by Joyce Szuflita
Sometime during the week of March 10 8th-graders will get a letter telling them where they have been accepted to high school.
Here's what normally happens: The kids at public schools are given sealed envelopes in school that hold the results of their SHSAT tests, whether they have been offered a seat at one of the specialized high schools and their match - if any - from their main 1-12 application. The kids are instructed to wait to open the letters when they get home. Yeah, right.
They are dismissed, and the second that they get outside the school building, they rip open the letters and there on the sidewalk in front of school, the full range of human emotion is played out in public; tragedy, euphoria, jealousy, hatred and deception all bathed in a river of tears.
High School Hustle columnist Liz Willen wrote about this several years ago -- in Choice and Crying Teens -- and the problem still persists. It is ugly and it is up to you to stop it. You must either convince your child NOT to open the letter in public (good luck) or you must be there to whisk them away to a safe place to celebrate or commiserate in private.
Here is the problem: teenagers think in black and white. Most KNOW that they will get the school of their dreams and that their friends will all be as happy for them as they are for themselves. On the other hand, they may KNOW that they never get anything that they want and life is out to get them and they are sure that they will be disappointed. On Letter Day, in public, the kids who are happy with their placements can't celebrate in the way that they should because their friends are miserable. The kids who get good placements, but not the ones they want, will be brokenhearted - even though they got great news. The kids who are disappointed in their placements -- or are shut out altogether - often lose it, and sometimes lie about where they got in (all of which only adds to their humiliation).
You must make them promise to walk away with the envelope intact. Find a quiet space, at home, with you or not, where they can open the letter and cry or shout with people who can love them out of it. Then...at 5 o'clock, they can Facebook or text everyone, after they have calmed down and considered.
The schools can't control what happens outside the building - only you can. You could shake your fist at the sun and curse this horrible system, but that won't help anything. It is what it is. If your child's life was an uninterrupted meadow of rainbows they will be thoroughly unprepared for what is thrown at them later on. Teach them how to handle disappointment with grit, good humor and ingenuity. This placement is no reflection on their brains or previous hard work - there is a significant amount of luck in this process.
Try and convince your child to see this for what it is; a large and imperfect system, that has offered them an opportunity to think about what they may want as students in high school. Then encourage them to make the best of the opportunities that have presented themselves.
On a practical note, if your child is really disappointed, or receives no offer at all, the Round 2 fairs for new high schools and those that still have seats, will be held on from 11 am to 2 pm March 15-16 at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School at 122 Amsterdam, Manhattan.