Wanting More for Our Kids: What “Happy” Means to Parents

By Zack Mazrimas, EduMom contributor

From the moment I became a parent and looked into my son’s eyes I knew I would do everything in my power to ensure that he would have an incredible life. When I became a Dad and held my oldest son for the first time I knew it was my mission.

Nowadays, everywhere we go people smile seeing how much my son and I resemble each other — and the similarities don’t end there. My little mini-me is also very much like me in terms of thinking and personality — so naturally, I’d love to be able to help guide him through some of the challenges I faced, remembering what was tricky for me.

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As parents, we naturally spend a lot of time worrying about everything: Are they making friends? Will they succeed? Will they get nervous? Will they make the same mistakes?

My expectations are eventually became a little more realistic as I learned to tell myself that I just wanted him to be happy. But in the end — we really do want them to be more than just happy. We want our children to be successful. Fulfilled. Maybe even leaders.

The one thing I knew for sure was that I would help him avoid making the same mistakes that I had made in school.

He’ll study hard, do all of his homework, be involved in multiple extracurricular activities.

He’ll work on the weekends, and learn to be self-sufficient.

He’ll attend college and be enrolled in internships to provide him with real life on the job experience.

He won’t go into the professional world feeling clueless — like I did after graduating.

He’ll grow up to have a professional foundation of contacts and experience — leaving him feeling confident and fulfilled in his work, and happy in his life.

The wishes I have for my son are not unique. They’re the same feelings, hope and dreams that we all want as parents. But as the years go by and the more experience I have under my belt as a parent — the more I see how our broken education system means the easy path I envisioned for him might come with some major bumps in the road. I often wonder whether he’ll be taught how to simply navigate his way the system, or actually learn real life skills that will prepare him for college and a professional career.

Early one morning — just last week — I stopped by a 24-hour pack and print shop, preparing documents for an important meeting. It was 2AM, and I was assisted by two young men in their mid-20’s — both cheerful, friendly and smart-as-a-whip making my experience fumbling through getting our project put together pretty enjoyable. The two clearly had a great working relationship — one helping the other pack a large plate, giving him advice along the way.

So as I revised PDF documents, and attached paper clips, I looked at the two men behind the counter, and thought of my own son — and the hopes that their parents had for them.

Why were these two bright, motivated young men of color struggling to help a procrastinator like me with a printing problems in the middle of the night? I’m sure their parents envisioned a future where they would be at home asleep at 2am.

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The night shift at a print shop? Making minimum wage? Nah.

The experience reminded me of The Valedictorians Project, a Boston Globe series that had recently come out on the valedictorians of high schools in Boston. Kids who were no doubt promised by parents like me that if they did their best — they would have a “happy” future.

They held up their end of the deal. But have we held up ours?

From the Boston Globe:

“Over the past year, the Globe has tracked down 93 of the 113 valedictorians who appeared in the paper’s first three “Faces of Excellence” features from 2005 to 2007. We wanted to know, more than a decade later, how the stories of Boston’s best and brightest were turning out.”

These were kids at the top of their class, driven, motivated, and set off to change the world. What happened to them?

Boston Public Schools has 33 high schools, two of which are ranked in the Top 10 Best High Schools in Massachusetts. The top rated school, Boston Latin School is made up of nearly 75 percent white and Asian students who outperform their peers and almost all enter four-year colleges prepared for the rigorous and fast-paced curriculum. As for the rest of the high schools in Boston, none of them even make the Top 50 Best High Schools. Instead, students are failed by a lack of quality education and achievement gaps that leave inner city students behind.

As Malcolm Gay from the Boston Globe explains, “The numbers don’t lie. They’re part of a larger pattern of Boston public school valedictorians who are falling behind economically the valedictorians from communities surrounding Boston. The one exception: graduates of the city’s three prestigious exam schools. For almost everyone else, there’s a sense that life got a lot tougher after high school.

How did life get tougher for the valedictorians graduating from Boston high schools?

  • 1 in 4 valedictorians from Boston schools failed to get a bachelor’s degree within six years
  • 25 percent aspired to be a doctor but so far none of them have earned a medical degree
  • 40 percent of valedictorians make less than $50,000 a year
  • 4 valedictorians have been homeless

These systematic obstacles faced by Black and Latino students in Boston high schools cannot be taken lightly. Every year, our most vulnerable youth is forced to attempt to navigate a system where even the very best students stuck in the lowest performing schools are not set up for success for life after high school. In fact, they are more likely to end up elbow deep in student loan debt with no diploma to show for it. This does not happen to our white, suburban friends. In fact, suburban graduates are two and a half times more likely as Boston students to earn an advanced degree and make a salary of more than $100,000 a year. Certainly not working overnight at the copy shop.

The divide is clearly unjust, and it has long term consequences for our kids. Nationwide, a high school graduate today will earn approximately $36,000 per year, whereas a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn a median salary of $60,000, nearly double the yearly earnings. Over a working lifetime, that means $1.2 million in earnings for high school graduates and $2.1 million for college graduates. That’s a game changer.

The median weekly earnings for different degree of education are broken down as follows (based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics):

  • High school diploma: $712
  • Some college, no degree: $774
  • Associate degree: $836
  • Bachelor’s degree: $1,173
  • Master’s degree: $1,401
  • Doctoral degree: $1,743
  • Professional degree: $1,836

In today’s world, a college degree means increased earning potential and job prospects, increased benefits, lesser risk of unemployment, and overall job satisfaction. All of these things mean our kids have a future where they are confident and fulfilled — and happier overall. Things that we as parents are looking for overall — not just a piece of paper saying you’ve navigated your way through the education system we’ve decided is “good enough” to pass. Are we challenging our talented kids with rigorous curriculum that enables them to be ready for success?

Valedictorians at our Boston schools leave high school wanting to achieve success, expand their potential, and conquer the world. And as parents we WANT them to — but as it currently exists, our system fails them, grade after grade, not only in high school but starting as young as pre-K.

It’s our job to not just dream about our children having more than we did — but to fight for it. And it’s clear we have a long way to go.


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