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We finally got a school directory. Although this school has Asian students adding some name diversity, as a rule it is much less interesting than our school in Georgia in terms of names. There is ethnic diversity at the school, but little class diversity, so kids of all ethnicities tend to have upper middle class white people names.

Girls: Elle, Ellie, Kyla, Kayla, Chaya, Lila, Lila, Lily, Emma, Amy, Savannah, Vivienne, Danika, Alexandra, Reilly, Delaney, Sena.

Boys: Alexander, James, Elliott, Nicholas, Noah, Charlie, Henry, Owen, Owen, Max, Robert, Robert, Sean, David, David, Jonah, Matthew, Tate, Gabriel, Brayden, Kaden, Rohan (South Asian, not a LOTR fan), Raj, Ajai, Ziyin.

One thing that's interesting to me is that in all of the gifted classes at the school, boys outnumber girls, usually at about the rate seen above in the 4th grade. I know that at extreme outliers males tend to test higher (and lower) than females, but the requirements for the school are only testing in 95%ile, and as far as I know there's no inherent gender disparity in giftedness at that level. But my suspicion is that gifted boys are not as successful in mainstream classrooms, as a result of the way boys and girls are socialized at school and in our culture generally (girls - organized, high achieving, good behavior; boys - disorganized, underachieving, boredom causes disruption). I would guess that of the percentage of kids who are eligible for gifted, more girls than boys are already flourishing in their schools, and parents are reluctant to change something that works, whereas more boys are not doing well in their schools, so when they test into gifted, the parents are open to change.
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The kids started school last Wednesday, at the newly-reopened public school that's a 10-minute walk from our house. Casper is in 4th grade at the gifted academy, and Dillo is in first grade as a regular civilian. So far, so good.

Dillo's class is actually mixed K-1; I think probably 1/3 to 1/2 of the kids are in 1 and the rest are K; they tested the incoming K kids and the ones who were more advanced were placed in this room. This could be good or bad (or both); Dillo has always been on the young end for his grade, and because of his shyness is undersocialized. Now he's one of the older kids, and could develop some maturity as a mentor to other kids, or have more social peers since they are younger. On the potential negative, academically he was already at the top end, so I worry that he won't be challenged enough if the teacher is also pitching to K students. I am not yet very impressed with his teacher; she seems nice, but I don't have much of an impression of her. She's only been teaching 3 years, after a career in HR, and is probably older than me.

At Casper's grade level, they have a homeroom and then rotate for the subjects: math, social studies, language arts, and science. Casper's homeroom is the math teacher, who is also older than me and just returning to the classroom after a few years as a master teacher/coach for developing teachers. I like her energy and air of cheery competence. Casper was very excited to find a couple of girls she knows from Girl Scouts in her class. We've just started getting homework in earnest, and there's something in each subject each night. It's assignments that would be manageable for someone who could settle down and focus on homework; as it is it's kind of a lot. Tuesdays, when Casper has dance class from 4-5:30 and soccer from 6:30-7:30, will be a problem. (We'll ditch soccer that night if we have to; we also don't have to leave for school until 8:45, which leaves some time to finish things in the morning.)

The content does seem more interesting and hands-on than last year. Tonight she's factoring numbers to 50 (only needs to do two factors per); writing definitions and providing examples of 4 terms in language (simile, metaphor, etc.); answering two questions about her favorite things to study in science; and doing a "quiz" of new vocabulary related to maps in social studies.

Today at pick-up time the science teacher - who is young and has a reputation as being very strict with the kids - came up to me and asked me if Casper had ever been diagnosed as dyslexic; apparently she noticed that Casper sometimes still reverses letters. I said no, that she's struggled with reading a lot but always came out as "at grade level" so was never formally evaluated, although I have my suspicions that she has some reading disability. She said they can certainly deal with kids who are both gifted and learning disabled, and I said I'd welcome starting a conversation about that. mr. flea is a little trepidatious - I think he fears labeling her - but I am mostly relieved and impressed that the teacher noticed an issue like this the first week of school, and brought it up with us. That never occurred in the 8 months Casper spent at her "excellent" elementary school last year; nor did it at the special reading camp for kids who struggle with reading at a local college's Education department this summer (where she was assessed as "reading at grade level" and so they focused on content. She GETS content; it's stuff like sounding out words and spelling she can't do.)

