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Matt Allio

Matriculation and the Mind of a Fifth Grader

It’s March, and our fifth graders began receiving their middle school admissions decisions last Friday afternoon.

It was a very strong admissions season for Trinity, and we are so proud of each and every one of our students. As I write this, some are relieved, some are deliberating, and some are apprehensive. It’s the nature of the process – year after year, from school to school. The fact of the process, however – the yearly predictability of it – shouldn’t condition us to be desensitized to it.

Fifth graders are generally 10 or 11 years old. Developmentally, they are between the Concrete Operational Stage and the Formal Operational Stage of Piaget’s Stages of Development, which means they’re becoming less egocentric and increasingly aware of external events. Importantly, they are just beginning to question abstract concepts – like self-worth, justice, and relationships.

They are supremely fragile as their world unfolds around them.

A year ago, these students were just beginning to contemplate middle school, and then perhaps only with a sense of curiosity – before returning to Legos or a book. Since then, their time has been spent visiting schools, completing applications, taking the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), participating in interviews, providing writing samples, and waiting patiently for the culmination of all that work: the acceptance decision.

In times of stress, adults compartmentalize – but our students stand on the threshold of that skill. And yet they’re participating in this stressful, significant process, alongside their closest friends, for precious few spaces in local independent schools. They’re feeling judged, while also feeling vulnerable.

While some might say that the process prepares students for “real life,” I’d argue it’s not really fair or healthy for a fifth grader to experience it.

Of course, at Trinity we can’t – and don’t – dismiss the process. We collaborate with consultants, hold parent education evenings, keep in close contact with local independent schools, conduct mock interviews and write detailed, thoughtful recommendations. I’m complicit, too – I advocate for every student, doing everything I can to help them find the best fit.

My goal in writing this is to ask you to understand the life and mind of a fifth grader. To take a moment, next time you’re on campus, think of this extraordinary group of students and reflect upon what is important to you, your family, and your child. Their education is worth so much – so much more than a single result delivered in March.


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