Tag Archives: BLS

Opening Boston Latin: More than just turning the key…

BLS TeachersA lot has happened since the Parent Imperfect first wrote about the turmoil at the nation’s oldest public school. In the local and national media, much ink has been spilled concerning the efforts of a student group called BLS B.L.A.C.K. to bring to light the racial climate at the school, and to compel school leadership to address the situation in a comprehensive way. This is only the latest chapter in a long history of attempts at Opening Boston Latin.

You may remember that my introduction to all of this came when dear Connie found herself in the middle of the social media storm that followed the release of the first #BlackatBLS video. It was her decision to dress in black the next school day that got my attention. This was only fitting, as the way students interacted on social media in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO was one important spark to the entire discussion.

BLS Black at School CommitteeThe next kick the the backside (or stomach) for me came at the very first Boston School Committee meeting after the video came out. I was not there, but friends from QUEST were, and they made sure I knew what had happened. The two young women who had put out the video sat before the Committee and told their story. When a committee member asked what sort of support they had gotten from parents at the school, Meggie and Kylie looked at each other in a “that’s a good question” kind of way and then one of them said that they hadn’t really gotten any support from parents yet. Ow!

Soon thereafter, the Headmaster announced an “action plan” to address the issues raised by the students. A parent group, Parents Promoting Equity & Diversity, was formed to support the students in BLS B.L.A.C.K., and press the school leadership to aggressively move to address student concerns. Dozens of meetings have taken place, inside and outside of the school. At the request of local organizations including the NAACP’s Boston branch, a Federal prosecutor launched a probe of allegations of possible mishandling of civil rights violations at the school. Meggie and Kylie have been accepted into great universities and have graduated from the school with over 400 classmates. Most recently, the two core leaders of the school (the Headmaster and her longest-serving Assistant Headmaster) shocked the school community by submitting their BLS protestresignations. The school year ended with angry teachers and parents (along with a few students) confronting the Mayor and Superintendent of Schools in front of the media on the steps of BLS, demanding that officials refuse to accept the much-publicized resignations.

Whew! I’m sure Boston Latin School has had many wild years in the 381 that have passed since its establishment, but I doubt many of them were more wild than this one.

All of that turbulent water under the bridge is extremely interesting and worthy of analysis, but, in the end, it is water under the bridge. What is important now is the way forward for the school, and the troubled school district in which it sits.

chang appointsSuperintendent Tommy Chang acted quickly to appoint interim administrators to take the reins while he conducted a national search for a new headmaster. Those tapped include two retired former BPS headmasters, Michael Contompasis and Jerry Howland, and Alexandra Montes McNeil, a former BLS faculty member and a member of the BPS leadership team. Contompasis will be interim Headmaster, Howland his second in command and Montes Mcneil will be “Instructional Superintendent,” which I think is a new position at the school. The appointment of Contompasis, a former BLS headmaster and a fixture in the city’s educational elite, was clearly designed to calm fears that the District was planning wholesale changes at the school. Taken together, the appointments have “assure stability” written all over them, and seem to have diminished the state of panic among supporters of the former headmaster.

The fly in the stability ointment is, of course, the ongoing Federal probe. At some point, this investigation will draw to a close, and its conclusions could thrust the school community right back into crisis mode. The Feds could conclude that local authorities properly addressed issues at the school, thus bringing the investigation to a close without either recommendations for the District or any legal action against individuals. That is, perhaps, the likely outcome at the point, but Carmen Ortiz, the prosecutor in charge of the probe, is not known for investigations quietly closed. The appointment of interim leadership may present an air of stability, but it does not remove the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the school.

ContompasisPeople familiar with Contompasis’ history at BLS suggest that he was sensitive to the needs of students of color and supported efforts to diversify both the student body and the teaching force at the school. That sounds great, but the new/former headmaster, in an interview to WBUR soon after the release of the BLS B.L.A.C.K. video seems to be dissing the student perspective. I’ll wait to see what the man actually does over the summer and when the bell rings in September.

The transition in school leadership leaves a lot of unfinished business at BLS. Many people associated with the school would like to see the issues raised by BLS B.L.A.C.K. just quietly drop off the agenda so that things can just get back to “normal.” Regardless of what the Federal investigators conclude, that “normal” is a thing of the past.