Interestingly, one thing I read today about dyslexic kids is they may have trouble memorizing math facts, which would certainly explain why despite drilling with flash cards all summer Casper has no more ability to recite her times tables than a kitten. (She can multiply; she just has to work it out every single time).
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Took both kids to the dentist. Casper got a referral to the orthodonist; she has a "deep bite." Dillo got the real prize, though; one of the teeth that got a pulpotomy and crown when he was 4 is now infected, so he gets amoxicillin for a week and then gets it pulled. The tooth next to it will need to be crowned (capped, at this age; it's not a permanent tooth), because it has an existing cavity and can't support the spacer without being crowned. She thinks it may need a pulpotomy, but she can't be sure until the abscessed tooth is out. Cost for today: $425 (will be mostly reimbursed by insurance, but not for months). Cost for next week: $845. So much for our dreams of a new mattress.

Took elder cat to the vet. Talked about Feliway diffusers for her stress level; talked about switching foods (they recommend Iams hairball control); got blood drawn to look for other things that may be causing occasional puking; had anal glands expressed. I felt very knowledgeable, thanks to Homer and other b.orgian cats. Another visitor to the vet had 5 dogs in for a visit together. Could never be a vet. Or a dog owner.

Dropped cat off at home, went to get sandwiches, Casper started getting stressed out about the next event, which was an open house to meet the principal of the gifted academy, which she is enrolled for. Said freakout expressed itself in a horror of sandwiches. Luckily, the promise of a bacon sandwich on white bread calmed the situation.

The open house was okay. The principal is very experienced, originally from Brooklyn (a plus for me), talked a good game. The PTO/other parents are as obsessively organized as they were at last year's school; this stresses me out and makes me feel small. I am a little worried about Casper underperforming in the gifted academy; she's such a space cadet sometimes. Dillo is enrolled for first grade at the new school (in the same building as the gifted academy, with the same principal), but they have not hired a first grade teacher yet (school starts Aug. 22) and last I heard there are 5 first graders enrolled. So, while the principal is still officially saying that first grade will happen, I am pretty skeptical. Dillo at this point wants to stay at his old school, and we have not told him that there might be a switch, so I guess it's all okay if they cancel first grade at the last minute. It would be a pain to have the kids at 2 different schools, though.

Several really big thunderstorms rolled through at various points during all this. When it wasn't bucketing rain, it was in the 90s and soupy.

I am exhausted.

Looong day

May. 19th, 2012 07:05 pm
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We left the house at 10 am and got home at 6pm, but in between we went to Kroger for hairspray, bobby pins, and a hairnet (and cheetos, scotch tape, and San Pellegrino Limonata, as one does); spent an hour and a half at the school carnival where it was hot and sunny and remarkably corporate although pleasant; ran to the Zoo, where the kids had (separate) classes and mr. flea and I sneakily ate ice cream cones, watched a nearsighted sloth, and canoodled on a bench; ran back to our neighborhood to the gym of a local Catholic school for a 2-hour+ rehearsal for Casper's dance recital, which ended in floods of tears, as much due to low blood sugar as the sense of failure for getting the leaps wrong in Dance, Dance, Dance.

I successfully put Casper's hair (which is still pretty short - was boy-short in October) all the way up into a semblance of a bun, with the tools mentioned above, plus gel. She looked quite different - both her teacher and our neighbor did not recognize her at first. She is incredibly beautiful; fine-boned, and all neck. Her dancing is great to watch. She has excellent arms, but a lot of trouble with toe-pointing.

I introduced her to the concept "Bad dress, good show," and hope she will be recovered by tomorrow.

Dillo really liked his one-hour Zoo class, and allowed as how it might actually be fun to go to a Zoo class every morning for a week. So I may have conquered his unreasonable fear of camps.
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We've been trying to get copies of the results of Casper's gifted testing done in Georgia since before spring break. I'll spare the ugly runaround details, but we got them today, and I think her existing scores will be good enough to get her into the [public school] Gifted Academy that's moving to the elementary school a 10-minute walk from our house.

Can I brag? I'll cut-tag it if you are squeamish.

Read more... )
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I guess the only thing worse than no choices is having choices, right?

I went to the open house at the school very close to our house. This fall they will definitely have the Gifted Academy there (3rd-6th) and a neighborhood school Kindergarten. It sounds quite unlikely that they'll offer first grade this fall, as there had been a rumor going around about. That could only maybe happen if they have, say, 35 Kindergarteners sign up, and they could open a second K and make it K-1 if they got 10 1st graders. So this school is unlikely to be a choice for Dillo until fall 2013.

