West High: Now and Then

High school as we know it is a place full of stress, drama, and excitement. Students come and go over the years, but the school and its history remain much the same. West, previously known as Anchorage High School, is the oldest of eight major high schools in Anchorage. So what was it like at West High before our time?

Established in 1953, West Anchorage High School has become one of the most diverse schools in the USA. Because of West’s wide range of academic programs, clubs, and sports, there is a big mélange of social groups. What happened to bullies shoving freshman into lockers, mean girls ruling the cafeteria, or amusing detentions like the movie The Breakfast Club? High school nowadays is nothing like those common misconceptions seen in movies. But if life at West High School isn’t anything like that now, what was it like then?

There are a few disparities between the school’s past and present that are quite interesting. West may have been diverse back in the day, but students didn’t really stray from their social groups. “There was a lot less of a mix then, like it was only Polys with Polys and Koreans with Koreans,” says Sven Berglund, a West High teacher of 13 years. “Now I see it more of just kids being with kids.”

Austin Merculieff, West High alumni of ‘92, said that the biggest issue when he was a student was violence. “There were a lot of [wannabe] gangs that had just moved into the states,” he explains. “So there were a lot of fights.” Violence and bullying has died down a lot over the past years. Ms. Ardy Robertson, who’s taught at West for 20 years, agrees. “Now that there are stories out there about kids committing suicide over being bullied, I think kids are nicer now. They’re dumber,” she jokingly adds, “but they’re nicer.”

Although violence used to be the main problem at West, attendance and texting during class are some of the current problems. “When I first started teaching was when cellphones were starting to come out, and it was not a problem in class,” Ms. Ardy states. “Now every student has one.” Of course, students texting during class is leading to less of them paying attention. Attendance is also a current issue. “More and more kids are not doing well in school because they’re not here, and by not being here they’re failing, so they come less and less,” Berglund expresses.

You’ve probably heard stories from teachers of hazing and freshman initiation. Well, that no longer happens, because the rules have gradually changed. Remember when the only dress code was to have skirts/dresses reaching your fingertips? Now it’s for guys to not sag and for girls to not wear revealing clothes to school. Teachers used to let students off on a warning for being late to class, but now that the new tardy policy has been enforced, students have to get a detention. As time goes on, there are little changes at West as each generation of students change. Though the school itself hasn’t changed much, the people do. “We haven’t had a lot of fights; people get along here” Berglund adds, “I think West is a pretty chill school where people kind of like each other.”