In the Spring of my sophomore year of high school, I completed what I would from then on refer to as one of my greatest coups.
I was actually really good at science–(only girl at the New England Chem-a-thon 1992–represent!)– so it was no surprise when, on course selection day, my Chem Study teacher checked off the box recommending I continue into Honors Physics.
Now, I liked science well enough. I had particularly enjoyed chemistry, actually. But I did not like the necessary lab periods that precluded me from taking other classes about which I was much more passionate. Still, I was a front-runner in terms of class rank and, well, such things were affected by weighted classes: honors and AP classes counted for more than regular ol’ college prep.
But, glancing through the course offerings, I had an idea…
I petitioned to take Astronomy as an honors course.
Astronomy actually sounded interesting to me! I loved the idea of studying the stars and space. Further, it didn’t have a lab period to go with it, so I was free to pursue adding a second foreign language. Languages were something I absolutely loved and I was gifted with them– they came to me quickly and fascinated me.
I pleaded my case and it was approved. While everyone else in the class received the standard “college prep” credit in terms of class rank, I received honors credit. I was graded slightly differently for this privilege, but I didn’t mind– after all, I really was quite good at science.
There were those who thought I really got away with something that year– after all, I spent my days sketching solar systems, studying dwarf nebulas, and lying back in the planetarium, while my fellow top-ranking peers sweated it out in Honors Physics. I added Spanish II to my schedule, along with French V, and delighted in my days, free to do so now that I didn’t have that pesky lab period taking up time.
I guess it could be argued that I took the easy way out or slacked off. After all, I’m pretty sure I could have handled physics just fine. I don’t know that I would have been awesome at it, but I highly doubt it would have had a real negative impact on my GPA. But I didn’t. I took Astronomy.
And, looking back, I am so proud of that 15 year-old girl for going against the grain and pursuing her passions.
Why was that such an odd thing to do? Why was I such an anomaly? Why hadn’t anyone else done it?
We have this idea that the best and brightest students should take all of the best and brightest classes. Trust me– I fell into this, too. By the time I graduated high school, I had taken six AP courses. My senior year in high school was actually far more intense and challenging than my freshman year of college.
But when I look back at my junior year, at the year when I managed to fulfill my science requirement, maintain my class rank, add a subject I adored, and learn about a fascinating science, I really want to give my younger self a high five for getting it right that time.
It’s not the top-notch students’ faults. Our system is set up so that, if you want to rank highly and be impressive, you’ve pretty much GOT to take all the top classes. And there’s logic in that. It makes total sense that a 92 in AP Calc should count for more than a 92 in Basic Algebra. One is much more challenging than the other.
However, wouldn’t it be lovely if our kids could focus all that drive and intelligence on the areas they truly love… without fear of seeing a dip in GPA? I wasn’t afraid of challenges– heck, I wouldn’t have added another language if I were. I just wanted to pursue subjects that lit that fire in me. And I found a way to do it.
I pray I’m able to help my own kids find a way to do the same.