The Gifted Academy, on the other hand, sounds pretty good. The school manager spoke and ran the meeting, and I was impressed by her - she was frank and transparent about uncertainties (it's unclear how things will progress with the neighborhood school because a lot depends on how many people actually enroll). Next year the Gifted Academy will have 2 3rd and 4th classes, and 1 each of 5th and 6th. This means there is still room in 4th, and she implied when I spoke to her personally that there will be for some time to come, so we don't need to sign up immediately. She says the school is diverse ethnically, religiously, and geographically - it currently draws from 25 neighborhood districts in the city, and next year she expects it to draw from 35. The work is project-based. When I spoke to her one on one, I asked what sort of student the school was for - was it for the Hermione Granger types, or the wicked smart but more disorganized and more creative thinker types? She said there were both kinds of kids at the school and suggested I go over and talk to a current parent who has a 3rd grader plus 2 other kids at our current school.

So I did, and was really heartened by what this parent had to say. I re-used my Hermione Granger analogy (that was the kind of gifted kid I was) ad she totally got it, and she said her son was not that type, but he was thriving at Gifted, and they teach to the kids' learning styles. She obviously likes our current school - her other 2 kids are happy there, and she'll be president of the PTA next year - but it was good to hear someone else say that the very traditional pedagogy there is not right for every kid, even every smart kid. (I have been feeling guilty about being unhappy with one of the best schools in the city.)

We're getting Casper's Georgia gifted testing scores faxed over to our current school, and hopefully they will let us see them (they wouldn't fax them to us directly; ah, bureaucracy.) They do Ohio testing April 21, so if Casper's scores won't get her in, we can consider that, if we want to go forward.

I'd still like to go look at the Montessori public school our neighbors go to, and the School for Creative and Performing Arts downtown. Now that my job is, for the moment, over, I hope to have the flexibility to actually go to the schools, although the Open House season for them is basically over, and we might not be able to get spaces for fall 2012. But if one or both of them screams perfection, we might stick with the current school and plan a transfer in fall 2013 for Casper. We might, after everything, stick with the current school anyway. You remember what I said about the paradox of choice?

Dillo, I dunno. He is excelling academically at the current school, and while he isn't Hermione Granger in personality, he does have a really straightforward sort of high intelligence, unlike Casper. Everything academic so far comes easily to him. He hates change, which is an argument for keeping him in the current school. On the other hand, he did really well at his Montessori preschool, and the Montessori elementary might be a good fit. And as far as social atmosphere, the current school's traditionalism does extend to gender roles, and I think that's unhealthy for Dillo. His fundamental nature is beta, but the past 2 years of school social environment seem to have made him act out a lot and his primary emotional reaction to anything is anger. I'd like to see him in a gentler social environment. (In good news, there's a "feeling class" at school that's been started - by external researchers from a local college - about teaching emotional awareness and social skills to K-1 kids, and we got Dillo into it, and it's pretty damned awesome. I hope it helps him.)

red flag?

Mar. 19th, 2012 06:45 pm
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As you may remember, I've never felt super-great about the kids' current school. It's rated excellent, they have a lot of good enrichment and so forth, but we haven't felt like it's a real community for us, and it seems like there's an excessive focus on test prep and achievement generally.

A couple of weeks ago we did a Girl Scout Cookie booth, and the leader, who has daughters in 6th and 3rd grades, gave me an earful about 4th grade at our current school (unprompted). She said, "4th grade is the year [school] loses kids," and talked about the 3 4th grade teachers who have worked together for 15 years and are very tight, how parents are explicitly discouraged from spending time in the classrooms (despite a school-wide open-door policy), and how they are very hard on the kids, with respect to strictness and high standards. Today Casper told us that her current (3rd grade) teacher gave them a lecture today about how hard 4th grade is, and how if you forget to turn things in you get a 0, and (unlike in 3rd grade) they don't let you correct mistakes in your work for extra points after a first grading. Casper was in tears about this.

So, what to do? I definitely think it's a bad idea to paint the 4th grade as a "make or break" year, presenting a challenge in a negative light, to the children, as Mrs. S did today. Casper now has the impression that the 4th grade teachers are mean.

But aside from the PR problem 4th grade has, is the actuality a red flag, or not? I've been ambivalent about the level of rigor at the school; it certainly feels more authoritarian and focused on achievement in the matter of grades rather than in the matter of understanding than our previous school. I have tried to convince myself that this is a good thing, or at least okay, since Casper has mostly managed to rise to the challenges of lots of homework, and she has a tendency to be a bit lazy and sloppy by her (daydreamy, rushing through boring work) nature. I told myself that the enforced rigor would be good for her, teach her that she can achieve high standards if she pays proper care to her work. Now I'm concerned that the school is teaching her that dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's is more important than love of learning and understanding concepts. Which way is right? Does anyone have experiences with school personalities and the rigor question?

