By Muddy Waters
March tenth is an important day in the independent school world in that it is decision day. Schools have agreed on that day as a common deadline so they are on equal footing when it comes to accepting students. At Pike, we see that day from both sides, admitting some students here and watching our graduates find out where they will be going next. It is a time of anxiety, elation, disappointment and more.
Recently, as I talked with eighth and ninth graders around the campus, I asked them how it all went from their perspective. They began by talking about how careful they had been to follow our advice to be sensitive to the feelings of their peers. In a mailing to parents and students, we said, “For those who have applied to secondary schools as well as those who have chosen to attend public high schools or Pike ninth grade, this week carries a wide range of fluctuating emotions. Please honor each individual’s needs for privacy and support. This is a time to avoid the gossip of texting and posting to Facebook and other social networks; allow peers to share their personal news to whomever they choose. Until after graduation we ask that students not “sport” any secondary school items—hats, sweatshirts, drink holders, etc.—for doing so only generates hurtful feelings among peers. Likewise, we ask families to wait until summer to affix school bumper stickers to your cars.” Students took that information to heart and said it had been useful in helping navigate the range of emotions felt by their friends.
Two students spoke about their parents bringing up the topic of college on the day that they had received their secondary school admission letters. They thought it was funny and seemed to be laughing it off. But, as soon as I heard them, I knew I had my next topic for my blog. My advice would be to avoid the temptation to move on to the next goal within minutes of accomplishing the previous goal. Take the time to enjoy the moment and appreciate what has been accomplished.
What to do if the letter was not the one for which you hoped? All the schools to whom our students apply have many more applications than spots, which means that their decisions are often not about who could do the work at their school. Rather, schools must choose among many qualified candidates. Wait list status is the school’s way of saying that the candidate was qualified, but there was simply no room. Also, and more importantly, as anxiety provoking as this time is, it is a relatively small part of each child’s educational journey. A Pike education should not be evaluated in terms of a letter received in March of the eighth or ninth grade year.
At my previous school, we enrolled students in grades six through twelve. It meant most students did not have to navigate the admission process in the middle of adolescence, a situation I admit I much preferred. My fear is that just as students are developing their sense of self, they have to undergo a process that some see as the culmination of their Pike experience and a referendum on who are the winners – and for me that is clearly not the case. Pike’s 9th grade program offers the opportunity to postpone the angst for a year which often can make the “process” easier as the student has gained a better voice and sense of self.
The reality is that the majority of our students gain places in great schools. However, there are the inevitable disappointments each year. The good news is that we have seen time and again that the students who might not have gotten into the school at the top of their list go to the next school on that list, and because they are well prepared, find great success at that school, which in turn helps them love their new school. For twenty- one years, I have watched that happen time and again and am confident that it will continue to happen.