A Parent Perspective

Eva Valdes Akiyama For Parents

I come from a long tradition of public high school. My father was a high school teacher. I attended our local rural high school as a teenager. And I married a man who became a high school teacher. When we had kids, I happily enrolled them in public school as kindergarteners and didn’t feel envious of those who attended the pricey private schools in town. I never questioned that public school was the best option for us, and figured that was the end of it. Then my oldest hit high school, and we realized that he needed MORE – harder classes in the areas that he excelled in, more exposure to different-aged students, and better opportunities than our own rural high school could offer. 

Don’t get me wrong. I still love public school. I think it’s a great equalizer so that all kinds of kids sit next to each other, especially ones from different socio-economic statuses and different ethnicities. Our society needs that structure, available for every kid. When I was growing up, that was how I got exposed to things like other religions, other colors of skin, other standards of living. But even so, public high school can be a rough place. You’re only grouped with same-aged kids, and the social pressures can be relentless. Stress in high school has skyrocketed. What’s good for many just isn’t good for all. Although my kids did well enough in school, I could see that they had academic and social needs that weren’t being met. My son developed a deep interest in science, and high level science courses weren’t offered at his high school. My daughter wanted freedom to explore writing at a college level, away from all the social expectations and annoying high school rules. So we started looking to see if they could take classes at our local community college. 

When we started the early college process with my son, it felt like I was suggesting that he visit Mars. Take college classes in high school?? No one seemed to understand why we wanted to do that or how to provide us with help. It’s not that the high school was unsupportive; they just didn’t have much assistance in place to help us navigate. That’s not their job. We had to figure it all out ourselves – how to register, how to choose classes, how to hit high school graduation requirements and be college ready. I felt overwhelmed, and I was working at the community college as a faculty member! I can’t imagine how confused I would have been without my basic understanding of the community college system. Lots of people don’t even know that you can attend college without a high school diploma. Even so, I had a lot of worries as a parent. Was I doing the right thing? Would this be a good opportunity, or was I setting them up for failure?

Things turned out great. My son was able to take science and math courses from both the community college and the local 4 year university. He met new people, and thrived in the academic environment. He learned deeply, far beyond what his high school could allow. Best of all, he came out with a year and a half of college credits that helped tremendously during his first year of college under COVID restrictions. He was fortunate to earn a Presidential Scholarship to our state university, which fully pays his tuition and fees. I firmly believe that his Early College success was the deciding factor in him earning that award, which has been a financial game-changer for our family. My daughter, who never loved school and has always chafed against busy work and hoop-jumping, is finally engaged in her college writing class. She can now see herself as a successful college student, when she used to feel ready to bail on college entirely.

I can’t say for sure if Early College is right for your family. I know there are a lot of factors to consider, and it can feel like a huge decision to make. But for my family, for my two very different but deserving teenagers, it was the best move we could have made. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. The only part I wish was different is that I could have had more support and guidance. That’s what’s so exciting about Jump Ed – we provide that support! It’s like having a copilot for that trip to Mars. Do you need a copilot, or just a warm, friendly mentor on this journey for your teen?