I just walked two blocks up the street, walked in the front door of William Tennent High School, and that was that. Even when my parents rudely picked up our lives and moved them to Broken Arrow ("Arruh"), Oklahoma, there were still no complications. There was one huge high school in town, and I attended it--even though the school only offered first and second year Spanish, and I was hoping to take fourth year. And even though the girls basketball team played using archaic half-court rules for girls. (I am not even kidding. It was like we had not only moved halfway across the country, but backwards in time as well. To the Victorian Era.)
Here in Chicago, the road to high school is a bit more complex. The eight selective high schools in Chicago use a thousand-point rating scale to weed out
The selective high schools, plus a few non-selective schools are the ones that you want to aim for in the public school district that Secretary of Education William Bennett labeled the worst in the nation in 1988. Things have improved since then: last year the State Board of Education ranked three CPS schools (Northside, Payton, and Young) as the top three high schools in Illinois.
The selective high schools accept fewer than one out four applicants; the process is more competitive than most colleges. My talented son, C. Peevie, although a stellar human being and an excellent student, will none-the-less not have his pick of any high school. He will have to go through the lengthy process of visiting, applying to, and testing for any school he's interested in attending, including up to four selective schools. We've been told to apply to a minimum of four high schools to ensure that at least one gives us the thumbs-up.
Our weekends for the next six weeks are booked with high school open houses. Most of the selectives won't even put you on the short list unless you list them as your number one choice--which puts even more pressure on us to do the application process exactly right. If C. Peevie is borderline qualified for a couple of the top schools, he could theoretically lose out on both of them by listing the wrong one first.
No matter which high school C. Peevie enters, he will be navigating public transportation to and from school. Barely 14 years old, he will be riding the bus with cubicle-dwellers, barristas, homeless people, maids, artists, and college students. He might sit down next to a gang member, a really smelly guy, or a stock broker. He'll be exposed to a lot more Life than I ever was at age 14--or age 24, for that matter.
Actually, he's already doing this once or twice per week, to get home from his relocated middle school after flag football practice. I probably should have been worried sick the first time C. Peevie hopped aboard the Foster bus all by his lonesome--but I wasn't. When I learned that he actually got on the wrong bus, headed east instead of west, I retroactively worried--but there he was standing in front of me, telling me how he asked the bus driver if he was headed in the right direction; hopped off a half-block later; and eventually, two buses and a short walk later, made it all the way home.
C. Peevie is resourceful, smart, cautious and brave, and I could not be more proud of him. And in ten short months my sweet baby boy will be a big-shot high school kid, and that, my friends, is a punch in the gut. In a good way, of course.