High school is where young people sort things out and, hopefully, learn what they are really good at doing. High schools themselves go through a "sorting out" over time and develop specialties, reputations, sometimes even fame for those programs or extracurriculars where they really shine. We've combed the state for schools that for reasons of geography, demographics, luck - or tradition are truly renowned. To borrow a superlative from an old high school yearbook, these are our schools most likely to make you go "Wow!"
SportsmanshipExeter High SchoolThe student athletes at Exeter High School consistently reward their fans on the field, but their sportsmanship, it seems, trumps all other standings. Since 1991 the school has received the NHIAA's annual Sportsmanship Award a whopping eight times, twice the number of their closest competition - but don't expect them to gloat about it.Marching BandLondonderry High SchoolThe Londonderry Lancer Marching Band and Color Guard is undoubtedly one of the best-traveled high school bands in the state, having made a ruckus - figuratively, of course - at national and international events. In the past the band has performed at professional sporting events, presidential inaugurations and even traveled to Beijing to perform at the 2008 Olympics. Most recently, their efforts, and those of veteran Music Director Andy Soucy, have earned the band - all 311 of them - an invitation to the 2011 Pasadena Tournament of Roses to be held in January.Girls BasketballGroveton High SchoolWith a graduating class that averages fewer than 40 students, Groveton High School seems an unlikely place to find a basketball powerhouse. Since 1987, however, the girls basketball team at tiny Groveton High has captured a remarkable 13 Class S titles in 17 finals appearances. Really, girls? That hardly seems fair.International CurriculumBedford High SchoolJust three years old, Bedford High School may be the worldliest of the state's high schools, offering its students six different world languages and New Hampshire's first certified International Baccalaureate program. Although nearby Pinkerton Academy matches Bedford's language tally - the only other school to do so - Bedford offers all six with a staff of just 11 world language teachers, smaller than Pinkerton's Spanish department alone. The IB program, meanwhile, challenges upperclassmen to actively study the world around them. "It is a program that focuses on developing students' critical thinking skills and the interdisciplinary nature of learning," says coordinator Peter Gagnon.WrestlingTimberlane Regional High SchoolWrestling may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think "owls," but it should be. The Owls at Timberlane Regional have a virtual lockdown on high school wrestling in New Hampshire, with 11 straight division titles and almost as many state championships. Now that's something to hoot about.Hockey CrowdBerlin High SchoolWhen longtime hockey powerhouse Notre Dame High School closed in 1972, their brigade of loyal hockey fans didn't disband. Instead, like many of their students, they joined the ranks at nearby Berlin High. When Berlin's hockey team traveled to Manchester in 2006 to play in the semi-finals, their crowd of nearly 3,000 fans dwarfed opponent Hanover's cheering section. "It was just a sea of red that game," says Assistant Head Coach Mike Poulin. Turnout for home games isn't too shabby, either, according to Poulin, with crowds weighing in between 200 and 300 fans. "It really is a home ice advantage," he says.School LunchProfile High SchoolThe lunch menu at Franconia's Profile School reads like the one you wish you had growing up: made-to-order salads, locally grown produce and Grab-n-Go sandwiches for those in a hurry. Perhaps for the sake of nostalgia, though, Profile hasn't let go of those staple sloppy joes; it just wouldn't be school lunch without them.School NewspaperPembroke AcademyAs blogging threatens to edge out the traditional news media, it's become apparent that quality journalism can turn up in unlikely places - places like Pembroke Academy. Sure, the student journalists at Pembroke's The Spartans Speak have written the obligatory story about dress code violations a time or two, but they've delved a bit deeper, too, tackling issues such as a diminishing job market for area teens, sexism in military recruiting and an ongoing rash of violence disrupting the school hallways.RoboticsManchester Central High School - Chaos Team 131Hundreds of high school students armed with homemade robots? Sounds like FIRST - the high school robotics competition founded by New Hampshire-based inventor Dean Kamen - could be absolute chaos. But that's just how Manchester Central's CHAOS Team 131 likes it. Team mentor David Kelso reveals that his team's strength comes from the diversity of their interests and skills, but says that ultimately most head to college for engineering. Go figure.Ethics EducationSouhegan High SchoolTo plagiarize or not to plagiarize? Ethical dilemmas may seem few and far between in high school, but for those students hoping to get a more macro view of the world, Souhegan teachers Chris Brooks and Amy Pham offer the Ethics Club, a lunchtime meeting of 30-50 Souhegan students looking to make a difference on a global level. Many have