What Is It Like to Be an Out-of-District Student at AITE?

The AITE Atrium is where students interact during passing time or when they enter the building in the morning. (Liat Feller Photography)

Imagine coming to a new school for the first time, barely knowing anyone. Well, that was me two years ago, along with many other students in our school community. Attending a school in a district other than the district where one resides is a unique experience. AITE is an interdistrict magnet school, which means students come from all of Fairfield County, such as Greenwich, Bridgeport, or Norwalk. Students who come to AITE get a clean slate when they walk into the doors of our campus. 

I was unfamiliar with most students when I first came to AITE. I only knew a few students I met at the meetup for all incoming freshmen before school started at the Get Air Trampoline Park in Stamford. It was nice to have a fresh start and put the troubles of middle school behind me. However, with every new beginning comes challenges as well. One of them was that I had a longer drive to get to school. In addition, it was hard to hang out with my new friends since we all lived so far away from each other. Fortunately, I was able to assimilate into the AITE community quickly. I got into the groove, and within weeks, I had a place in the school community.

Aside from the desire for a clean slate, there are many other reasons why students are drawn to AITE. One of them is the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) engineering program. AITE is one of the 12 schools in Connecticut that offers PLTW programs. This fact prompted junior Uriel Espejo to attend AITE, who previously attended Black Rock Middle School in Bridgeport. “I liked AITE because of the unique programs that the school offers. From World Languages to STEM programs, it had more to offer than my home district school in Bridgeport,” he said. Junior Amora Russell, who went to Park City Middle School in Bridgeport, said she was enticed by AITE’s fantastic animation classes and the exciting language program with unique Russian and Mandarin choices.

However, there are some down sides to attending a school out of district. Espejo mentioned how difficult it is to play sports for one’s district school, since AITE does not have sports teams. By the time he would leave school and get to practice, he would miss half of it because of the 30-minute drive. Espejo decided not to join a team because of the pressure of getting there on time.

The majority of out of district students also express concerns about the commute time. It takes a lot longer for us to get to school. Students have to wake up a lot earlier than Stamford students do; they have to wake up around 5:30 am or earlier to get to school at a reasonable time. Junior Sean Kaya Vandooijeweert, who lives in Greenwich, says that it is a lot harder for him to get together with his Stamford friends. “If you live out of the district like me you have a longer commute. Also, it’s hard to socialize with your Stamford friends because you don’t live close to them and most kids our age don’t have driver’s licenses. It is hard to get together since some of them live in smaller towns,” he said. 

This revelation shows why so many of us out-of-district students value school so much. Every moment we spend with our friends, even those 30 minutes at lunch, is precious. Although short, spending time with friends during lunch is treasured since living out of the district forces parents to be more conservative with driving time. Parents are busy and cannot fit driving their kids around Stamford into their schedule most of the time. 

Principal Tina Rivera feels there are many advantages to attending AITE over other schools, despite the drawbacks. She feels that students get opportunities to take courses and programs not offered in other districts, like our PLTW engineering and biomed programs. 

AITE “seeks to attract students from all over Fairfield County,” Rivera said. Recruiting out-of-district students has been challenging due to COVID-19, though. She explained that instead of having in-person Open Houses at AITE or in other school districts, she films virtual webinars about AITE. She will also coordinate with eligible districts in Fairfield County about possibly having Google Meets with their students to recruit for AITE. 

From our unique educational programs to our community of multi-district students, AITE is truly a one-of-a-kind school.