was getting a divorce our first semester, so she was always crying in class. We didn't learn anything. She was always so emotional, just asking us for relationship advice. She would tell us about her personal life, how he was trying to take the house from her. I was just like, Am I ever going to learn in here? I mean, that's why my parents pay taxes. Second semester, she was swearing up and down she was never gonna get married. She got married, so it was just a big roller coaster in her life.

I think a lot of kids are sexually active, because a lot of them end up pregnant. Every semester in the hallways, I'd see at least 50 percent of girls with the bump already. I think it's expected for a lot of high school students to have sex. If you don't do it, you're not cool. I think kids are trying to stake a claim on the person they had sex with, especially girls. Girls get attached so much to the person they have sex with. It's just the way many of them are. It's like "Oh, I had sex with him. You can't talk to him." Guys only have sex with the girls, and then move on. I think girls should learn from that one experience like, "Oh, he used me for this, so I need to stop." They don't, though, because they think they have a claim on that person and try to keep going back to that person, expecting them to love them for that.

There is racial division. We talk to each other. We have classes with each other, but you can see the difference. Hispanics will be on one side of the classroom and black people will be on the other side. That's how my U.S. History class was. All of the Hispanics were by the board, and black people were by the windows. It was just how we've always been.

When I first got here, all I saw was black people with black people and Hispanics with Hispanics. The few white people that were there, they were with each other. You do see black people talking to Hispanics and the white people that are there. You see us talking in the hallways, but not at lunch. At lunch the attitude is, "Oh, these are my friends. This is my race. This is who I'm with."

There was a fight a few weeks ago where these black guys from another school came here looking for this guy. He had dropped out of school, but they found his brother instead. They jumped his brother, and didn't think the Hispanic coalition was going to jump in for him. They did, and when the black people from our school saw that, they got mad. Everybody started fighting — the Hispanics against the black people. When the assistant principals and police officers and security guards came out, they all split up. When the girls saw that, the black girls were saying, "Come Monday, we're gonna jump all the Hispanic girls."

Obviously, that kinda bothers us because we've been nothing but nice to them. We could choose not to talk to each other. On Monday, they were all arguing. I just thought, Shouldn't this be different?

Girl, age 17
Rising senior
Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School

A lot of my teachers will cry a lot, like they'll tell all of their business. I've had teachers tell me that their husband is beating up on them, that they're not having a good day because their husband is cheating on them. I got a good three, four teachers like that who just tell me everything. I had some teachers who had bad attitude problems. You can't say anything to them, because they'll think you're being disrespectful to them no matter what you say. I had a teacher who put me out of class for asking too many questions, which is weird because, you know, you're supposed to ask questions. But she said I was asking too many, and I went to the principal's office and was like, "Can you believe that?" Then they were like, "Well, why are you asking so many questions?" I'm like, what? I don't know what's wrong with these teachers. Maybe I came at the wrong time or something, but I got all the crazy teachers.

Cheating is how I made it through high school. I cheated my whole way through high school. I'm good at math, so when I took my math test first and know I did good, I'm taking a picture, sending it to everybody. Or my friend is good at science, so when she takes her test, she's taking pictures, sending it to everybody. That's just kinda how we do it, even if it's a person you don't know. We pretty much know who has the answers for everything. The real smart kids, they're not going to let you cheat off them; but, for the ones like me who're pretty decent, my C is better than an F, so you can cheat off me. I never felt bad about letting people cheat off me because it's an exchange like, "I got you this time, but when you take your test, I need you to have me."

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All my math classes are my most difficult classes. I'm two math classes ahead of where I'm supposed to be. That's only because when I was little and in the Gifted and Talented program, they determined that I would be above. So I get to middle school, and it only took one bad teacher for me not to learn anything that whole year. I'm still moving up every time, so it seemed like I was always behind everybody else. When you get to high school and tell your teachers you don't understand, they're like, "Why don't you understand? You should've learned this." Then you say, "I didn't learn that. I'm sorry." And they're just like, "Well, that's your problem. You better learn it fast." And I never learned it fast. By the time I understood something, I'd already taken the test on it and failed it twice. I'm good at math, but it's just moving too fast for me. I pass all my math classes with a C. I was happy to have a C. I think I got a B this last nine weeks, and it was just the best thing ever. I thought I really did good.