I'm going to an open house on Thursday for the new neighborhood school we'll be eligible for. Unfortunately they won't have 4th grade yet next year, and they won't have 5th grade yet by 2013, so it's not really an option for Casper. There will be someone from the Gifted Academy for 3rd-6th grades which will also be moving into the building. But I'm not positive Casper would be able to get into Gifted by the Ohio criteria, and I have no idea about the environment there. And then we get to think again about magnet schools and private schools, again too late and of course the $ issue.

Next on Woes of Elementary School Parenting, we'll have a fun discussion about social anxiety, brattitude, and your 5 year old. At least he has excellent grades?
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I have a stack of kid school papers on the table. All of them have come home in the last week except for one, which came home the week before.

All need decisions or feedback or something.

*Girl Scout field trip Feb. 25. (Probable yes, must consult Girl Scout.)
*Scholastic book club order form for Feb. 3 (for K). (Probable recycle.)
*Annual flower sale order form due Feb. 14. (Whoops, no garden, I guess I can recycle that one).
*Primary Choir (K) - rehearses Mondays 8:20-9:05 starting Monday, performs May 8, cost $5. (Probable no.)
*Note from K class parent re: Teacher Appreciation Day Jan. 27, I should send in a school supply from the list by Wednesday. (Whoops, did not purchase today, may skip.)
*Spanish Language school (both kids), meets Tuesdays 8:10-9:05, $120 for 10 weeks, due (whoops) Jan. 16, starts Jan. 31. (I'd actually like the kids to do this, but neither of them wants to.) (This is the form that came last week.)
*Spring soccer (both kids), times & location TBD (could be a problem), $40 per kid + $16 uniform, due Jan. 26. (I thought Dillo was dying to play soccer, but he is not enthusiastic about it, which could be just as well since I think they practice in a place we can't get to except by car, and probably in the 3:30-6 window. Also given the league rules and cutoff date he'd probably be the youngest child on a team of 6-7 year olds (the cutoff is must be 6 by July 31, which he makes by 3 weeks) and he's never played soccer before.)
*Lengthy note from 3rd grade class parents about all events for the rest of the year. (I can't even skim without getting breathless with anxiety.)
*Flier for School Night at local bookstore, Jan. 26, show up in PJs and story time with local author. (Probably skip; we don't get home until 6pm).
*Forms requesting feedback for the principal on how we like our school, what we'd like to see changed, etc. (Maybe skip.)

Last week I recycled forms about spring baseball and softball, roller skating club, and art club (after Casper told me she didn't want to do it - she does not like the art teacher, which is sort of a tragedy.)

I also have notes about conferences for both kids (Feb. 2), a note on the 100th day of school celebration for Dillo (Jan. 25), plus of course homework packets for both kids.

Between this and double fits about homework (one from each child; Dillo finds it boring and too easy and also just likes to be contrary; Casper finds it boring and too hard and also just likes to be melodramatic), I actually thought that homeschooling might not be so bad just now.

Not-school papers that need decisions:
*Cincinnati ballet discount ticket mailing ($20 tickets) for 1pm Feb. 18 child-friendly performance.
*Art Academy Saturday am art class flier for both kids, Feb. 4-March 10, $135 per kid.
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Applications to magnet elementary schools in Cincinnati occur November 16. As Cincinnati magnet schools operate on a first-come, first-served basis, parents are now camping out outside the top schools, to get a preferred place in line for when the name-taking begins on Nov. 16. Which, you may note, is still 10 days away. An acquaintance posted to twitter from the line (in a tent? mr. flea suggested we drive by the school and see!) with the hashtag #occupyfairview. Note the inherent favoritism in this system not only for the organized and dedicated parents, but also for the parents with the resources, support, and flexibility to camp out for 10 days. What do single parents, families with two working parents, families with small children at home (which must be in a majority, as most of the camping out is for K enrollment) do? It's beautiful weather today, but generally in the low 40s overnight. Surely there is a less cruel way?

This is why my kids attend a "neighborhood" elementary school.

Just for shits and giggles, I looked into the application procedures for the magnet K-12 school for the creative and performing arts. For students entering K-3, you fill our forms and go for an interview. For students entering grades 4 and above, you fill our forms, get written recommendations from academic and art teachers, and audition. 4th and 5th graders submit a portfolio of visual art, a portfolio of writing, sing "America the Beautiful" (in the key of F), perform a short dramatic monologue (from the beginning of Charlotte's Web), are asked to turn up in a leotard (and those with dance experience are asked to submit a photo in first arabesque), and those with experience in musical instruments are asked to play.

