Last Friday was my son’s sixth grade graduation. The school played a beautiful video comparing the kids’ baby pictures to their sixth-grade yearbook photos, a cruel move that had parents wiping tears and biting back ugly cries. After passing out diplomas, the principal said it was time to hand out the Presidential Awards, an academic achievement award that recognizes students who have maintained a GPA above 3.5 for every semester from third grade to sixth grade.
About a third of the graduating students were called back up to the stage to accept an award. Everyone clapped, and I thought it was over, but then I realized we had only completed the first round of awards. That first group was the kids who had maintained a GPA of 3.5 to 3.74. There were still two other categories yet to be called: 3.75 to 3.99, and then a separate distinct category for perfect 4.0s.
For context, the elementary school my kids attend is known as a choice school. It’s a public school, but it has a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and has a rigorous curriculum and various other requirements to attend, like that parents have to volunteer 20 hours every school year. The school receives so many applications annually that they have to select attendees via lottery, and the students, as a rule, tend to be overachievers.
That meant that almost every child in the sixth grade was called onstage to receive a Presidential Award. It was a beautiful thing to see, honestly. A couple of times, when a student’s name was called, a parent would whistle or shout from the audience, “That’s my boy!” It was so sweet to hear the parents’ pride for their kids. The overall mood was jovial. It was hard, though, not to feel a little hurt on my son’s behalf that he was one of the only ones — maybe the only one – not called to receive one of those awards.
My son has loved attending this amazing school, but it’s been tough for him. In the second grade, he was diagnosed with ADHD. We’d struggled since preschool with trying to help him acclimate to a school environment, so the diagnosis didn’t come as a surprise. But it wasn’t until the middle of third grade that we began medicating our son for his ADHD. Even after beginning medication, we had some rough semesters, grade-wise. There were so many teacher conferences, so many tears at night over homework, so many assignments finished but not turned in. So many zeros.
We eventually got Lucas’s medication straightened out, and he’s doing much better in school. In fact, this last semester he got straight A’s for the first time. I’m proud, of course, because he worked his butt off, but that’s not the point I want to make. Even if he’d made C’s, he still worked his butt off.
My point is, kids who work really hard to make C’s don’t get awards. Although I don’t begrudge celebrating a child’s success, I think we are doing a disservice to kids who are affected by disorders that impact their academic performance. We are inadvertently shaming kids who are dealing with ADHD or anxiety or autism or other issues that make school exponentially harder.
When my son came up to me after the ceremony, tears in his eyes because he was sad to be leaving the school, he said, “Mom, I think I was the only one that didn’t get a Presidential Award.”
He noticed. Of course, he noticed. He knows he’s overcome so much and worked so hard to pull his grades up, so, yeah, it was a punch to the gut for him to get left out. My son will be okay though – once his official report card comes in, we’ll celebrate his efforts in a big way.
But what about other kids who have experienced similar, awards ceremony after awards ceremony, year after year after year? If you’re a parent of one of these kids, you know how hard they work. You know how hard you work. You know that persistence and dedication does not always correlate to measurable achievement. You know that often, your child has to work twice as hard as some of the straight-A students just to earn a C.
And you know that often, no one notices.
I’m not here to detract from the straight-A students’ accomplishments or say they are undeserving. These kids absolutely deserve recognition for their hard work. What I am here to say is this:
To the parent of the kid who is trying really hard but not quite measuring up, I see you. I see your kid. I see your struggle. I see how hard you’re working. I see you helicoptering over your child even though that is something you promised yourself you would never do, but you have no choice but to hover because your kid would utterly, abysmally fail if you didn’t. You are trying so hard, and so is your child, and I see you.
Your kid might not get a fancy certificate with a signature stamp from the president of United States, but you sure as hell have my respect and admiration. And so does your kid.