The 7th Grade Blues, When It Just Didn’t Add Up (for the first time)

It can be a rough tumble from top of the heap to just another face in the crowd. It’s a lesson Daughter and I have both experienced — actually, she’s experiencing it now.
Many years ago, I yawned my way through the first six grades of what was then elementary school. Interesting aside: In these days of VPK, PK, K, etc. — Kindergarten was optional when I was 5 years old. Optional as in my first day of 1st Grade was the first time I’d ever left home and stepped into a classroom. Miss Betts, Mrs. Crewe, Mrs. Malone, Miss Victor, Mrs. Patton, Mrs. Bruce — these were my teachers, 1st through Sixth Grade. Easy to remember because there were few out-of-class experiences.
It was the 1960s, and only white kids went to Oak Grove Elementary. Wasn’t too tough to achieve back then. The neighborhoods sending children to fill the classrooms discouraged — blockaded? — families of color.
I’m off topic again. But it does bring me to the point I wanted to make.
By the time I hit 6th Grade, I was bored. Where there should have been challenges, I opted to fill the void with misbehavior.
Someone suggested I apply for a scholarship to an elite private school in the area. It involved testing, interviews, financial disclosures from my parents. It took a while, but I knew by the end of 6th Grade, I’d earned a seat at the new school.
Small classes, term papers, peer discussions, lockers, dress codes, rich kids, children of color — and for the the first time, kids who were smarter than me.
You could say 7th Grade was a wake-up call, and it took me a while to find the alarm clock.
Today is a rippled reflection of the experience. Daughter went to a charter school with a challenging and stimulating academic environment, for 6 years. She was one of those kids that teachers always told you, “Ï wish I had a full class of students like her.”
She was bright — often brilliant — and encountered only one academic challenge. I’ll protectively attribute that to teacher incompetence.
Six years of uniforms, caring teachers, fertile academic environment, smart friends … you could say she had it all.
When our life changed and we moved to another state, Daughter enrolled for 6th Grade in a highly-rated public school.
Not quite sure how the school earned a high rating. The course work sub-par, the teachers were disinterested (to the point of not showing up for Parent-Teacher meetings), no uniforms, and drawing from a much broader demographic/socio-economic pool. She knew students who’d been held back, one, two times. Students who did no work and earned all Ds and Fs. There were fights.
We believed this was a backslide year for Daughter. It was like going from the Olympics to sack races at a backyard barbecue.
We searched earnestly for a middle school/junior high with a 7th Grade that would be a better match for her potential. Daughter was accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at a highly rated Junior-Senior High School.
Then, there was that 7th Grade wake-up call.
She mastered most subjects, but it was more work. She’s still adjusting to that.
She was catapulted from a ho-hum Math curriculum into Honors Algebra. That meant no Pre-Algebra, no Algebra I — a class with 8th grade-plus expectations. After swimming in shallow water, she suddenly, for the first time, was in the deep end. She received grades we had never seen before. She thought hard about giving up, and taking a step back.
I didn’t tell her, but 7th Grade Math was a nightmare for me. It was the first — and only — time I’d failed a class. I was stubborn and close-minded. I was on the bottom of the deep end, and refused to come up for air.
By the end of the 1st Marking Period, Daughter’s Math grade had inched its way up. A 2-point extra credit bonus pushed her grade for the 1st Quarter up to a B. It was close. Now, she needs to maintain that upward momentum. She knows that. But I still wonder if she’s made the commitment she’ll need to keep driving up that grade.
I know she’ll show me the academic action she has determined. When you get down to it, only she can control this.

3 thoughts on “The 7th Grade Blues, When It Just Didn’t Add Up (for the first time)

  1. Interesting essay, Charlie.Reminded me of some of my own grade school/jr high experiences. Perhaps the losers are the kids who snooze through 12 years of unchallenging schools and never really learn what learning is.

  2. Hi Charlie, After all these years I remember your challenges and mine at Tatnall  where the difference between public school and private was self evident, at least to me. Anyway I think Ms. Em is up to the challenge with the reinforcement you and Andrea give her.  

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