Saturday, March 5, 2016

High School

When I was growing up, I lived in a house, I went to the school in which my house was assigned. I went to the elementary school, then the middle school and finally the high school.  I did have one special circumstance. I knew I wanted to be involved in choir in high school.  The process went like this: you sang in the middle school chorus and then your chorus teacher worked with the high school music department in recommending you for one of two choirs--an all girls freshman chorus and an SATB chorus that was the pre-chorus to Varsity (juniors and seniors).  

I did not participate in choir in middle school because, frankly, I thought the chorus teacher was looney tunes.  I am sure my Mom helped me arrange an audition at the high school.  I headed over and sang a bit for the music director and he matched me with a chorus.  That was it.

Here in New York City it is a whole different animal. Compared to my experience, it's a beast.

It begins with the school handing you a 3 inch tall high school guide.  It has every public high school listed in this book (which became known as "the bible" in our family).  A friend of mine ended up with 2, and that's how I got mine! D's school didn't even give her one.  She attends a private school, I assume this is why.  I took this as a bad sign, so I began making contact and researching the process almost a year in advance.  I knew that the point person throughout this process was the school guidance counselor. I knew her school didn't have a school guidance counselor!  There is NO CONTACT between school and's only through the middle man at your child's school.

We started reading up on all of the high schools we had heard of, some we had not, and browsed the giant bible dog-earing pages and taking notes.  We had about 6 we were interested in and each had a different process, different requirements.  Some were independent of every other school, others were all grouped in the same group.  One school had this message on their website: choose a monologue from a published play, not from a monologue book, and NOT Luisa's monologue from The Fnantasticks.  But, in the bible it said: perform the monologue, Luisa from the Fantasticks or from a monologue book!

I had a feeling I knew the Bible in this case, was missing some plain and precious parts! (mormon humor)

The point is, there were many details and dates and requirements to keep track of. I needed copies of report cards, standardized tests. Some high schools I had to call for an appointment, others the "guidance counselor" (who ended up being D's volleyball coach) had to submit, still others were just a show-up situation--if you live in this borough, you audition on this day!

I read and re-read and wrote everything down. I interviewed everyone I could think of who had been through the process.  I trained a few girls the year before for the same auditions D would have.  I attended open houses and asked questions.  I purchased plays and read them and tried to find good songs and monologues.  D and I started working together in the late summer on voice lessons.  She and her violin teacher picked out a piece to focus on.  We figured out that for 4 weekends in a row she would have auditions.  Some would involve a dramatic monologue, some would involve learning a dance and performing it.  Some would have an accompanist there to play with her, others would be a cappella.  

Our motivation really came from a concert we attended at a school where we expected would be her first choice. We watched that concert and left with metaphorical jaws dropped. We were so impressed and we both wanted it.  As her current private school repeatedly approached me about taking a meeting, attending an information session, observing high school classes...I repeatedly turned them down. NOTHING you can say to me, show me, explain to me, will impress me more than that concert. Also, you want $40k from me, and they want $0- This is a NO BRAINER.

I am so glad we saw that concert. We both kept that in the distance as we worked hard for these experiences.  

As we peeled back the layers of this process we learned a few things.  A certain small group of specialized high schools are independent of the majority of the DOE high schools.  Her top choice was in this group.  They hold their auditions and let students know if they are accepted. They communicate in conjunction with the DOE, but do not group themselves with the majority of the high schools. How can I explain this better?

D had a list of 5 schools she was interested in.  Most of these schools maintain this position: If you do not list us 1st, we will not even look at your application.  We had a school we were medium interested in, but when we realized there was a 3 step process to be considered and we didn't want them #1, and they wouldn't consider us if we didn't put them #1, we took them off the list. NOT worth the stress or time.  In retrospect, we probably should have done this with the whole list, and just listed our #1 and then one non-audition, non-test school that didn't maintain the same position--as a back up.  

Her auditions ended up occurring in the same order she ranked them! Crazy! I am a fan of going first, getting things over with...but I wasn't sure if her FIRST CHOICE school should be the first audition!  She hadn't auditioned or been in a situation like this in a long time (the only thing similar was her twice yearly music evaluations in elementary school k-5), and I wanted her to get her feet wet with a school she didn't care as much about.  

However, there is no changing the situation, her first choice was the first audition!  2 weeks before the audition she fell ill. She ended up missing an entire week of school and did not practice or even rise from her bed for nearly 2 weeks. All I could do was pray.  Part of me thought it was psychosomatic, but then her sisters came down with the same virus and experienced a similar fate.  They were sick while she was auditioning. I consider it a blessing she fell ill with just enough time to recover before these auditions began.

