It happens to me every year. December rolls around and everyone begins to hang out the holly…it’s Christmas. But, in the midst of all the cheer, I find myself working on organizing a school fair or reading a story like the one in the Chicago Sun-Times recently about parents desperately searching for a high-quality school environment for their children and I am suddenly transported back to the winter of 1998 and 1999 when I was in 8th grade. Suddenly, I am struck afresh by the stress of the school search process in Chicago. Thousands of young people experience it each year; stockings hang on mantels and lights hang on trees from 79thstreet to the loop…as their futures hang in the balance of a school admissions decision.

I didn’t really understand it when I was in the 7th grade. I mean, the teachers and the counselors told it to us over and over again from the beginning of the school year. “The grades you get this year and the scores you get on the standardized test will determine what high schools you get to select from.” They told us how high school was going to be the most important decision that we will have made in our young lives. But, we were 12 or 13 years old. We didn’t understand.

I understood it a little better when I came back to the 8th grade after summer vacation. All the talk from the teachers and the counselors now was about applying to high schools. My scores were in and they were great. My 7th-grade transcript was set and it was equally good. The beginning of 8th grade was a little emotional because all of my classmates either experienced the joy of knowing that you have a chance to get into the very best high schools that the city has to offer, or the onset of a real sense of worry. A lot of the options that some of my friends had dreamed about (or at least that their parents had dreamed for them) were off the table.

The question seemed to linger over every single day of 8th grade; sometimes spoken, more often not, “what high school am I going to attend”?

Read the rest of the story by Chris Butler at Chicago Unheard.


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