Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

High School Is a Time for Growth

By Anne Macleod Weeks — February 12, 2003 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Ninth grade. Age 14. What a wondrous year. I remember the thrill of moving from classroom to classroom and having free periods to hang out with my friends. We began to have parties that moved beyond just listening to the new James Taylor album with a bunch of other girls, to coed gatherings where we danced and missed curfews. I smoked my first cigarette behind the football field of a local prep school during a Halloween dance. I was secretly in love with a boy named Jimmy who had long hair and deep brown eyes. The whole transition to high school was about maturing, finding my way in a new, more adult world, and adjusting to a whole new set of academic expectations.

High school should be a chance to enjoy a waning childhood, to find oneself, and to begin to understand where one is headed in the future.

My grades were good for the most part, but there was definitely a slip here and there when my mind was more on being a teenager than the upcoming Spanish test. I know I passed Latin II by doing reams of extra-credit vocabulary work to offset my less-than-stellar test grades. I also know that this was pretty typical behavior for a high school freshman. When it came time for applying to college as a senior, I had grown exponentially. I had a solid record from sophomore year on and had managed to distinguish myself in extracurriculars. I was admitted, early-decision, to a very competitive university.

In my eyes, this is much as it should be. The 9th grade should be a transitional year during which teenagers are allowed to search for their niche, develop an identity, and begin to formulate their goals for the future, a future to be secured in college. Ninth grade should be a time to make mistakes and learn from them under the kind guidance of a faculty adviser. After all, do average 9th graders really have the maturity to see the long-term consequences of spending two hours on the telephone with a best friend, talking about their latest crushes, when they should be studying for the music-survey test?

Fast forward to the new millennium. I am a seasoned college-guidance counselor. I have a handful of seniors who have superior SAT scores, excellent grade point averages in advanced courses, and impressive extracurricular programs. In this group are two scholarship students, two accomplished actresses, one composer-performer, one class president, one national-diversity-workshop facilitator, one experienced political-campaign comptroller, and two students from highly sought-after minority groups.

It looks like a year for banner acceptances to highly competitive universities; yet, when the letters come in, there are more wait lists and denials than in the past. I am aware, because I do my homework, that demographics are such that many have predicted this would be a tough year. Yet, what I find most disturbing is the very consistent response I receive from admissions representatives when I make that usual call to get an explanation for the difficult decisions. Consistently, I am told, “She had a C,” or “She had D,” in her 9th grade year. This is true for some of my students. One had been at a large, inner-city high school, and her quiet demeanor had kept her from seeking help in a difficult class. Another is dyslexic, and despite being diagnosed as a student who should be exempt from foreign-language study, she stubbornly marched forward, earning a low grade in her first year, but becoming an honors language student in the subsequent three years of study. In none of these profiles did the student have anything but stellar grades from the 10th grade on.

The message this sends is of concern. If we are unwilling to allow a 14-year-old to make mistakes and then learn from them, are we saying that that 14-year-old is an adult? An adult who should have the foresight and discipline to know that he or she will want to enter an Ivy League university four years down the road, and who will truly understand what that means? When colleges tell students to take the most challenging course load in high school, why do they then use a lesser grade in that challenging class as the hook to explain a denial? Should high school be all work and no play? Are these the kinds of pressures that are inflating grades, leading our students to choose more destructive behavioral paths, and driving an industry of test prep?

In a recent faculty meeting at my school on choosing awards, a wise and experienced teacher said this: “High school is a time for growth, and as such, we should always be considering the end product when discussing awards. Since we are here to help the student grow, in our evaluation, let us look at the point the child has reached, not just where they came from, but to where they have arrived.” If every 9th grade student were already perfect, already disciplined, mature, and goal-oriented, why would students bother with high school at all?

As a society, we need to return to a kinder, gentler, more forgiving womb within which our children can take steps, fall, learn, and grow. We need to look at the whole child, celebrate his or her strengths and successes, and support and understand his or her trials. High school should be a chance to enjoy a waning childhood, to find oneself, and to begin to understand where one is headed in the future. The college-application process, in conjunction with this, needs to be less about numbers, lists, and reputations, and more about proper match, individuality, and delighting in the unique accomplishments of each child.

The college-application process needs to be less about numbers, lists, and reputations, and more about proper match and individuality of each child.

I will continue in college guidance, despite my frustrations with the system. But I will also become more aware of the universities that are willing to celebrate a child’s growth over four years. And I will encourage my students to seek learning environments that find joy in the individual who is a whole person, who knows failure and success, and who understands the sweet taste of that success all the more for having survived disappointment.

And when I look back, 10 years from now, I hope I will see that, ultimately, these seniors have been successful—that the actress, the politician, the budding congresswoman, the musician, the stockbroker have continued to grow and are successful members of society, having come a very long way since that 9th grade year.

Anne Macleod Weeks is the director of college guidance at Olfields School in Glencoe, Md.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management What the Research Says 5 Things Schools Can Do This Summer to Improve Student Attendance Next Year
Schools can get a jump on student attendance during the school year by using data, leveraging summer programs, and connecting with families.
6 min read
Julian Gresham, 12, left, works in a group to program a Bee-Bot while in their fifth grade summer school class Monday, June 14, 2021, at Goliad Elementary School. Bee-bots and are new to Ector County Independent School District and help to teach students basic programming skills like sequencing, estimation and problem-solving.
Julian Gresham, 12, left, works on a robotics programming activity in a 5th-grade summer school class June 14, 2021, at Goliad Elementary School in Ector County, Texas. Active summer programs may improve students' attendance during the school year.
Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP
School & District Management Grad Rates Soared at a School Few Wanted to Attend. How It Happened
Leaders at this Florida high school have "learned to be flexible" to improve graduation rates.
8 min read
Student hanging on a tearing graduate cap tassel
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Don’t Just Listen to the Loudest Voices: Resources for Ed. Leaders
These resources can help school and district leaders communicate with their communities.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Jenny Portillo-Nacu
5 min read
A pair of hands type on a blank slate of keys that are either falling apart or coming together on a bed of sharpened pencils.  Leadership resources.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management The Harm of School Closures Can Last a Lifetime, New Research Shows
The short-term effects on students when their schools close have been well documented. New research examines the long-term impact.
5 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020. A new study examines the long-term effects on students whose schools close.
Jessie Wardarski/AP