Just before winter break, my 6th grade son received his first letter grade report card. He was excited; I was filled with dread. I wasn’t dreading the grades themselves, but more the idea that he has entered a phase where it “counts.”
As a parent, I struggle to find the balance between high, but appropriate, expectations and unneeded stress. As a college counselor, I know that those letter grades, no longer “successful” and “meets expectations”, on the report card can start to close doors down the road. Should my son apply to private high schools, his grades will become an important part of that evaluation. Struggles in Spanish this year may lead to a weaker foundation for his foreign language study in high school. Tracked math classes put some students on the road to high school calculus, and therefore more prepared (and competitive) for entry into the more selective undergraduate engineering and business programs.
I’ve tucked these thoughts into the back of my mind. My son has been on dozens of college campuses with me, but he’s never taken a tour. He can tell you a lot about any number of NCAA football teams and the colleges in the Final Four. Fortunately, he can’t tell you about their admit percentages, average SAT scores, or US News rankings. Those aren’t topics of dinner conversation in our house. He knows that college is a place of opportunity, and that there are hundreds of schools he might choose to attend.
My son has found a number of things that he enjoys pursuing, both academic and extracurricular; we encourage those passions as best our family and budget can accommodate. While a part of me cringes when I see him reading Percy Jackson for the umpteenth time (reading correlates with SAT scores, after all), I let it go. Life is more than an SAT score, and college planning in middle school is best limited to supporting students while they follow their passions.