LEARNING: A Maze in Race

The tests to get in to the fancy schools came early for Adyn Lord.

They came long before the stressful college applications. He didn’t have to wait for law school, graduate school or even prep school to feel the pinch of academic pressure. Adyn, 14, took his first test to get into Aurora Quest K-8 when he was in first grade.

Adyn Lord“In order to get in, you had to be in a Gate Program. It specializes in advanced math,” says Adyn, who’s set to start ninth grade classes at Rangeview High School next month. “I applied once in first grade and didn’t get in. I applied again in late fourth grade and I got it then.”

As Adyn prepares to start his high school life next month, he’s already faced the kind of academic stress that is now the norm for the average public school student. The discussions about college, achievement and even long-term careers no longer wait until sophomore or junior year. Adyn has already started pondering jobs as an architect or an engineer; he’s already thinking of which specialized “Pathways” career program at Rangeview High School will fit his ambitions and skills.

“At the moment, I’m taking all honors for my freshman year,” he says, adding that he’s decided to forgo Advanced Placement classes or college credits during his first year at high school. “I’ve been thinking about going to college for architectural engineering … When it comes to sophomore year, I think I’ll go on the engineering pathway.”

Adyn spoke in easy and casual tones about such big decisions. Sporting a black baseball cap with the word “Creature” embossed on the front and wearing a smart, button-up shirt, he talked about his future with the calculation of someone who’s considered the long-term view.

That certitude could come as a shock for anyone who spent their teenage years adrift or looking for the right road.

But Adyn isn’t the exception. Long-term planning and academic rigor is becoming the norm at public districts like Aurora Public Schools, where college courses, career pathways and International Baccalaureate programs are a part of everyday life for high school, middle and even elementary school students.

But that focus hasn’t kept him from being a typical teenager in many ways. He likes video games. He worked a demanding summer job in landscaping, racking up $10 an hour and reveling in the sheer physical demands of the work. All of the academic planning and the schemes about becoming an engineer serve as a kind of backup plan. Adyn points out that his real passion lies in playing the drums—if he could find a way to turn his daily practice sessions in the basement into a profession, he’d gladly seize the opportunity. Adyn, like any good, American teenager, has visions of being a rock star.

Still, there’s a lot less space for the teenage mistakes that once seemed a typical part of life. Adyn is already talking about the hard life lessons he’s learned in middle school—that’s right, middle school. He didn’t always rise to the rigorous demands of Quest’s math-based learning, but he’s spent his spare time during the summer completing geometry exercises online.

At Rangeview, academics will be his focus, and all of the other pressures of a new life in high school are secondary. A proud follower of the “straight-edge” lifestyle (a discipline that bans alcohol, tobacco and drugs), he is confident the peer pressures and temptations of teenage life won’t derail his focus.

“I’ve known people in school who smoke cigarettes and smoke weed,” Adyn says. “It’s not something that interests me.”

That’s not to say he’ll opt out of all the normal trappings of high school life. Adyn has signed up for a strength training class, and he’s considering several different sports. He’s quick to point out that he’s already attended Rangeview football games, and he’s planning on going to more during his freshman year. As far as the high school social cliques, he’s not too worried, hoping simply that there’s “not a ton of drama.”

And, he notes, he’ll always make time to practice drums.

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