By Susan Passi-Klaus
Benton Hall Academy was our last resort, and our second choice. I first opted for the prettily packaged school a few miles away. It looked like a well-endowed private school should look and it bore the name of a reputable and wealthy supporter. It had all the bells and whistles, including horseback riding lessons, fancy field trips and polished long hallways leading to well-furnished rooms. It smelled of new books and new opportunities. It also cost money we would never have.
Benton Hall Academy, on the other hand, was not a particularly pretty place. Yes, it had been used and re-used. Layers of years showed under thicknesses of paint. Old carpet. Old furniture. Old books. Old bathrooms. But, just like they say of old houses – the school had character. And there was nothing “tired” about the people who filled its hallways and classrooms. The staff and teachers, and of course the students, generated a welcome spirit and youthful enthusiasm that more than made up for what Benton Hall Academy lacked in visual appeal. It didn’t take long before the school began to feel like a lived-in, loved-in home instead of a polished, but impersonal model school. And Zoie, who was about to leave a brand new high school facility at her other school, didn’t seem to mind Benton Hall Academy and all it’s bumps and bruises.
Zoie decided to begin the New Year of 2003 at Benton Hall Academy – despite an insensitive goodbye from a misguided counselor at her old school, “Oh Zoie, you don’t want to go there. You’re too smart. You’re not like those kids.” Sometimes I’m grateful my daughter chooses not to listen well.
Like my daughter, Benton Hall Academy is different. Its true colors, like hers, are revealed from the inside out. No, there’s not a lot of extracurriculars, but Zoie sometimes stays after school just to talk for hours with her favorite teacher.
No, there’s no Homecoming affair, but there is a prom and all high schoolers are invited (or cleverly coerced) to attend – despite the size of their prom dress or the size of their teenage bank account.
And no, there’s no marching band, but there is a rock/jazz band where rebel Zoie has been able to march to the beat of her own drum set.
Zoie is happy at Benton Hall Academy. She feels safe there. Loved there. Accepted there – just as she is. (Not to mention, she’s giddy that there’s rarely homework).
Each year, each teenage passage, we see Zoie moving closer to understanding the responsibility she has to live up to her artistic and intellectual potential and calling. And more and more, with each hard lesson learned, we are seeing that at Benton Hall Academy Zoie has begun to recognize and connect with a world outside of her. Her world is no longer “me” vs. “them.”
Would we have chosen to travel – beside our daughter – on a road so far off the beaten path? With its twists and turns and uphill climbs? No, it wasn’t the path I imagined our daughter would choose to take. The other parent’s grass always looks greener, doesn’t it? But when I think back to where we were and how far we’ve come — I thank God for the journey.