Growing up, I attended six different schools within four different school districts. My experiences truly cover the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact, one junior-senior high school I attended used the afternoon announcements to congratulate students on the births of their babies! And no, I didn’t make that up!
Fortunately I spent the last two years of my public school career at North Allegheny High School. The North Allegheny School District, located near Pittsburgh, was recently named one of the top 20 school districts in the nation by Niche.com. This is not the first time I have seen NA lauded as one of the top schools in the country. And for good reason — it’s a damn good school.
Before I transferred to NA in 1980 at age 15, I had no use for school. (And why would I in an environment where academics were clearly second to celebrations of babies born to 14-year-olds?) Had I been forced to remain in my previous school, I might not have even graduated. I certainly would not have been prepared to face the challenges of adult life.
North Allegheny challenged me academically through its honors and AP (Advanced Placement) programs and, of course, through track and cross country. I started my junior year at NA counting the days until track season started with unofficial winter workouts in January. At that time I couldn’t even make it around the track once. By the end of the season, I was running the two-mile.
I was not only self-motivated to do well in track but also motivated by my coach, Mr. Cerny. His stance — with his shoulders back and a slight arch to his back — reminded me of my dad, who had been killed by a drunk driver only a year before. They even shared the same expression and mannerisms. I wanted Mr. Cerny to be proud me of me much as I wanted my dad to be proud of me.
In between workouts and meets, though, I was sucked in by academics. In my honors English class my senior year, we had to write papers about literature using quotes. When I started my first job as a newspaper reporter four years later — without a college degree — those exercises in using quotes helped me to launch my career.
I graduated from NA in 1982. I went on to run track and cross country at Penn State and I even earned a medal in the 10K, which is 6.2 miles or 25 laps around the track. I did not graduate, however. It was not until 1996 that I earned a college degree in English from Gwynedd-Mercy College, now Gwynedd-Mercy University. Though the ride from high school to college graduation was a bumpy one for me, I am still grateful for the foundation I received at NA. Without that foundation, I might not have made it.