As the blistering San Diego sun slowly sinks below the horizon, quiet suburban neighborhoods and their surrounding canyons are bathed in cool darkness, the coral sunset bleeding into cerulean blue. Allison Kelton (12) stands in her backyard, gazing at the sky; she feels a wave of nostalgia that reminds her of her hometown, Reddington, New Jersey. To Kelton, the chaparral is a drastic contrast to the lush, towering oak forests that were common near her old home.
Every year, hundreds of new teens take their first steps as TPHS students. Many are freshmen, coming from one of SDUHSD’s feeder middle schools and are immediately surrounded by familiar faces. However, a handful of new Falcons move from outside of the district for one reason only — to attend TPHS.
“Torrey Pines is pretty well known,” Briani Zhang (11) said. “Everyone’s says, ‘Yeah, that’s the school where everyone has really good grades and a lot of people go to prestigious [colleges] and it’s very well known for its academics.’”
Ranked 51st in the U.S. News and World Report list of California’s best high schools, TPHS is well known across the country for its academics, sports and extracurricular activities. According to the June 2017 Falconer College Map, the school sent 18 seniors to 7 of the 8 Ivy-League campuses. Furthermore, San Diego, California’s second largest metropolitan area, is a hub of scientific activity that provides TPHS students with internship opportunities at technology and biomedical companies and UCSD’s research facilities.
“We are a high-achieving school,” Principal Rob Coppo said. “Our students do really well; we have phenomenal teachers, we’ve got great facilities and great communities, great houses, our athletic programs at all the schools [in the district] are top notch and that’s an attractive piece for people.”
The atmosphere at TPHS and the programs offered to students are attractive, and it signals the most common path that students at TPHS are preparing for after graduation.
“You guys offer a lot of APs,” Rinna Yu (10) said. “That was good and bad at the same time, because my parents would pressure me to take more APs but it was also good because it will look good on college apps.”
With over 25 Advanced Placement courses offered and a participation rate of 70 percent in courses, TPHS is the perfect stepping stone for the 90 percent of its students prepared to attend 4-year colleges.
Kelton’s feet are a quiet whisper as she quickly hurries down the crowded corridor on the first day of school. Foreign faces surround her at TPHS. No one dresses or speaks like they did in New Jersey, but, according to her parents, it will all be worth it. Going to TPHS can get her into a good college.
“I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding,” Coppo said. “People don’t get into a better college because you went to TPHS. The colleges are a little smarter than people give them credit for; they look at transcripts.”
Although TPHS may not guarantee acceptance into an Ivy League school, most students who live in Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach are pressured to attend and get into good colleges.
“People have higher expectations in colleges and in choosing more prestigious schools,” Zhang said. “They prepare for [college] by taking outside classes, taking SAT prep and college consulting classes. At my old school, people didn’t really do that.”
With at least a dozen college consulting firms in Carmel Valley, and many more in the larger San Diego area, TPHS students with the financial means have their pick of help with standardized testing, essay writing, and more. But while services for these consulting firms can run up a bill of thousands of dollars, the parents of these students aren’t often put off by the price.
As students filter into the crowded room, happily chattering amongst themselves, Zhang stands in doorway surveying the classroom to find an empty seat. She chooses one in the back corner, too nervous to introduce herself to any students. The transition to a new school is proving much more difficult than she thought it would be. Luckily, the TPHS Peer Assistant Listeners (PAL) quickly made her feel welcome.
“On the first day I came here, the people from PALs gave me a tour of the campus,” Zhang said. “They had a lunch for the new students… that made me feel welcome.”
The lunch held by PALs, is a weekly gathering for all students who would like a place to spend their lunch and meet new people. For Kelton, the pizza was the main allure, but she found that it was a great way to bond and meet new students.
The positive atmosphere and welcoming students allow for a smooth transition to the TPHS environment. No matter why students move, they will find a home at TPHS if PALs had its way.
It has been seven months since Kelton took her first steps as a TPHS student. Now curled up next to her cat Echo on the back patio couch, the night sky and chaparral-filled canyons no longer look foreign to her.