Rachel is a really smart girl, but she has to work harder than most people think to get good grades in school. This has been a tough year for her because she’s taking honors pre-calculus, advanced placement English, advanced placement biology, and honors Italian III along with her other courses. She had no choice to lighten her load if she wanted to stay on track with the courses that she wanted to take her senior year.
During her first two quarters she struggled mightily, and for the first time in her school career her report card was filled with B’s instead of A’s. She tried hard to improve after that first quarter, knowing that these would be the last grades the colleges would see on her fall applications, but the second quarter was no better. She got a D on her AP Biology midyear exam. To make matters worse, her math teacher did little instruction beyond what the students couldn’t understand from the packets that she handed out, and Rachel could not teach herself Honors Pre-Calculus so she fell further behind.
To make matters worse, Rachel had to add a four hour Saturday ACT prep. course to her schedule for a period of three months (complete with its own set of homework assignments), knowing that the ACT would be just as important as her grades on her college applications.
Rachel is the co-captain of her dance team. She’s in a chamber group on Wednesday nights, volunteers on Friday nights to mentor underprivileged inner city youth in music in south Providence, takes a cello lesson every week, teaches two cello lessons per week, and tutors a neighborhood boy in math.
We talked about how it was easier when her brothers were home because they encouraged her, provided camaraderie, and they set the tone by studying hard. We talked about how the family had established a high level of pride among the siblings for doing well and that kindred spirit always gave her a reason to try even harder or it provided the extra motivation to help her bounce back from a struggle. And now, she said, so many of the courses are just so hard and she’s falling further behind and her brothers aren’t here anymore and she’s feeling so discouraged.
Some of her friends dropped their hardest course during the first quarter and transferred into a lower level. We offered that to Rachel but she didn’t want to take that option. Instead she started taking her books everywhere she went. She studied after late night dance rehearsals, and in between dances when another group was on the floor. We hired a math tutor that she worked with one night a week. In addition, the ACT prep. course provided several extra sessions on AP biology. We drove her back and forth to East Providence on chamber music night so she could study in the car for the two hours instead of using the time to drive. The television in the house was off most of the time. She studied in bed at night and got up early and studied Saturday and Sunday mornings. She worked as hard as any young person I know. We kept track of every test, every research paper, and every presentation she had to do.
She brought home her report card yesterday and there wasn’t a single B for quarter three. Reading down the list, course after course, every single grade was an A!
Rachel is a really smart girl, that’s true, but she knows that being smart isn’t enough. The excellence she achieves in all her pursuits is due to her hard work, her passion, her pride, her persistence, her grit, her ability to pick herself up when she’s most discouraged so she can try again, and again. When we look at what a person is capable of, their talents, their abilities, we should never underestimate the value of sheer effort in the equation.
And we should never, ever, underestimate Rachel.