January 26, 2012
Z. Kelly Queijo
"Where do I want my student to be four years from now?"
Those were the first words I heard as I entered the packed high school auditorium where orientation for rising 9th graders was being held. I stood along the sidelines listening as the principal continued with his address encouraging the restless 8th graders and their parents to "make a plan."
The next words he spoke were golden:
"It's too early to be obsessing about college, but not too early to be thinking about college."
I was moved by the wisdom of his words and vowed not to become college-obsessed over the choices my 8th grader would make but, deep-down, I knew it was already too late. I had come to the meeting with the next four years mapped out in my mind. I even had a stock-pile of "what if" scenarios stored up as if they were emergency rations that might be needed during the expedition to get my child into college.
When the lecture portion of the meeting was over, we all made our way to the gym for refreshments and the opportunity to chat with teachers and guidance counselors. I stood among the parents, specifically the inner circle of moms, while a few dads hovered along the outer edges. We crowded around the counselor responsible for our section of the alphabet, last names beginning with Q-Z.
Moms fired questions at the counselor:
- Does my child have to take a lunch period?
- Can he take AP classes in 9th grade?
- What classes offer dual enrollment in 9th grade?
- Is Earth Science required? Can she take Honors Biology instead?
Shocked by the intensity displayed in their faces and the urgency in their voices, as well as the statements about their children being pre-law, pre-med, or needing four years of Latin and every AP science class offered, I realized that maybe I was not as college-obsessed as I thought. Also, I was pretty sure that as an 8th grader, my kid was not "pre-anything," yet.
I held back, marveling at how well the counselor answered each question with patience and care for the overall well-being of the student. He provided the technical answers to curriculum questions and still managed to gently remind us that course selection needs to also fit the student's life and learning style, and that a lunch period really is a necessity.
Once their appetite for information was satisfied, the moms turned away one by one and I ventured forward to ask my question: "If my child is in an honors class and decides it's too challenging, can he change to the regular class?" I was almost embarrassed both by the simplicity of my question as well as what my question implied.
The counselor replied that a student can switch out of honors within the first 7 weeks and 3 days of school. Relieved, I headed back home to reflect on the choices that lay ahead. My child had been recommended for two honors classes but he was pretty sure he was not ready for one of them. I had to choose whether to listen to the teacher or to my child.
The principal's message was clear: preparing for your child's future begins now with a commitment to graduate high school and, even though it all begins by simply checking boxes off on a blue, course selection worksheet, there are a lot of other factors to consider when it comes to deciding what's best for our kids.
As for feeding the college-obsessed monster hungry inside of me, I know that monster's appetite is going to increase each year for the next three years. Who knows? Next year, I may find myself at the front of the mom-pack. Either way, I'm hoping the guidance counselor will still be there to remind me that a child's life and learning style are important factors when it comes to academic success, perhaps equal to, if not as important as lunch.