When I was a Staples High School student — back in the previous millennium — the annual ritual of selecting courses for the next year was not a high-stress activity.
We were allowed to choose our teachers — first-come, first-served — so that was a big factor. So was making sure we picked courses we were genuinely interested in.
If we were smart, we chose AP level. If we were bright but not brilliant, we chose A level. If we were lower on the IQ charts, we chose B, C or even D levels.
As I recall, I spent as much time selecting courses as I did deciding whether to eat at Dairy Queen or Carrol’s.
These days, course selection — which starts in 8th grade, not 9th, because freshmen are now in high school — is an activity filled with anxiety and fear.
What will colleges think? Do I have enough APs? Is Honors-level good enough? What happens if I get a tough teacher and end up with a B+? I wish I could take another art or music course, but I really need that science. Sure, all those courses are a lot of work on top of my sports, but what else can I do?
Somehow, in some insidious way, choosing classes has joined the list of new pressures weighing on Westport teenagers. It’s there every day, along with social media and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), drugs and alcohol, and the treacherous relationship terrain that now includes sexting, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
This week marks the start of the scheduling process for next year. Staples students — and 8th graders — begin meeting with school counselors. They’ll attend Curriculum Nights, and pore over course brochures.
They — and their parents — have tons of questions. They’re fearful of making the “wrong” decisions, which they then fear may impact the rest of their lives.
The Staples Resilience Project tries to ease those fears.
Working with teachers, parents and the community, the Resilience Project is a guidance department-led effort to help students find balance, strength and direction on their journey to becoming well-adjusted, thriving adults.
The other day, the Resilience Project sent an email to parents. It said:
It’s not easy to help our children to strike the best balance between appropriately challenging academics, their extracurricular activities, enjoying family and friends, and managing to re-charge their batteries with the 8-9 hours of sleep that teenagers are recommended to have! We’ve been wrestling with these concerns for years.
Included was a link to questions and answers about the course selections:
How much should I push to ensure that my child takes the most demanding course load that he can? Let your child take the lead. He or she is the one walking the hallways, and understands the work entailed. The guidance department helps students find the right match.
Will my child be in over her head if we override her teacher’s recommendations? It happens. Some students override and do well. Many do not, and find themselves stuck in a class that is far too difficult for them — while unable to move to the level that is truly appropriate for their learning style.
Do colleges prefer to see a B in an AP class, or an A in a regular level class? Nobody really knows. Many colleges will say that they want to see all A’s in AP classes — even when, according to all our data and experience, that doesn’t accurately represent the academic records of their admitted students.
Will my child get into a “good” college if he doesn’t have x number of honors and/or AP classes on his transcript? Yes. But much of that depends on how narrowly you define “good.” There are many hundreds of good colleges in the US. Great educations are achieved by millions outside of the most highly selective colleges.
What do I do if my child insists on a course load that is too heavy for her? You are the guardian of your child’s health and well-being. The academic portion of her life has to leave space for her physical, social and emotional development. Your child still needs time to sleep, relax, have fun with her friends, and connect with you (over anything but school!).
Those are great recommendations!
I give them all an A+.