Last night was the Spring Sports Awards Banquet at my son's school. 'Banquet' in the sense that the teens dressed nicely and ate California Tortilla in the cafeteria. The coaches spoke and presented awards, the teens were polite and enthusiastic and it was a nice event to celebrate these athletes.
After the initial dinner and awards, each team had their own presentation. At the track break-out meeting, the coaches got more personal, talked about the season and highlighted several of the most improved and best sportsmanship award winners.
All of the seniors were asked to stand in the front of the room, introduce themselves, announce in which track event they competed and share where they would be going to school next year. There were at least fifteen kids; handsome, fit, young and proud standing before us. They spoke from the left side of the room towards the right: Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, James Madison, Virginia Tech, William and Mary and it proceeded. I smiled when one boy said North Carolina noting that someone was leaving the state. Then one boy shyly said "unlike the rest, NOVA for two years and then Virginia Tech". The line went on to Virginia Tech, UVA and Georgetown.
My heart sunk. I don't think anyone else noticed the discomfort emanating from this young man, but I couldn't let it go. He seemed ashamed of his choice and intimidated by all of the four year schools that his teammates were attending.
The pressure that these kids experience day in and day out can be overwhelming; from appearances to finances to grades, peer groups and college. There seems to always be an opportunity for shame and comparison as a teen (and adult as well).
As I mentioned in this blog post , I have worked with many students attending Northern Virginia Community College. Some students began at NOVA directly after high school and some started at another school and for various reasons decided that NOVA was a better fit for them.
It has been a great learning opportunity for me to work with these clients that are attending NOVA. I've learned a lot about the NOVA system, its academics and its culture. One client who had struggled at several other universities grabbed an opportunity at NOVA and soared. He took his classes seriously and put a great deal of time into his studies. He was thrilled when he found that he was getting all A's and gained an entirely new outlook on academics and his own power to have success.
One of my clients struggles with learning challenges. This client has embraced his studies at NOVA and also had success. He took the placement exams before matriculating which placed him in the proper classes for his specific abilities. He has enjoyed his classes and been able to receive the help that he needs with his specific challenges.
Another one of my clients always felt "dumb" at his private high school. He spent a semester at a larger university and decided that it was not the right fit for him. Since being at NOVA, this client has become a new student; he feels comfortable in his classes, has felt encouraged to raise his hand and participate regularly. He likes the fact that the pressure is less and it is a more relaxed atmosphere.
A few years ago, I was having a discussion with two friends. One of them made a derogatory comment about someone going to NOVA. I stopped her and requested that she re-evaluate her comment. After working with all of these kids, some of who do have shame about attending NOVA, I have a better appreciation for their journey. I want to promote the upside to community college; it can be right for so many. With the price of college, many kids have to attend NOVA for economic reasons solely. And, as I have stated, sometimes it is just a better fit for some students.
I am really glad that my clients have taught me about positive aspects of community college and I hope to help shape others who have yet to see the benefits.
As much as the therapist in me wanted to approach the boy last night and tell him "it's going to be okay", the mother in me knew that both he, and my son, would have been mortified had I done something so outrageous (and my poor son has been witness to many an outrageous measure performed by this mother of his). I do hope that someone tells that young man that it is okay and he is going to get exactly what he needs as he continues on his own personal academic path.