Advice on repeating 11th grade

Hello everyone,

I am a parent of a high school junior. As my son faces the prospects of applying for colleges, I am seeking your wisdom for something that has bothered me for a while.

My son’s native language is not English, when he came to the States in 2016, I initially requested to have him placed in 6th grade instead of 7th, I wanted him to spend one more year in school (Repeat 6th grade) to get his English skills improved.
But the school district did not allow it, they told me they only register students based on age, I went along.

He is proficient in English in general, but he is still lacking certain skills such as sophisticated writing and an expansive vocabulary. This put him at a disadvantage in challenging courses such as AP Seminar, Biology Honor, and his GPA suffered.
I have been considering sending him to a private high school and get that extra year for him as I originally planned. In this case, He would redo 11th grade, and apply for college in 2022 with graduation in 2023. But obviously, there are also drawbacks.

Any comments or advice is greatly appreciated, I have always felt guilty for not providing him the breathing room he needed.

Thank you.

If you feel, and the private school agrees, that he will develop those skills by repeating 11th - I say do it. Athletes ask the same question when moving to private schools and repeating. Will the extra year and further development allow them to be better when applying to college, for whatever reason? The only caveat is that kids do catch up, and age, some of the time, does not offer a sustained advantage. Sounds like the fresh start is also what you might want. If you can spend the $$, I say go for it. 2 years of better grades will certainly help when applying to college - but again, he has to achieve them and being a year older may or may not make that easier.

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Is your son already one of the older ones in his grade, by virtue of his birth month? It can become very frustrating for a young man who is already 18 before even starting senior year, to comply with the various rules and restrictions imposed upon high school students (things like freedom to come and go from campus, engage in sexual activity). Honestly, it’s hard for all of them to comply with the rules in senior year, let alone for a young man who is a year older than the rest.

Also, after four years in an English speaking school, if he had been reading for pleasure outside of school, his English would have caught up to that of his peers. This is what I tell children of immigrant parents when the parents do NOT speak English well. I encourage them to read, read, read in English, so that they are exposed to the full level of English vocabulary. In fact, that’s what high-achieving American students do - they read a lot of literature to develop their vocabulary and writing styles.

This is really your son’s decision. I would most definitely NOT have him repeat at his own school. If he agrees, I’d move him to a private school to repeat 11th.

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I don’t have anything to add about the repeat decision. But, I would just like to jump in and support OP son here. I myself lived in a foreign country and did plenty of reading and talking and living in the foreign language and 4 years later, I was not as caught up as I would have liked. Please know that 4 years can feel like nothing in the world of living in a whole new language and I say kudos to your son for doing it. Not sure if @parentologist you have yourself done this, but it is really harder than you made it sound, in my personal experience. (And, I’ll add that this was my 3rd language, as I grew up bilingual, so I was very inclined toward being good at language acquisition.)

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Yes, it is a VERY hard thing to do, to become, in four years, a native speaker fluent in a foreign language, even when you arrive at the age of 12. It is even harder when you live in a household where the home language is not English. It’s made even more difficult unless the teen prioritizes becoming totally fluent in the new language, by spending many hours reading in English, noting new vocabulary, and memorizing that new vocabulary. BTW, there are apps that one can use that present the new vocabulary words to you at ever decreasing frequency, according to whether you get them right or wrong, and present them to you just before you would have been expected to have forgotten them. My kids use them for foreign language vocab, for scientific and math equations, for anything very short that they need to memorize.

My comment was not chastisement of the OP’s son. It was just a statement of fact. The OP is considering whether they should have him do an extra year of high school. The question is, will it change anything? YES, it will, IF the young man is put into a good boarding school, where he would be living in English 24/7, and not in the home language outside of school hours, AND IF the young man is highly motivated, and willing to do the extensive reading of literature (on top of whatever he is assigned in English class) in his free time. I have a feeling that if he had been interested in reading in English for pleasure, he would have already been doing it. The family has to weigh the cost of two years of boarding school and the social issue of making a young man spend his 18th year in the restrictive environment of high school, against the possibility that he might gain better mastery of written English, and get into a more competitive college than he might otherwise have. Or he might not.

If they have plenty of money, and are willing to spend it on this, it might lead to him getting into a more competitive school. It might also lead to a frustrated and rebellious young man, who resents being kept in high school an extra year.

BTW, I have friends who arrived with two kids in sixth and seventh grade, speaking not a word of English, not even a European language. The school district would have kept them in “English language learner’s” track for three years. I met them around Xmas of their first year here. I told the parents to get them OUT of that “ELL” track immediately - just throw them into regular classes, plus honors math (they were smart, and good at math). The reasoning was that every day they sat in ELL, they were getting older and losing some of their brain plasticity to absorb language. Boy were those kids mad! They were furious that their parents had moved them, ELL was so easy, and now they had to WORK in school? After one semester in regular classes, they were both in all honors classes (seventh and eighth grades). They have both been straight A students in the highest AP/honors classes in high school, including AP English. By the time they were in 9th and 10th grade, you could not have told them from girls who had been raised here. According to the school district’s plan, they would have just been moving out of ELL into all regular level classes by that time.

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@parentologist
We will probably have to agree to disagree on both of the above.
(But I’m glad that those two students fared well. It’s a good reminder that this is also a very valid experience. )

@Carpediem2020
I remember that being my frustration too: sophistication of self-expression. I realized I sounded far less educated and smart than I actually was, and it was really hard. And exhausting. And I had zero anglophone friends, so it wasn’t that I was speaking English all day. Whether to repeat or not is of course up to you and son to determine. I will say: it is done very often in boarding schools. And, a supportive community surrounding him all the time might help develop deeper mastery of the subtle elements of expression. My husband’s English improved a ton when we moved to the US for him to attend graduate school. My gut would be to repeat, assuming financially and socially that is a workable option. Maybe it’s better to master sophisticated expression in a supportive high school environment than at college, all things being equal. On the other hand, eventually your son will probably flip into a deeper mastery, and whether it’s in high school or college, maybe it doesn’t matter? Life’s a journey and I think it’s really cool that he is on his multi-lingual, multi-cultural path. My husband spoke HORRIBLE English when he joined one of the top business schools in the country and you know what – he figured it out and got it together and graduated two years later with honors.
Hm. I have probably not been helpful.

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Thank everyone for the thoughtful advice. One key factor I still need to determine is my son’s motivation towards this idea. It would only have a chance to workout for the better if he is firmly behind it.

Thank you again.