The interim leadership of BLS will be under pressure to continue efforts to address the racial climate at the school. At a minimum, this will include: (1) finding ways to encourage and facilitate courageous community conversations about race; (2) educating all members of the community around racism and racial dynamics;  and (3) establishing and following clear protocols for the safe reporting and prompt addressing of  allegations of racially motivated incidents at the school.

BLS UnbindsIn addition to supporting and providing leadership to this effort, District leaders will need to find ways to address, in a real way, the closely-related issue of the composition of the school community. This includes the student body and the teaching force, as well as school staff and administration. According to the profile of BLS prepared by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, African-American and Hispanic students make up 74% of the students in the BPS, but compose less than 21% of enrollment at Boston Latin. In the long run, it will be very difficult to address the racial climate at the school if the composition of the school remains so out of whack with the overall BPS student body. As many have pointed out, the problem of shifting enrollment at Boston Latin reflects a national trend toward the “resegregation” of public education across the U.S, but that doesn’t give BLS any kind of “pass” around diversity.

The Boston Globe recently reported that the District is considering ways to change to racial composition of the school. Even the mention of such efforts inflames passions in the city like few other issues. Boston Latin is, after all, the crown jewel of public education in the city, and access to it is seen by many as a key to economic and social success in Boston.

Opening Boston Latin has been attempted in the past (most recently in the 1990s, with some success) and the effort met the determined opposition of a group of parents at the school and others in the community. In the end, Federal court decisions convinced the District that  its plan to diversify BLS could not be defended legally, and the BPS threw in the towel. While that may have been the right decision in the moment, it certainly helped bring the school to where it is today.

The one concrete step that is always mentioned in this “new” discussion of Opening Boston Latin is an expansion of programs to prepare students for the test used to award entrance to Boston’s exam schools. I’m not against this idea, but it is not going to solve the problem of access to the school.

I hope four additional ideas are also under discussion  to address this issue. I’ll only mention them here, with the promise to discuss each more deeply in the future.

  1. Design and implement a sophisticated, long-term  communications campaign to promote the exam school option to all BPS students and families, beginning in first grade. The current Exam School Initiative is nice, but not up to the task.
  2. Scrap the ISEE as the BPS exam school test in favor of an test that more closely reflects the K-6 curriculum in use in the Boston Public Schools.
  3. Redesign the formula to award entry to exam schools to incorporate a numerical preference for students who have attended the BPS in fourth, fifth and sixth grades.
  4. Redesign that same formula to incorporate a numerical preference for students eligible, due to family income, for subsidized or free school lunch, according to Federal guidelines.

BLS statueEach of these is a complex step that would face predictable and surprising opposition, but no effort to seriously change the way students access BLS will be welcomed by everyone. Legal action against Steps 3 and 4 would be threatened immediately, and the threat would be quite serious. While I don’t believe that any of these steps could be attacked successfully for promoting “racial quotas,” each would contribute to a shift in the composition of BLS.

Combined with the difficult internal work necessary to make the school a place that all parents in the District want their children to attend, these steps could make a difference. The steps would be costly, in both economic and political terms, but we should be willing to pay those costs. Opening Boston Latin offers the classic “twofer.” To do so would make a great school and a great city even greater,  and it would also address one of the most influential sources of the “achievement gap” in the Boston Public Schools. What’s not to like?

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The Exam School Choice #16: #BlackAtBLS

Boston Latin GateThe Parent Imperfect has so far been silent about a student action at the nation’s oldest public school that has captured local and national attention. #BlackAtBLS is certainly on the minds of just about everyone now at the school and many of the hundreds of families thinking about sending a seventh or a ninth grader to the school next year.

On the evening of Martin Luther King Day, Connie should have been finishing the ridiculous amount of Math homework she was given for the holiday weekend, but, instead, she was glued to her phone.

“Everyone’s talking about this video about being black at BLS. It’s really interesting. People are going to wear all black to school tomorrow if they are supporting this.”

I admit it. My first reaction was, “That’s great, but is your homework done?” Even when she read out a particularly disturbing tweet written by a student at another school, I didn’t really understand what was going on.

