I lived in Winston-Salem, North Carlina for 4 years with my family. And while we loved our time there, here is a list of 17 things we disliked about the city.
The school systems were my and my family’s biggest complaint during our time in Winston-Salem for two main reasons: programs and location.
Location of Schools
If you didn’t like your assigned school, you could change it. This gave students the option to get out of severely rundown schools and go to Magnet schools. However, getting out of your assigned district school meant longer bus rides. One of my little siblings had close to a 2-hour bus ride to and from a Magnet school that taught her the exact same things I learned in a normal school at her age.
Because you could easily change the school you went to, this ended up making the poorer schools poorer and the richer schools richer. The kids who cared about their education would change schools and go to the more popular and richer schools that claimed to teach higher-level things leaving the kids who didn’t care as much about their education in their assigned schools. This strengthened reputations, regardless of if they were true, and meant the better schools got more funding because they were doing better academic-wise.
Winston-Salem schools implemented a program for gifted students, smarter students, and average students. Based on test scores, students were categorized into one of three groups; HAG being the best, AG being just above average, and normal.
The point of this was to help students at their level and pace. Instead, it split the students and made the HAG believe they were more talented in intelligence than the normal kids. This caused cliques and unintentionally told normal kids they just weren’t smart enough.
As you age up in school, everything revolves around whether or not you are HAG, AG, or normal. Class “teams” (which was a way the middle schools broke up their large student bodies), homerooms, classes you can and can’t take, and so on until you hit high school.
Once in high school, it didn’t matter. However, the harm of telling normal-grouped kids they weren’t as smart or as good as the HAG or AG kids had already taken effect and rooted itself inside of them.
This system led to great splits in students. The normal kids were the ones who tended to fail classes simply because they didn’t believe they had the ability to do any better. The HAG kids struggled when they suddenly had to work for their grades and found themselves thinking they were stupid and working themselves into the ground by overloading themselves with AP classes. The AG students were caught in the middle of these extremes.
All of this comes from personal experience of living in these schools, watching my younger siblings, and talking with friends. Most of my friends and siblings agreed that the HAG, AG, and normal programs did more harm in the long run.
Like most bigger cities, there are pretty great amounts of poverty in Winston-Salem. Both my younger sister and I went to “ghetto” schools due to where we lived and how the school districts worked. It felt like everyone was poor. The surrounding neighborhoods, closest grocery stores, and schools were run down.
This one was more of a shock than anything else. My family and I had never really experienced living in humidity. There were mornings when I felt I had to swim to the bus stop. I could not carry anything paper-based with me to or from the bus stop or it would get soggy and tear. It felt as though I were always sweating, my clothes were always damp, especially during the rainy seasons of spring and summer, and my hair was always frizzy.
4. Streets Changing Names on the Same Road
My mother’s biggest pet peeve about Winston-Salem was the names of the roads. We’d be driving along and then all of the sudden the road would change names without us having turned off of it. This led to lots of confusion, as you could be talking to someone about the same road but know it by different names.
5. No Outdoor Areas
Winston-Salem does not have a whole lot of outdoorsy things to do. There are a few short hikes, but for the most part, you need to travel somewhere else if you want to do anything outdoorsy.
6. Everything is a Drive Away
For the most part, everything to do in Winston-Salem is a good 10 to 30-minute drive away. Because Winston-Salem does have multiple colleges within its city limits, the things to do are around those colleges. For the most part, the area around the schools is student living. This adds to the fact that it takes a bit of time to drive to places that provide some sort of entertainment.
7. Invasive Plants
Like the poisonous plants, there are two main plants that are out of control in Winston-Salem. This hinders growing your own garden and maintaining your yard. These plants are bamboo and kudzu vines. The kudzu vines coat pretty much all the trees making them appear like great willow trees. There are places where you can’t even tell what is a tree and what is a kudzu vine.
The bamboo is ridiculous. It does not matter how many times you cut it back or try and pull it up, it keeps growing. I swear every time we tried to get rid of the bamboo in our yard, the area in which it took up got larger anyway.
This is most annoying if you care a lot about having an orderly yard and/or you plan on having some sort of garden. These plants will try and take over. They are impossible to fully remove, they keep coming back, and they just keep taking over more space.
8. Congestion and Traffic Jams
One of the most popular places to go in Winston-Salem was the Hanes Mall. It was always packed, especially around the holidays. However, the Mall was put in after the roadways were, and the roadways around the mall are main roads. This leads to lots of congestion and added time to commutes.
9. Poisonous Plants
Due to the wet climate and humidity, the ground is perfect for growing all sorts of plants, poisonous plants included. Every year was a struggle to cut back the poison ivy and sumac. It was also very common to find poison oak.
Luckily, my parents made sure I and my siblings knew what these poisonous plants looked like and we were able to avoid touching and handling these poisonous plants that definitely grew in our yard. This is something I would suggest teaching your kids about.
