On the threshold of high school: application processes, decisions, and a disappearing childhood

I have been debating on and off whether I should write this post.

The struggle is so real to me that I have to physically hold myself back from letting it get the best of me because if I do that, the push back may be permanent. And I can’t let that happen – kids need support in ways that wasn’t prevalent in my day. And it’s not just the internet, there are other things going on. Things that didn’t seem to be so up front and in your face in my day the way they are today.

But at the same time, I also question the sanity of this society at times. How is it we push kids onto career paths earlier and earlier with every generation?

I was talking with my chiropractor a few weeks ago whose daughter is the same age as my son; both are in grade 8 and visiting high school open houses to determine the next step. His words resonate loud and clear in my head:

“They’re only 13, they’re still children.”

In the meantime, the focus on preparation for high school is predominant and time-consuming. There is lingo involved that reminds me of college and university application processes, not entry level high school. For example, there’s talk of AP courses (Advanced Placement) which essentially means the secondary student can study University level courses in high school. He or she can apply to be in a pre-AP program at the grade 9 level which will prepare them to study at the post-secondary level as early as grade 11. Ultimately they can earn early University credits in grade 12. (The Toronto Catholic District School Board explains it here.)

Here’s the other thing:

Our kids attend public, not Catholic school. But they can switch to a Catholic high school if they wish to do so.

In order to be accepted, they would have to apply as optional attendance since they consider students from the Catholic elementary schools first (naturally). No problem there, right?

There is a Catholic high school that offers a program that is appealing to grade 8 students who are in French Immersion and wish to pursue studies in AP (or AP prep). Few schools offer this option (French and AP a the same time) so my kid showed interest in going to the open house at that school.

We all went. They put on great presentations and had a huge turn-out. Way more people are interested than the school can accommodate.

This means I had to explain to my kid, in tangible detail, what it means to be in a process of elimination situation:

In order to be considered at a Catholic high school when you are not currently in a Catholic elementary school, nor baptized, you must apply with the understanding that you will be placed on a waiting list.

If there is space after they accept their Catholic students, they will consider your application based on the usual criteria: grades, application essays, extracurricular actives, community involvements, etc.

This is all pretty standard information (for me). But for a 13 year old kid, it may appear a little bit daunting.

On the one hand, he knows that he’s not automatically considered due to the Catholic restrictions. On the other hand, he’s attracted to the challenge that pre-AP in French will provide him.

His dad went to the office to get the application form when we were at the open house a couple of weeks ago.

Then he handed it to me.

The significance here is two-fold:

1) He (and by default our son) are expecting me to fill out the application form (because that is usually what happens, I’m the admin person in the household)

2) They are expecting to be done with their share of the responsibility.

This is where it gets tricky. I asked my partner whether he truly thinks that going to all the trouble of filling out the forms for a slim chance of getting in is even worth it.

He thinks yes.

“You never know, and I don’t want him to miss out on an opportunity.”

I think his chances are less than slim, and feel defensive at this statement from my partner. Does he see the same boy I do?

Academically, he is a good student. He gets good marks with relatively little effort. But he is still ‘waiting’ for the perfect teacher to ‘ignite’ some sort of push to do more than what is required.

Maybe I’m the more negative person here, and I acknowledge this. I say things like “what is keeping you from doing more? You have access to all the tools you need if you find yourself interested in a particular topic at school that you want to explore beyond what they teach you in the classroom” or “we’ve all had teachers we don’t like, it’s not about them, it’s what you make of it yourself”.

My boy interprets this as ‘mom wants me to do more work‘.

His dad will pick out the positives and generalizes. He’ll say things like “he’s like so many other boys, when I talk to the hockey or baseball dads, I hear the same kind of stories” or “we can’t push him to pursue things, it has to happen on its own”.

Neither of these statements are incorrect.

At the same time, I stand by mine.

Make no mistake, his grades are fine. More than fine. But will the Catholic AP program see his ‘more than fine’ grades as enough?

They have thousands of students applying to this school for a select few spots. They are almost certainly not going to give him an opportunity. They haven’t met him. They only know what shows up on the application form (i.e. numbers and words). They probably feed the info into a computer and have it chop out the students that don’t meet their criteria.

The entire process is impersonal, which is ironic given how much effort and paperwork it takes to submit the application form.

The other part that bugs me is the lack of interest and self-motivation to even research a bit more than what the open houses provided. Dropping the application form in my lap and then assume it will be handled is not the way to approach your future post-secondary education.

