East Lansing’s status as a college town provides unique opportunities to its high schoolers

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Front sign of East Lansing High School. Photo by Jack Kirwan

For many high schoolers across the nation, there’s no major university in sight for miles around.

This isn’t the case for students at East Lansing High School, an institution located right down the road from Michigan State University.

Because the high school is located so close to a major research university, the students there face some unique challenges.

“I think because they’re in a town that has a well known, you know, internationally known university I think that a lot of the issues that come up pertaining to what’s going on at MSU definitely are under a microscope, and they rise to national attention,” said Kristen Bieda, an associate professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State. “I think that potentially that is a challenge for students in this area that, you know, it happens in East Lansing because it’s affiliated with Michigan State often become national and world news.”

Students exiting school at the end of the day. Photo by Jack Kirwan

“I think (attending high school in a college town is) a good exposure to what college life is actually like, (students) also have the opportunity to take classes there as high schoolers, so they get to see what college kids do and don’t do,” said Deb Clark, an East Lansing resident and parent of an East Lansing High School student.

“I definitely think that you have access to a variety of cultural and educational opportunities,” Bieda said. “We have lots of international presence in the students and the faculty at MSU, so I think students living in this community have opportunities to experience other cultures as well as get, you know, lots of educational and cultural opportunities for the kinds of performances and exhibits and all that sort of thing that come through MSU.”

“If you’re living in a non-college town, it won’t necessarily bring that kind of diversity of different experiences,” Bieda said.

Attending school in a college town would be “to their advantage to get started and get a feel for the college,” said Ferne Preston, an East Lansing resident.

Although some kids might feel pressure attending high school in the shadow of a major university, many adults don’t view that as a bad thing.

“I think it’s a good kind of pressure,” Clark said. “I think there’s expectation that you’re going to amp it up a little bit.”

Information from usnews.com, image created by Jack Kirwan

“I think it’s healthy,” said Mary Fata, an administrative assistant at East Lansing High School. “I think it probably pushes our kids to do a little bit better and they see the university doing such cool things.”

“I don’t know if they have any challenges, I think they probably love it,”¬†Fata said.¬† “There’s a lot of energy in the city and I think our kids kind of feed off that energy.”

Student exiting the school in front of East Lansing’s football stands. Photo by Jack Kirwan

“I think it gives our kids a real eye opening experience that kids in another town might not get,” Fata said.

Although it may seem attractive to have a major university right in a student’s backyard, many view the prospect of staying so close to home undesirable.

“The expectation might actually be the opposite,” Bieda said. “Yes you have this big university in your backdoor but when most people want to move on and they have the opportunity that they don’t have to live with mom and dad then they might want to get out of dodge, for lack of a better term.”

“It’s weird, I think it’s a good opportunity, but a lot of the East Lansing high schoolers think it’s not because they want to go into the world,” Clark said.

“They might be looking for other places that are new to them so that they can develop their identities as young adults not just children of the East Lansing community,” Bieda said. “Maybe the perception is that they would go to MSU but I think the reality is they want to go somewhere else to have a new experience.”

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