I definitely feel a lot of pressure because my thing is getting college paid for. It's not a big deal where I go. It's that I want it to be paid for. If I don't get a lot of scholarships and stuff, I'm sure my mom can help a little, but they're not going to be able to pay $40,000. I don't know whose mom is gonna just pay $40,000 every year. You want to go to a good school, and tuition is high at a good school. I don't want to stay in Arkansas, so: out-of-state tuition. It's not the pressure to go to school, because I'm definitely going to school. It's hard to know that this is on me this time. There's nothing anybody else can do but me. There are millions of other kids competing for these same scholarships and things that I'm doing. It feels like if I don't do it right, it's over, but we'll see how this goes. I try to stay on top of everything. I really don't cope with it. I can't do anything now. I start applying to colleges in August, so then maybe I'll be able to cope a little.

All my substitute teachers are crazy. I had this one sub from Trinidad. He is crazy. He thinks American children are horrible. He thinks we're the most undisciplined people. He thinks we have no sense of religion, that we just do whatever we want. Every time he's my substitute, he always gives us this lecture about how we're horrible and pitiful. One day, I asked him, "Do you think that maybe you're too strict?" He went off on me. He was like, "No. You're wrong. You're horrible." He'll send you out for anything. He knows the whole handbook by heart. He'll send you out for chewing gum. He'll send you out for having holes in your jeans. I got this one sub, and she is just ... let me see. I'll try to use a nice word. She is too much. She changes her wigs every class period. She brings like four wigs. One period, she'll have on her blonde wig. The next period, you come in, and she has on her red one. She doesn't let you have your phone in class, because she said somebody put her on Instagram one time. It got like 50,000 likes. It was the funniest video I've ever seen. I had one sub who wouldn't let us talk. My friend got sent out for breathing too loud. I had another sub who would thread my eyebrows in class. She brought her needle and thread in class, and was just threading people's eyebrows for $2. Usually, you go to the eyebrow salon, and it's $11. We thought $2 was just great, so she was just threading people's eyebrows in class. She was really sweet.

My first time going to a party, I was so surprised because I was friends with these girls I thought were real sweet, real nice. I got to the party, and they were twerkin' and smoking. I was like, Oh my god, these people are crazy. Somebody asked me if I wanted something to drink, and I said no. They were like, "Oh, she thinks she's too good to have something to drink." I was like, "No, it's not that. I just don't want anything. I might get in trouble when I get home." They said, "It'll be gone before you get home," but I just said, "No, I'm OK." My friend, she's not like me. She was trying everything. I was kinda embarrassed that she was trying everything, because it made me look like I was the square. I was the only one not doing anything. I'm still a stick in the mud. I still don't do anything. I kinda sit back and observe. I'll dance a little at the most, but even then it's not twerking. I might socialize, but I pretty much just sit back and look at everybody. I'm one of a few who do that.

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I'd say like probably 90 percent of my classmates are having sex. I don't think there's an expectation. I don't think there's a pressure. I don't know anybody who feels pressure to have sex. I think people like to have sex, and it's just what they do. Some people have whole groups of friends that all have sex with the same people. That sounds crazy to me, but it doesn't sound crazy to a lot of people. A lot of people think that's normal.

Boy, 16
Rising junior
Central High School

The school is really big. I got lost on the way to my first class and walked in late. I didn't know if I was on my first class roll. [A teacher] asked me what my name was, and I was like, "I don't know." I was just lost.

The Advanced Placement classes are mostly white and Asian, and the pre-AP and regular classes are mostly African American or Hispanic. Some pre-AP classes are about half white, half African American. At lunch, the white kids don't really sit with the black kids. You can kinda see where all the white kids are at lunch, and where all the black kids are. There's no hostility between the white kids and the black kids. My pre-AP World History class was about half and half. All the white kids sat on one side, and all the black kids on the other

Not to inflate my ego, but I think our friend group is probably near the top. Most people know us, and we're not hated by anyone. I wouldn't say we're like "the cool kids," but we're somewhere up there. I wouldn't say there's a definitive "cool kid" group or a clique that no one else can get into. No one's that uptight. I'll go hang out with other friend groups, too, like the nerds and the geeks. I'll go talk to them at lunch sometimes and see what's up with them. They're pretty funny people, and in class, you have to be nice to them or else they're not going to give you any of the test answers. It's not like cliché, stereotypical high school from the movies with the jocks, the bullies, the nerds. Most people get along.

