Years ago, my son Lucas had the good fortune of being selected to attend one of the top public elementary schools in the state of Florida. The school, which goes through sixth grade and has only around 500 students, is known for its focus on science, its rigorous curriculum, and its high social and academic standards.
The only way to get your kid into this school is via a lottery. Every January, parents from all over the county put their kid’s name in a digital hat and hope their’s is one of the few kids selected to attend the school the following August.
Besides the great curriculum, the other big benefit to attending this science-focused elementary school is that these students are typically the first selected for admittance into the highly sought-after public middle and high school just up the road.
This high school, which educates seventh through twelfth grade, acts like a college prep school in that it’s known for its rigorous curriculum, smaller classes, heavy work load, 100% matriculation rate, and 100% college acceptance rate. The difference is that it comes with all of this without the hefty price tag of a private prep school. Who wouldn’t sign their kid up for this?
My kids are not going to a college prep school
Well, we didn’t. For the first few years of Lucas’s schooling, his father and I assumed he would take the college prep route as so many from his elementary school did. We assumed we would help him navigate the pressures of an intense work load for the sake of a chance at the brightest future possible. We assumed it would be worth it.
Alas, life had other plans. Lucas’s struggles began in kindergarten, when his teacher noticed he had a hard time staying on task and was consistently disruptive. She suggested we test him for the gifted program (“Maybe he’s acting up because he’s bored”), and he was subsequently enrolled in that program and flourished in it. But in his regular class, Lucas’s struggles continued—he was unfocused, forgetful, noisy, disruptive, and nearly always off-task. In the second grade, he was diagnosed with ADHD.
He takes medication for his ADHD, and that helps him function in school. But homework is and always has been a major obstacle for Lucas. By the time evening rolls around, his meds have worn off and his brain is exhausted from working so hard to do what so many others take for granted—just stay on task.
In the fall of Lucas’s sixth grade year, we attended the big-name high school’s information night. Almost the entire focus was on how students would need to emotionally prepare themselves for massive amounts of homework and testing, how struggle and hard work pay off because they lead to college acceptance and success later in life.
During the talk, I looked over at Lucas and saw his eyes bugged and out and his chest moving up and down—he was panicking. He knew how hard homework was for him already. Hearing the principal talk about three hours of nightly homework terrified him.
Of course I want Lucas to go to college and be successful in life, but honestly, I didn’t love the emphasis on endless work either. I want my son to have a childhood. I don’t want him to grow up and have all his memories of his adolescent years be of him ripping his hair out over a laptop past midnight. I want him to have a social life, time to work, time to engage in extracurricular activities.
I am aware that, if he could do well at a school like this, it very likely would open up many opportunities for him. And for other high-achieving, ambitious kids, a college prep school might be exactly what they and their parents need and want. But for kids like mine, who struggle with too much prescribed work and who have wild, creative minds, a militant academic schedule would just absolutely crush them.
Lucas is still in advanced classes because of his gifted program placement. At the school he attends now—another science-focused middle school—he has a balance of classes that challenge him without suffocating him. He will likely continue to enroll in accelerated classes (especially math as he is showing a proclivity for it), but, for now, we’re comfortable with our decision not to have applied to the more academically rigorous school. For now, I’m going to let my kid be a kid.
Kristen Mae is a proud indie novelist with three books published, all of which hit bestseller on Amazon. She blogs infrequently at Abandoning Pretense and writes for various media outlets about parenthood, relationships, and current events.