The next day, Connie went off to school dressed in black, which is not her usual fashion choice. Her commitment to stand out (a fate worse than detention for a 14-year-old) led me to check out the first #BlackAtBLS video. The video is a direct and very provocative statement of what it is like to be #BlackAtBLS by two young black women. It isn’t slick, but the message is very clear: BLS has a problem with racism and the school administration is aware of the problem, but hasn’t done nearly enough about it.

Global ImageIn the three weeks since the video came out, local newspapers have written several stories about the campaign, its leaders have testified before the Boston School Committee and appeared on TV and radio. #BlackAtBLS has proven itself to be a master in the use of social media and other new communications. BLS has gained national attention from the campaign, but certainly not the sort of attention that it desires. And the attention isn’t just national. I have received e-mails or other social media messages from people in England, El Salvador, South Africa, Sweden, Costa Rica, Peru, Turkey and Nicaragua, all asking me what’s up with this supposedly outstanding school where I’ve sent my kids. If only good news traveled so quickly. Yes, I can be a snarky critic of BLS, but I care about the school it hurts to confront this side of a community that has played a huge role in my family life for the past seven years.

One week after the release of the #BlackAtBLS video, the Headmaster released a “Memo to the Boston Latin School Community.” The memo was promptly posted to the school website and distributed to students, parents, teachers and staff. I commend Ms. Mooney Teta for responding promptly to the campaign. Her response is frank and heartfelt, and makes several important statements, but it disappoints me in a couple of key ways.

auditorium 2First of all, it fails to validate the concerns of BLS B.L.A.C.K. by acknowledging that there is a problem of racism at the school. The statement lends itself to the soothing notion that these are isolated incidents in which students unfortunately feel that they are victims of racism. At least as importantly, while Ms. Mooney Teta’s memo emphasizes that, “We need to insure that hateful, intolerant, disrespectful speech or actions will not be considered acceptable anywhere at BLS,” it fails to acknowledge that students have brought evidence of such speech and actions to the administration and that the response of the administration has ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

I fully understand the risks of validating the concerns of this campaign, and acknowledging the shortcomings of one’s own leadership in this regard, but the risks of not doing so are much greater. It seems clear that without such validation and acknowledgement, it will be hard to move forward as a community toward addressing this problem. The last few weeks of publicity have hurt the public image of the school in the Boston community and beyond. That damage can certainly be repaired, but only if the entire school community is convinced that BLS is committed to becoming a community that truly celebrates diversity and insists on mutual respect among all members.

TestimonyWhen the young women in the #BLackAtBLS video testified before the Boston School Committee, a Committee member asked them what sort of support they had received from parents at the school. The answer that they hadn’t yet received concrete actions of support from parents was a painful one for all parents in the audience to hear. Since that time, the Parent-to-Parent group, a subcommittee of the Parent Council, has discussed #BlackAtBLS and made plans to support it. Other parents have taken steps to form groups to support particular groups of students at the school, such as students of color and LGBT students. A group of parents even stayed at the school for 90 minutes after an exhausting Parent Open House this past Thursday to discuss engaging with the school administration over these issues. Now that students have taken the risks to get this discussion started, maybe we parents will find ways to take a few of our own risks to support them.

 

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The exam school choice, #13…something missing?

Latin EnglishThere is nothing quite like the Thanksgiving Day football game between Boston English and Boston Latin to get the Parent Imperfect thinking about the exam school choice in Boston. It is a huge choice for many individual families in the city, but it is also a choice that we, as a city, make each year about the sort of school system we want to have for our children.

This year, I’ve received an unusual number of questions about the BPS exam schools, some from perfect strangers. Last Saturday was the final day for students in Grades 6 and 8 to take the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) in hopes of entering one of the Boston’s exam schools for the coming year. I remember well that the parental stress level increased greatly in the days before that test. Now, at least there is a little break before the next decision point, when one must register for school and state preferences regarding the three exam schools in the system.

The calendar has generated many of the questions, but there has been another factor this year. In the midst of this year’s selecting season, BPS leadership has endorsed some eye-opening proposals to change the way students get into the exam schools.

Earlier in November, a highly publicized study of Black and Latino male achievement in the BPS confirmed what everyone in the system knows perfectly well. That the exam schools and the Advanced Work Class (AWC) programs are key elements of a system of tracking that aggravates the achievement gap in city schools. The question is what to do about the problem.

