Nina clearly remembers the day it happened.
"It was a Friday. We were about to take our seats for the periodical exams when, in front of the whole class, the teacher told me I couldn't take the exam and that I had to go to the principal's office."
The principal told her that she wouldn't be able to graduate because she had exceeded the number of absences allowed. For the first five months of her senior year, she had missed 40 days of school. "I was passing my tests in spite of all my absences. I was still able to do the school work. I was asking the principal to consider this, but she didn't. She asked me to leave."
Darlene was a sophomore when she began skipping class. "I just felt so dumb and stupid in there," she says with a little edge in her voice. "The whole time I was going, kahit complete attendance, wala pa rin. I would study but I'd still have the lowest grades sa mga tests. I just got tired of it." She was dispirited and it showed. She flunked three subjects and her general average was at an all-time low. She had to repeat her second year.
"The whole time I was going, kahit complete attendance, wala pa rin. I would study but I'd still have the lowest grades sa mga tests. I just got tired of it."
Jen, who was then in third year high school, found herself going on a lot of night outs. "I wasn't paying attention to school or homework anymore. My grades were slipping and I ended up flunking two subjects," she says. This meant flunking her entire junior year, as well.
Nina, Darlene, and Jen are what the rest of the school population call repeaters—students who fail to make the grade and do not graduate to the next level. They can be easily dismissed as stupid, bulakbol, or lazy even if many factors may effect their school performance. Whether flunking is due to genuine difficulty or learning disability, lack of motivation, a family crisis, or rebellion, the emotions teens experience are just as varied.
"It's difficult to generalize what teens go through when they flunk a subject or repeat a year level. It greatly depends on a lot of things," says family and child therapist, Bunny Ty. "For instance, teenagers who've always had a difficult time academically but are truly giving their best may feel very disappointed and frustrated. It also affirms their personal beliefs that they can never be good students."
Darlene expected to fail. "I didn't plead with my adviser or ask for some sort of consideration. Pero iyak lang ako ng iyak. I felt so terrible, like I let everybody down."
"It was embarrassing at the start," says Jen. "I was so bad trip because I couldn't imagine I was actually in the same batch I used to pick on and dislike."
Nina's, embarrassment came from the manner in which she was told to go see the principal. When she was told she could go back to school to finish the grading period, she chose not to. "I was so embarrassed, I didn't want to go back."
But since she desparately didn't want to repeat her senior year, she found a school that would take her in during the middle of the school year. "It was a school for kick-outs. We had school from 9AM to 3PM and had two-hour lunch breaks. They were so lax," she says. But she also felt out of place, coming from an exclusive school where the population was generally conservative. "I felt that the co-ed crowd in the new school was too advanced. Almost all the students were smoking. They were quite wild."
School or Consequence
A good student all her life, Nina was once on her grade school's honor roll. She gives no real reason for all her absences. "I just didn't feel like going to class," she shrugs. And since she could keep up with the school load, she opted to hang out with her friends—college kids who, unlike her, had the luxury of a flexible schedule. Eventually, she felt she could no longer keep up. "All the more I didn't want to go [to school]. It was sort of a chain reaction."
When she was starting fourth year, she felt that time was crawling by. Only when the graduation month of March came did she think otherwise.
"That's when I realized, 'If only I had waited a little longer.' I could have graduated with my old classmates," Nina says a bit sadly.
"I regretted [flunking] so much," Jen sighs. She hardly knew anyone from her new batch and she missed her friends. "They were shocked when I flunked, but they didn't talk much about it so that I wouldn't feel bad. But generally, they didn't treat me any differently." Her parents were a different story.
She was grounded for an entire year—meaning an earlier curfew and less gimmicks. "They were the most frustrated people on this earth. They were very disappointed because it was such a waste of money. They cut down on all my privileges and punished me for the littlest things," Jen recalls.
Ty stresses that more often than not, "It takes a while for some teens to realize what consequences their actions may have in other areas of their lives." Nina had to adjust to a new school, Jen had to give up seeing her friends, and Darlene had to quit soccer.
"I can say that I'm quite good at soccer," Darlene shares a bit shyly. "It might be the only thing I was good at and it was being taken away from me. I felt so mad at school, my teachers, and myself. I gave up, e." She often found herself going to school only when she had soccer practice—the highlight of her day—as classes were getting too frustrating for her. In the soccer field, however, she bloomed.
"Teens tend to see the different roles they play in life as independent of each other. For example, they believe being a student has nothing to do with being a friend, or, 'the kind of daughter I am has nothing to do with the kind of daughter I am has nothing to do with the kind of friend I am,'" explains Ty. Because of this, there is a tendency to compensate.
"They can think, 'not doing well in school can be acceptable since I have 10 million friends' or the fact that she's a great athlete compensates for her poor performance in school."
In her second try as a sophomore, Darlene's parents decided to hire a tutor. Her mom and dad, who were both working full-time, also tried to sit with her every other day after school just to see how things were doing. "It was so uncomfortable, at first. Parang every move I made was scrutinized, like if I understood the lesson correctly or not. I felt like I was in kindergarten or something."
Jen's parents also began monitoring her studies. "I felt that I had to prove myself again. I had to be more behaved. It wasn't that hard because I wasn't that close to my new classmates. This gave me more reason to study," she says.
Nina was a different story. She didn't feel she had to prove anything to anyone. "I guess, I felt that I proved [I was good in school] when I was younger," she ponders. She even dropped out of her new school a month before graduation. "I just couldn't adjust."
However, all throughout this experience her mom was supportive of her decisions. "She was always there for me. Of course there were ups and downs but our relationship wasn't strained. She was my best friend," volunteers Nina.
Because of her mom's constant monitoring, Darlene grew close to her. "Studying and learning was still tedious for me but my parents, although they were very disappointed in the beginning, were still very patient."
According to Ty, when a teen flunks in school, "they should seek some support from their parents or talk to the school couselor. If couselors are not available in school, find one who has a private practice. They can also build a relationship with their teacher and see how she can be of help." Asking help from their peers through study groups can also keep them motivated.
Going back to the basics of studying is necessary. "Find out what your learning style is—if you're a visual learner or an auditory one. This may help you in studying," offers Ty. Being more receptive to hearing information means you're a visual learner; and being hands-on means you're a kinesthetic learner. Guidance tests can reveal one's learning style.
"Find out what your learning style is—if you're a visual learner or an auditory one. This may help you in studying."
Ty also suggests taking time to identify the cause of the experience. "Do you need to be tested for learning disabilities? Time management tips or just betters study habits? Should you rethink your priorities? Must you set a goal and find out what it takes to reach it?
"Remember, that you are always capable of changing. If you look at it that way, then you know it is something you have control over. You can do something about it," shares Ty.
When Jen focused on school work, her grades improved. "It was also a lot easier because I had the same topics and it was just a matter of retrieving stored information. Eventually, I improved and learned a lot. Now, I've gained back my parent's respect and my privileges."
Although Nina seemed to have easily accepted getting kicked out of school, she admits that she regrets it. "It was my responsibility and I messed up." Fortunately, her owning up, although delayed, still enabled her to succeed. When she left "the school for kick-outs," she took an equivalency test to see if she could still go to college and she passed.
Darlene is working harder than she expected. She had to give up a soccer again this year. "I felt like I owed it to my parents and to myself to at least do better. And I think I'm doing better, kahit konti. I still find it difficult but I'm managing. Hopefully, tuloy-tuloy na," she says smiling.
This article was originally published in Candy's October 2000 issue.