The Parent Imperfect has, once again, been out of his natural habitat, which always makes it hard to get in the blogging frame of mind. This time it was La Paz, where walking to the restaurant is just like hiking in the Andes at 12,400 feet. This is the same PI who huffs and puffs to the top of Peter’s Hill. He’s happy to be home.
But he can hide no longer. It’s time for the real March Madness. The letter has arrived.
Just after he returned from the trip, Connie startled him by shrieking at the sight of a text message. A sixth grader she knows had gotten into Boston Latin Academy. She had SO wanted to go to . Some version of the same scene has been playing out in homes, hallways and sidewalks all over Boston. Latin
The PI had to fight back the urge to take the phone from Connie and text her friend that she shouldn’t be AT ALL upset about getting into BLA. It’s a great school with some important advantages over BLS for many students. That would have been just what that girl needed…someone’s father telling her that she really shouldn’t want what she wants and so shouldn’t be sad about not getting it. Luckily, the urge passed. What does he really know about BLA, anyway?
Something like 450 families have received the letter that says that their sixth grader has the option to attend BLS next year (another, smaller, group will have received the thumbs up for ninth grade, too). Anecdotal info (much more reliable than rumor) has it that, since more students have been opting not to take the leap to BLS in recent years, the school is sending out more acceptances this year in hopes of actually filling the seventh-grade (sixie) class.
For many families, the decision is clear, but the PI meets what seems like an increasing number of parents who aren’t sure what to do. For families in the Boston Public Schools, at least, the decision NOT to go to take an invitation to attend BLS can be a very tough one. Liz and the PI remember well the strange momentum that took them in just a few months from not thinking much about the exam schools to deciding that Vince should give BLS a try. Some parents seem very confident that they know how their child will respond to BLS. Liz and the PI were not of that sort. Since Vince had not done Advanced Work in fourth, fifth or sixth grade, they really had to guess how he would respond to the kind of pressure he’d face at BLS. Have you heard yet that ominous, “BLS is not for everyone!”
Advice in making the decision? The PI wishes that there he had a simple formula for success in making this decision, but he does not. There are, however, a few things to know in thinking about the letter.
1. The transition to 7th grade is a very difficult one, especially for BPS children who have not been through the preparation provided by the Advanced Work Class;
2. Boston Latin has many fine teachers and a few really extraordinary ones. It also has some notably poor ones who can and do make life extremely difficult for certain children. The cocktail of big school, bad communication and bad teacher can be toxic. Only in rare cases is the Administration (or the union) able to do anything about such teachers. There seems to be a higher than random concentration of these in the 7th grade, but it doesn’t stop there;
3. The school’s Headmaster seems committed to improving communication with the parents and families of its teachers, but she still has a very long way to go. If you are accustomed to free-flowing communication with your child’s teachers and school, get prepared for a very different reality;
4. There are support systems in place for struggling students, beginning with the Guidance Department. These systems don’t work for many students and the PI’s unscientific survey suggests that as many as 25% of seek some sort of private tutoring ($$$) at some point. Many others really need such tutoring, but can’t, or don’t access it;
5. We’ve seen no statistics, but people who should know say authoritatively that boys (as opposed to any particular racial or ethnic group, or other demographic grouping) is the lowest-performing demographic in the school;
6. Many students take advantage of the school’s plentiful extra-curricular activities; Others feel so over-burdened by homework that they do not participate;
7. Some students who struggle at the school do everything that they can to get out of it (and usually do), but many others develop an attachment (generally obvious for the students, often mysterious for the parents) to the place that makes it very difficult for them to decide to leave. In fact, they insist on staying. In these cases, the parents (or parent, or guardian) have one or two opportunities to act very decisively, after which he/she/they join their son/daughter in the most difficult of dances around a school that seems not to be working. In high school, something close to a quarter of the families seem engaged in just such a dance; and
8. The notion that it’s BLS or the private school route seems to ignore other good options. Those options are out there and are not limited to the other exam schools.
If you have other things to know (or dispute these), chime in!
Some of you are holding the letter, trying to make this decision. How are you making it? What are you thinking about? Are you getting the information you need to decide?