Opportunity and EnrollmentThe study, co-published by the BPS and two of the leading educational research organizations in the area, makes a number of recommendations, two of which focus on AWC and the exam schools. It recommends making all grade 4-6 programs Advanced Work programs, which is a positive way of saying that we should end the current practice of, beginning in fourth grade, taking the kids who score highest on a certain test out of their school communities and grouping them in special classrooms. If that’s not bold enough, the study went on to recommend that only children who attend the BPS for Grades 5 and 6 be eligible to apply for admission to the exam schools. This would eliminate the time-tested path to the exam schools, especially Boston Latin School, that passes through private and parochial schools. The goal would be to make the student composition of the exam schools more closely reflect the composition of the BPS, as a whole. I’ve seen proposals like this before (even made some), but at least in my memory, I’ve not seen a proposal like either of these in a document endorsed by the BPS.

Does this change anything for the kids who just took the test? I doubt it, at least in the short run. As in the past, families will rate the exam schools, according to their preferences, and test results will be fed, along with students’ Grade 5 and Grade 6 grades into the mysterious function machine that generates invitations to the O’BryantBLA and BLS.

Deciding on our order of preference among the schools felt like less of a turning point when we applied for Vince, as the word on the street was that it was pretty easy to choose BLS at first, and then change one’s mind later (not surprisingly, to change one’s preference to BLS was less simple, but that wasn’t our strategy). Now, because more and more parents apparently are making either the O’Bryant or BLA their first choice, it is more difficult to later change one’s first choice, regardless of what it is. I can find no data that says that more parents are choosing the O’Bryant and BLA first, but the cryptic placement results received by Connie suggest that it is, in fact, the case.

Latin crosswalkIn Vince’s case we later wished that we had paid more attention to the choice among exam schools. Even though it wasn’t at all clear to us that Vince’s learning style would work well at BLS (Liz will say that she was sure that it wouldn’t), we were convinced by the argument that said, “If he gets into BLS, let him try it. If it doesn’t work out, he can always switch.” Don’t be fooled by that argument. I can name you 25 kids in Vince’s senior class who have struggled mightily for 5+ years at BLS, but have resisted the idea of changing schools. Some parents of such students were clear enough or desperate enough to make the decision for their offspring, but we are among those who did not do so. In public conversation, Vince will say consistently that he really likes his school, and I have stopped doubting him on this point. He really likes the friends he has made at BLS, some of his teachers have been excellent and I expect that he likes being able to tell people that he goes to the such a revered high school. But all that love has come with considerable stress and conflict (for the whole family) and no small loss of self-esteem for the young man.

BLS has 2400 students, give or take a few, which I believe is way too many for a school with its approach to teaching and learning.  The “business model” of the school requires that the school admit well over 100 students each year that will face serious difficulties in adapting to its standards. There are more programs in place to support students in their transition (Saturday Success School, peer tutoring, etc.) than existed 10-15 years ago, but seventh graders at the school are still very much on their own to make their way in a large and unforgiving environment. There are, after all, something like 525 of them in seventh grade, so support anything like that received at many private schools is simply out of the question.

We visited both BLA and the O’Bryant with Vince and Connie. They liked things about the O’Bryant, but neither was drawn to attend the school. We never explored the reasons for that enough, but they seemed to have a mildly negative impression of the school before we even saw the place. Both liked BLA and would probably have quite happily gone there, had their parents pushed the issue, but we did not. They visited BLS after BLA and then “shadowed” a student at the school for a day. They didn’t shadow at either the O’Bryant or BLA. After shadowing, they were officially caught up in the hype and, truth be told, so were their parents. In the end, both Vince and Connie were on pins and needles in the days before their assignment arrived, anxious to hear that they were going to BLS.

The HypeThere is so, so much to say about the “hype,” and I surely can’t do it justice here. The hype is a comparative framing of the three schools and the way they sit in the whole BPS system (remember the English-Latin football game). Much of it is about the “best,” the exclusivity of exam schools and the power of the history embodied, especially, in BLS. But lurking in the definition of “best” are also powerful, often subliminal, messages about race, class and difference. I’m not accusing any school or any group within any school of projecting such messages. No one needs to project them: They are perfectly obvious, even if you aren’t looking for them, and they are powerfully reinforced by messages we all receive daily.

