The helicopters pads are started to fill up again, the blades are starting to whir. The gentle purring of the the tigers is beginning to turn to a low growl and the claws are slowing emerging.
Walt Whitman High School opened a few weeks ago and for the first time in seven years I do not have a student enrolled there.
My children attended the high school about which The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids was written. I can’t provide you with a review. I think my bookmark is still at page 10. My son was about to start freshman year, and the book simply made me too anxious.
Walt Whitman is known as one of the best public high schools in the country. People move to neighborhoods with the sole purpose of being in the Whitman “cluster” thereby ensuring their children’s academic future. Sometimes they buy houses they don’t even like, but, by God, they are in the right school district. College recruiters light up when they see an application from Whitman. Students get a few extra points just for going there, in addition to the fact that their grades are very high and their SAT scores off the charts. The student body is dense with genius and sparse on density.
I have nothing but praise for Whitman. My children got an excellent education there and made friendships that will last a lifetime.
But Whitman is stressful. Being so smart and self-aware, even Whitman even knows it is stressful and is doing something about it. There is a “Stressbusters” committee for parents; and last year a period of mindfulness was incorporated into several classes.
There is something for everyone at Whitman, drama, robotics, fashion design, computer science, business internships, student government, international community service trips and a range of academic offerings sure to satisfy any brainiac and his or her helicopter or tiger parents. The kids have a tremendous sense of school spirit, and regularly break records for fundraising efforts.
Once in the Whitman community, you receive on average 15 daily emails: did you pay your PTSA dues, did you subscribe to the student newspaper, did you eat at a certain local restaurant to raise funds for x y or z club, did you pay for the parking pass, did you know the boys’ volleyball team is the playoffs, did you get your health forms in and have your baseline concussion testing, did you want to sign up for a trip to France during spring break, have you paid senior dues, returned all your books? Will you go to club night, international night, homecoming, prom, take the spirit bus to support the girls’ soccer state championships? Do you know a good physics tutor, a chemistry tutor, how about a writing coach for college essays? The artistic talent flows in that school just as thickly as IQ points. The annual student-run Talent Show approximates a Broadway production, and can sell out a 1,000 seat auditorium for up to three nights.
The County has developed two tools of torture that can cripple a stress-prone parent. About as much fun as water-boarding, Edline is a program that lets parents access daily reports of every grade in every classroom. It fluctuates wildly like the stock market. This can be a blessing and a curse, there is kind of mother (whirring sound) who checks Edline every day and confronts his or her child about a missed homework assignment or a poor grade OR the kind of mother I became with my second child, unplugged from Edline. He shot my helicopter right out of the sky. I have to thank him, there was a corresponding drop in my blood pressure.
Whitman will host a meeting for parents and juniors on how to navigate the college search process. At this meeting you will be handed a sharp and dangerous tool called Naviance. This program allows you to compare your student’s GPA and SAT to the records of how Whitman students fared in college admissions over the past five years. My favorite moment at Whitman was when I left that meeting and was followed by a member of the Stressbusters committee who drove up beside me on a residential street and raged about why that meeting is always geared to the student with the 3.75 grade point average. I wanted to tell her that’s who the audience is; if a kid who attends that meeting with a parent, there’s no doubt he or she has at least that kind of GPA. Most parents come alone.
When the bell rang on the final day of senior year, I felt as if I had finished a marathon. I felt as if were the graduate, flooded by relief. When I see the WHSS bumper stickers on cars I can only read the acronym one way: Whitman High School Survivor,