My first drinking experience was after basketball homecoming this year. That was my first time, and I got really, really, really drunk. My parents had left the house for an hour or so to go eat dinner. We snuck back into my house. I got two Gatorade bottles and took some of my parents' vodka. We left and took it in the car. We went to another person's house, and they already had a bunch of alcohol there. Anyone could have it, so we all got pretty wasted that night. Getting alcohol is easier for me than most people in general, because I know where it is in my house. I assume it's a lot harder for most people, because their parents would notice a difference. My parents have a lot, so I just take enough to where they wouldn't notice.

I've lied to my parents while high and drunk before. I've been on the phone with them while high and drunk, and I've put on a pretty good sober face. They weren't able to tell, but they do know how drug activity circulates in this area. They're always reminding me not to get involved in that stuff. They'll tell me new information, like, "Did you hear about that kid who got caught with a weed farm in his backyard?" They've caught me drunk before. I got grounded for a few weeks.

Xanax is pretty widespread. It's weird how prescription drugs are looked down upon by our peer group. I was talking to them and was like, "Hey, me and this other person were talking about trying a little bit of acid (LSD)." They were all like, "Dude, don't do it. You're gonna get really messed up on that." I didn't do it. They got a bunch of other people to talk to me about it. They said, "Hey, don't do acid. You're way too young for that." Anything beyond weed crosses the line for most kids. It just puzzles me, I guess. The stigma towards doing hardcore drugs like prescriptions or hallucinogens ... those are looked down upon. Smoking weed gives you a good representation within the peer group, whereas if you do those hardcore drugs, you're seen as a stoner and a weirdo. You'll be looked down upon by the majority of people. The more popular kids could probably do it and get away with it. It's like, "You can't hate her, because it's her ... she's just too cool."

I bet the percentage of people having sex is a lot lower than what people would say it is. People are always bragging about it. They're probably lying, like, "Me and this girl totally did it in my car." I don't think it happened. They're probably exaggerating; I'd say the percentage is probably 5 or 10 percent at most. I think there is some pressure to go and be sexually active. You'll look like a loser if you don't get any girls. People will lie about it for their friends, to try to seem cool. You always talk with your friends about your experience you had with a girl. It's always like, "How was it? Did you smash?"

I'm always thinking about how if I fail this test or do badly in this class, I'm not going to get into college. There's a lot of pressure on me to get into a good college. My parents said they'd be fine if I went to Arkansas, but they think I'm better than the U of A. They're always telling me, "These grades are fine for the U of A, but you're so much better than this." College is always being put inside my head by them and by me. There are lots of smart kids, but I don't think they care enough to try to get in anywhere else [besides U of A]. They'll be fine with the U of A, because they're usually really popular and already have everything going for them. They don't really need to take that extra step to have a good future, whereas these other kids are middle-class or poor. They kinda want to get out of our peer group and go find someone they can relate to. The U of A wouldn't be bad. I wouldn't cry if that were the only college to take me, but it's not my current goal. I honestly wouldn't care if I had to go there. It's a good school.

Boy, 17
Rising senior
North Little Rock High School

There was a big style difference from middle school to high school. The first day I was rocking Aeropostale and stuff like that, and then I realized that wasn't cool. Yeah, that was a big shock.

My favorite teacher was probably the weirdest teacher I had. She was amazing. She was a great teacher. She taught science. Her stories were hilariously crazy. She's a crazy woman. She told us about her 56 brothers and sisters. Yes, 56 brothers and sisters. Just crazy stuff like that. And how she would explain scenarios, too. She'd be like, "Salads at my house are heterogeneous or homogenous?" We'd say heterogeneous because she had walnuts and grapes and stuff in her salad, but then she'd be like, "Salads at so-and-so's house since he doesn't eat anything are homogeneous because he only likes lettuce in his salad."

