With the end of the school year fast approaching, I offer this recommendation to parents of eighth-grade graduates: As your young teen grows through high school, don't give in to the pressure to force the blooming.
In 2013, the Daily Herald ran an article about the way high schools across the country were addressing "an epidemic of stressed-out, overwhelmed students" -- using therapy dogs, relaxation techniques, homework-free nights, and other strategies to reduce anxiety. The cause of the stress? America's intense college prep culture: packed schedules, AP classes, internships, volunteer service, extracurricular activities, sports, essays, reference letters and, of course, the right test scores.
Save the dateParents, students and community members are invited to visit Technology Center of DuPage at its fall Open House from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 21 on campus, 301 S. Swift Road, Addison. For information, call (630) 620-8770 or visit tcdupage.org.
What happens if your student's high school experience does not follow that strict playbook?
A couple months ago, the mother of a Wheaton North High School alum happened to see a short article about Technology Center of DuPage in North's parent e-newsletter. Her son had enrolled in a TCD program while at North, so she wrote Principal Matt Biscan to tell him about the experience.
As she put it, her son Wesley "was not an AP student. For many reasons, he didn't have a lot of confidence. He went to TCD for the Fire Science-EMT program. He loved it and did very well."
He was named Outstanding Senior in the program that year. With his acquired skills came confidence and it looked as if, after graduation, further education in emergency medical services was in Wesley's near future.
Instead, he decided to enlist in the military first. It was news his family had not anticipated and received with trepidation. However, when he returned to civilian life, they saw in him an increased determination to pursue a medical career, with the means to finance that goal.
He enrolled in North Central College for a degree in biology, followed by medical school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He's in his third year at UIC, deciding recently to specialize in oncology instead of emergency medicine. He's married now and very happy.
There currently are two other Wheaton North alums in their third year of medical school at UIC. They did not attend TCD, yet they and Wesley are all at the same point, just having taken different paths to get there.
Reflecting on her son's journey through high school, Wesley's mom said this:
"I often think that (this area) is a pressure cooker for students. We place so much importance on academics, sometimes we overlook the need for emotional contentment. There are many paths to success, so thank goodness for TCD. Many students find their niche there."
She further commented that there is a whole population of students who can benefit from career and technical education, regardless of their ultimate college and career goals.
"The important thing," she said, "is to find what they love to do. I'm definitely a TCD fan."
Technology Center of DuPage has a large parent fan base. It includes more 150 proud parents at TCD's recent National Technical Honor Society induction ceremony, the parents of students who competed at state SkillsUSA, and the parents of students we will honor next week at TCD's Senior Awards Night. It also includes grateful parents who have told more than one teacher over the years that TCD turned their student's life around.
Perhaps you remember Jessica, featured in this column last November. Bright but bored in high school, she recalled that she just wanted to graduate as soon as possible and get a job. Her parents were concerned but wisely did not panic. Instead they encouraged her to pursue a postsecondary credential of some kind in the career she had enjoyed learning about at TCD: automotive technology.
Today Jessica is following up her dual degrees in auto tech and electrical engineering with a master's degree in computer engineering, financed through her new job as a college automotive instructor. She enjoyed telling her former TCD instructor that her parents have gone from "at least get a degree in something" to "exactly how many more degrees are you going to get?"
For Jessica, Wesley, and other students who have not followed the "mad dash to college" playbook to the letter, TCD was a springboard to a life they had not even imagined when they were high school freshmen. As Wheaton North principal Biscan observed, "(Their experience) supports the concept that there are many paths to personal success and that none of us are 'finished products.'"
After Wesley's mother agreed to share her comments for this column, she said, "There is something about seeing our kids grow and watching them find their way through life that's really satisfying."
Parents of future freshmen: Take that to heart.
• Alf Logan is the interim director of the DuPage Area Occupational Education System, the governing body for Technology Center of DuPage and other CTE delivery sites in the region.