Remember that early parenting moment where your child falls and skins her knee for the first time and looks to you to gauge an appropriate response? Should I cry? Am I going to be OK? The calm, quietly attentive parent lets her daughter know, yes, there is a little blood and maybe even some stinging, but you will make it. We learn early that our child’s reactions will mirror ours. Our resolve or, alternately, panic, will become theirs.
Every March, a dozen or so former students wander back over to my middle school classroom to give me their college news. While most are ecstatic, there are always a few who are devastated. More often than not, these students point out that their parents are really disappointed. I wonder, is this a case of a parent’s panic being reflected through the student? Is the young adult really as dejected as he seems? Yes, college is more consequential than a skinned knee. Still, I have seen this student in action for years – conquering a difficult project, experiencing an unsuccessful student council bid, or maneuvering social upheaval. He has had practice in succeeding, failing, persevering, and staying engaged. I fundamentally believe he will be OK and probably thrive. Even at his second or third choice college.
Luckily, I have the December and January visits still fresh in my mind. Last year’s senior is now soaring as a freshman. “I am so excited about the language program – I can take classes in both French and English!” came the report from a student attending college in Canada. “I get to shadow the robotics team at a competition in April,” declared a pleased freshman now on the east coast. From a student in southern California, “I found ‘my people,’ Ms. Raf. Everyone I meet has some kind of combined major.” The angst of not being accepted at one particular college is forgotten as I am regaled by stories about the roommate, the lab schedule, or (my recent favorite) the great cafeteria food.
I know a skinned knee hurts. By now, your high school senior has had, hopefully, a few literal and metaphorical skinned knees, and she can understand both from your words and your loving support that she will survive. Ideally, your child has a network of adults – an advisor, past teachers, a coach – who can remind her of this message. Plant the seeds of next year’s conversation now – What drew her to the school to which she was accepted? What is she most looking forward to? Are there local alumni from that school who might be willing to meet for coffee? Who, among her teachers or advisors, will be excited for a full report in December? I, for one, can hardly wait to hear . . .
Stephanie Rafanelli is both a school coach and a parent education facilitator for Challenge Success. Stephanie has been a middle school science and math teacher for nineteen years. In addition to almost two decades in the classroom, she has served as department chair, both academic and also grade level Dean, a parent and faculty educator, and a leader of curriculum reform. She has founded and run several summer and afterschool programs such as Sally Ride Science Camp for Girls and Menlo Summer Explorations. Stephanie is an educational consultant for multiple organizations. When she is not thinking about education, Stephanie is usually creating chaos with her three children.