OK, maybe I’m a little scared, I can’t lie. But overall, I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea than I ever imagined I would be.
I hadn’t planned on grade-skipping my son. My son’s September birthday meant that he was already young for his grade. Here in Ohio, the cut-off date for kindergarten varies by district—anywhere from August 15thto September 30th —so many kids in his class were already a full year older than him. But when we switched from a self-contained gifted school to the public school down the street, we didn’t have much choice.
The problem was math. Full disclosure—I hate math. Math makes me cry, but luckily computers have made it so that the amount of math I have to do in my head is practically zero.
My son, however, loves math. It’s his favorite thing. He loves it so much that in 4thgrade he worked independently and completed two years of math in one school year, and the school already had an accelerated program. Therein lied the problem—he was now going into 7thgrade but taking 10thgrade math, which my local school couldn’t figure out how to fit into his schedule.
The conversation went like this:
Gifted Coordinator: Can he just repeat Algebra?
Me: No. He got an A+ in Algebra. He can’t sit through the exact same class again.
Gift Coordinator: I don’t know how to make his schedule work.
Me: Gifted students fall under special needs protection. You have to figure it out.
A few days later she called back again, and asked if we wanted to discuss whole-grade acceleration. There’s a long and involved process for grade skipping, it turns out. The child has to place two grade levels above the current grade (not just one), and there are lengthy conferences about all the dynamics in play: sports, siblings, physical stature, and emotional maturity.
The middle school principal asked,
“How will you feel next year, when he’s sitting in math class next to sixteen year olds, able to overhear their conversations?”
I had no good answer—because that was something I did worry about tremendously.
In the end, though, after reading everything I could find online, taking to every adult I knew who grade-skipped as a child or grade-skipped their own child, and talking with all my teacher-friends, we decided to go for it.
I will admit that my eyes misted up watching my eleven-year-old walk into school at the start of his eighth grade year—I was so afraid that the world would break my son’s spirit. A year later, we all agree that it was the right decision.
Here are my takeaways from our year:
The first comments most people make about grade-skipping is in regards to athletics. First of all, I never planned on raising a professional athlete. There is nothing wrong with professional athletes, but raising one was never a personal goal of mine.
That being said, my son had played baseball since he was seven, so I spoke with my son’s little league coach (who is also the high school varsity baseball coach) before I decided to grade-skip my son. It turns out, his daughter had grade-skipped as well.
“There are more academic scholarships than athletic scholarships,” he said. “You should always grade-skip. He’ll be fine in baseball.”
Now, I don’t know if he’ll make the freshman baseball team, but he is currently holding his own on the 14-year-old travel team as a 12-year-old. Size definitely matters, but so does heart, focus, and the desire to work hard. He was a top player on the team for his actual age, and is still near the top of his current roster. Besides, if all else fails, he can continue to run cross-country—a multi-grade sport with no try-outs—and play baseball for the rec department team.
Gym class was fine. He likes sports, and has played a variety of them since he was little, so he’s pretty coordinated. He was never last-picked for a team—but then again, kids weren’t allowed to pick teams in gym class at his school. The only issue he had in P.E. was getting from the third floor to the gymnasium in four minutes.
Some kids treat him as a peer, and some kids treat him as a little brother/mascot, but so far, no one has bullied him. On the first day of school, another student saw him eating alone, and pulled him into his group. My son now has as many friends at the new school as at the old one.
He’s managed to find kids with similar interests and emotional maturity in his new grade-level. While I worried a lot about dating, drugs, etc., it hasn’t been an issue.
Kids hit puberty at different ages no matter what grade they are in, and he’s not the only one of his friends who isn’t much interested in dating yet. He may not have slow danced with anyone at the formal but he wasn’t the only one who didn’t, and he still had an awesome time.
My son got all As and one B+ this year—he didn’t struggle with the work. The only place where the age-gap created a problem was in Health class—he was a little young for the subject matter. Even though he was uncomfortable, he had to get through it.
He’s going to need to know about relationships, drugs, and healthy sexuality going into high school, no matter how young he is. And that class spawned a lot of awkward conversations between the two of us—conversations that we needed to have before high school and I was shirking on.
Here’s the thing—middle school isn’t only filled with sweet young children eager to learn. He’s already witnessed other students acting out and experimenting with risky behavior, and he knows where he stands, and who he wants to stand next to. He’s more sure of who he is now than he ever has been before, and that’s a great place to be as a Freshman.
So now that my 12-year-old has survived eighth grade, I don’t have as many fears for high school. He’s got a group of friends that I both like and trust. I know he can handle the academics, and he’s got as good a shot as anyone in making the freshman baseball team. Whole grade acceleration may not be right for everyone, but so far, it’s worked out well for our family.
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