Last week I sat next to my son in Herriman High School’s Tech Atrium for a meeting put on by his high school guidance counselors. The topic—what you must do to get into College.
Few parents joined an audience of glossy-eyed students barely able to hold their heads up with their hands—it wasn’t too early in the morning, but then again in teendom, it’s always too early.
The counselors—a mixture of males and females wearing matching polo shirts and jeans, all in their mid to late thirties—took turns in front of an oversized and out of focused projection screen at the front of the room. Each presented obstacles that must be conquered before one could go to college.
The gist was that Colleges only looked at you if you have a high grade point average (G.P.A.) and ACT score. The numbers that were repeatedly thrown around the meeting were a 3.7 G.P.A. and a score of 30 on the ACT (36 is considered a perfect score for the American College Test).
One counselor went on and on about his experience working in the admissions office at a local college up north. An applicant with a 3.7 G.P.A. had taken the ACT several times coming away with a score of 30. On the kid’s seventh attempt receiving yet another 30, the college went ahead and “gave him” a Presidential Scholarship siting an “A for effort” attitude.
I gazed around the room. The meeting wasn’t attended by 3.7 average, multi-ACT-taking students. In fact, the audience majority were kids who seemed to have a language barrier when it came to hygiene. But, they were there–by themselves–and didn’t have to be.
As the lecture continued the same counselor—the apparent college administering god—stated to the crowd, “You know, school’s really not all that hard. If you decide to work hard, you can get the grades it takes to get into college.”
What? If you decide to work hard, you can get good grades? If you choose to get a 3.7 G.P.A and a 30 on your ACT, then and only then, you can go to college? The words rang rancid to me.
I barely graduated high school. I got an 18 on the ACT and had no intention of going to college—why would I? In high school, I didn’t qualify to take Honors classes of any kind. And year after painful year, I sat in remedial math classes attended by kids who dropped acid (F.Y.I. I never did drugs and had no excuse like brain melting remedies to fall back on).
Once in eleventh grade, one math maven posse accused me of purposely failing a quiz because I knew he was cheating off my paper. I was flattered he thought I was failing on purpose! Yep, that was me in the kind of classes taught by teachers who seemingly either lost a bet or were teaching the windowless-basement dwellers as academic penance.
From seventh grade on, I was tagged as one of the underachievers, the lazy—an unmotivated stain within the academic biosphere.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that my husband encouraged me to enroll in a junior college. Dishearten and scared, I went.
Every day I was sick to my stomach. Every class I white-knuckled my way to the next. I had to start at the bottom rung of most subjects with the threat of taking a Math class looming on the horizon.
In college, I was shocked to discover I have learning disabilities—ADHD and a form of dyslexia in which I transpose and transformed numbers regularly–it was like solving algebraic equations with music notes. No wonder I hated math!
Junior college took time for me to complete, but I did it, graduating with a 4.0 G.P.A. I was given a Presidential Scholarship of $21,000.00 to a prestigious Liberal Arts college, too.
Maybe my success had to do with maturity? Perhaps it was a patient spouse turned special tutor who poured over every concept with me? Possibly, it was that as an adult, I had stability and was able to get the help I needed.
Sitting in the audience at my son’s high school, among the mangy looking and seemingly dim-witted, I saw myself. When the concept of not working hard enough was to blame for student grade failures, my heart broke. It was a lie.
Who knows why some kids are the way they are? What if financially, they could not afford the cost of taking the ACT again and again? Who knows the issues certain kids face during school or when they go home afterward?
Last school year, seven Herriman High school students died from suicide. Didn’t they work hard? Wasn’t every day just trying to move forward hard? These kids were working hard to stay afloat, to stay alive until they couldn’t fight anymore—I recognized my teenage self in them as well.
After the presentation, the students were supposed to go to their perspective counselor to look over their transcripts and talk about a possible future. Those kids, the mirror image of the ones I spent most of my high school with, the ones who were me thirty-years ago, stood up and left. I did nothing. I said nothing. Why?
Every day, even as an adult, even with years of experience filed in between high school and now, I worry about my intelligence. Self-consciousness, anxiety, and fear are my companions with every thought, big or small. I’m concerned with being seen as ignorant and stupid. I worry I’m not seeing the whole picture—that’s there is a missing piece somewhere. This haunts me, even though as an adult I’ve had plenty of evidence to show otherwise.
All weekend, I stewed over the meeting. I’m disappointed I didn’t say anything. Why didn’t I challenge the idea that school is easy for those who try?
I’m also disappointed that these guidance counselors—the ones who are supposed to be advocates of success—the people of the school slated to help with student issues didn’t say something different.
They should have said, “Anyone who wants to go to college can—we can show you how!”
Because everyone—anyone, can go on to a different life, a brighter future, a better circumstance than they might find themselves during high school—even someone like me.