The Benefits of a K-8 School

12.12.12

The high school applications are almost done for Jane and although it’s an extraordinary amount of paperwork it hasn’t been horribly overwhelming. The summer before 7th grade the kids all get a letter addressed to them (and not us parents) that reminds them that 7th grade really matters for high school admissions. It’s time to ramp it up and get the best grades possible. It’s a nice letter, an encouraging letter and it’s proven to be quite effective for the bulk of the kids.

8th grade is spent focusing on getting into high school. Our weekends have been consumed with school visits and the evenings are spent writing essays and trying to figure out what Jane has done that makes her special. The letter that I really want to write is this:

Dear Admissions Committee,

Jane is a good girl. She gets mostly A’s but every so often she’ll get overwhelmed or forget to turn something in and the grades slip a bit, but never below a B. She never gets below a B in part because she’s very bright but also because she’d lose all of her sports. If you ever want to make my daughter miserable just take team sports away from her. Scratch that, please don’t ever make my daughter miserable I love her.

You’ll love her too. You see, she’s a cheerful sort. When you need a big smile Jane’s your girl. She’s an enthusiastic learner and you’ll get the opportunity to educate me as well. Jane will repeat most of your lectures for me in the car on the way home, she’ll be doing it at warp speed though so if I cough I might miss a sentence or two.

She’s looking to play high school sports and is on the fence about track. A word to the wise? Give her a decent coach and chase her around the campus a little. That girl of mine is fast.

Unfortunately Mr. G and I married for love so there will be no buildings named after us and I won’t be the mom who lives on campus to organize your gala. I’m a pretty good room mom and I’ve been known to give a few shekels extra but mostly from us you’ll get tuition and annual fund money. That’s about it.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that Jane is using you. She only wants to read Shakespeare and do a lot of math. I know she really likes your film program but let’s face facts. Your high school is just her stepping stone to NYU.

I’m pretty sure that won’t work so instead I’ll talk about her good grades, her recent awards, her ability to work hard and her altruism. I’ll talk about our commitment to academia for it’s own sake and then step out of the way because something is happening with high school that I never thought would happen to us.

Going back in time a bit… when Jane was in about the third grade I’d watch the mothers with the eighth grade kids talking to them about their high school decisions. I remember asking one mom which school she wanted to her daughter to go to and she sort of shrugged and said, “It’s not really my choice.” I smiled at her and pretended to understand but until just a few months ago I really couldn’t comprehend how a teenager could be in charge of a decision as enormous as choosing their own high school.

Parents are in charge, right?

Well, parents are in charge. I didn’t allow Jane to apply to one school that she was interested in. I didn’t like what I saw there and I wouldn’t give them my money or four years of my daughter’s life. We looked at about eight schools. I said no to one of them, that was my input. Now Jane has to tour, apply, test and interview at about five of them and my best guess is that in March she’ll need to pick the one she likes best. It will be her decision.

To an outside observer this seems like a horrible process that tortures teens during critical years of their development stripping away yet another year of their childhood. From many of us whose children are leaving K-8 schools it’s a moment in time where everyone works hard for a common goal and an entire community celebrates our children’s achievements.

Yes, you read that right. I think this entire application process is good for everyone. I can’t speak for every school but my daughter’s school has a plan that began in 7th grade with a trimester long class that was devoted to researching high schools. The kids left that class with detailed spreadsheets that included everything from class size to reputation for 50 private and parochial schools in the area. Over the summer we met with school administrators who gave us lists of good matches for Jane that included a few safe schools (she’s pretty much guaranteed to get in) and a few reach schools (they admit less than 10 children in 9th grade). In October the 8th grade parents had a group meeting with the administrators once again to discuss deadlines and ISEE registration.

Going through this as a group is sort of like a really hard Zumba class. Just when you think you might die and you’re zigging while everyone else is zagging the music stops and no one died. The kids all get into good schools and everyone’s fitness levels soared.

The last applications go out this afternoon. The ISEE exams are in three days and the interviews really aren’t my problem. I just show up as the mom, tell them who Jane is, let them see who we are and wait.

My 14 year old will make the decisions now. It’s really fantastic.