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Follow the North Star

A few have asked me why Max will be going to high school at North rather than West or a private school as I have been expounding for the past year at least. It wasn’t an easy decision on my part but the right one for Max. A bit of history is needed for my decision process. I went to Catholic elementary school. In 8th grade we had to take the COOP test as they called it back then and apply to four Catholic high schools. I had a 92% or better average all through elementary and high school as evidenced by the report cards my mother kept and I found after she passed away. I applied to Cardinal Spellman, Mother Butler, St. Nicholas of Tolentine and Preston. I made three of them but not Tolentine and that was because they told me I was just too far away to go there. There were a lot of Catholic high schools in the Bronx and most are still there except for my alma mater and a few others. Mother Butler was run as a private school by the Order of the Sacred Heart of Mary nuns. They were not a full part of the New York Archdiocese. High school reputations were prevalent back then as now. Cardinal Spellman was the premier academic school. All the brains went there. Mother Butler was at the extreme opposite of that. It was an all girls’ school and not known for its academic excellence shall we say.

I chose Mother Butler and my parents let me. My sole criterion was that my friends were there already as they were all a year older than me. I had the grades and the goods to do well in Spellman, but there was no way I was going there without my friends.   This is what Max has been asking for and what he should get. I have never been one to raise my kids according to anyone else’s criteria or expectations. I don’t do “keeping up with the Joneses”. Hell, I wouldn’t know the Joneses if I tripped over their fence and landed in their rose bushes.

Mother Butler was such a great progressive school. A few months after I started, we were the only Catholic high school who got rid of the uniform and went to regular clothing. We had what was called modular scheduling like college so we had lots of free time during the day. We were supposed to be in “study hall” in the cafeteria but what a blast that was. The teachers were great and had wonderful latitude in what they could do and were not bound by rigid Archdiocese constraints. I remember I had a vocabulary class. Can you imagine a high school today actually teaching spelling? I am a great speller, it comes naturally to me and always has since I learned how to in first grade. The class bored me to tears and so I missed a lot of it. I got word I was in danger of failing it. I went to the teacher and asked her if she would make a deal with me. I offered to come in after school and take all six tests that I missed in one shot if she would honor the grades and cancel the absences.   She agreed and I passed the class. It was my very own creation of an ‘online’ class in the 70s.   It was my business teacher, Sister Kevin, who sent me to US Customs where I ended up working for over 30 years. She had major connections in the business world.   What a force of nature that woman was! I truly enjoyed high school at MBM and never regretted not going to Spellman.

The other counsel I have been listening to besides Max for the past few weeks, is something my Dad said to me so long ago. It has stayed with me. He said, “ If a kid wants to learn it doesn’t matter where he goes to school. If a kid doesn’t want to learn, it doesn’t matter where he goes to school.”   And that resonated with me and helped me tremendously with this decision. Max is a different kid than Marco in terms of learning. Max enjoys the socialization of the classroom and is a socialized learner. Marco is not a classroom fan and is rather an independent learner like I was. Marco would want to stay home from school if he sneezed. With Max, I can’t even get him to stay home if he’s sick. What about football? Well Max will play the game because he loves it, not because he expects a D1 scholarship out of it. That level requires a lot more work than Max cares to do in the off-season right now and that’s just fine. Maybe it changes in high school and maybe it doesn’t.   Max is also a most coachable kid which is what all seven of the different Head Coaches he’s had in Pop Warner in his eight years there have said. Max can pretty much play for anyone. Whether Max goes to college or not will also be his choice, just as it was Marco’s. I have learned a lot since my early, naïve parenting days of USC or bust. Nowadays, I have the best shot at going to USC as finishing college is a bucket list item of mine, although I would opt for UCLA now.

I also have two of the greatest examples of North High alumni who did and will do wonderful things right next door to me in AJ and Alexa. To deprive Max of being a Saxon like Marco, Alexa and AJ would do more harm than good I think. Younger kids like to follow the traditions of the older ones.

My goal as a parent has always been to have happy kids. Success comes from that. Not the other way around. At the rate they smile in pictures you wouldn’t know they are but I do get reports from their friends that they are reasonably happy, so I am good with that for now. Eventually they will stop being surly teenagers to their mother.

I never regretted my choice of high school. My parents didn’t have to let me choose on my own either. Mother Butler cost three times in tuition what the other schools did at the time. My parents were raising five children and my Dad still let me attend. I rewarded him by graduating in three years. It saved him an entire year’s tuition plus allowed me to graduate with all my friends.  All he had to do is keep his hand in his pocket if he ever came to the school. The criteria for an early graduation was a 95% or above average, taking English 3 in summer school after sophomore year so you met the four year requirement and you had to have a good reason. I told them my Dad’s hand got badly damaged in an accident and I had to go to work early to help support the family. It was sort of true. My Dad did have a terrible accident in 1969 where his hand was cut up pretty bad but he was Ok by then. Yes I know it was a fib, but there was no way in hell I was staying there another year without my friends, plus I was bored out of my mind with school by then despite the grades. The reason really was a formality on their part. It was more about whether you were ready to graduate early and I was. If not, I am thinking they would have asked for some proof!  Anyway, I got to go to the prom with my friends and do all the other senior activities as well. I made the right choice for me and I have to trust that Max is also making the right choice for himself in going to North. GO SAXONS!!!


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