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The Surprising Benefit of a K-8 Education

Today was Jane’s second to last high school interview. Between interviews and the flu the eighth grade class has hardly made a showing in the past weeks in fact one of Jane’s classes of 13 kids was down to four yesterday. This is part of the process with a school that ends in the 8th grade.

When we picked this particular setting for the kids we felt like a K-8 school offered a lot of emotional and academic safety for some potentially difficult years in middle school but I mistakenly believed that the big detriment in selecting a K-8 education was that the kids would have to apply to high school at an age where they are still busy discovering themselves. I worried that I’d made a bad decision for my kids and that we should have sent them to a K-12 school instead. Parenting is like that, we make the best decisions possible and then second guess ourselves for years on end.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an eighth grade parent at every school but I want to describe the process that my daughter is currently going through so that hopefully you can see the value in it.

In the weeks before seventh grade begins each child gets a letter from the admissions director (she is also their placement advisor) letting them know that it’s time to get serious. It lets them know that 7th grade is really important for high school admissions and that this is the year to buckle down and excel. The kids respond well to those letters. It’s the first notion that they’re working toward something other than a grade on a piece of paper. 7th grade was great for my daughter.

During the last trimester of 7th grade they take a high school prep class. In this class they learn about the schools in the community. The kids explore different learning styles, take note of different teaching styles, become aware of the cultures of thirty or so local schools and by the end of the class they’ve narrowed down the high schools that they’re interested in learning about to a list of about a dozen.

The summer before the kids enter 8th grade we had a meeting with the admissions director as well as with the head of the middle school (this is a no-kids meeting) my husband and I were amazed when a file appeared that held Jane’s transcripts for the last two years, standardized test results and her list of schools. We were absolutely dumbfounded that the school had also made a list of schools that we should consider looking at including a few “safe” schools and for some kids there were “reach” schools. Jane didn’t have any “reach” schools not because she’s that kid but because the two most competitive schools hold zero appeal for her. There was also a paper that had all the application deadlines as well as the standardized test dates.

I had moments of feeling incredibly overwhelmed during that meeting but then I flashed on what the experience would have been without that meeting. Our hands were being held as we watched our daughter find her next school.

The week before school began there was a parents only get together where we were again handed packets (but this time we were also having a lovely dinner) that would give us open house dates, timelines, reminders and a sign up for an ISEE test prep course that was offered at the school. Questions were asked and answered and we sent our kids off to 8th grade hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

The worst probably won’t happen. I’m watching my daughter interview and it’s a wonderful exercise for her. She’s walking into strange offices, greeting adults with a handshake and eye contact, she’s talking about her achievements and asking them if they can help her reach her dreams. She’s got her heart and mind set on attending NYU and she’s only interviewing at schools that can get her there. It’s really quite impressive and all of the goal setting happened without me.

The high schools I might have chosen for my 4 year old have little to do with the schools my 14 year old has examined and decided she would like to attend. Today as we were wrapping up interview number three I realized we’d be doing this again in four more years and even though the stakes will arguably be higher our family’s stress will undoubtedly be lower.

This process of finding a high school has proven to all of us that Jane’s academic career belongs to her and that she’s more than capable of managing it.