So much has been written about the highs and lows of the teen years, most of which focus on the emotional turmoil that can throw many parents of 12-15-year-olds for an unexpected loop. But adolescence is a time of individuation where young teens strive to establish their own identities and grow into their own true selves. The brain is still forming and making important connections that if, nurtured, can help students learn productive habit-forming activities that will serve them throughout high school and college. The process of secondary school placement is one such activity that can leverage a young teen’s natural propensities and embrace all that is good about this critical growth period.
First and foremost, middle schoolers are more capable than you might think, especially if given the appropriate tools that are too often neglected until they reach high school. According to studies conducted over the past 10 years, “the teenage brain has lots of plasticity, which means it can change, adapt and respond to its environment.” So what if instead of raging against the machine, you taught to it?
Most children don’t go through a placement process until college, but schools that end in at the end of eighth or ninth grade, have a placement process built into the educational experience. While this may seem daunting to some parents at first, secondary school placement provides exponential value for children and their families. K-8/9 schools can leverage the natural ability of middle school students to quickly absorb and apply their learnings by guiding them through a process that focuses on their favorite subject – themselves. Here’s an overview of the invaluable lessons the secondary school process can teach your child.
Change Provides the Lift They Need
As students change and morph in myriad ways, so too do their visions of themselves. However, institutions and social groups maintain a ‘status-quo’ mindset. Changing schools, just as the student grows into that new body and a new attitude, is a gift to a child that wants the freedom to have new experiences.
Breaking out of an established mold can be hard for a young person but kids can more easily adapt if given the tools and family support to make a change that will help them grow into the best version of themselves. For instance, maybe your child is known for being a jokester and now wants to be seen as more serious, but is hindered by the natural inclination of the setting to expect jokes. Maybe your child was always shy and now wants to find a voice, but is hobbled by his friend’s surprise at each utterance. Or maybe your child just wants to get beyond old baggage from some ‘dorky’ years. Changing schools provides a fresh start in a new environment flush with new friends, teachers, and ideas free from expectation. This serves as a turbo boost that expands their social pools, sparks their ideas and creativity and exposes them to new experiences all of which sets the stage for optimal growth.
Self-Reflection Drives Emotional Awareness
Secondary school placement is about finding the right fit for each individual child. By virtue of changing schools, students engage in guided self-reflection, which elevates the natural process of individuation. Between the ages of thirteen to fifteen, students reach a moment of maturity in which they can be reflective and analytical about their experiences and preferences. As a step toward finding the next school, students must consciously and deliberately examine and articulate their preferences and aspirations. All you have to do is ask them to do it.
At Rippowam Cisqua School, our placement process begins with in-depth conversations and writing assignments that challenge each student to think about what he/she has done in and outside of school, what he/she has enjoyed and would like more of, what he/she hasn’t taken to, what he/she would like to try more of, what teaching styles and learning environments have worked the best, what size, mix, or location is preferred. We ask our students to answer these critical questions:
- What do I like?
- Why is it important to me?
- Where do I hope to see myself in 5 years?
- How will I get there?
The outcome is a ‘Personal Statement of Fit’ that truly empowers the student. With this, students not only set out to explore many wonderful secondary school options but also have a better understanding of themselves. The process of self-reflection, that launches the search process, coincides with and elevates, a natural time self-discovery. The outcome is greater awareness and empowerment throughout high school as well as far more meaningful and invested high school experience.
Making the Choice Empowers and Delights
There are many similarities between high school admissions and college admissions. Both are based on grades, standardized test scores, essays, and teacher recommendations. The benefit of the secondary school placement is that students get the opportunity to rehearse these elements so it will pay off in the future. Here’s how:
- GPA: Early decision and early action options have changed the game for college applications. Students could be accepted to their college of choice before they start their senior year. Therefore, earning a strong GPA in ninth or tenth grade is even more important but can be weakened by an immature performance if they are not prepared to step up in high school. Students who go through the secondary school placement process out of middle school learn the importance of GPA building early without the pressure to perform. As a result, achieving peak performance becomes a learned habit that seamlessly translates over to their freshman year and beyond.
- Testing: Standardized testing is rarely a student’s favorite application element. Yet standardized scores can be a driving factor in admissions. Students coming out of K – 8/9 schools have the benefit of having faced, and mastered standardized tests specifically for admissions. Prep schools require either the SSAT or the ISEE and so students learn to prepare for these tests including how to sit for these long exams, how to pace themselves, how to interpret their results, and how to target their efforts. This experience puts K- 8/9 students a step ahead of the competition.
- Essays and recommendations: The more qualitative aspects of an application, essays and teacher recommendations, are just as critical. If students have already pondered essay topics, identified teachers who could advocate, and found the courage to ask for a recommendation, then it will be easier to do when it’s time to do the same for college. Having done this once before with success, students experience less stress, are more optimistic and confident in their abilities, and have a clearer path to completion.
Sending your child to a school that ends in middle school has tremendous advantages both long and short term which may not seem obvious until you dive into the details. When it comes time for college, imagine how much confidence your family will have in identifying fit within a pool of thousands of colleges, having already built an application profile that includes GPA, standardized test scores, essays, and recommendations. This is a K-8/9 differentiator unmatched in K-12 schools.
While change can be scary, it can also be a great catalyst for building confidence and independence in your child. At a time when young teens are going through many changes, guided self-reflection can help them (and you) sort through their emotions and channel their energies into positive life-long habits while ensuring they stand out, cut through the clutter and end up in just the right place to secure their future success.