Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Consider that myth of sophomore year being the easy one thoroughly debunked.

It's. Not. Easy. At. All.

Earbaby is approaching the end of her first term and some of those grades just don't look good. She has some A's, a B or two, and then there are some classes where she isn't drowning, but she is floundering. We're now in tutor-searching mode.

But first, back to that myth.

EB had a tough freshman year. Even though as a freshman she had been at this school two years already, she found an incredible increase in the workload. Add to that the elimination of one of the terms, meaning the remaining four would be longer. In theory that would only help with more time to grasp the material, and more time to get back on track if that midterm progress report wasn't too encouraging. She worked really hard, but she was really stressed. The third term, always the one where she stumbled and fell off the grid, was still hard. But she persevered and ended the year on the honor roll.

Her reward, she was told by those students a little older, was that sophomore year was much easier, and the hard work didn't pick up again until junior year, when everyone is starting to turn their sights toward college.

She has since realized that particular sentiment is as real as cute long-eared rodents leaving you candy in a basket during the spring or an overweight older gentleman squeezing down a chimney to give you (expensive!) toys in the dead of winter.

EB is taking some classes that I struggled with myself, and others I wouldn't have even thought to take. But there is more math and science required for college entry these days, and she is after all, in an exam school where undoubtedly everyone is expected to go on to higher learning.

But the main problem is one that is controversial and has been for many years -- homework. Some schools have tried to eliminate homework altogether, the subject has become so intense. Other schools (like EB's) seem to believe that hours of homework every night is essential, along with special projects during all school breaks, including summer. I'm solidly in the middle. Yes, I believe homework should reinforce the learning in the classroom, but no, I don't believe any child should stay up four or more hours for a workload that sacrifices sleep, family time or any down time at all.

EB tells us she's so stressed because all she thinks about is homework. Granted, she is one overscheduled child. She takes five dance classes a week, helps in another, is a cheerleader, goes to dance team practice when she can, and when she can't, it's because she is going for afterschool help from one of her classes where she's struggling. Homework is done on the way to dance class, on the way home from class, during dinner, before bed, and then finished up in study hall.

Yes, she could eliminate some of the activities. But then, all she would have would be -- homework and worrying about homework. With no gym required any more (and we wonder why our kids are getting heavier) the only physical outlet that she has to de-stress takes time away from the stressor, which adds to her anxiety. It's an incredibly vicious cycle.

And of course, she's still wanting to spend some time with friends, with weekend parties, with outings, with being a teenager.

Halloween is in a couple of days and she was already talking about a party she had heard about. We weren't keen on it, because details of the who, what, when weren't forthcoming. Then the football team qualified for the playoffs, with their game scheduled for Friday night. That problem solved itself.

But the main problem won't go away. It's time. Not how to fill it, but how to manage it. As the American Pediatric Association goes on record saying that teenagers need about 9 1/2 hours of sleep a night (they're growing like toddlers you know) and that the optimal time for their learning actually is closer to 8:30-9 a.m., schools continue to pile on the paperwork, expect and encourage extracurricular activities (it looks good on your college resume), and start school before 7:30 a.m. EB must wake up at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. to get to school on time. Many of her friends, also early risers, stay up doing homework until 1 or 2 a.m.

No one seems to be paying attention to what is actually best for learning and growing.

These first term grades will be tough for EB. But we're going to have to keep her chin up and do all we can to guide her through this rough patch. And truth be told, I've been in the workforce almost 40 years. No employer has ever refused to hire me because of that C I got my first term in geometry.

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