Yes, you read that right. And you may already think I’m a terrible person and a horrible mom (get in line, people). But before you make a final decision, hear me out.
I’m in the middle of the anxiety-provoking, nerve-wracking process of applying to middle schools for my 10 year-old daughter. And no, she doesn’t go to private school. Both of my kids go to public school in New York City, and for some reason the Board of Ed thinks the best way to go about the school process is to make each family tour a dozen middle schools in your district, and then apply to those you’d be interested in your child attending. The way you apply is by filling out an application where you list and rank each school of interest in order from 1 to 5, 1 being your top choice.
You may be thinking that doesn’t sound so bad, except for the fact that every school you tour tells you right off the bat that they have so many children applying, that they ONLY review applications of kids who’ve ranked their school number 1. Think about that for a second. If you don’t get into your first choice, you’re pretty much assured that none of the other schools on your application will even look at you. So then what? Evidently, then you get assigned a school, and chances are, it’s not going to be one of the “good” ones that you’ve listed as your choices.
Adding to the craziness is that a number of the schools – considered amongst the best of the bunch – have their own tests that they administer to prospective students, which adds another layer of anxiety. Here’s a stat one of these schools explained at the tour: they generally have about 700 applicants for approximately 100 spots. They look at the applications that ranked them first, and then they invite 400 students to take their test. Out of that group, 100 are accepted. So now you’re potentially listing a school as your top choice and you may not even be asked to take their test!
Ok, so now back to me and the conversation I had with my daughter…
My 12 year-old son happens to be in middle school right now at a terrific school. He’s in an advanced placement program, and needless to say, we were extremely relieved and excited when he was accepted into his first choice of schools (albeit, it did not require a special test). My daughter has already announced that this same school is one of her top choices, if not number 1. But here’s the thing - we think that she actually may be able to get into a better school than that. She was offered a spot in a gifted and talented program a few years ago, and we think that she may actually have a shot at one of the schools that has their own test. So parents, how would you handle this?
After several conversations where my daughter said that she loved some of these more specialized schools, she was still saying that her brother’s school was among her top choices. And truthfully, I believe that a huge reason for this is solely the fact that her brother goes there and likes it. I don’t know that at age 10 she fully understands the nuances of being in a school where the classes are as large as his, versus a school where the classes may be 10%-20% smaller. I don’t know that at age 10 she fully understands that while her brother is thriving at his school, why we, as her parents, feel that she might be eaten alive there, and that she might be better off in a school that’s a little gentler but with a more rigorous academic curriculum. And I don’t know that at age 10 she really understands that she may have a much better shot at getting into one of the top high schools in the city if she’s coming from one of the better middle schools. (Not to mention, several of these specialized middle schools actually go through 12th grade, so she’d basically be writing her ticket if she’s accepted in 6th grade)
I find myself in a bit of a predicament. Do we apply to her brother’s school, which is a good program but which is more of a “safety” school for her? Or do we teach her to really reach and strive for the best, knowing that there is a bigger risk? What kind of an example do we want to set for our daughter?
And so, after much thought and consideration, I did what many may consider unthinkable. I admitted to my daughter that I don’t think she should rank her brother’s school as her first choice. And when she asked why, I told her the truth. I told her that I think she can do better.
Was I wrong to do this? Am I bad mother for trying to give my daughter the courage and motivation to strive for more? Am I terrible person for wanting to set the example for my girl that she doesn’t have to settle for what she sees as the current norm because she has the capacity to do even better?
Judge all you want, but I saw the excitement in her eyes as she understood that I think she can go all the way. I felt the extra squeeze in her hug as she admitted that two of these specialized schools are actually her top choices over her brother’s school. And I’m glad that my daughter knows that I’m willing to take the journey with her, as scary as it is, to try to get her into the best school she can go to, instead of taking the easy route and settling for the “safety”.
Now I just hope she gets in.