Scottish Schooling – And a Hint of Harry Potter

T he sky is stormy and grey as I shut the door to my flat and set off for school one chilly morning. I pull my jacket tighter while I walk, enjoying the soft, warm embrace of my wool socks on my toes. Sure enough, as soon as I reach Viewforth Terrace, hard rain starts to pelt down upon my face. The wondrous and sometimes rude sounds of Kate Nash, Lily Allen, and other such British female artists awaken my morning ears as I hurry along with my iPod plugged in. I turn the corner onto Bruntsfield Place, and I’m met with a gaggle of chattering girls, all about my age, going the other way. I realize right away that they do not go to my high school, for they wear a school uniform that has one key component: an emerald green and black striped tie. I’ll come back to that later, though. My school, James Gillespies High School, lies just beyond the Bruntsfield Links, a park I have to cross to get there every day while listening to my UK pop stars. The school is enclosed by a 10-feet high stone wall, of which the entrance is a gigantic wooden door that a man on a horse could easily pass through. From there, students walk down a sloped path to the main part of the school: the Houses. James Gillespies is split up into seven houses: Lauder House, Bruntsfield House, Spylaw House, Rosslyn House, Warrender House, Gilmore House, and Thirlestane House. Meself, I’m in Rosslyn House. No, we don’t all sit together and eat in a Great Hall, and I wasn’t placed in Rosslyn by wearing an old wizard’s hat on my head (though, if I had been, I would’ve told it “Not Spylaw, not Spylaw.” Those kids are a bunch of meanies). However, I did meet the majority of my friends by hanging out with the Rosslyn gang during Break, and I was happy to discover they are all as big of a Potternerd as I am, and would fully understand all the references I made in this paragraph. School in Edinburgh is much different from school in Ames. Just so that you get a general feel, school starts at 8:40, and ends at 3:40, with each class lasting an hour. The extended period-length was certainly something I had to get used to, but even worse was the layout of the school. As I explained previously, the whole place is spilt apart into different buildings, causing you to brave the Scottish weather walking from class to class. For the first few weeks my friend Emily was assigned to take me to my classes, for every long corridor looked alike, and my first day consisted of much frantic sprinting after I had found to be two Houses away from my actual class. Asking a couple kids for directions proved to be a waste of time as I received a lot of “Don’t know, mate” and “Bugger off.” Finally, I found a couple of teenagers that seemed surprisingly normal, even friendly. I found that I had a lot of my classes with them (when I managed to get there, mind you). Soon I was brought to the Hall (not as grand as the Great Hall, and lit with artificial light, not floating candles) to sit with them during lunch. There they made fun of me for always eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, verbally abused me for being an American, gave me the first series of Doctor Who so that I could fully become a Brit, and before I knew it we were great friends. Here at James Gillespies High School my courses are Higher Biology, English, Maths, and Music. The title of “Higher” is much to the equivalent of “Advanced Placement,” save for the A.P. test and college credit. Instead of something like Band, which I was expecting, Music here consists of mastering the art of music theory, and not much playing is involved, to my great disappointment. English is a bit like it is at Ames High. Mr. Watt, my teacher and an avid fencer, assigns us passages of literature and we must analyze them. Much of these passages and books discuss American themes, which is something I’ve seen a lot of around here. One day, walking into my English classroom, I looked at the writing on the board that was left by the class before. On the top was a title, saying, “What Do You Think Of When You Think Of The United States?” Below were many words, and here are a few choice ones: Obesity, Nuclear Bombs, Hot Dogs, Obama, War, Racism, George W. Bush, Guns, and many more like that. In a way, it kind of opened my eyes to how the world thinks of America. But of all these classes, I’ve noticed Maths to be the most different. Instead of studying one broad subject per year (Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, etc.), the Scots mix it up a bit. Students learn a wide range of material that isn’t confined to one specific area. It’s possible to learn Algebra and Calculus in the same year at James Gillespies. However, the most challenging, as well as most interesting, thing about going to school in Scotland is the accents. Because of the large diversity in Edinburgh, I’ll meet a great many people that are perfectly audible, and come off as very funny with the usage of British slang. Then, there are some like my Maths teacher. Mr. Ebead, an Egyptian-Scot, is one crazy professor, and I’m only able to process half of what he says. Perhaps as the result of his ancient Egyptian blood that trends back to the days of the wise Pharaohs now mixed with his newfound Scotsman fervor, but Maths classes at James Gillespies are something I will never forget. Although James Gillespies is the only high school in Edinburgh to not require its students to wear a uniform, we still have one for special occasions. Recently, at a choir concert, I had to wear this uniform, and I discovered the tie to be exactly Gryffindor colors! This brings me back to the pack of girls I met on the corner leading to the school one morning. These adolescent females were making their way to Boroughmir High School, which is a couple blocks away from James Gillespies. The school uniform for Boroughmir contains a green tie similar to the Slytherins’ in the Harry Potter series. This is clearly a hint towards which high school is the better of the two, and is yet another example of how the magical world of Harry Potter is everywhere here in Edinburgh.