“I read every word in these two packages,” I announced to the man and the boy in my basement. “All seven pages, front and back.”

“Unplug yourself and pay attention,” I continued.

“Did you read this through?” I asked next, first the kid, then the husband.

Neither one had had ‘time’. (Whatever.)

“Are you aware the deadline is next Friday?” I asked.

No, they were not.

“Are you aware there are seven sections to the application form, two of which you, the student, has to fill out yourself?”

Um, no, they didn’t know that either.

“You not only have to write an essay, you have to submit this completed application to your principal for sign off. When would you be able to handle this? Because I can guarantee you that if you drop this in his lap on Friday after school, the day of the deadline, the principal will not be particularly happy and quite possibly not even available.”

Oh, they said.

The entire process was eye-opening for me. It taught me something:

My 13 year old kid has shown maturity and skill in places that have astounded me. Yes, some of those are sports-related, he just has this athletic knack in him. Yet in other places, I can see he is clearly still a kid who is interested in kid things. I would not categorize him as immature, not at all, but rather I would say he is simply not ready to consider all the implications of career planning via secondary education that some kids seem to take so seriously right now.  I’m not sure that he is ready to put his life on hold and focus on something that may seem rather foreign and complicated to him.

There is nothing wrong with this. Like my chiropractor said, they’re still kids. Some kids are younger than others at the same age…and some kids are more than able to rise to this, and other, more challenging occasions.

I see my son’s rather passive interest in this AP French Catholic school application process as him not being ready. (I am ok with this.)

The other thing is that in my opinion, switching to the much more rigidly structured Catholic school system is perhaps not in my son’s best interest. How will he adjust to their world view injected into every course? How will he adapt?

I don’t think that this is the right path for him. I do think that he has the right to choose that path, or not.

My point in my rambling is that he make that decision, not his parents.

Besides, nowhere does it say that you can’t get into University or College without AP course credit in high school…

I left the application form on the dining table between the boy and the man’s place mats last Friday and left. When I got back several hours later, the application lay untouched in the same spot.

It’s still there, several days later, seemingly untouched. They’re out of town until Thursday (and yes, the deadline for the application is the next day…)

I think I have my answer. And also a bit more free time since I don’t have to go digging through old report cards to fish out grades and averages for the application process. Certainly I’m not going to spend an hour filling out, scanning and copying pertinent documents if there is no intention to submit the application. Right?

Sigh.

In the meantime, the open houses at the public high schools are in November. The French Immersion public high school has an automatic spot for him if he stays with the language, so that makes it a touch simpler. For all of us.

Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. 🙂

What do you think? Are kids pushed too hard too soon these days? Or is this a product of our society, a necessary evil? How do people deal with kids who aren’t ready, but feel the pressure by the schools, the parents, the peers to raise up? It’s all so overwhelming…

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29 thoughts on “On the threshold of high school: application processes, decisions, and a disappearing childhood

  1. I’m from NYC, and although I’m a freshman in college now, I used to tutor 5th graders during my junior and senior year. In NYC it’s mandatory that public school children apply for MIDDLE SCHOOL. They have to submit applications, list their top schools, and sometimes even interview or write essays to get in. These are 10 year olds we’re talking about. I think it’s nuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My son was so athletic and succeeded in so many ways now with the rest .. studying homework omg it was greying me by the minute he is so disciplined when it came to athletics fitness nutrition but study he would just skim by could he do better yes defiantly but did he want to yes but no. Now at Basic and first letters sad yes it’s mentally exhausting but as I read each letter he is happy when he is talking about the physical part .. ughh something’s don’t change I can see how your feeling . It’s mentally exhausting for parents to know what to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Both my older two are in high school now and I’ve been really surprised at how quickly they are being “streamed” towards a specific kind of career. In Grade 9 they had to pick between a business course, a computer programming course, or a tech/shop course. Each of those becomes the root prerequisite for your entire high school career – if you pick comp programming, you’re on the science/math track; if you pick tech you’re on the graphic design/architecture/trades track, if you pick business you’re on the business track. It becomes harder and harder in the upper grades to take a variety of things, so you become funnelled into a track and then that feeds directly to university/college specialties.

