Column & photo essay: "Community over freedom" — my reactions to visiting IMSA
Published: Friday, May 1, 2009 - 2:58pm
Gargoyle assistant editor
Posted Friday, May 1, 2009
I WOULDN'T WANT to go there. The Illinois Math and Science Academy is an amazing school and I am completely in awe of everything they do and have, but there is no way you could stick me there for three years.
Two weeks ago I visited IMSA as part of the overnight student-council exchange Uni took part in this year with the elite residential school, which attracts students from throughout the state.
As I stepped off the bus that took us the three-plus hours from Champaign-Urbana to Aurora, I could not believe I was on a high school campus.
The IMSA dorms are the nicest things I have ever seen. Some are bigger than the majority of college dorms. The common rooms are full of such character and energy, it seems like this school never stops going — and in a way, it doesn’t.
Classes start as early as 7:30 a.m. and end as late as 4 p.m. Some people don’t have classes that start for an hour or two later, and many people have large breaks in their schedules.
Everyone has a "midday" break. During that time students are able to eat lunch in the cafeteria, go back to their dorms, or hang out in the large student spaces in the main building (which is incredibly large and confusing to navigate and also looks like a bomb shelter), where many activities take place.
A lot of students use this time to catch up on homework. Class lengths vary from an hour to an hour and a half, and students don’t have the same classes every day.
After classes, students engage in a variety of sports, clubs, meetings, and other practices. It was so amazing to me that some students would go to two or three meetings a night. Since IMSA is a residential school, it is able to hold student extracurriculars at times that are not available to Uni. Some students don’t get back to their dorms until 9 or 10 p.m., at which point they face hours of homework.
IMSA's student council vice president, senior Cati Crawford (right), and another member of the student government. IMSA students were perfect hosts. Gargoyle staff photo (click to enlarge)
I was astonished when the students told me that it’s normal to stay up until 3 a.m. studying and completing homework. As much as Uni students complain about their lack of sleep, this was a step so far beyond what I was used to. How are they able to keep going with so much stamina, I wondered?
What I realized most was that IMSA students seem to always be on the go. There is always something to do on their campus, and the majority of students take full advantage of that.
Not only that, but imagine being surrounded by your friends 24 hours a day. I don’t know how I would ever get any work done. But IMSA students seem to make it work.
While discussing my thoughts on IMSA to Uni PE instructor Rebecca Murphy during fitness the other day, she commented, "It seems like IMSA students are able to pack more into their lives." This hits the nail so very hard on the head. I was constantly surprised by how jam-packed their lives were. Our host students were always going and going, but it never seemed to get to them.
There are so many opportunities available to IMSA students; I couldn’t imagine having so much offered by a school. All I could keep thinking was how amazing the school was and how much the students were able to do.
I was so impressed by the independence exerted by the students and how well they are able to manage their lives. I have never met any other students like those at IMSA, and I loved all of them. The students are so pure and authentic it was incredibly refreshing.
But as the day wore on, I realized that everything I saw seemed like so much because it really was the students’ entire life. Except for weekends and breaks, when the majority of students go home, they are really stuck there all the time.
While I would in no way protest to having to stay at a beautiful, well-funded, and accepting school filled with an incredible dynamic of students who want to learn and teachers who are dying to teach them, I wouldn’t be able to deal with feeling like I was in a bubble.
I would say I enjoy school more than the average student does. I take pleasure in attending classes every day, and take little issue with having to complete assignments for them. I love extracurriculars, and involve myself in as many as I can manage to take on. And while IMSA would offer me so much more than Uni is able to, I like having a separate school and out-of-school life.
I feel like living on the IMSA campus would prevent me from being able to distinguish between my two worlds. And while I actually do love school, at the end of the day I am so ready to just get away from it all.
Living on the campus where I attended school would just make me feel as if there were no escape. Although the students are clearly not in class all the time, they are surrounded by the same community during on- and off-school hours.
There are such heavy restrictions placed on students at IMSA. And while I realize this is necessary and reasonable for a school that is the home to hundreds of minors, I would constantly feel like I was in a cage.
Not only that, but IMSA students are not able to take part in activities outside of school like we are. While the opportunities available at IMSA stretch far and wide, there is no getting around how students are not able to partake in any other engagements. What the school offers is really all the students are able to do.
I considered how this is a swap that may be worthwhile over time — freedom for community. Because the IMSA community truly was one of the most astonishing and impressive things I have ever witnessed anywhere. But I would not be willing to give up the freedom that comes with attending a day school in order to develop such dynamic relationships.
IMSA really is an incredible place. I wish Uni could offer all to its students that IMSA does, but I know that our poor funding combined with the simple fact that we are a nonresidential school will always prevent that.
I loved the IMSA community so completely that it seemed hard to fathom that people actually lived in such a setting. But to me, a great part of life takes place outside of my school community and, consequently, IMSA would never fully make me happy.
UNI Student Representatives Participating in IMSA Exchange
- Executive president Isaac Chambers
- Executive vice president Alan Liang
- Executive secretary-treasurer Natsuki Nakamura
- Senior class president Kareem Sayegh
- Junior class president Rachel Harmon
- Junior class vice president Linda Ly
- Junior class secretary-treasurer Maritza Mestre
- Sophomore class president Michael Meyer
- Sophomore class vice president Wynee Bao
- Sophomore class secretary-treasurer Revathi Mathuri
- SFAC president and Student Council/SFAC liaison Karolina Kalbarczyk