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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Riding the high school application roller-coaster

Our daughter, Ariella, is in 8th grade this year.

For those of you living abroad this simple statement probably doesn't mean much.  But most of the Israelis reading along are probably already nodding their heads in kinship and empathy... because they know that 8th grade is the year of the high school application nightmare.

High school in Israel begins in 9th grade, and the application process and accompanying pressures are roughly triple what I remember from my days of applying to university.  Not only are kids not automatically guaranteed a spot in the local high school... but the nearest school may not have anything appropriate to offer a particular child.

There are specialty high schools that focus on just about any subject you can think of, ranging from engineering to theater arts.  There are high schools with higher academic standards... and those which are what one might euphemistically call 'safety schools'.

Unlike, say, in the U.S. where a university student with four more semesters before graduation might still not have decided on a major, most Israeli high school kids will not only have narrowed down their choice of potential high schools based on knowing 'what they want to do when they grow up', but they will likely carry a double, or even triple, major to increase the chances of getting a good 'package' (a firm written offer of a desirable and/or prestigious job/unit) in the army and of being a better candidate for university.

The pressure begins towards the beginning of the school year with the discussion of what schools are out there.  The students, teachers and parents begin building lists of schools to which applications will be submitted.  Some will be local... others might be in a nearby city or even at the other end of the country (requiring a dormitory stay).    Each student is encouraged to narrow their focus to four or five schools, with one or two being their 'top choices' and at least one being a 'safety school' in case nothing else works out.

Countless hours are spent on student-teacher and parent-teacher meetings where the student's strong and weak points are picked over with little tact or sentimentality.  There are endless 'parent's evenings' where each school gets an opportunity to explain their education philosophy, goals, curriculum and the kind of graduates they strive to produce... as well as why they only accept the best of the best.

Once the applications are filled out (with fees, of course), admission exams are administered, transcripts and recommendations are submitted, and the waiting and speculation begins in earnest. During this period of relative inactivity, parents and students spend countless hours discussing how many spots each school has open for incoming students in the coming year and how many kids applied to compete for those spots.

Those who pass the first stage of the selection process at a given school are invited in for face-to-face interviews.  Sometimes the interviews are conducted in a group format (meaning several perspective students being interviewed at once by a panel of school staff) and sometimes it is just the lone student facing the panel.

Ariella applied to four schools; three 'elite'  (meaning very competitive) schools and one safety school (a good, but relatively new school with somewhat more flexible admission standards).

So far she has gotten a rejection letter from one of the elite schools (which kicked off an evening of inconsolable tears and self-flagellation), and one acceptance letter from another elite school (resulting in euphoria, dancing and more tears... this time from happiness and sheer relief).

We haven't heard from the other elite school or the safety school yet.  This complicates things since the acceptance to the one school is contingent upon returning a letter of intent and a hefty deposit (by registered mail) by the beginning of next week.

What if we don't hear from the other elite school by then?  Will we regret making a hasty decision?  Do we hold out for the other elite school and risk having Ariella end up attending her safety school if the other elite school doesn't accept her???

I may not live through this process.

Posted by David Bogner on January 24, 2008 | Permalink

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Nooo, but if you don't live through this, you're going to miss out on A. dancing over her cum-laude high school diploma (tears of joy and all)!

Oh....

...metaphor talk...


....ok.

Posted by: a. | Jan 24, 2008 2:13:37 PM

Congrats on the admission to the elite school!

I take it that Ariella would prefer the OTHER school from which you haven't heard, and that the one she's heard from isn't her first choice.

Can't advise you since I haven't been in this situation. I'm sure you're not the only people who have faced this before. How about calling Ariella's guidance counselor and finding out what is the standard procedure when this happens?

Posted by: Sarah | Jan 24, 2008 2:33:23 PM

You're right-it's definitely not like this in the States but the gap between experiences isn't as wide as it once was. I doubt there are so many kids who haven't chosen a major halfway thru school. From my experience running a summer teen tour to Israel, it's depressing how few kids (and their parents) see the value in a life-changing experience like a group trip to Israel at this age because they need to spend the summer interning at a law office (at the age of 16). Kids in America don't get to be KIDS anymore like we did.

But yeah, your experience sounds unpleasant for all parties involved and unfortunate for what I recall teenage years being like.