Cheating is a widely accepted thing at my school. If you sit by someone smart, you're basically expected to cheat. A lot of my friends do it. I've done it. I'm not ashamed of that. I still do it. I'll know the answer but won't feel confident that mine's the right one, so I'll just look on someone else's paper to see if it's right. Especially with homework. I don't think I did one assignment in Advanced Placement U.S. History without copying off someone. Homework is a big cheating thing. If I'm not your close friend, don't ask me for your paper because that's dumb. You can get in trouble for that. If I'm friends with you, I can let you reword my paper all the time.

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I see racial divisions in the mornings after the tardy bell rings. I'm African American, but I hang out with a lot of white kids. When I'm walking into school, all the administrators greet me. If I'm past the tardy bell, they literally look past me. If someone's pants are sagging and walking in their direction, they're like, "Where's your pass?" It's really obvious at our school, especially since we have more African Americans at our school than Caucasians. I haven't really had a teacher who I can pinpoint and say that they're obviously racist. I have had some instances where it's like, "Well, they're doing this, so why can't I?" That kinda thing.

I feel like my parents don't understand my problems. I'm a nondenominational Christian growing up in a Southern Baptist house, so it's pretty bad. I'm also gay, so there are a lot of battles between me and my parents. They're ready for me to go. I'm ready for me to go. We're at that point now. They try to act like they know what's going on in my life, but they really don't.

I've been a straight-A student all my life. When I start slacking, it's obvious that they'll become disappointed in me. I'm disappointed in myself. They don't have unrealistic expectations when it comes to grades.

All my friends are really accepting of me being gay. It's crazy how it happened. I'm one of those people who when you meet me, you know. In ninth grade, I kinda hid it. In 10th grade summer, I came out. Everybody was really cool about it, because they already knew. If you weren't friends with me, then whatever. I haven't had any people say, "Oh, you're gay. I'm not your friend anymore," or people picking on me. The most tension comes from my parents.

Getting scholarships is what I'm really worried about. Finding them and applying for them is my thing. Getting into college won't be a hassle for me. I know I can with my ACT score and my grade point average. I know it's possible for me to get into a good college. My parents are going to be paying for college as of right now, but I don't want them to be burdened with my college bill till they die.

Girl, 15
Rising sophomore
LISA Academy

My biology teacher went a year without wearing shoes. He walked in the class with no shoes. In the wintertime, he had no shoes. He said he wanted to try it out. He'd also walk on the tables. He made this bet with his wife. He had to cut all his hair off. He wouldn't tell us what the bet was, but he lost. He had long hair and this huge beard, so he cut it off and looked super weird.

I did not like my Spanish teacher. She's Hispanic, and me being Hispanic, I did not like her. She would say something about Mexicans, and I'm like, "Well, my mom's Mexican, so what's up?" She'd say, "That's not the proper language." We have more slang in our language, while Spain's is more proper. She just put us down, and that's why I don't like her.

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My cousin started going to my school, and my family members are having problems with his side of the family. I barely get to see him. We were super close when we were little. All of a sudden, he's just a different person, and he was so stupid. He would bring alcohol to the school. I'm like, "How dumb are you?" He'd be like, "You want some orange juice?" I was like, "You're playing with me!" I couldn't smell anything, 'cause I was sick that day. I drank it, and it was nasty! He had mixed it with liquor. I was like, "What is this?" He said, "It's liquor and orange juice!" It was horrible, but then afterwards, I started getting used to it. He would bring it to class every morning. His mom ... they always had parties, so they wouldn't notice when he took it. One time, he brought everybody a specific drink. They were like, "Give me this! Give me that!" I kinda liked it. I felt cool.

If you go out with somebody, guys will automatically think, Oh, I can touch on her now that she's my girlfriend. From experience, this dude ... we were going out. It wasn't that long, and he got comfortable. He didn't ever touch on me, but he asked me if I wanted to [have sex]. I was like, Dang, I don't know, but I really like him. Then I said OK. We went to the gym, and we ended up not doing it. I was so nervous. Now when I think about it, I'm glad that I didn't do it. I want to keep it to myself. Guys think we can do it here or there, like what the heck? Like doing it in the bathroom ... that's just weird. I'd rather keep it to myself.

