7th Grade Is the New College

Looking toward the future

Looking toward the future

Next year, my son will enter middle school. And in learning about middle school, I realized middle school, at least in our school district near Seattle, is not middle school as I knew it. It’s more intense. There’s not a lot of fooling around. You have to register for classes. You create your own schedule. Classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays are longer, the others on weekdays, shorter. There are a wealth of electives to register for. Different levels of band and orchestra and ensembles to audition for. Life Studies classes like how to be an Office Assistant. How to manage one’s life. Yoga and Walking as P.E. Mandarin language is a common language requirement. In short, there are a lot more choices, a lot more to explore, and in turn, a lot more responsibility. You have to know now, at age 12, what you’re really interested in so that you can focus on that. It’s kind of like college for smaller people.

This came as a mild shock to me. In the last few weeks, my husband and I have been attending the open houses at my son’s future middle school and reading through the course catalog. If my son takes symphonic band, he will automatically begin his day at 7a.m. on two days, as Stage Band is an elective in addition to regular band for everyone, which occurs during the day. If he auditions and gets into Jazz band, which his trumpet teacher thinks he’s good enough to do, his day will start at 7a.m. four days a week. Ugh.

If he wants to take a year-long elective like French, which we’d like him to do since he’s a dual citizen (American and EU), that leaves no room for P.E., which he would have to make up around 7:30am a few days a week. The good news is his French class credits can transfer to his high school transcript (already!) and not only fulfill the first-year requirement, but boost his high school GPA. If this sounds complex, it is! It’s been making my head spin.

But if he takes a year-long language class, he’ll have no room to take Engineering & Robotics, a STEM class he’s most interested in. And so we’re considering skipping French this first year and allowing him to explore robotics, which he already fiddles with in his bedroom with his electronics kit. Not to mention Art is out the window, which he also spends hours in his room fooling with. He loves to draw and could immensely benefit from formal instruction. Oh well.

Then there’s the core classes. A new dilemma. He’s going to take Compression Math, a shorter math curriculum that combines three years of math into two years. We’ve decided this is probably important to take. No, not important, vital. If he doesn’t take Compression Math, he won’t be able to take Algebra in a timely fashion in high school, and then Geometry, and ultimately, would miss out on Calculus. If he misses out on Calculus, he might score low on his SATs and not get accepted to the University of Washington. The University of Washington! A state school that yes, has a great reputation, but is now, somehow competitive and difficult to get into! And so, thankfully, he’s interested in and advanced at math (not super hero gifted at math, but very competent at and very interested in), so with a Dad who’s going to help him, here we go…

I haven’t even gotten to the Honors classes, in everything, which we’ve been told by friends with older kids, that all curious students should take. And though he loves to read, we’ve decided to hold back on everything Honors except Science. It just seems like with Compression Math and Band and electives, it will overwhelm him. It does me. I don’t remember even thinking about my college future in 7th grade in the early ’80s. It just happened. My mother didn’t worry about it. Nor did I. Ah, the good ole days of a non-competitive, relaxed educational life.

After school is the time for sports and activities, making music activities occur early. If he takes Track or Tennis, which he’s interested in doing, he’ll have a packed day. Where will be the time to just build stuff with Legos like he does now? Or lounge on a lawn chair for hours and read The Hunger Games? I’m worried about him having downtime. Being a kid. Being free. And yet I’m worried about him being behind in the competitive environment we now call high school and college. Where does a mom draw the line? When do we think enough is enough? As his education gets more advanced, it seems enough is never enough for this 21st century, adult world.

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