Posted by: Benji | Jan 24, 2008 2:43:39 PM

a. ... Funny. :-)

Sarah... Depends on the day. Most days the school she has gotten into is her first choice. But sometimes the other one (from which we haven't heard) is slightly ahead. I'm mentally rooting for the one she has gotten into already, but I'm not allowed to tell her. =:~(

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 24, 2008 2:45:35 PM

Benji... Sorry, our comments crossed in the ether. There is no doubt that there are a lot of self-directed (and parented-directed) kids in the US. But I didn't know many freshmen or sophs who had a clue what their major was going to be... and the few who did pretty much all changed their minds. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 24, 2008 2:49:05 PM

Just putting in my 2 cents that I'm proud of Ari no matter where she ends up going and give her a big hug for me, will ya?

Posted by: Val | Jan 24, 2008 4:37:16 PM

Val... Tell her yourself... she reads this blog. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 24, 2008 4:52:51 PM

In all my time in Israel I have never come across a deadline where you couldn't wheedle an extension. String them along until you hear from the other option.

Posted by: Simon | Jan 24, 2008 5:07:08 PM

It sounds like banging your head against the wall might be more fun.

Posted by: Jack | Jan 24, 2008 6:11:25 PM

Be very careful of new schools with little track record - especially if they are still small.

Often the founders are less selective and let in kids that are not suitable - so that they have some warm bodies.

This was a primary cause of at least one child I know going off the derech...

Posted by: Ben-David | Jan 24, 2008 7:07:59 PM

Sarah wrote: I take it that Ariella would prefer...
and David replied: It depends on the day.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

There you have it.
For the next 4-6 years.

Enjoy!

Posted by: Ben-David | Jan 24, 2008 7:10:03 PM

Can't say I have any bright advice on this one, but I wish you and Ariella the best in figuring it all out. Good luck!

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jan 24, 2008 7:46:03 PM

Sorry, no advice, never having been a situation like this. I had 1 choice for HS and my elementary school fed into it, so no application, interview or entrance exam. But this whole process sounds like college, only 4 years too early! I didn't know what my major was going to be until my sophomore year. How can a kid decide at age 14?

Posted by: SaraK | Jan 24, 2008 8:29:39 PM

Forgot to say, Good Luck, Ariella!

Posted by: SaraK | Jan 24, 2008 8:30:17 PM

Things seem to be very different where you live. Over here in Modiin, the kids switch schools in the seventh grade, not the ninth, and while there is some anxiety most of the kids get into the schools they want to. My daughter, being fresh off the boat, with limited Hebrew skills did not get into one of the schools she applied to (and she applied to the schools her friends applied to, not because she knew anything about the schools), but did get into the others. Maybe I'm missing something because I'm so green, but I don't feel the pressure over here.

Maybe I'm better off--ignorance is bliss.

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by: Baila | Jan 24, 2008 9:36:19 PM

My, how quickly they grow up. I still have pics from Ariella and Eli as infants in the pool at the Rendale..we're going through the same process here, having applied and interviewed at Westchester Hebrew High and SAR. But at least we have one nice thing about this whole hellish process...the schools all send out their acceptance letters at the SAME TIME. Guess Israel hasn't caught up with that fair procedure yet. Best of luck, Ariella!!!

Posted by: Marsha G in Stamford | Jan 24, 2008 10:06:15 PM

My 8th-grade daughter is also in a six-year school, in the TA area.

Posted by: mother in israel | Jan 24, 2008 10:07:39 PM

B'hatzlachah!

Given that she has already been accepted to one of the "elite" schools, would there be any harm in calling the other school and being forthright -- i.e. saying that she has been accepted to another school and that you need to know if she is going to be accepted into this one? The worst that can happen is they will say "Well, OK, if she got in to that one then she doesn't need to come here" but at least

a) you will know where you stand, and
b) you can always say she didn't get in because you pressured them, not for any other reason.

Human nature being what it is, though, the fact that she got in to the other school could very well "incentivize" them into admitting her sooner (or does it work that way with schools here?).

B'hatzlachah!

Posted by: Almost Jerusalem | Jan 24, 2008 11:21:20 PM

"I'm mentally rooting for the one she has gotten into already, but I'm not allowed to tell her. =:~("

"Tell her yourself... she reads this blog. :-)"

Um? atcay ightmay ebay utoay foay .... oh forget this... I think you told...

Congrats to the lucky school she selects!

Posted by: Jethro | Jan 25, 2008 12:21:07 AM

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