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BELLAIRE • MEMORIAL • RIVER OAKS • TANGLEWOOD • WEST UNIVERSITY

On the Road to College, Prepare to Swerve

Cindy Gabriel
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Brittany Long (right) and friends

Brittany Long (right) and friends

You don’t have to have a high school senior rummaging through your fridge to be a parent worried about college.  The thought starts to haunt us in Lamaze class.  But then, every baby still in the womb is in the top 10% of his class.  Their future only starts to look doubtful sometime after they’re born.  O.K., not doubtful; just less in our control than we anticipated.  Let’s just say, that little mound of flesh got here with a mind of its own.  Most of them, 90% in fact, will not be in the top 10% of their class.  Despite their varied and multi-dimensions, the advice we get regarding their education is pretty much one size fits all.

AP and IB courses:  Good.

Regular courses:  Well, OK in a pinch.

Graduate in the top 10%, or at least the top quarter of your class.

Join clubs, then, become president of one.

Take expensive courses to boost your SAT score by 200 points.

Take expensive courses to boost your pre-SAT score by 200 points.

Become a National Merit Scholar.

Volunteer in the community and document it.

Tour the country in search of the right top tier college.

Look busy.

Now, add this latest comment from HISD Superintendent Kaye Stripling.

“School will be harder next year.”

Are you feeling the pressure yet?   Maybe you happen to be raising a kid who just wants to PLAY.   Notice Ms. Stripling didn’t say that school would be more interesting, or even more challenging; just harder. Stripling plans to ratchet up demands for pre-AP classes in 6th grade.  These days, it sometimes seems that kid’s success is measured by how many high school classes they take in middle school and how many college classes they take in high school.  No wonder the college keg party was invented.

Despite it all, Bellaire has been blessed with an amazing array of students who are all in the top 10% of something, if not class rank.  They have finessed their way through a system that is really more flexible than it makes itself out to be.  These young adults have listened to the advice from their leaders and also applied the adage: “To thine own self, be true.”

Free spirit Molly Ware graduated from Bellaire High School in 2002.  Her passion:  surfing.  Instead of heading straight to college, Molly decided to swerve over to Costa Rica for a year and immerse herself in Spanish and the incredible Costa Rican surf.  In June, she returned tanned, fully fluent in Spanish and ready to get some freshman academic classes out of the way at Houston Community College.  She’s taking a full load and also working daily at Auntie Pasto’s.  In another year Molly will head to some college along the Southern California Coast to major in Spanish or business, with an unofficial minor in surfing.

Paul Oberlin graduated in the top 5% of his class, at HISD’s High School for Engineers.  Paul also managed to become an Eagle Scout, join robotics and computer competitions and stay active in church throughout high school.  With his sites set on MIT as his dream school, Paul, to his delight, was accepted. But after agonizing research and reality checks, the Oberlin’s persuaded Paul to accept an A&M scholarship offer, where so far, Paul has maintained a 4.0 grade average.   If Paul keeps the grades up, MIT graduate school may not be far behind.

Erica Wylie is a senior at High School for Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) where she is studying dance.  This spring, Julliard came from New York to audition HSPVA seniors for possible acceptance to the world famous academy.    Erica was the only female to receive a “call-back” from HSPVA, meaning she may be selected.  She won’t know until this month if she’s in, but since Julliard only accepts 12 girls and 12 boys a year, Erica considers the call-back affirmation enough.  Her back-up plan is SMU where she’s already accepted.

Andy Gentile’s dad worried that he would one day turn into a video game, since he played so much.  In fact, the latest Tony Hawk Video (THUG) has a little virtual Andy character walking around in it.  Andy, who gained national recognition for his online playing was sought out by NeverSoft, the makers of Tony Hawk video games last summer to work for them.   Andy graduates this spring and will spend his second summer being put up in a hotel and working for NeverSoft in California.  The tentative plan is for Andy to continue on through the fall and attend college part-time as well as working for the makers of his favorite video game.  Tough duty.

Elisabeth Stuart, a freshman at Trinity in San Antonio, was always a good student who kept her grades up at Bellaire High School.  She was accepted in the Engineering program at U.T.  But when the volleyball coach at Trinity asked her to join the team, Elisabeth decided to suit up and serve.   Playing for a college team gives students instant recognition, an instant set of friends and road trips.  Elisabeth’s early impressions of Trinity are that everyone studies there, but they also have a good time.

Meanwhile, Elisabeth’s best friend, Brittany Long, a nearly 6 foot tall blond, decided she wanted a Texas size school.  Her mom, Judy wanted her to think smaller.  But today, Judy’s convinced that U.T. is right for Brittany.

“I stopped worrying one day when I was talking to Brittany on her cell phone as she was walking across campus.  She was constantly speaking to people who were passing by.  She seemed to know everybody.  I thought, well, she’s making her way through that 53,000 (student population) at a pretty fast clip,” said mom Judy Long.   Judy says the key to finding your place in a large school is to commit to a small group within the school.  For Brittany, it has been her sorority.

Brian Lamont knew one thing for sure.  He wanted to go to a school where sports are a big deal.  Anyone who’s been to a LSU football game can’t imagine where it is a bigger deal. However, Brian also planned to apply to UT.   But before he could finish his UT online application, LSU scooped him up with a full scholarship offer.  (Hint:  Don’t believe the claim that your partially completed application is being saved somewhere online.  They have a habit of disappearing forever.)   Brian isn’t the first kid to give up applying to a school because the computer ate his application multiple times.   So Brian decided to Geaux Tigers and to heck with completing another college application.

Back to the womb:  The paths our kids take are largely decided before their first breath.  Class rank is not a ranking of gifts and talents or of parental skills. Bellaire’s HISD School Board representative Diane Johnson, a former A+ student herself, has two children.  One graduated in the top quarter of her Bellaire High School class, one did not.

“Let’s just say he ranked in the top 99th percentile in social skills,” said Johnson, talking mom to mom.  Is this because the Johnson’s raised their two children differently?  No.  They raised two different children.

“I truly didn’t have a choice in the matter.  I did everything I could to encourage him to be a good student and he did everything he could to let me know that this isn’t the most important thing in the world,” said Johnson.

But there’s hope.  Diane’s son recently called from Baylor upset over a grade he received.  It was an 89.  Johnson says the important thing, regardless of the kind of student a child is, is to find a passion or a focus.

“You’ve got to develop the ability internally, and the belief in yourself that you know where you’re going and how to take steps to get there.  Once you’ve mastered it in one area you’ve learned something you can duplicate in others,” said Johnson.

So let them dance, volley, surf, swim, dribble, or even, maybe, (gulp) play video games.   They are developing a pattern of achievement that will serve them the rest of their lives.

  • Molly Ware

    Molly Ware

  • Paul Oberlin

    Paul Oberlin

  • Erica Wylie

    Erica Wylie

  • Andy Gentile

    Andy Gentile

  • Elisabeth Stuart

    Elisabeth Stuart

  • Brian Lamont (right) and friends

    Brian Lamont (right) and friends

  • Molly Ware
  • Paul Oberlin
  • Erica Wylie
  • Andy Gentile
  • Elisabeth Stuart
  • Brian Lamont (right) and friends

More photos

Molly Ware

Molly Ware

Paul Oberlin

Paul Oberlin

Erica Wylie

Erica Wylie

Andy Gentile

Andy Gentile

Elisabeth Stuart

Elisabeth Stuart

Brian Lamont (right) and friends

Brian Lamont (right) and friends

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