One C. One A. The rest Bs.
Not bad. Not great, not up there with the mix of As and Bs that she usually gets, Erin Hon thought as she looked at her report card Wednesday afternoon. But still the eighth grader had managed -- squeakingly -- to make the B honor roll at Severna Park Middle School.
And that's what counted.
"My mom told me I don't get to use the phone if I don't make the honor roll," Erin said. And there were other thoughts racing through her mind as well as she opened the envelope containing the computer printout -- which has replaced the traditional folded papers in most schools -- reporting her grades.
"I felt nervous and scared," Erin confided, acknowledging the butterflies that danced in her stomach as her teacher handed out theenvelopes. "If I get more than one C my parents won't let me go out on weekends. My mom and I argue that I don't care if I get a C, but she does. I do care, but I'm not as hyper about it as my parents are."
Whether you look at them as a rite of passage, a reward or an unpleasant reality, report cards are a fact of life for most people. First, you'll experience them as a schoolchild; a generation later, you're a parent dealing with your child's report card.
Report cards will be given out today in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties. Anne Arundel County elementary and middle school students got them Wednesday, junior and senior high school students will get them next Wednesday. Howard County distributed theirs last week.
In the city, report cards will be accompanied by an insert advising parents to talk to their children about their grades. It explains how to give them positive reinforcement for good grades and where to go for help if there are problems.
These efforts were prompted by Peggy Mainor, a Baltimore City prosecutor who deals with child abuse cases and has noted a correlation between report card time and incidents of abuse. It is a correlation well known to educators, said Edward Holmes, professor of elementary education at Towson State University.
"A lot of kids get the back of their father or mother's hand and don't understand why," Dr. Holmes said. "Lots of kids end up forging report cards or losing them. It is frightening that they receive such negative reinforcement at home."
He added that the abuse can represent "two ends of the syndrome. You have the parent who did not do well in school and feels his child must do better for himself. Then you have the parents who have always been successful and have a child who does not do well. This can create a tremendous family friction."
Happily, for some students, the report card experience is a more positive one.
"I got straight As," exulted Mike Cooper, a Severna Park Elementary School fourth grader. "This is totally unexpected. My mom's going to buy me the world!"
Sometimes the emotions are more mixed.
"I usually do better but I knew pretty much what I was going to get," Severna Park seventh grader Carrie Dean said of her two Bs and four Cs. "My parents won't give me a hard time, they'll just say try to do better the next time."
And then there are the report cards that it's hard to find much good in.
"Let's just put it this way," said Carrie's classmate, Marilyn Doyle, looking at her four Cs, one B and one D. "I'm a slave inside the house for a while."
A fifth grader at Severna Park Elementary sneaked a peek inside her folded sheet, saw two failing grades and quickly pushed it away. "I don't even want to look at it," she said. "I'm not really upset."
She thought for a moment, gulping back tears. "I'm a little bit upset. I know I can do better. But I don't really think one report card is going to change my life."
For most students the reaction to their report cards is based as much on their anticipation of their parents' reaction as it is on their own feelings about their grades. In the case of the Severna Park students interviewed this week, many expected worse from their parents than they got.
"As soon as she came in the door she got tears in her eyes and said, 'You're going to be mad at me,' " said
the mother of the fifth grader who failed two subjects. "I said, 'Why?' and she said, 'Because I got two Es.' And I just said, 'Well, that's nothing to cry about, you'll just have to do better.' And she is capable of doing better."
"Not being able to use the phone if she didn't make the honor roll is not quite true," clarified John Hon, Erin's father. "We might restrict the phone but we wouldn't take that away totally. It's the Nintendo in her room that we might take away if she wasn't doing her work." But he added he was "very happy" with Erin's report card. "We try not to put too much pressure on her but we feel good grades are important. We want her to put forth as much effort as she can."