Eighth Graders: So You’re Into Payton — Now What?

Dear Admitted Payton Student,

I totally get it. In fact, every one of the 888 current Payton students know what it’s like to be in your very position as an 8th grade Chicagoan applying to high school: the exhaustive testing, the logistical hurdles, and the silent (or possibly overt) pressure from a parent or guardian. When you try to explain the tier system to out-of-state family members, many just shake their heads in disbelief: “It was so much easier when I was a high schooler,” they lament.

Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t get easier on February 26. Although you probably don’t need (or want!) the reminder, letters of acceptance or rejection for all CPS Selective Enrollment Schools will be mailed “no later” than that day. Somehow, you get in. You’re thrilled (or at least relieved): in the 2014-2015 school year, Payton was the hardest CPS Selective Enrollment school to get into. If you haven’t shadowed a current student (or even if you have), it’s hard to really know if you’d like Payton. So whether you already said “yes!” to being a Grizzly or you’re in the middle of a tough decision, here are a few honest pieces of wisdom from a senior Payton student.

Yes, our teachers really are the best in the City

I can say nothing bad about my teachers at Payton. One of my English teachers is like a second mom to me; math and science teachers have rekindled my dying interest in STEM classes. Honestly, Payton teachers might be more excited for school than the students are.

No, we don’t have a pool

But that doesn’t mean you can’t swim in high school! The Payton-Jones co-op team consistently places well in in the City Championship swim meet.  

Yes, there’s a lot of work

There’s no denying it: most Payton students work hard. Some 8th graders who have coasted through middle school are initially surprised that they actually have to study and do homework to do well in class. Never fear: at Payton, everyone has been to tutoring at least once, and student services like the National Honors Society will get you set up with a one-on-one peer tutor for free.

No, there’s no hazing

Payton is the absolute opposite of the high schools in Disney Channel original movies. Football players are no cooler than math team members; “queen bees” like Regina George simply don’t exist; rather than hazing, Payton boasts one of the strongest peer mentoring organizations. You’ll be assigned four upperclassmen PALs, or Payton Advisory Leaders, whose sole job is to make your transition to Payton as seamless as possible. I’ve never been in an environment that caters to freshmen more than at Payton.

Yes, you belong here

It’s no accident that you got into Payton. No matter the tier you live in or if you were admitted through the Principal’s Discretion Policy, you have a seat at this school for a reason. Unlike middle school, you probably won’t be the smartest person at Payton. Thankfully, that doesn’t matter: you don’t need to be the smartest. You just need to put in the effort.

You’ll meet a lot of people different than you …

And that’s a great thing. Payton prides itself on the “4 C” character traits that students strive to achieve: character, compassion, curiosity, and courage. If it were up to me, I’d add in an “E” for “empathy.” The students, teachers, and administration at Payton have helped me to see a world much larger than my own neighborhood, and for that alone, Payton has been a great place for me.

Who does well here?

Students who really just love to learn for learning’s sake, those who can self-advocate, and those willing to meet people unlike them will excel at Payton. If one of those doesn’t apply to you, that’s okay too: you have four years to work on it.

We hope to see you in the halls on Wells Street next year!


Categories: featured, Features, Opinion

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