by Kelsey Bagwill, AmeriCorps member serving on the Staples, Inc. team with Curley K-8 School

I’m serving in an 8th-grade classroom this year, and one of the hallmarks–and greatest challengesof the 8th grade in many public school systems is the high school application process. Exam schools, charter schools, magnet schools, vocational schools, dual-language schools. Is the commute manageable? When is their start time? What is the average class size? Graduation rate? Do they have sports? Special education services? Do I already know people there? Is there a special application? Do I need to write an essay? Get letters of recommendation? These questions and more are ones that my students and their families have to navigate as they work to make the best possible decision for the future.  

One student in particular was stressing about the entire process. Edward* is two years older than his classmates and wants to set himself up for success moving into high school so that he can finish as quickly as possible. He particularly wants to attend one high school where he knows the baseball coach and class sizes are smaller. However, this high school has an additional application involving an essay and two letters of recommendation and Edward was feeling very overwhelmed.  

“Miss, you have to help me,” he said with wide eyes as we looked at the application requirements.  

“Of course, Edward,” I replied, “but you know it’s you that’s gonna have to put in the work here.” 

“I know, I know.”  

The first thing we did after returning from winter break was to sit down during our weekly lunch time and write “hype” letters. I wanted him to write down all the things he liked about himself, and I wrote down all the things I like about him too. It was important that he enter the beginning of this application process with a positive view of himself. We can all be our own worst critic, and Edward is no exception. He’d been working on being more confident in his abilities, and it was time to put that work to good use.  

Next, we set small deadlines for Edward* to accomplish all the tasks ahead. Finish the first draft of the essay. Get his dad’s signature. Ask for letters of recommendation. Edit essay. Breaking down the big, stressful task of “apply to high school” into smaller and more manageable steps helped him to stay calm.  

With a little encouragement and assistance, Edward completed all the steps to apply to his dream high school several days before the deadline. The day after he turned in all of his materials, I walked into class with a big double high five ready.  

“Edward, you’re done! You did it!” 

“Finally,” he sighed, “Thank you, miss.”  

“I didn’t do anything, Edward. That was all you.”  

Because it was. It was all him. We’re just waiting to see if he got accepted now, or if he’ll be choosing to attend any of the other schools he indicated on his choice form. Either way, I’m excited to keep hyping him up to believe in himself, and in his abilities to accomplish any task, big or small.  

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