My uncle has his kids here. They're from America, but they're wasting their time. They're not worried about school. I am. I want to be something different. I already know I'm gonna make it. They're probably not, but I am. I'm not too upset about it. If I make it, I think it'd make them realize, Oh, I can make it, too. They could look up to me.

From the other side of a desk

A teacher from Central talks.

I like Central. There are a lot of politics at Central I don't like. I have a core group of teachers that I get along with and can confide in about the job. I've met a lot of good people — but there's also a lot of backstabbing, a lot of nepotism.

When people say teaching is not a competitive profession? Well, in comparison to other professions, no, the money is not as attractive. But inside the school? It's highly competitive. People in the same department can be cutthroat if a position comes open that seems attractive. They'll go out of their way to elevate themselves or downplay others. There's also a lot of people helping each other out — but people watch their own backs, a lot.

I don't have any AP classes; sometimes I wish I did, but most of the time I don't, to tell you the truth. The people who teach AP are the main ones who are very competitive. I don't want to sound like I'm punking out or anything, but there are better things I can do with my time than compete with other teachers.

Another thing is that they have such a set curriculum with the AP courses — there's not as much freedom. Our administrators will give us the freedom to do whatever we need to do to reach the "regular" kids. Though sometimes, I think that's a nice way of saying, "These are not the kids that matter as much, so do whatever you want with them."

That's the thing. I won't play noble and say, "I just want to reach those kids." But also, it is that. I know a lot of those kids are not getting the skills they need, even through their previous years of school before me. Sometimes it's because the teachers just don't bother giving them the skills that they need. And sometimes it's, "I can't teach these kids to do this kind of technical stuff," whereas honestly a lot of times the kids don't mind learning how to do the technical stuff.

There's a strong difference between the kids who come into my class and have taken the AP track all throughout their high school tenure and then decided, "OK, I'm just going to take it easy in my last year and take regular classes" — and then, the kids who have taken regular all throughout. It is such a vast difference. The kids who took the regular track — they don't expect you to expect them to do anything. They don't expect you to expect them to turn in work on time; they expect a 10th chance to turn in homework. They don't expect you to hold them accountable for anything; they really don't. But if you ask them, "Who's going to college?" they all raise their hands. "I heard college was easy." Well, if you know how to read and write it is.

I'm pretty tough on them, but I break things down for them so they can understand it. I give them plenty of remediation — if they need it, then they just need it. The thing about it is, you have to home in on particular skills and constantly go back to those skills in some shape or fashion. The remediation happens every day; it just can't take up your whole class period. That's the good thing about block scheduling: There's the remediation and there's the learning of the new skills, and even if some of them aren't mastering new skills every day, they master [the skills I remediate].

There's very little we can do about a student's home life, unless we see a problem so bad that we start the process of taking those kids out of that environment — which could have just as horrible an effect as letting them stay.

One of the saddest experiences I ever had as a teacher was when I tried to convince a parent to get her son tested for special education, and she refused to do it. This was at a school where I taught before Central.

There was this kid who was obviously in need of special help. He needed an IEP [Individualized Education Program, a document outlining the special education services a student receives.] Eighth-grade kid, could barely spell his own name. A very sweet kid. Precious. On the day before parent/teacher conferences, we had a meeting with the mom. I had been appointed to be the one to address the parent.

So I started the discussion: Had she thought about having her son tested to get an IEP? We had all our evidence there. His dad was there, too, and was very thankful. He said, "I've been trying to get him some help for a long time." The mom and dad weren't together, but it was clear they were both very concerned about him. By the time the meeting was over we were all glad, because we were going to get him the help he needed.

Then, on the official day for parent/teacher conferences, mom comes back in with an aunt and the dad. And the aunt was convinced that her nephew was a prophet. So, we were dealing with religious zealots.

She said, "He's not dumb. He doesn't need any Special Ed. He doesn't need any special help from you all. This baby is a prophet." I was so shocked. And the dad was in tears, because he felt like he was powerless in the situation. They took him out of my class ... and we were all really upset about the situation. To me, that was neglect.

—As told to Benjamin Hardy

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    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.

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