The academic cost of moving

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When I was growing up, my parents and I would move every few years (no, I’m not a military brat nor are we missionaries – the two most common guesses). As a kid, this was never really an issue – I’d just help pack up my stuff and settle into another new room. I’d go to a new school with new teachers and new friends. Life would continue on its merry way and my experiences expanded further. I even went to China for a full year of schooling when I was 9 and came back without skipping a beat. But then came 7th grade.

We were living in St. Louis at the time. I’d been there for 5th and 6th grade. I don’t know when I found out, but sometime in 7th grade my dad found a better job out in New York. We’d be moving over winter break. In a way, I was glad – there was one class I was really struggling with and I was convinced I’d get my first C in the class. That’s a seriously awful grade for a straight-A student with a Chinese-American upbringing. I don’t know if I would have actually done so poorly, but I was glad I’d never have to know! The move to the New York school system meant that that particular class would get lost in the shuffle; there was no equivalent course at my new school, so it wouldn’t transfer and count for a grade.

I thought my problems were over with this fresh start, but boy was I wrong. My counselor at the new school was concerned with placing me in the advanced track in case I had a gap in education (this was only for science and math classes). She convinced my mom and I that the best course of action would be to take the classes for the normal track and then test out of it before starting high school. So I finished up 7th grade and the next year came and went as well… my counselor had left by that point, so when I went to find out how to test back into the advanced track, I hit a wall. There was no such test to be found. I was stuck taking algebra while my peers in advanced placement had moved on to trigonometry (or something like that… the details are fuzzy now).

girl sitting at hotel desk studying with textbook, homework, and graphing calculator

Studying in our Houston hotel room.

What I do remember clearly was that I blazed through my freshman math class with 100% on all homework and an infuriating 98 or 99% on the final. My teacher loved me, probably because I made him feel good as a teacher. At the end of that year, I went to him and asked what I needed to know for the follow year’s math. He got me a book and told me which chapters I’d need to focus on and my mom spent the summer tutoring me. I even brought all my materials with me when we went to visit my dad down in Houston, where he’d been working for awhile. His company headquarters had moved and we were planning on moving there to join him eventually (though we ultimately ended up going out to Los Angeles instead).

Before I started my sophomore year, my mom and I went to the principal and counselor to present all the work I’d done (fully documented in the form of homework and tests). We convinced them to let me take the next level of math with a compromise: they said I still had to sit in the class I was “skipping” due to New York state laws that force you to spend a certain number of hours in that classroom. So I doubled up on math that year and “caught” back up. I don’t remember what happened in science. I wonder if ultimately it made all that much of a difference in my education. The one main component was that I was surrounded by less motivated peers in the normal track, whereas when I got back into the advanced track classes, I was surrounded by overachievers.

Sooo the moral of the story is not to move your kids around in the middle of a school year if you care about high academic performance. Between the different school systems in America, you never know what a transition will do. At least try to hold off until the summer so there’s a much more clean break. I’m going to plan on not moving anytime during the middle and high school years for my kid(s). It’s a whole lot harder to get caught up after the fact and with each step you miss, it could set you back that much more.

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