some personal thoughts about the high school process, looking back

My little one turned 18 last week. Yesterday was the first of 3 AP exams he’s taking this year. In August he’s leaving for college and will be a plane ride away. And he gets his braces off on Monday. I’ve been thinking lately about who he’s become and how I NEVER could have imagined who/where he is now from who/where he was when he was looking at high schools. 

Jack was ambivalent throughout the high school process. He kept hoping to fall in love with a high school the way he fell in love with his middle school but that didn’t happen. He took the SHSAT and told me a week before the exam that he wasn’t a specialized high school kind of kid (whatever that means). Of the many schools we toured he thought Bronx Science was great but knew the commute would do him in - we’re in the village and an 8am start time in the Bronx, for a true night owl, wasn’t the right fit for him.

He got offers at his 3rd main round choice, Baruch, and first specialized: Brooklyn Tech. I pushed for Tech because he was feeling size constraints in middle school and I thought a larger place would give him more opportunities. Plus his older sister was there, I was PTA president, and he already was familiar with the building and the school. He thought he’d be more comfortable in a smaller community but in the end chose Tech. 

By the second week of high school he was falling through the cracks. He felt overwhelmed and lost, and didn’t connect with anyone. His first two years were -pretty awful. I tried to pull him out more than once, but in the end he decided to stick it out, not wanting to be “that kid” who transferred into a new place. 

But, on his own, he discovered photography and that helped him immeasurably. In fact, he wrote about how photography changed his life for his college common app essay. He loved his major at Tech - Social Science Research - and soared academically his second two years. He’s ending up at a liberal arts college half the size of Tech, with small classes, on an enclosed campus in the middle of the country, planning on double majoring in psychology and film (at least that’s his plan right now).

I often say that the high school experience, whether good, bad, in between, or all of the above informs what comes next. Jack in part learned what he wants next by living through what did and didn’t work for him in high school. He discovered his creative outlet because the lack of creativity in school made him realize he was missing something that was important to him. He’s intrigued by the social sciences, American history after WWII and will  be thrilled to never take another math class - all things he learned at Tech. He’s even completely given up video games, something I would have never dreamed possible back in the day. 

There is no perfect high school. A wide range of schools out there have terrific and sometimes not such terrific things about them. And who your child is now, compared to who they will be at the end of 8th grade or about to start high school, or how they evolve and grow as they get ready to graduate and look towards next steps can be a serious mystery. 

I always told my kids, and the families I’ve worked with, that high school is just part of the journey. My daughter, finishing up her junior year as a costume design major at a theater conservatory program went to Tech thinking she wanted to be a biologist or a chemist. Sometimes it’s the things they’re not getting or that aren’t working that inform next choices. And sometimes the most important things they learn aren’t what one would have expected.