The day finally came and she was still dealing with some phlegm issues, but we had no choice.

That first audition was also the most grueling of the entire process. 2000 kids for about 5 studios (btw, that was the first session of at least 8 for that school) lined up outside, kids on the left, parents on the right. We entered the building together and were immediately separated.  I knew it was going to be a full day so I packed her ALL THE SNACKS.  I told her to leave her cell phone in her bag, stay engaged, make a friend.  I went to the cafeteria and watched the crazy nervous parents.  I saw parents frantically trying to figure out how to get their children food because they didn't realize what this day was??? I was astounded at the LACK of preparation. This is serious business you guys!

We were told in no uncertain terms and repeatedly, do not wander around the school. "If we find you in a student-only area your child will be escorted out and disqualified."  At one point I wanted to step out and get lunch. I was walking in the stairwell trying to find my way out. I passed level 1 (sometimes level 1 is above L (lobby)) and was about to open a door because I had reached the bottom level.  A staff member came out and questioned me and I told him I was looking for the exit and we both agreed "that was a close call". Like, it seriously was.  I could have blown it for her!

After 3-4 hours I received a text: "finished vocal. nailed it." RELIEF!

Another 3 hours passed and she came up to the cafeteria reporting that she made some mistakes on her instrumental audition.  But after watching kids reunite with their parents in various states of emotion-elation! tears! I felt really great that she had had a wonderful day. She did it!

The next 3 weekends got progressively less great. In one she had an accompanist that played really fast --actually many children were complaining about how hard that was as they exited.  The final audition was a disappointment. She was not impressed, and they kind of blew off the dance audition - "some years we do it, some years we don't" What?  She learned a lot about each institution from going through the process, and I really valued her insight.

By Thanksgiving it was done. So we waited. And waited. And waited. And hoped and prayed and dreamed.

And then suddenly we got the news! She got into both studios she auditioned for on that first grueling day after fighting a wicked virus for two weeks! Her first choice! She also got into the instrumental studio at her first choice on the OTHER mainstream application.  And you never know if 2-5 wanted you, because that is not how it works.  

3000+ kids audition for less than 200 spots for the vocal studio alone. The odds get better for instrumental...but she matched BOTH!  Most of the kids from her musical elementary school also got in to this school, so she will reunite with some of them in the fall.  At her present school none of the kids who tried, were matched with their first choice.  Some of them didn't match because they didn't have good grades! That is part of this whole process as well!  D thinks that as much stress as going to her elementary music school caused, it was the perfect preparation for this experience.  She said 80% of this process is knowing how to audition.  And she's right!  She and I should open a consulting business for kids who don't have parents in the business or kids with talent but just don't know what's ahead of them. Ha!

I received an email last Friday telling me the news. D was at school and was planning on going straight to a party afterwards. I decided to meet her during her lunch hour so that I could tell her in person. Unfortunately her teacher told her in the mid morning so as to congratulate her and also communicate the message that her classmates may be disappointed in their results and to be sensitive.  As if I would not have counseled the same thing!!!!!

 After all we went through (I mean, if you have read this far you feel me), I was extremely disappointed that her teacher took that away from me.  D knew I would be upset so she "saved up her emotions" for the moment when we saw each other. Sidenote:  I modeled healthy emotional behaviors and did not dwell on this seriously serious disappointing feeling.  

Months before this news I had a necklace especially made with a symbol that represents her school. I wanted to give it to her when she found out. I wanted her to know that I believed in her and knew she would get in.  At least I got to give that to her, and thats when she cried.

I didn't cry. I don't know why. I just kept thinking of that lyric in Hamilton: "pride is not the word I'm looking for, there is so much more inside me now."

And one more thing. I don't know how much I wrote about the ending of her elementary school experience. But in a nutshell, my daughter was legitimately screwed over. We were given very little time to figure out where in the world she would go to middle school. She ended up at a beautiful private school that took great care of her these past 3 years.  So she took a (very expensive!) detour to end up right where her classmates did, having stayed put.  And she has a handful of years experiencing something else to add to the richness of her educational/city experience.

As a Mom raising her kids in the city. This is a big moment for us. This is a big deal. I feel so much more calm and collected about the other two kids finishing their school journey now. I feel like it's all going to be okay.  I am so proud of my baby girl and I am so looking forward to her very bright future starting this fall!

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this. It's a completely different world from suburbia, Utah! The necklace part got to me. What a sweet gift of confidence in your daughter!