Because of the nature of the south and Winston-Salem being a part of it, every possible area of dirt is full of plants and vegetation. This becomes exciting in the spring and summer if you have allergies. I remember cars and asphalt driveways turning yellow with pollen.
I remember thinking that the rain would wash it all away. Wrong. It just forces the pollen to stick a bit longer on the surface it was resting on before. This created great lakes caked with yellow powder and stained sidewalks that, if I didn’t know better, looked as if someone had tried and failed to wash their yellow chalk away.
Pollen is everywhere and will not leave very easily. This season of pollen lasts for weeks, months even. If you are someone who struggles with allergies, Winston-Salem is not the place for you.
11. Freezing Rain
Just like the random rainstorms, in the winter, you get freezing rain. This basically means that the precipitation is too warm to be snow but the area and ground are too cold to just let it stay rain. Typically, the rain comes down in slush, sticks to every surface, and then freezes. Occasionally, it will rain and then the temperature will drop and the fresh precipitation will freeze over.
The freezing rain leads to some beautiful scenes on the vegetation but is more than frustrating when you want to get somewhere. It can and will freeze your car doors shut and makes the roads very unsafe to drive on. It is very common for school and works to be canceled due to freezing rain. However, this doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. Snow is the more common reason for canceling school.
12. Random Rainstorms
Being technically in the south, Winston-Salem is very wet, warm, and rainy. This means that it sometimes pours water from the heavens with no warning in great sheets of rain that make it hard to see let alone drive. Sometimes, there aren’t even clouds directly above you when it rains. These random rainstorms don’t last for more than a few minutes. This causes flooding of houses, yards, and even roadways, which is bad news for everyone.
It is especially bad in the summer. The rain gets hotter, the storm gets longer, and the rain comes down harder. It is weird if you don’t get rained on practically every day in the spring and summer months.
13. Snow Days
Because North Carolina does not get snow very often, they are not equipped to deal with it when it happens. Winston-Salem is no different. If the word “snow” is even mentioned in a forecast, the school day gets canceled. Which, at first glance, sounds great. But there’s a catch.
For every day that gets canceled due to snow, the day has to be made up. That can be done by adding days to the end of the school year or by taking days from breaks. I remember one year we had to add almost two weeks to the end of our school year.
When it does snow, it doesn’t snow very much. The snow is also very sticky and wet, which is great for snowballs but awful for staying for long periods of time unless it freezes. If it freezes, that’s a whole other problem. This leads to missing work, missing school, and great grocery store purges.
As soon as the word “snow” is even whispered about, everyone and their dog has to go get bread, milk, and eggs. Once the snow hits, the roads are dangerous, and if the snow freezes, they are practically undrivable. So, if you’re not fast to the store, you could be stuck at your house for a few days due to snow that is no more than a few inches deep.
14. Greasy Foods
The most popular foods found in Winston-Salem are very fattening and greasy. There are a lot of excellent burger dives and other such drive-ins. They deep-fried everything from Oreos to butter to even water. Yes, water. This leads to a vast majority of the population being overweight.
Now, I wouldn’t say my family is the healthiest, but we are active and do our best to stay in shape and healthy. Being surrounded by fattening foods for 4 years definitely had us all gain weight. While we were able to work most of the extra weight off, there was no doubt in our minds that living in Winston-Salem added to our weight.
So, if you are super healthy and crave salads without grease, Winston-Salem, and really the south in general, may not be the place for you.
15. College Town Vibes
Nestled near the heart of Winston-Salem, are a few universities namely, Wake Forest University, Forsyth Technical Community College, and Winston-Salem State University. These schools give Winston-Salem a college-town vibe, which means college parties, competition within the community for jobs, a chunk of the population being young, single adults, and all of the other good and bad things that come with college towns.
16. Tobacco Fields
One of Winston-Salem’s top products is tobacco. One of the biggest cigarette companies, Camel, was founded there and is still based in Winston-Salem. Because of this, pretty much every acre of farmland you can find is tobacco.
After it’s just rained and the wind picks up, you can smell it. Slightly sweet and almost homely. The scent is not that bad, but my parents hated the idea of having their kids grow up surrounded by tobacco.
17. Trees Along Roadways
While driving on any roadway in Winston-Salem, all you can see are trees. There are no landmarks. There are no visible buildings unless they are right off the road.
Because of the vast expansion of foliage, any sunlight that makes it to your car constantly flickers. I got sick on more than one occasion because of the flickering light. It is worse in the morning and evening. My family hated driving anywhere during that time simply because of the “strobe-light drive,” as we so generously nicknamed it.
Putting down the visor does nothing, the light still reflects off the dashboard, across your lap, over the radio, and everywhere. The sunlight constantly flickers as you drive through slivers of shadow and light cast by the trees along any and all roadways.
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