Your School of Choice

Q: My eighth-grade daughter is now in the process of applying to high schools and the pressure is beginning. Her elementary school has no continuing high school and it’s like we are starting from the beginning, again. I am quite concerned, because the school of choice for many of her friends may not accept her. Her grades are good but not straight A’s and the parent body of the school seems to be much wealthier than we are. I see that it’s not a simple thing to get a nice, smart girl with middos tovos into a high school. I guess there are a finite number of openings, and that’s it. How should we proceed?

A: Every stage in life has its challenges, and the tremendous brachah of “ken yirbu” which we are experiencing now, bli ayin hara, can be a challenging one for Klal Yisrael.

It takes much energy and mesirus nefesh to launch a new educational institution. People often complain about what is lacking in every school; thus, running one can be a thankless job for administrators. Existing schools often have many more applications than available spaces.

As in every area of our children’s lives, we need to feel we have done everything possible to provide them with the best chinuch and peer environment. No stone should be left unturned, no matter how exhausting and seemingly endless the process is, in trying to get one’s child accepted into a desirable school. You can go in person to a school to get an application, if it’s being denied. Or you can get people to call on your behalf — especially a well-respected person who can speak specifically of your family and child’s middos and abilities. If nothing else, your child will see how important she is to you, and in truth, no one knows which effort will be the one to cause a school administrator to have a change of heart.

However, davening to be admitted to a particular school is similar to davening for a particular shidduch to be successful. No one actually knows which school or shidduch will be best for a particular child. We need to daven for our children to be accepted to the school where they can best develop themselves in all areas — not to a specific school. A child can be in the “best” class in an exclusive school, and be anxiety-ridden because of its competitive nature! A girl’s best friend can befriend another, and the child left behind might be unhappy about this throughout the school year. A class can have many cliques, and a child may feel excluded socially.

On the other hand, a girl in a small and unassuming school may get to use her abilities much more. She may have a role in a school play or be part of the G.O. — events which would not occur in a more competitive, high-pressured school. A child’s self-confidence can blossom, her actual academic ability may improve, and her concentration and focus become strengthened in a different, possibly less stressful, environment.

In truth, the most important need of a high school student is to be part of an appropriate peer group. And that, too, needs siyatta diShmaya. A group of students may enter high school one way, and come out looking somewhat different four years later.

In terms of schools themselves, in the teenage years, children need to learn from sincere and inspirational adult role models. Hopefully, in this way, our children will learn to develop their spiritual and academic potential.

May Hashem direct your child to the school where she will be most successful.