taken Brooks' theoretical Ethics Seminar and hope to put their new worldly views into action. This year, for example, the Ethics Club has committed to raising an ambitious $9,000 to help build a school in Sierra Leone.FootballPlymouth Regional High School"Winningest" is somewhat of a cumbersome title, but we don't think Chuck Lenahan will mind. In 2008 the veteran football coach celebrated his 300th career win with the team. And then he won some more. Assistant coach and team alum Chris Sanborn says this record has only helped the current team: "I think winning breeds winning. I mean, our team just goes out there with more confidence."Granite State Challenge ProgramWinnisquam High SchoolThough original host Tom Bergeron has long since moved on to the national spotlight, there's still only one game show that's uniquely New Hampshire. Approaching its 28th season, "Granite State Challenge" has given hundreds of high school students the chance to test their knowledge in a battle of trivia and quick thinking, and the rest of us are smarter because of it. Since 1983 the students of Winnisquam High School have logged more SuperChallenge appearances than any other school, taking home the title in '88, '93 and '04.TechnologyWindham High SchoolThe future is now at Windham High School, where each student is equipped with a personal laptop for their four years at the school. "Technology is no longer an event" at Windham High, explains Principal Rich Manley, but rather a facet of everyday life that has quickly become integrated into the school's curriculum. While several schools around the state are working to launch similar programs, Manley says the so-called "one-to-one" technology initiative was a key priority in planning the new high school, which opened last August.PromSalem High SchoolFour years of planning, fundraising and anxious anticipation went into Salem High School's annual prom this past May, and rightfully so. The school's graduating class set the bar high - really, really high, in fact, traveling to Foxborough's Gillette Stadium for a huge gala overlooking the Patriot's home turf. Just as remarkable, though, is where the group of 1,400 students didn't end up. "We looked into Fenway as well," says class advisor Debra Wilmarth. "But it wasn't large enough for us."Ski TeamHopkinton High SchoolWith a group of nearly 30 students, Hopkinton High School's ski team is consistently one of the largest in the state and captured both the state and national championship titles in 2006. What truly sets the team apart, however, isn't its size, but the wide skill set of its athletes. Unlike most ski teams, Hopkinton athletes often cross over between events, with Nordic skiers taking up Alpine, and Alpine skiers taking up ski jumping. The rest of us will keep our skis on the ground, thanks.Agricultural CurriculumAlvirne High SchoolFarming is a massive undertaking. But then, Alvirne High School in Hudson has just the workforce it needs. Future Farmers of America advisor Lesley Saunders estimates that some 500 students at Alvirne - nearly one third of the school- are involved with agriculture classes, in disciplines ranging from veterinary medicine to farm mechanics and horticulture. Many of these same students then further their agricultural work as part of the school's extracurricular FFA program, one of the largest in the state.Boys Swimming and DivingKeene High SchoolA swimming and diving team, explains Athletic Director Leslie Farmer, is like a family; the success of the team is based on the success of individual athletes. In that case, the Keene High School Boys team, who won the state championship in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, is something akin to an amphibious Kennedy family of sorts. Our analogy, not hers.Community OutreachSpaulding High SchoolStudents across the state serve their communities through Interact, Key Club and similar organizations, but only Spaulding High School has STAR, Students Taking Action in Rochester. In the last year Spaulding's STAR students have worked to educate their peers and the wider Rochester community about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, partnering with local businesses to provide alcohol fact sheets with prom-time tuxedo rentals, as well as planning substance-free events where students can socialize safely before football games.Boys LacrosseHanover High SchoolSometimes, explains Head Coach Jeff Reed, it takes a village. Reed says that community support and a strong youth lacrosse program have helped make the Hanover High Boys lacrosse team one of the most successful in the state, despite being the smallest school in Division 1. "I think it's a reflection of the kids and the support they get," Reed says. That support also lines up his players for success down the road, though for some that road stays pretty close to home. Two team alums currently play Division 1 lacrosse at Dartmouth and another will be joining them this fall.TheatrePinkerton AcademyCommitment is the name of the game for the Pinkerton Players and founder Ann West isn't bashful about her high standards. "We do ask for excellence in all parts of it and the players are very proud of being players," West says. She estimates nearly 120 students are involved in Pinkerton's theatre program, working