Teacher, former students react to Lowell High School changes and new documentary

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Along with being part of the dozens of schools expected to change its name, Lowell High School is also eliminating selective merit-based admission and moving to a lottery system. That one-year trial became permanent by the San Francisco school board late last year. A current teacher and two former students aren't sure it's for the right reasons.

Alumni Ian Wang and Rachael Schmidt along with physics teacher Richard Shapiro are all featured in the new documentary "Try Harder!" focusing on the intense pressure students face at the top-ranked school. They also gave their thoughts on the recent changes.

Both Wang and Schmidt agreed it's important to consider a renaming, but questioned the timing since we are in a pandemic. Schmidt also said "it shouldn't be for the purpose of posture. It should be done actually with the intentions of care and understanding the impacts of what that name has on the students that go there."

As far as the changes, Shapiro said, "I don't think an admissions process can ensure equity. I think that, first of all, the admissions process and the name changing was called out by Rachael for what it is, it's a lot of posturing. It's about politicizing victimization. I think that the notion about trying to diversify Lowell is bigger than just Lowell and bigger than the admissions process. Only 70% of the kids get into Lowell on test scores and grades so that leaves a huge number to get in for other reasons. So that leaves the question why does this racial disparity exist at Lowell? Well, I think part of it fits into the policies that come from the school board itself."

As for the documentary, it looks at the pressure cooker of being at a highly competitive school, applying to highly competitive colleges and how you're supposed to cope with all of it. It's all about your support system - at least for Wang and Schmidt.

"We all knew what we were going through because we were going through the same thing," Wang said among his friends at Lowell. "We were able to empathize with each other and support each other."

Schmidt agrees, "I think it's so important why the film dispels the myth of Lowell students being AP robots that don't have their own way of thinking because all of my friends at Lowell were some of the most creative and kind and just caring people that I've met in my entire life and I still talk to them to this day."

Here's more information about the documentary "Try Harder!"
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