By Grace Levy
Following the tragedy of last May where Novato High School students were involved in a shooting and stabbing leading to the murder of one student, and life-threatening injuries to another, NHS has been publicly depicted as dangerous. Yet this might not necessarily represent how the school sees itself.
When asked, “what word comes to mind when you think of Novato High School?” five randomly selected staff members and students answered with comforting words such as diverse, eclectic, accepting, motivating, andinspiring.
However, these words hold a stark contrast to the way the school has been represented in the media. Upon researching the school, a strong correlation between Novato High School and the crime is often made. CBS San Francisco used a picture of NHS as its website cover photo for the coverage of this incident, while ABC 7 News broadcasted in front of the High School sign this past May.
When googling Novato High School, it becomes hard to find information about the school that isn’t about the murder. This leaves little space for things to be celebrated, and for a school that has so many things to celebrate, this can easily be detrimental to the public reputation of Novato High.
“Novato, for reasons way back in the past, did have a reputation being the tougher school or the gang school and I think there were some gang issues long ago, long before I got here, and those were dealt with. You just don’t see it, you don’t,” Cinematic Arts teacher and MSA Director, Peter Ornstein said. “I’ve been at three campuses…this is the safest campus, the most welcoming campus, the most sort of everybody-gets-along campus.”
Emma Woerner has been a Novato High student for four years now, and has noticed the safety of her school.
“Violence is never something I correlate with the school, it’s just not something we experience here,” Woerner said.
The average NHS student and staff member would likely agree with Ornstein and Woerner. Typically, students go about their day feeling safe and content, but the fact of the matter is, this tragedy did happen. Novato High School did endure a violent situation.
“It’s something that happened, something that could happen, but it's not the school’s fault,” said freshman Leah Cohen.
Consequently, Novato High School was receiving national attention, and instead of being recognized as the school with the well developed arts program or the school with the dominant Division 1 girls lacrosse team, Novato High became the school where the murder happened and the school with a possible gang issue.
“It’s upsetting to be seen as something we are not,” said Rhett Martino, a sophomore at Novato High School. “We are so much more than what happened last year.”
It becomes inherently clear to anyone that steps foot on the Novato High School campus that it is a special, inclusive place.
“Everything you could ever want in a high school in terms of environment and safety, it's all here,” Ornstein said. “But, in the community and farther beyond, I think we still, with some people, have this reputation for being the tough school and it's just totally unwarranted. We get questions from people outside the district. It’s veiled racist in some ways.”
This negative representation is a frustrating and confusing aspect which Novato staff and students have been dealing with for years.
“Our test scores are higher than a lot of schools that have a much higher income level,” Ornstein said. “We do really well by all the measures that you would take of the school. Bottom line is after it happened, nothing happened here. Everybody came together and it was business as usual within two to three days.”
Novato High Assistant Principal Tiffany Benson noticed the togetherness of the community after the tragedy as well.
“Novato High is a family. Families overcome hardships and challenges together, which is exactly what we are doing now,” said Benson. “Everyday I am amazed and inspired by our students, faculty and staff. They are generous, talented individuals who are dedicated to supporting our community.”
Novato High School is more than merely a tragedy. Students thrive here. They not only feel safe, but accepted.This school is more than capable of overcoming this hardship.