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30 going on 18 — my experience at SHS 12 years later

By Brittni Henderson

It was a typical Thursday for Smithfield High School Junior Kendra Ezeama, but for me it felt like the first day of school all over again. Prepping for a day shadowing this bright young woman was exciting but also very nerve wracking, as I expected a lot to be different about my alma mater 12 years after I graduated. Over a decade has passed since I was a senior roaming the same hallways, taking notes in the same classrooms, and eating lunch in the same cafeteria.

But for some reason it felt like just yesterday when I buzzed in to enter the building.

After signing in at the main office, I was escorted to Algebra II with Mr. Cabral by Kendra herself. She gracefully shook my hand and guided me through the familiar locker-laced hallways to her classroom. She told me that she was expecting to have a quiz that morning, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that it would actually be on Friday. I sat with Kendra and her classmates as an enthusiastic Mr. Cabral went over the compound fractions. As I sat there, I thought about how long it’s been since I ever thought about doing these kinds of equations, I felt comfort in the fact that at least Mr. Cabral’s sense of humor and passion for Math has not changed a bit.

I was truly impressed by Kendra and the students in her class. While it’s to be expected in a class of such caliber, it showed that the hard work and dedication made by SHS teachers has stayed the same over the years. After the bell rang, Kendra told me that we were heading to Architecture class with Mr. Macari next period. Either I didn’t pay attention to this offering or it didn’t exist in my day, so I was excited to see what it was all about.

The classroom was filled with computers and student work. Kendra found me a seat next to her and took her laptop out of her backpack. This class was working on a project geared towards designing a new home for their families using the plot of land where their current home currently resides. We used the Town of Smithfield website to find out about land acreage, property lines, and setbacks. I can totally admit that as an almost 30 year old I had no clue about any of this! (It’s okay, you can laugh.)

Kendra shared some of her previous work with me and told me more about her family when we found some downtime. She is one of six siblings and is thoroughly engrossed in numerous programs, clubs, and organizations at school and at her church. Coming from a Nigerian family, Kendra is a proud member of her African Catholic church choir. She is also part of Girls Who Code, an organization which aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science. She is involved and connected to the high school itself by being a Student Ambassador and finds time to be helpful in many other groups as well.

Once the bell rang, we found our way to Spanish III with Señora Daniels. What a throwback for me! Her class was one of my favorites. There was a student teacher in charge that day, so it was nice to sit in class and brush up on my own Spanish skills.

After Spanish, it was time for lunch. I was actually pretty nervous about lunch because I had no idea what to expect. I grabbed my lunch from the office refrigerator and met Kendra in the cafeteria. Thankfully, she is a very welcoming and kind young woman, and introduced me to all of her friends at the table. One of them was actually passing around a petition in the hopes that a teacher would be able to continue working at the school. It reminded me of all the connections I made while I was at SHS. There were a number of issues and situations that we as young adults took upon ourselves to attempt to solve or fix using our power. It’s a sign of great leadership and guidance from teachers and staff at school. I was extremely impressed!

While I was eating lunch and observing it all, I witnessed Kendra have a serious conversation with one of her friends. It was none of my business so I let them have their space, but I could tell that what she was doing was helping a dear friend make a decision about something difficult. The more time I spent with Kendra, the more I understood why she was chosen to be the student I shadowed.

After lunch it was time for Chemistry—not one of my personal favorites. Luckily, they were performing a lab so I was eager to see how it all went down. The lab was designed to have students determine which salt would be best to make hand warmers for their fictitious hand warmer company. I stayed off to the side for the most part, but getting to be a fly on the wall was kind of fun. Mrs. True was awesome and the same as I remembered. While I don’t believe I ever had her in class, she was one of those teachers that everyone knew. I didn’t get a chance to see which salt they chose because we ran out of time, but it was a great experience all the same.

Finally, last period was AP Literature, which was totally my cup of tea! Unfortunately, the assignment for the day was an “on demand essay,” so the last 45 minutes of the school day were spent writing an essay. I sat in the back of the room and reflected on my experience that day. It felt surreal to be back again. It also felt like I was a new student lost amongst the crowd. I loved my time at SHS and it pleased me to see how much has changed over the last decade. It doesn’t even feel like that much time has passed, but when I saw that everyone had their own laptop, books are basically all digital, and every single student had a Smart Phone, I came to terms that maybe 12 years really is a long time.

I am so glad I was able to spend my time with Kendra. She was a bright and blossoming guide who made sure I got the most out of my experience. Her drive and determination was so apparent, through her involvement in class, interactions with peers, and general way of holding a conversation with me—a total stranger sent to spend the day by her side. Kendra has big Ivy League dreams that are most definitely not out of reach for this stellar young woman.