The hype and all of the changes going on for these kids (and their parents) at this time of their lives creates an emotional stew around the exam school decision that is even more toxic than the one surrounding Advanced Work Class. As parents who are busy doing too many things already, it is very easy to not deal with the complexity of this decision, let “the flow” carry one to a decision, and then, two years later, be wondering what happened.

Community conversationsWhat does it mean to “deal with the complexity” of this decision? The two-sentence descriptions of each of the exam schools are, by now, well known. Visiting each school usually provides enough information and direct experience to begin to challenge the stereotypes. People (especially mothers) discuss the topic obsessively among friends. And, of course, we try to talk with our children about what they want for themselves.

All of this is great and necessary. We did it all, but felt that something was missing. Maybe what was missing in our experience was any kind of a space for a broader community conversation about the choice, one in which we could get outside of our tight networks of friends and hear what others–including others who don’t have the exam school choice–feel about that choice. I remember really wishing that we could have this kind of conversation, even among parents at the Hernández, when Vince was in sixth grade. Since Connie was only at the Irving for a year, we didn’t have that kind of connection with parents there, so a different conversation would have been needed.

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A Quarter-Step Behind…

The Pressured ChildThe Parent Imperfect does not have the energy he once had for evening meetings. More than a few people are happy about that. Last night, I very much wanted to sit home and vegetate after a stressful day at work, but something told me that I should accompany Liz in an evening pilgrimage to the nation’s oldest public school, so I did. My evenings on Ave. Louis Pasteur don’t always leave me in the best frame of mind, but this one did.

The Friends of the Keefe Library at Boston Latin School sponsored a talk by Michael Thompson, School Psychologist at Belmont Hill School and author of many books about the psychology of adolescent boys, most recently, The Pressured Child.

We arrived late, of course, and I was honestly shocked to see that one of the library’s main open spaces had been cleared and filled with chairs. Almost every one of the chairs (I counted something like 120 of them) was filled with a BLS parent. If the School Parent Council is able to attract one-sixth of that number for its monthly meetings, it is considered a great night. I know that many parents at BLS are concerned about the effect of the school experience on their child (or children), but it was an eye-opener for me that so many people would attend a meeting like this one.

I have to admit that I get a little cranky when someone starts right off talking to me about “independent” schools and public schools. If private schools didn’t depend on government in a million ways, I’d feel better about that language, but I got over it, in this case. He is, after all, an employee of a private school.

ThompsonThompson is an engaging speaker who obviously does a lot of this. He is very good at connecting the substance of his talk to a series of stories about his experience counseling boys in a school that isn’t so different from BLS, in terms of what it expects of its students. As a noted embellisher, myself, I was clear that Thompson’s stories had been gently massaged to serve a purpose, but that doesn’t bother me.

He wanted to get a roomful of parents to let go of our own needs and anxieties for a moment and try to see the BLS experience from the perspective of our sons and daughters. Thompson’s own perspective is informed by his clinical experience at Belmont Hill and other places, but it is also rooted in a practice of accompanying students through entire school days at many different types of schools. He asked who in the room had ever done such a thing and raised hands were conspicuously absent.

ExpectationsI can’t imagine doing such a thing, but the talk did push me to think about what it must be like for Vince to enter that building at 7:30AM, rush to his locker and then to his homeroom by 7:35 (to avoid “tardy detention”) and then begin the long march through seven periods of “drinking from a fire hose,” separated by four minutes of frenzied transit between classes (woe betide you if you arrive late to class!). Somewhere in the middle of all that, he gets 20 minutes to stuff a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a couple of cookies into his mouth before rushing off to the next class. In every one of these periods, a teacher will be expecting to be attentive to his/her rambling and enthusiastic about the material, and this will be just as true at R8 as it was at R1. And there are, of course, occasional study halls, but these, too, are moments of intense social control.

At a school such as BLS, according to Thompson, perhaps one-third of the students have a brain that is very-well suited to such an environment. Those are the “fast processors” whose parents were doing something else last night. Another third get along OK, but they are very aware that something is “not quite right” for them at the school. If they develop good friends and a supportive social environment at the school, they can be quite happy there (provided that they parents can adjust to the reality of the situation). And then there is the “other third” of students. They can be quite “bright” (they had to be to get into the place), but, for one reason or another, their brains are just not designed for the kind of environment in which they find themselves. Everyone at the school experiences stress, but this last group of people can really struggle in such environments. This strikes me as a good description of what I see at BLS.

