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Choosing a High School: Why We Let Our Son Have the Final Say

By Jennifer Arnold

Whenever I envisioned discussing school options with my son, I imagined a day far in the future with college brochures and financial aid forms spread out all over our dining room table. I did not expect to be having such a conversation with him at thirteen years of age.

Choosing a High School

Earlier this year, out of the blue, he expressed his desire to go to one of the biggest public high schools in our small city. We had assumed he would continue at the small charter school that he has attended for the last three years, but apparently, he had other plans.

He told me that he wanted to go there because several of his longtime friends were also going, and I fought back the temptation to roll my eyes and throw my hands in the air. I reminded him that if he went to this school, he would be going from a class size of 18 to being one of several hundred in the freshman class. I also rattled off some other details that I thought he had overlooked, such as he wouldn’t be able to receive the individual attention of his teachers anymore if he was struggling. He would be going to school for six hours a day, and then have to do homework at night as opposed to doing two days of onsite classes and a majority of his schoolwork at home. It would be a huge adjustment.

He was undeterred, however, so I made him a deal. He would need to come up with a list of valid reasons (that did not involve “because my friends are doing it”), and he would need to attend the school’s upcoming ninth gradeorientation. I told him that after he had done those things, we would sit down and have a chat about it.

Making a Deal

The next week I drove him to the high school, and we watched as busload after busload of local eighth graders pulled up to the entrance of the gymnasium. I threw a sideways glance at myboy and could tell by the expression on his face that he was beginning tograsp the reality of his potential decision. I fully expected him to balk once he realized how different this school would be compared to the intimate, close-knit environment he had come to know and love in the last few years. But, typical of my first-born, he is full of surprises. He came home two hours later even more resolved to become one of the newest members of this high school’s class of 2022.

Later that night, as promised, we had a discussion. He presented a strong argument with a list of legitimate reasons why he felt that he should be allowed to choose the next step in his educational path. First, he told us that he truly wanted a chance to experience a large public school. He explained, citing examples from the school’s website, that he would have more options in terms of academics, electives, and extracurricular activities. Attending this school would better prepare him for college because he would already know what it’s like to be one of many, many students on a big campus.

He also felt that going to a bigger school like this would help him learn to be more independent by having to manage his time and take ownership of his schoolwork. He also promised that he would take advantage of the drop-in tutoring the school offered if he should ever run into trouble.

The Right Choice

I sat back and listened, impressed at his maturity and the amount of thought and research that he had prepared to persuade his Dad and me that choosing a high school for himself was the right decision for him. He was advocating for himself and doing a darn good job of it. In all honesty, I could have put my foot down and said “no,” or “just wait another year,” but I would have been doing that for me, not for him.

We did lay down some ground rules. His grades need to remain a priority, not his social life. If we saw drastic behavior changes, we reserve the right to pull him out. He also needs to attend for at least a year. We told him it was normal to feel overwhelmed at first, but he needed to give the school a fair chance to be able to decide if he wanted to stay, or not.

No matter what unfolds for his high school career, if my kid puts forth the same effort as he did in convincing us that this was the right school for him, I think he will be perfectly fine.


Jennifer Arnold

Jennifer Arnold is a freelance writer from Northern California. She has been featured in North State Parent MagazineComplex Child Magazine, and several other publications.