This is an old newspaper clipping from high school about the National Merit Scholarship awards. I’m including it because even now, it really bothers me that I am the only girl in the picture. How come an affluent community such as the one in which I lived produced eight students who received National Merit Commendations or higher, but only 12.5% of those students (me!) was female? As a parent, teacher, educator, and woman I find this fact shameful. It is almost twenty years later and I am still seething about this. Why were the other girls at my high school not scoring higher?
But let me step off my soapbox for a moment and tell you the other thing that bothers me about this picture, which I understand now only recently. The National Merit Scholarship is based on the PSAT, which I took only once in the 9th grade, having not studied for it at all. I only received a commendation. Please somebody correct me if I’m wrong here, but I could have kept taking the PSAT all the way until 11th grade, right? If I had taken in it 11th grade, my score would have been a lot higher and I might have actually gotten a scholarship. Why didn’t anyone tell me this at the time? Or for that matter, why didn’t anyone help me study for the PSAT in the first place?
When I look at this group of boys on the quad I have to tell you that each one of these kids was a great guy, and the ones that I have stayed in contact with all went on to do wonderful things. Quite unfairly, some of us were being better prepared for academics at home than others. One of my friends in this picture came from a blue collar family who really left him to his own devices. He ended up scoring 1550 right off the bat. Talk about raw, unguided talent! My parents by contrast, were well educated and literally drove the extra mile throughout my entire school career to make sure I got the best schooling they could offer me. But my experience was probably different from the guy whose dad was a Ph.D. and who was able to help with math and science homework past the eighth grade. This kid went on to score a perfect 1600 on the SAT. We both tied for Valedictorian, but I only achieved a measly 1450 SAT score by comparison. Of course, that score doesn’t seem so shabby knowing that as a girl, I was lucky to be in a picture like this at all.
So what are the lessons learned? It seems pretty obvious to me now, but parents and teachers need to help their children work the system. I’m going to be studying the rules of the PSAT and National Merit Scholarship when my kids are in high school to make sure that they take the test at the right times to give them an advantage. The other thing that occurs to me, is that it is never too early to start filling my children’s’ minds with the knowledge they will need to do well on standardized testing. How much do you want to bet that the son of the Ph.D. was hearing higher level vocabulary words at a young age, then the son of the security guard? Both guys are equally brilliant as it turned out, but they weren’t really launched into college at the same level of advantage, were they?
Officially studying for the PSAT and SAT is a long way off for my children, who are only 6 and 2, but I’m laying down tracks now, for their future success. At present, this means incorporating a rich vocabulary into our everyday life and conversation. One way we do this is by playing a game my third grade teacher invented called Magic Word. My six year old also has experience with logic and analogies thanks to taking the CogAT, and is getting hands-on experience in geometry through our time with Right Start Level D this summer.
I try to sprinkle all of these activities into my kids’ lives in a fun, engaging way. I’d never sit down my six year old and drill him on SAT words. But I’m not above asking him to do a few geometry problems in order to earn computer time. You can be sure I’ll be doing my utmost to give equal attention and preparation to my daughter when she is old enough. I’m just hoping when she is in a picture for her school newspaper, that there will be some other girls sitting next to her.