This narrative definitely raised the tension level in the library. Thompson balanced this with many stories that allowed the assembled parents to shed stress through laughter. Through it all, he encouraged parents to “find another way to think about your child’s journey through school.”

For anyone who was looking for specific answers, he had few. The psychologist in him offered three things that he looks for when he speaks to a youth who seems to be struggling. These are connection, recognition and a growing sense of mastery. If he sees these things in the experience of the student, he is able to look beyond the specifics of the report card to sense that s/he is doing OK.

Vince’s insistence that he wants to stay at BLS comes from the strength of his connection to his friends and the fact that he gets some sort of recognition from them and (very occasionally) from his teachers and parents. This question of a “growing sense of mastery” is more difficult for me to discern in relation to my dear son.

Late in the talk, Thompson told a story of seeing a teacher taking a run with two high school girls. He started out at a pace that was too fast for the girls. They ran with him, but struggled to keep up. Before long, the girls slowed and finally started walking. After walking for a time, the girls started to run again and, before long, had returned to a pace that was comfortable for them. When they started running again, the teacher took up a spot, “running with them, a quarter step behind.” When the girls slowed down, so did the teacher. When they found energy to speed up, so did he, and, in this rhythm, they completed the run.

This is a story that you know is made up, but the point is one that stayed with me. Thompson is suggesting that thoughtful parents might follow the example of the running teacher in accompanying their children as they face the stress of schools like BLS.

The discussion got more real in the question and answer period. Parents (all women) put before Thompson their angst about the decision they are making right now about sending their child to BLS. Others talked about their own experiences with young people whose anxiety made it impossible for them to get up in the morning and go to school or whose attention issues left them struggling to keep their heads above water. In a setting very different from his office at Belmont Hill, Thompson showed why a wealthy private school would pay him what he asks to speak to its children and parents. The interactions also made me wonder who the people gathered in the library could talk to about their attempts to help sons and daughters through this “journey.”

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The Exam School Choice, IX: Phoebe’s Fable

Home Sweet HomeYou’ve probably noticed that the Parent Imperfect doesn’t receive a lot of comments from its loyal readers. You’d think that at least a few of the 100,000 or so 😉 people who read each post would have something to say about it, but…

What is true is that many people who have unraveled the great mystery of the Parent Imperfect send me comments on the side. I always say, “Why don’t you post this to the blog so others can see it?” but no dice. Once in a while one of these comes along that I need to post, even if the writer won’t post it. That happened last week, after I wrote about the difficulty of the Exam School Choice for Dear Connie (more for her father, really). The names have been changed here to protect the innocent…Let’s call it “Phoebe’s Fable.”

We felt the same way last year at this time, or maybe earlier… Anyway, in the fall last year we were midst of feeling rotten about the nation’s oldest and feeling great about Sara’s K-8 school… and I was probably doing my own mourning about leaving that place, which was such an amazingly rich experience for her and for me.  
 
Front GateAnyway, we just weren’t sure that BLS was the best match for Sara and we felt like BLA might really offer the right amount of academic challenge and social diversity that has been so important in her life (less so for Daniel, in the short run, but that’s another story).  We made a real decision to pursue both options equally from the beginning, not favoring one over the other in how we talked, touring both, and really explicitly talking about the pluses and minuses.  We talked to as many kids and parents as we could in her presence so she could get a feel of both from the ground (not just from her brother).  
 
In the end, the decision was really hard with major factors being all the ones you’d suspect:  BLA = more supportive, less intense amount of work, more diversity, harder to get to (practicalities were a factor, though small).  BLS = probably more kids she’d know, easy travel, harder to get into, more of a challenge (her words).  In the end I felt thoroughly torn and agonized as usual, but she was the one who made the call.  It came down to this:  “I think I’d be happy at either, and BLA would probably be the right amount of work for me but I feel like I’d be more challenged at BLS and this is something that I think would be good for me and is something that I want.”  This was a real shock to us as, though she’s been a strong student, we didn’t know this part of her and had definitely never heard anything like that from Daniel.  We ended up ranking it #1 over BLA really based on this and the idea that we couldn’t override her ‘ambition’ when we’d allowed Daniel to go there (gender politics in play here, too).  This ranking, done in January, sat with me for the two months of waiting and I really still felt unsure that we’d done the right thing.
 
