Participation Awards

Interim report cards came home on Friday and, between two kids, we had success in 13 out of 14 classes. The 14th class? Record breaking in the wrong direction. We’ve never scene a percentage that low. Like, low enough for the number to be unable to see the lower end of an F no matter how far up it looked. Unfortunately, this appeared on the interim belonging to the child prepping her college applications. Oh dear.

The thing is – we, the parents, are not even that upset. Zoe is – she’s in a bit of a well-deserved panic.

We (okay, I) actually stopped stalking her grades in the spring of last year after realizing we were way too invested in whether or not she kept them up. Sort of the old ‘it’s your future’ parental drift into the backgound. Last year, I did take the occasional peek – but each time I mentioned my findings was shooed away by Rich. Leave it up to her, he’d say. This year, I really have just stayed out of it. Part of my parenting exile that’s ended up being very refreshing.

So, for once, we had no idea what was coming home – until Monday of last week. Only by chance did I open her Powerschool (the keeper of all grade related things here in Hanover County) – to grab the email address of one of her teachers to send a ‘Zoe had an alarm mishap’ alert. While in there, I had a total accidental glimpse of a couple looming F’s.

I kept it to myself, though, for nearly an hour. I’d promised to stay out of it this year. Stayed silent. Sixty minutes. Then I couldn’t take it and told Rich what was coming – but with the ‘I’m such a casual parent’ disclaimer of ‘hey, let’s not say anything just yet – she always comes through in the end.’ And she did, in one end. But not the other, that F showed up bright and burly. We did what any good parents do – printed the interim report card on Friday and then left it sitting on the dining room table all weekend. I didn’t even realize what we were doing – I thought I was just leaving the conversation up to Rich. Apparently we were actually brewing a low level of fear as to when that conversation would take place.

I did leave it up to Rich. The explanation was what we’d expected – she’d skated through the summer and into her senior year without completing any of the summer reading and associated projects.

Here’s where the story gets a little weird. 1. The conversation was very short – Rich told Zoe it was up to her to pull her grade up – she’s the one trying to get into college. B. We actually only hold her partially accountable (though we didn’t share that with her). Before you ask when we started passing out participation trophies, let me explain.

We figured out a few years ago that this is how our schools train our kids.

For eleven grades, Zoe has been able to turn things in late or bomb tests with very little consequence. For eleven years, she’s been able to get at least partial credit (generally a minimum of a C) for any work turned in prior to the close of the grading period – regardless of whether she turned it in when it was do or turned it in the day before the cut off. For eleven years she has relied on test corrections to beef up any scores she wasn’t (or her parents weren’t) thrilled with.

This year, she’s come across a teacher who has a firm policy of late items and is sticking to it. So, for the first time, Zoe has truly been dinged for not being prepared. The timing is horrible, obviously, but we’ve never been the parents to run in and ask for grace when the true reality is that our kid screwed up. Yet I also understand where she dismissed her summer work for more time with her friends as, in the past, she’d always been able to throw a Hail Mary.

We love our schools. We love our teachers. We live in a great district – one of those where people move their families in because the schools are that good. But I do think that in an effort for good numbers or accreditation or however schools are rated, we’ve dropped the ball by giving out too many passes.

We’ve heard inklings of the same over the years, from teachers, counselors and other parents. Indications that teachers were discouraged from giving out low grades. That they are told to always offer extra credit. That in the middle school, students intentionally didn’t get much homework since there was so much to deal with socially. Yes, please, give our teens and pre-teens all the time in the world to figure out all the loopholes in human nature. I kind of lump it into the same pie as ‘oh, hello thirteen year old, welcome to a world where you can be/get whatever you want. Oh, you want an A? Okay, let me bend here and stretch there and *poof* you’ve got an A!’

I can’t imagine being a teacher. It is hard enough for me to handle the same two kids every day – keeping track of moods, meals, clothes, appointments, sports, work, volunteering – let alone thirty different kids every ninety minutes for nine months at a time. I have two teenage personalities I hardly understand. There’s no way I could learn nearly a hundred in the first weeks of school and then keep up with them all year long. No, I don’t want the job. I only want to send in limitless praise and classroom supplies and come navigate the copier a few times a year.

But I do want my kids to learn accountability. And, yes, they do learn it at home with various forms of teenage torture, such our Amish Grounding (losing anything with a plug or battery – like anything) or gaining extra chores or the opportunity to share their allowances with each other. But home accountability is different – the kids don’t (and won’t) equate it to anything having to do with their lives outside the nest (until they are, in fact, outside the nest).

We got a glimpse of success when Zoe spent her 2018 summer at the Governor’s School at Radford – sending home pictures of the very organized side of her room compared to the Lawd-what-happened-there side of her roommate’s.

The bummer is that by the time Zoe started understanding school accountability, she was in the meat of SATs, college research and learning what good grades really lead to. Unfortunately, it’s come at a time when she is on display – when it does matter to those making decisions on her next steps.

And, again, poor Zack… I joke about ‘we’re going to get it right this time…’ but there is a very real sense of learning from our own mistakes and those that the school may have made. There’s no ‘oh okay, as long as you work it out before report cards.’ I will, however, be releasing myself from grade-sitting duties a year or so earlier with him. Letting him make his mistakes before the eyes of admissions officers across the country find him.

We don’t know how Zoe will fix it. We just know she’ll need to figure it out on her own. And she’ll probably feel more pride by figuring it out herself than simply responding our pestering.

2 thoughts on “Participation Awards

  1. The participation trophy is certainly a faulty concept. Which most likely has its roots in good intentions. However, that does not insulate this practice from detrimental results. Beyond how participation trophies influence performance and achievement later on in life there are other considerations.

    Guilt would be one of the more oblique considerations. Anyone with a conscience feels guilt when they obtain something they didn’t earn. That can run the gambit from verbal praises to promotes, etc. Kids are no different. Even if it is at a deeper subconscious level it racks children with guilt. Children much like adults have internalized our unwritten norms, values , and virtues. While it might be fun to be a winner for a moment if it isn’t substantial true the high is short lived. The facts of reality set in and joy is rapidly fleeting. Most things that are contrived and insincere are ethereal. Therefore, are short lived and paired with a stifling crash.

    1. We’re not finding guilt (just yet) – more confusion as our child finds that life outside the high school bubble isn’t as generous. Her college apps are not going well – as she hasn’t met the needed standards and is learning that she’s entered a world where there aren’t do-overs or mulligans. I do feel sorry for her – and pretty frustrated that her school was instrumental in getting her here.

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