year-round to produce plays summer, fall and spring, as well as an annual production directed and produced entirely by the upperclassmen to showcase their younger counterparts. The program has provided a launching pad for a number of people in the entertainment industry, perhaps most notably, the Travel Channel's Samantha Brown.Culinary ClubGoffstown High SchoolSure, the members of Goffstown High's Culinary Club like to have fun, but, says advisor Eric Greenland, they hold their own on deadline, too. Greenland says he couldn't have imagined the success the club would have when it debuted four years ago, but today the 15 or so club members cater events such as birthdays, faculty meetings and even weddings. Most have taken the introductory and advanced culinary classes that Greenland offers, and he says the kitchen provides a comfortable social setting with a shared interest in food. "Some of them just can't get enough,"
Greenland says.SpiritSalem High SchoolS-A-L-E-M! Salem is here to win! And they have, taking the state's Class L spirit title five times in the past 10 years. Coach Tracy Hussey, an alumnus of the team herself, says the girls' hard work, coupled with a strong feeder program and a history of dedicated coaching, have proven exceptionally effective - landing the team in the top three for the past 13 years. Hussey, who moved up to head varsity coach last fall, says while she doesn't mind being a winning coach, her favorite role is that of role model for her athletes.Charter SchoolsCharter schools have caused quite a stir in New Hampshire education circles in recent years. They're typically small schools founded with a central theme, such as engineering or performing arts, at the heart of their charter. Because they are publicly funded, such schools around the state have been accused of sapping local tax dollars from long-established public schools. But Eileen Liponis says that's just not the case.Liponis, who heads the New Hampshire Public Charter Schools Association, explains that just one of the state's charter schools receives funding from its local district, a voluntary concession by district officials, while the other 10 rely solely on
state funds."I think public charter schools fulfill a very necessary role in the education system," Liponis says. "I think we augment the public school system." Admittedly, charter schools aren't for everyone, but Liponis stresses that the smaller learning
environment and personalized attention benefits many students. "It may not be the mission but the environment that's helping the student," she says.As federal startup grant money dwindles, Liponis and other proponents of public charter schools are working with state lawmakers to craft a sustainable method of funding the schools. "The focus needs to be on what's best for the child."Private SchoolsWhile each of the state's high schools has, over time, carved out a niche for itself through academics, athletics or exceptional extracurriculars, many have done so by chance, their exemplary programs the work of one, maybe two, dedicated faculty members. New Hampshire's private schools, meanwhile, have flourished largely by capitalizing intentionally on their own specialties. The very nature of these independent schools allows them to tailor their curriculums and campus cultures to accentuate these specialties and craft a unique identity for their school. Perhaps in an effort to distinguish themselves from the rigid stereotypes of "A Separate Peace" and "Catcher in the Rye," the state's private schools have spent the better part of the last half-century redefining the New England prep school.Bethlehem's White Mountain School, for example, has put sustainability education at the heart of its curriculum since before it was in vogue to do so, placing its programs - and students - well ahead of the pack. Today the school features a Leadership for Global Sustainability curriculum, as well as a Farm and Forest program that puts students' global education into practice locally.White Mountain isn't the only school to place importance on a global perspective, however, and while most high schools keep students firmly rooted on American soil, the students of Wilton's High Mowing School are traipsing around the world. High Mowing, the nation's first Waldorf school, has worked to cultivate a network of other Waldorf institutions around the globe, sending its students to Spain, France, Germany and Switzerland in recent years.Staying close to campus is just fine for the student artists at the New Hampton School, however. The school has, in its 189-year history, worked to foster one of the state's strongest high school arts programs, with a host of courses in music, theatre, dance and studio arts, as well as emerging arts like film and graphic arts. Many alumni have gone on to be award-winning artists in a wide range of disciplines, no doubt aided by New Hampton's plentiful rehearsal space, photography studio and dedicated computer labs for film production and graphic design.The Independent Schools Association of Northern New England maintains a fairly comprehensive directory of the private schools that is searchable by state, including 23 in New Hampshire. www.isanne.org
This article appears in the September 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine