I hope you are enjoying your summer. Here in Germany, we’ve been having a heat wave since April, more or less. For the record, I kind of like it because it reminds me of the hot summers I experienced as a child in Sacramento.
I've got good news to report: Our 19-year-old daughter Jessica graduated from high school and passed her abitur exams! Her next big step journey is just days away.
Believe me, it was a long journey for all of us and we are so proud of her. At times, we were uncertain if she were adept enough to climb the ladder of the German school system, which is demanding for most students. But with hard work and persistence, she over came her own doubts.
Not All School Systems Are Created Equally
Before I had children, I had thought the primary educational years would be just baking cupcakes and attending PTA meetings, or, at least, the more hands-off approach to learning that my parents espoused. The demand for kids to excel in education has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, becoming more trying for the teachers, parents, and pupils. I’d even say this is a worldwide trend.
When Jessica entered school, I found myself lost in the corridors of a byzantine pedagogical structure that seemed so regimented. One thing I learned about the German school system that surprised me was that in the fourth grade, teachers decide which students will attend one of the three levels of high school. The gymnasium level is the highest where the graduates obtain their abitur degree and then move on to university. This decision is based on grades and oral participation. Late bloomers who aren’t on the ball get labeled early and put into lower level schools. Artistic and musical talents are generally not regarded.
Knowing that the way into university meant having that abitur degree, we were anxious about Jessica’s academic success. God forbid our child miss the education bullet train.
By the second grade Jessica declared, “I will never do my abitur exam or go to gymnasium. I just won’t do it, so don’t ever ask.” Stunned with her sudden dislike of school, I swallowed hard and asked why.
“Because I don’t want to. It’s too difficult,” she replied. Those words echoed through the years like a biting wind.
When warning signs signaled that Jessica was having learning issues, I shifted into first gear, like a typical helicopter parent hovering over to fix the problem.
Dealing With Dyslexia
We soon discovered that Jessica had ADHD and dyslexia. Spelling became a mixed bag of letters and sounds that rang a loud discord. Homework became a battlefield. Tutors by the dozen were constant fixtures in our homes. Yet, we were consistent in our efforts in supporting her. It is important for kids to know that their parents are behind them 100%.
In the years we were living in Washington D.C., many of Jessica’s middle school classmates already had lofty goals of attending to well-known universities after high school. These girls were a positive influence and gave her a new perspective.
We moved back to Germany when Jessica entered grade 9. She set her sights on getting into gymnasium although it was challenging because of her dyslexia, which caused spelling and reading problems in both languages. Somehow, we all pushed through and Jessica became eligible to take the abitur exams.
In January this year, one of Jessica’s teachers discouraged her from taking the abitur exams. Better to keep the aim low than to face failure. But a deep, burning ambition to succeed fueled Jessica’s fire like a parched landscape. She got organized and hit the books. Tenacity became her middle name.
When she passed, we literally jumped for joy. Jessica’s confidence soared to new heights like a young bird in flight.
At her Abi-Ball, a formal party the graduates put on for their families and teachers, Jessica’s leadership skills shined: Not only did she help organize the event, but she choreographed all the dances and was one of the three masters’ of ceremony. The girl who claimed that she would never complete her abitur degree made a stellar end performance winning the praise “the student who surprised us and bloomed the most” from her teacher.
So what’s next for her? This Saturday, Jessica and I fly to Orlando, FL, to settle her into her dorm room where she will start work as a German cultural representative for Disney World Epcot Center. It feels like a magical moment is about to begin.
Over To You
How's your summer coming along? I’d love to hear about your life, thoughts and opinions. Leave a comment below.