Test TakingFast forward to the end of first term:  the school seems like a different place with her as a student.  I feel like I now have a better window into why some parents are NOT up in arms about the inconsistent announcing of homework, the unfair teachers, the punitive attitude, the lack of communication, etc..  It quite simply IS a different school for her.  She’s working hard (no instrument so she has one to two studies a day and uses them well, it seems) and then works between one and two hours a night, but then has four hours completely off because she’s actually done and not dragging the torture out.  We’re almost completely hands off besides the occasional quizzing on stuff, which she initiates.  NO PARENT TORTURE!  This magical formula has led to good grades and to a very happy child.  Granted, she’s not in Cluster A (still rumored to be harder, but exorcised of some of its demons) and it’s still only one term in, so this all could be temporary.  Socially she’s really happy, and though she’s maintaining close ties with her two closest elementary school friends and making a diverse group of new friends, her social world is tilted toward the neighborhood a bit much for my taste.
 
I feel sure that the suck-i-ness of BLS will rear its head for her, too, at some point, and I may curse my words, but right now I have no regrets.  I feel pretty certain she’d be happy at BLA too, but I do think that the challenge has turned out to be up her alley and the amount she’s learning (really just due to her hard work) is pretty exciting.  
 
Overall it’s been another reminder that perspective is paramount.  Different child, different school.  Take this with a healthy grain of salt though, as maybe I’m just still exhaling from the worry that this would be a disaster for her and for us.  Just wanted to add my two cents to the mix. 
So, there it is, the parental guidance that I crave. It’s not news to me that the nation’s oldest can be a great place for students ready to deal with its quirks. “It’s not for everyone,” but it’s definitely for some. Plenty of Vince’s friends and their families fit the description. I can easily imagine Connie following the same path as Sara, and really thriving at the school. I can also imagine other outcomes. We’re definitely on that path, but it’s a strange place to be as Vince’s struggles with the place seem to be approaching a tipping point. Once bitten, twice shy. If the two of them end up in the same school, how will Vince feel having a high-octane sister sweep in behind him? Maybe I should follow Phoebe’s example and ask him…

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The Exam School Choice VIII

Hasn’t the Parent Imperfect just about beaten this topic into the ground? Maybe, but it’s happening again. Connie is now among those thousands of Boston sixth graders (many now in private schools) who have taken the ISEE and are awaiting their results from the sorting hat. For some reason, I’m much less connected to other parents involved in this decision than I was when Vince was going through the same process. Maybe some of you will add your anonymous two cents here.

Just yesterday, I was talking with a parent who already knows her child’s ISEE result. She did this by having the kid take the test privately (not when the BPS offered the test for free) and paying and extra fee for “expedited results.” She now has a sense of her child’s likely placement, and can decide how much energy to put into exploring other options. This is something that never crossed my mind, in part because I’m “frugal” to a fault, but also because I’m just not “with the program” like some of the parents of Connie’s peers obviously are.

We’ll get our scores in March and will then very quickly need to decide what Connie will do next year. If one wants to pursue options outside of the BPS, one would have had to get started with that before now. Unless something happens very soon, Connie’s realistic options for seventh grade will include staying at the Irving or going to whichever of the three exam schools she gets sorted into.

We have much more information about the exam schools than we had when Vince was at this stage. By December of his sixth grade year, we hadn’t visited any of the exam schools, but had heard a lot about all three. The catchphrase we had heard over and over was that Boston Latin School “isn’t for everyone.” That’s not really very helpful for someone trying to decide if the school will work for their child.

We knew parents who had kids struggling with BLS at that time, and others whose children were quite happy there. We paid less attention to the families we knew who had kids struggling at the school, but at least thought they were happy there. We assumed that, if Vince was having a hard time academically, he’d be the first one looking for the door. Several friends had sent their children to BLS, but had moved them after seventh or eighth grade because the fit just wasn’t right. Many of those parents had left with a bitter taste in their mouth about the school, and had mostly bad things to say about it.