    Luckily for my son, the sci/math track was obvious. But my daughter – now in grade 9 – isn’t sure what she wants to do and it’s already really hard to keep her options open. Hopefully we will figure it all out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this. I worry about this a little, since I know both my kids aren’t sure what path they will follow. My son is strong in French and also Math and Science, plus he likes History…so how will he determine which way to go? My daughter loves everything and wants to try it all…

      Sigh. We’ll just have to figure it out one step at a time.

      Like

  4. Here in Texas, the kids can go to the school they are zoned to (REALLY crappy school) or they can apply to other schools in their district. That’s what we are doing now. We also have to go visit each school. What a clusterf&*$!
    I’m glad you shared this. It’s a difficult thing to go through and I agree, they are still kids!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I honestly believe you’re in the right here.

    Kids are pressured too soon for all the ‘wrong’ things. And this just creates a bunch of older kids with no idea how to…well, anything.
    And it’s not really their fault!
    However, the opposite is also happening, in which things are handed to them without their enthusiasm, or effort and that creates kids who expect things to always go their way. Entitled kids are becoming an epidemic in our country.
    And it’s not really their fault!

    The fact that the menfolk “wanted” this yet chose to do nothing with it is telling. How much can you want something if you’re doing nothing to make it happen? Fairies don’t come with wands tapping folks on the head for them to magically receive their desires.

    I’m not judging your boy, I think he sounds like every other 13 year old on the planet. If he’s not willing to even read that application, how’s he going to be ready to be French immersed and in AP courses?

    Perhaps sports is where he will excel, and school will be successfully average.
    I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband teaches college kids and he knows exactly what happens after high school. The entitlement and spoiled aspects are alive and well and you can’t even blame the kids. They keep lowering the acceptance grades or standard English knowledge to encourage more students with less ability…it’s a little frustrating.

      My son will come along fine, and both his father and I will support him in what he needs or wants. Right now, grade 9 likely looks like grade 8 to him, just in another building. lol

      Thank you for your feedback. My husband isn’t really to blame here either although I did hope he would have at least read all the application forms. But I’m giving him a pass; he works full time, coaches two teams for his son and one for his daughter, and is up to his eyeballs with a car situation. Still, it would have maybe been just a little bit more…um…encouraging for our son to see his father also understand on a tangible level how much effort it takes the whole family dynamic just to apply for optional attendance.

      I’m sure it’s not the end of our struggles… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love reading about your fam! You’re real, and honest, and I feel great kindness and love in your words.
        It’ll all work out the way it’s meant to, this just made a good story to tell! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. I struggled whether to publish or not, since I tell a story that doesn’t just involve me. But the dialogue in these pages here, this is encouraging to me! I try to keep the spin on me but it’s hard when you’re a single component in a multi-component dynamic. 🙂

        Thank you for your kind words.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That struggle is real.
        You want to write your thoughts and feelings about your life while being respectful of the people in it. Not to mention protect everyone’s privacy.
        I understand that too!
        Please keep sharing! Your words are meaningful to those of us who read them. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  6. It sounds like the application on the table with no sense of urgency from your son was definitely your answer. It’s so hard to not push them too much while also recognizing how times have changed and encouraging them to take the steps necessary to ensure a solid future.

    My daughter wants to go to a high school for the arts in her junior and senior year. This will require a rather detailed portfolio of creative writing. I see her talent, her desire to do this, and most of all, know how much she wants to get the hell out of Mississippi – something I never was able to do.

    So I pull her from private school and have her homeschooled where she can get more credits that she will need. I hire online tutors for her in creative writing. She only meets with them about 2x a month right now since it’s a year before the portfolio is due for submission. She had assignments due for her tutor by Tuesday. She’s had over 2 weeks to do them. Haven’t seen her even begin to write.

    She’s a perfectionist, so it’s hard for her to just do something and not overthink it. But she’s also a HORRRIBLE procrastinator. And I can’t break her of it.

    I want to micromanage this part of her life SO BAD for fear she’ll get stuck here, married to some moron, working a job she hates. But if she wants this experience bad enough, I have to trust she will give it her all. And that, probably, the less I say about what she’s doing or not doing, the better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It’s so hard to stand by supportively and treat them how they want to be treated: with the trust and faith they can handle it.

      To actually do it…. that’s up to them.

      I’m standing by..

