My son's new school blues
Be careful when insisting on a school, warns this mom.
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I am writing to warn parents of schools that reject their kids on application - the pitfalls of fighting it and possible repercussions.

This is not for all kids, but certainly what happened in our family.

Actually, for our boys, it started with friends' and relatives' recommendations - a high school close to our home. Our first child went, then the next and all was hunky dory. 

Our third child was a whole new process. No longer was there an automatic entrance because brothers had gone before him. Nope, we had to APPLY.

The application was a 6 pager, with items such as: what sport did he play? What cultural activities did he partake in? Most importantly, what grades was he achieving?  We were horrified, but filled out the application forms, and sent them to the school.  The school did not interview him - nor any of the other applicants.  We thought it was a mere formality - both our older boys had been at the school. 

Then came the dreaded letter: Denied - and when I enquired at the school as to why my son was denied access to the closest school to our home, the one both his brothers were going to and all his friends - I was told he was not academically strong, and he did not play school sport.

He was an average learner, not below, not above, just average. He played soccer and baseball for clubs, but because he was a year older than his peers, was not allowed to participate in school rugby, cricket or hockey, so he tried squash instead. The application forms indicated this.

There was a huge to-do with us and other parents in the same boat, and the principal - who only wanted A students in the school to keep his reputation up - blatantly admitted this to me. I was mortified and went to then Education Minister Pandor, and the other head honchos of the department, demanding they do something. 

Our ammunition: learners from other areas, due to their provincial sports and academics were being admitted to the school, and our kids, within walking distance, were denied access. So, with a threat of the local newspapers, etc, and with all our kids in their uniforms on the first day of school, arriving, determined to be part of the school, they had no choice.

Unfortunately, even though my son had been to therapy to help him deal with this and to allow him the chance to see it was not personal but that many kids were prejudiced against, he never felt welcome at the school.  We initially tried to keep his rejection from him, hoping it would all sort itself out before we had to tell him.

In retrospect, the school was not all it was cut out to be. It takes A students, and maintains that A. They were not capable of taking a B student and turning them into an A student.  Instead, my son became a C and D student. 

His self esteem took a dive, because none of the teachers were prepared to help him on a one-on-one basis, telling him he has to go for extra lessons.  The children that were on the 'denied' list all got the same treatment, and there was an altercation with the Afrikaans teacher for bullying my son and with the English teacher who gave him good marks for an essay that had more spelling and grammar mistakes than you could imagine.  The maths teacher gave up on him and told him he could never do maths, and that he should drop to maths literacy.

One afternoon he got into the car in tears and said if he has to go to school the next day he would kill himself.  After a long chat, I realised that this school was making my son sick. They had drained him of his self esteem, and never welcomed him, even though he was popular with all the kids, and he has qualities that are exemplary.  He is a good looking, strong strapping rugby player, religious, tries hard at everything, provincial baseball player just to name a few excellent qualities.

I phoned the local small private school which I had heard the most amazing reports about, went to see the principal that afternoon, and the very next day, my son was welcomed into the school.  That was 2 years ago.  He is now head boy. Need I say more?  His confidence has been reinstated by a caring principal, who allows the kids to dream big and encourages them to do well at everything, love everything they do, and to never give up.

I must add that his marks have improved dramatically, and he is achieving phenomenal results in Mathematics. He said he would love to take his report card and shove it in his ex principal's face, and tell him that his school could never do that for him because they don't have what it takes.

The school lost a leader, someone, whom, had they taken the time to see qualities other than what presents itself on paper, they would be benefiting from right now.

Susan Smith is a mom and a registered psychometrist who has written this in her personal capacity in response to How to choose a school’.

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