Tag Archives: parenting

Raising a Non-College Bound Kid in the Age of College Readiness

It was the final home swim meet at my son’s high school and they were getting ready for the senior recognition ceremony before the start of the meet. All the seniors were lined up and the coach started reading off their names and which college they were going to in the fall. Some were going to UC Davis, others to Cal Poly, one had a scholarship to Pepperdine, and several others were headed to Santa Rosa Junior College. A few were going to swim in college but most were not. Then she got to Louis. She didn’t know what to say so she just called his name. Louis filled in the missing information, “I’m going to work.” The same thing happened a couple of weeks later at the league championships. During a break in the middle of the meet all the teams represented in the league lined up their graduating seniors. They called their names, their college choice and even what they were planning to study. The coach got to Louis, called his name, and then awkward silence.

Here is a typical conversation I have heard many times this year:
Adult: What are your plans after high school? Where are you going to college?
Louis: I’m going to work.
Adult: So you aren’t going to college?
Louis: No.

Adult: {stares back not knowing what to say}

Adult: Oh, so you’re going to work for a while to save money to go to college?
Louis: Maybe. Not sure. Just going to work for now.

Adult: {stares back not knowing what to say}

After observing countless conversations like this over the past 12 months I have found it very interesting that many adults don’t know how to respond to this. One went so far as to tell him he would regret his decision. (This was in a written evaluation from a panelist for his senior project presentation.) I will admit that I have grappled with this very conversation myself. My versions go something like this:

Friend: So what’s your son doing after high school?
Me: He’s getting a J.O.B.
Friend: Working for the summer before he goes to college?
Me: No, he’s not going to college.
Friend: Oh, so he’s staying home so he can save money for college?
Me: No, he’s not going to college right away. {I throw that last part in so they stop asking questions.}
Friend: Oh, so is he going to Napa Valley College?
Me: Nope. No college. Just working.
Friend proceeds to tell me a story of someone they knew that didn’t go to college that is doing really well. I try to change the subject.

Working for an education non-profit that promotes college readiness I have grappled with the knowledge that my son is not going to college. How does that look to actively promote college readiness at work yet know that college is not right for him at this point in his life? Should I have pushed him harder in school? Is he going to end working at a gas station for the rest of his life? Will he be doomed for to a life of living paycheck to paycheck because he didn’t go to college? These are the kinds of questions that go through my head on a regular basis.

I know that college educated adults earn more money than those with only a high school diploma but how do we come to terms with the fact that there are many kids that graduate from high school that have no desire to go to college, that college may not be the right choice for them? Are we adequately preparing them for work? With the push for college readiness I worry we are losing site of career preparation for those students that don’t want to go to college right after high school.

And how do we, as an education community, celebrate those students’  achievements? For many, just graduating from high school took a lot of really hard work and they can feel secondary to their classmates when others are recognized for their college choices at school wide rallies and senior recognition events. We need to honor the success they have achieved in high school, not just the plans for the future. College is an incredible opportunity that we need to encourage and promote but I want us to remember that there are many different paths to success and happiness. We don’t all follow the same route.

Every year, in my son’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings his teachers would ask me what were my goals for him. And every year I told them the same thing. I want my son to grow up to be a caring, socially conscious, respectful, hard working individual who contributes to the betterment of society. As we approach his high school graduation this week I reflected on that list of goals I laid out when he was in elementary school and I can proudly say he is well on his way of achieving them.

Relationships are assignments

I still remember the day like it was last week. It was after school and my son and I had stopped at the store to pick up a few things for dinner. We were, of course, in a hurry, had to get to karate class. As we were walking out of the store he dropped his stack of 60 football cards. Scattered. All 60 of them.

I thought to myself, “Why does he have these stupid football cards? He’s only 7 years old. We don’t even watch football in our house. Why on Earth would the teacher give them to him?”

As he started to pick them up he took his time to arrange them so they are all facing the same direction. One card at a time. “This is going to take forever and we don’t have forever. We have to get to karate.”, I thought to myself.  I immediately start to get angry and try to “help” him and then it struck me. I would have done the same thing. I would have taken the time to make sure they were all in the right order. I would have made sure they were facing the right way. Why? Because it makes me feel grounded and centered. That was when I realized that my son was not so different from me. Yes, he might be diagnosed with a “non-specific learning disability” (whatever that means) and struggles with auditory processing and sensory integration but he really wasn’t that much different from me. The moment I realized that my empathy for him grew.

We discovered over the years that allowing him to learn and develop at his pace led to much greater success than trying to make him conform to benchmarks aligned with his grade in school. I am convinced that giving him that freedom allowed him to develop at a much faster rate than relying solely on formal interventions. Patience, love, and acceptance were the common denominators of his early education. Those aspects allowed him the space to grow and find a level of success that I had prayed so hard he would experience.

Fast forward to high school and I am revisiting that football card lesson of acceptance all over again. I was feeling myself start to push him more. I wanted him in different classes, to think about college, and what it took to get there. I was pushing him to train harder with his swimming in hopes of getting noticed by colleges at some point. Parents always worry about the post-high school years but I was projecting all of my fears for him in the future without being still with the present. I could feel the anxiety build up in my throat almost to the point where I felt I couldn’t breathe properly and couldn’t speak my truth. So I got still. I listened to my heart and heard the message I heard nine years earlier.

Let him be who he is. Embrace him as the individual he is and let him flourish on his own terms.

He is no different from me in that he wants to feel grounded, centered, and accepted and pushing him to do more than he was developmentally ready to was not the way to go. He is an individual and comfortable with who he is as a person and that is all any parent could ever hope for their child. Why couldn’t I be happy with that? He has helped me become more in tune with myself and I am thankful for that gift. I heard someone say once that all relationships are assignments and each one has a lesson to learn. I have so much more to learn from my son and I am grateful for the opportunity.