Gifted and talented, that’s what the school promised. Not even gifted or talented, but gifted and talented. Sounded redundant to us but you know how parents think – they will pursue anything that provides their child the best opportunity.
Our son, Sam, was approaching the end of eighth grade at the public middle school in town. My wife and I were guilty of snobbery, no sense in denying it. We looked at his classmates, and thought: “Well, that one will be delivering pizzas. That one will enlist in the military. That one will rise to management someday, at the local gas station.” We were not impressed with what we perceived as the school’s “striving for mediocrity” curriculum.
That is why we were in the lobby of the Engle School, wearing suits, waiting for Sam’s final interview to be over. The obstacles against choosing a private high school were considerable. Attendance would involve a sixty minute commute for our son instead of five. It would entail an expenditure of $26,000 each year instead of zero. And, possibly worst of all, it would involve dressing our son in khakis and polo shirts instead of the jeans and tee shirts to which he was accustomed.
Sam was to spend the entire day at the Engle School. When we arrived in the morning, a girl worthy of the cover of Teen Vogue escorted him out of our car. I thought she winked at him as she guided him into the main building. Or, perhaps, I just dreamed it, caught up as I was in the midst of gardens and fountains and gothic buildings, all presided over by the founders’ statues.
Our son was nervous about leaving his home town for a private school. But he also loved to learn, especially in the sciences. He was aware that the State Science Award was usually won by students from Engle. He was aware that half their graduates were accepted by Ivy universities. He had gone on-line to see the chemistry lab modeled on Princeton’s. When we arrived at the campus, he also saw the twelve new tennis courts that were incomparable to the pitted five at our high school and Engle’s new gymnasium and turf field.
While Sam was spending the day visiting classes with kids resembling a movie cast, we were meeting with the guidance counselor and several administrators. They had seen Sam’s scores and talked to us as though he were already accepted. One after the other, they hammered home their point:
“We believe our curriculum will blah, blah, blah and we believe the program will yada, yada, yada in order to maximize Sam’s potential and abilities and help him to achieve, attain, etc. etc. etc.” They would develop his “whole person.” We would be “entrusting” them with our “child” and they would return to us, at the end of four years, a “man.” Basically, there would be an assembly-line to take our awkward and undeveloped, but intelligent, son and shape him into a finely oiled learning and social machine. When we inquired about such issues as the likelihood of future tuition increases, or the cost of books, they responded with the irrefutable: “You cannot place a dollar limit on your son’s aspirations.”
When we were finished meeting with the counselors and administrators, we met with Engle’s “capital plan” representative. She told us about the annual fundraising event that often included performances by famous Engle parents and alumni who were lions of the New York cultural establishment. We suddenly understood that we would be expected to contribute several thousand more dollars each year, beyond the tuition, books and transportation.
In the weeks leading up to Sam’s visit, we had been hesitant about this disruption and cost to our lives. However, after seeing the facilities and hearing about the coordinated teaching approach, and contemplating the necessity that our son’s opportunities in life not be stunted by our penury or shortsightedness, we ended the day resolved that Engle was “the right thing to do.”
We waited in the lobby for several minutes, contemplating our new status as parents of an Engle student. Finally, it was three o’clock, and Sam was discharged by his Teen Vogue model hostess back to what now seemed our minimally adequate care. We walked together to the car quietly, taking in, I imagine, the enormity of the change that had taken place.
Once we were in the car, I turned to Sam and asked: “Well, are you ready to raise your game?”
He did not respond. My wife and I looked at each other.
“Sam?” she asked. “Are you okay?”
After a long pause, he finally spoke: “These kids may be gifted and talented…” he paused, “…but they’re kind of spoiled. I really want to go to the public high school. And that,” he concluded, “is what I’ve decided.”
We were not used to such assertiveness from our son. But it sounded terrific. It seemed he had grown up years in just one day. We breathed out in relief, happily concluding that the Engle School did, indeed, help Sam to realize his potential.