Vince was not an AWC student. He had not been invited in fourth or fifth grade, which was fine because we were all quite happy at the Hernández School. He did get invited to Advanced Work for sixth grade and we thought long and hard about the Irving before deciding to keep him at the Hernández for one more year. If I had it to do over, I would probably have taken the AWC option for sixth grade. Staying at the Hernández was much easier for us in many ways. We were comfy there. Both kids were in the same school, it was an easy transition to middle school for him, etc. But doing a year of AWC at the Irving would have given Vince and us a much better idea how he would react to the BLS environment than sixth grade at the Hernández did. In Vince’s case, this would have been important information for us all to have.

But we’re talking now about the Exam School Choice for Connie. She has gone to AWC (despite all of her parents and her own reservations about the program). We have a very good idea how she will react to the BLS environment, if she has that opportunity. She is a well-organized girl who we expect will be ready for the challenges of managing all that the school will throw at her. She will melt down too often about all of the busy work that her teachers will insist that she do at home, and she’ll miss having time for all of the things she likes to do outside of school. Fitting in socially in a large school might be hard for her, but she will have kids to sit with at lunch and she’ll find a place to fit in as time passes.

In some ways, Connie seems like the prototypical child that BLS is built to serve, so…won’t it be an easy decision for Liz and I if the test results in a BLS offer? For me, at least, the decision will be more difficult this time. The question is not as much about whether or not Connie can “hack it” at BLS (although one can never really know how a child will react to that environment). It’s just difficult sending a second child to a school that has been so difficult for her brother. Vince’s experience there has also affected Connie. She’s by no means sure that she wants to go to the school.

If you have a sixth-grader who’s is thinking about exam schools, how will you make the decision?

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A smaller job…

One could not pay for the psychoanalysis provided by children for free (sort of).

When the Parent Imperfect is in Boston, he performs (with Liz) a prolonged morning ritual that involves getting Vince and Connie up, fed and off to school with their materials packed up and some sort of lunch in hand. Vince must rise at 6AM each day, but he is remarkably good about that. The PI remembers well that his mother had to consistently resort to tearing the covers off the the bed to rouse him. Does Vince like high school more than his father did?

Since Connie’s school is a “late” school this year, classes don’t begin until 9:30AM (usually later, because the school buses are always late). That means that she begins school well over three hours after Brother Vince first puts his feet on the cold floor next to his bed. This is huge chunk of the PI’s day. Imagine if his work did not allow him scheduling flexibility? Thankfully, Liz’s schedule has also been much more flexible since she left her job in July.

One wonders why the school day in Boston’s high schools begins so early each day, when research consistently suggests the biorhythms at adolescents, especially boys, favor lots of sleep and a schedule that begins later in the day. When asked why start so early, the answers given by the administration of Vince’s school have been two:

“Any change to something like the school start time is so complicated (transport, teacher schedules, food and other support services) that we can’t consider it right now.”

“Many high school students need to work after school, and a later start/end time would make that very difficult.”

How many BLS students have paid, after-school jobs? Vince, of course, should be going to school a bit later (8:30AM would be nice) and the “early” elementary schedule of beginning school at 8:30AM was fine for Connie.

In any case, while wading through this 3.5 hour “off to school” period on Thursday, the PI got into a “what I’ll do when I grow up” conversation with Connie. She has been quite obsessed with this theme lately. After all, she’s 10 now.

“I don’t think I need to decide what I’m going to be when I grow up right now.”

“Tienes razón, niña, pero ¿por qué piensas así?”

“Because…well, you probably wanted to be a professional baseball player or a writer and you’ve ended up being a consultant. I don’t want to set my sights too high.”

For the umpteenth time, she had left the PI with slack jaw…speechless.

Hearing no response to what was, for her, a perfectly obvious statement, she continued. “If I become an actress, I’ll be so busy that I won’t have time to do some of the other things I want to do, like piano and gymnastics, or hang out with friends. Maybe I should have a smaller job…like being a doctor.”

Laughing out loud is a great way to recover from a metaphorical kick to the stomach. There ensued a less emotional conversation about the importance of setting one’s sights wherever one wants to set them, and then it was time to head to the Hennigan.

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