      Good luck with your girl. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have never heard of this high school process. Here in the U.S (New York State) kids go to public school by default. For city school districts there is generally a ‘lottery’ you participate in for your child to get one of the schools of their choice, but it’s still public school. Otherwise we pay a LOT of money for private/independent prep schools (K-12) or we homeschool. The whole application/career intensity you describe is terrifying. I am 41 and I still don’t know what the hell I want to be when I grow up….how is a 13 yr old supposed to know?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Claudette, I’m with you and your chiropractor, they’re only kids. I think that this situation worked itself out for your son’s best interest. The universe has it’s own way of making the best decisions for us at times. Also, I’ve taken AP courses in high school since 9th grade, and it takes a lot of time and dedication to get those college credits earned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think more academics right now is not quite the right thing for my kid. He’s heavily involved in sports and good at them, needs them to stay grounded. There has to be a happy medium…and AP in 9th grade may not be the thing for him…agreed. Thank you for your feedback!

      Like

  9. As a former high school teacher, I would say you are doing the right thing. Let the child be a child. There is time enough to make choices about what the future will hold. I have seen too many kids pushed by parents take classes or do activities that they really don’t want to do but felt obligated because the parents were excited about the possibilities the future could hold. Kids need time to discover what they enjoy and are interested in. Do we want them to succeed? Yes. Do we want them to be productive citizens? Yes. But, we don’t need for them to go to college or do the most advanced things to be that. Do we need to teach them that when things are difficult that they need to keep trying (most certainly, because a lot of kids just give up or don’t even try if it is hard), or to even try just to learn from it? Why yes we do! You did the right thing by leaving it to your son to decide if it was worth the effort. Sometimes something sounds great until you’re there and then realize it wasn’t what you thought it would be. He will learn that. It is part of growing and maturing, and making choices in the future. You are doing great, mom. Keep it up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your insights. I appreciate all the feedback I’m getting. It’s hard sometimes not to get caught up in the excitement of what others are doing…time to take a step back and look at your own child and follow his own lead. With some gentle nudging, occasionally… 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I would argue with backuphill that a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma. As we progress into the future competition for the shrinking pool of job openings. For over 4 years now driverless cars have been in the news, within 5 years we will have driverless Uber vehicles and trucks ( Transportation industry being the largest employer in the United States ) , when Seattle raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour McDonalds said it was more cost effective to replace the workers with automated food workers. Surely you’ve seen a kiosk at a fast-food restaurant where all you have to do is touch the touch screen for what you want to eat, that was once someone’s job a cashier. I’m not sure if they offer something called Running start wherever you live but that’s what I did. It allows you to take College corses while in high school, so by the time you finish High School you already have two years of college credit.
        That being said I grew up differently my mom and dad are Workaholics the one thing my dad instilled in me is that we all have the capacity to change the world for good so it is there for our moral obligation to maximize our potential.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. To all of it. But I don’t know if the time is right to push my 13yo now …maybe by the time he has a few high school credits under his belt, he will have had experiences he doesn’t have now…and finds his path himself rather than be pushed onto a path by his parents.

        It’s all so daunting…

        Like

  10. There is so much pressure. From society, from parents, from peers…

    Here in the States, AP classes are available at most public high schools. By the time my son graduated from high school, he had a year of college behind him. It was a financial decision as much as academic as those AP classes are free college credit. He was not challenged at all academically in high school, but we couldn’t afford to send him to a private school. He graduated, went on to attend a four-year public university in a neighboring state on a full-ride scholarship. However, he wasn’t challenged there either. Eventually he landed at a noted research university in greater Boston as one of two transfer students accepted into his area of study. So never say never. But be realistic. Post high school he expected to gain entrance into a noted West Coast college. When that happened, he landed by default at the state university.

    I agree this needs to be your son’s decision. And it seems to me that he’s not showing much interest or he would be on top of that application.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Our family did the opposite – we started our daughters in the Catholic schools (we’re not Catholic – the school appreciated the full tuition payments while they attended, and didn’t appreciate our being fallen Catholics, so both kids were not included in many things because of the later status), we got sick of the costs and the shunning (for lack of a better word – and not to offend anyone, it was just our experience!) so switched them to public schools in 7th for the oldest and 4th for the youngest. While it was particularly challenging for the older daughter – 13 is hormone and clicky time in life for girls – the decision was the best for them and they were happy with the educational opportunities the public school system offered them versus what the Catholic school system did. But that’s in our small town in the US. I personally think you’re on the right track and I agree with your Chiropractor – they’re just kids, let them be kids – they have their whole life to figure this kinda stuff out for themselves!

    Liked by 1 person

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