I think getting into college might be simpler. Can we move back to small-town Georgia for the sake of the kids' education, please? Or at least for the sake of my stress level about it?
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I wonder about the school we've chosen. I don't quite feel it's our vibe. It's a good school, but it's a little more traditional and test-prep than my ideal, and the demographics are a little too heavy on stay-at-home mothers with dyed blonde hair, designer jeans, and shiny, shiny boots.

Emblematic of the issues is the large packet of homework Casper wrestles with weekly. Part of the wrestling is her, based around personality, not liking to do hard things, not liking to do boring things, and dawdling. But part of the issue is there's easily 3 times the homework of our old school. Is it really accomplishing much? I think she's accomplishing at least as much as the president of the Rockin' Hot Buttercups, the club she and Dillo and the two neighbor girls have established for themselves.

She's also getting special test-prep tutoring, I assume basically because she is new to the school and system and they want her to do well. But there hasn't been any critical assessment of her reading and spelling difficulties. (I realize I want an explanation, ideally with concrete things that can be done, of her struggles in these areas; there may not be one, and the thing to be done may just be to live with it.)

I think the actual place we're living is a little bit of a better fit, socially, for us, than the school, which is technically in another neighborhood. Many of our close neighbors are childless 20-somethings passing through, but the ones we've met who aren't are more laid-back and less consumerist than my perception of the school. Little things, like my neighbor is a Quaker, as opposed to school where several 3rd graders were army men (never saw that at our old school!)

The one family on our block with kids sends them to a public magnet Montessori, and it sounds good. The "camp-out" season for admittance for next year is now, though, and I am not ready to give up on our current school after only 3 weeks. Another possibility is the planned re-opening of a neighborhood school on our side of the neighborhood, for fall 2012. But much depends upon the pending school levy, and it's not entirely clear what the school will be - some talk of making a a gifted magnet instead of a neighborhood school, or maybe combining the two in the same building, and the opening might not happen until 2013. I also want to investigate the school for creative and performing arts. It runs K-12, and if Casper is not going to be a good candidate for the very rigorous traditional high school (Walnut Hills) that our elementary feeds to (it has a required admissions test), it might make sense to get her into SCPA before the end of 6th grade, when presumably it will be more competitive (people move to Ohio from other states to send their kids to SCPA).
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Let us begin with school. The school is a "neighborhood" public school, in a very nice neighborhood (some rentals in the zone, but houses for sale at $4-500,000 are the standard.) Judging by eye the student body is about 10% non-white, largely black but a few Asians (south and east); I have not seen a child I would guess is Latino. There are a lot of blondes; we're back in the land of the Germans! We're scheduled to get on the bus route on October 24 (there is no stop within 1/4 mile of our house, so they have to create a stop for us, and this takes 2 weeks), but in the meantime our routine is mr. flea drives us all to school at about 8:30; the kids play on the playground and I watch them (other kids start showing up by 8:45, the before-school program, kids off the buses, and drop-offs); and at 9:15 they line up and go into school and I walk 2.1 miles home.

In the afternoon I walk 2.1 miles back to school, pick the kids up when they are released at 3:35, and we all walk home. We haven't actually walked the whole thing yet. Day 1 we were 2/3 of the way home and our neighbors drove by and picked us up (on purpose - I had mentioned the bus assignment delay, and their 8 year old saw us from her schoolbus and begged her mother to come get us so they could play. Neighbor 8 year old and Casper have hit it off great guns - a sleepover is planned for tonight.) Yesterday it rained and mr. flea did the pickup, but he forgot and was late and was unreachable at work, so if it rains again I am calling Nice Neighbor and asking for help rather than spending an hour and a half trying not to panic about whether someone is picking up my kids. Today is cool but sunny and I am planning to break at the library.

Dillo is in K is a large mixed class (I think it's actually K and 1 together) of about 36 kids and 2 teachers, although one of the teacher is his primary. He seems to be doing fine, and the work is at his level, and to his interests (they are doing planets and the sun; we had a talk about why Pluto was no longer a planet this morning). He had an accident yesterday, but this is hardly unusual for him.

In general, Dillo has pretty much taught himself to read this past month. He sounds out words everywhere and all the time - from boxes, on signs, anything with letters. He hasn't grasped the Silent E concept yet, and in general tends to be frustrated that letters do not always make the same sounds, but once he's read a word he tends to remember it. SO completely different from Casper at this age, who got letter identification and sounds, but never had any spontaneous interest in sounding out words and in fact is still not very good at it.

Casper is in 3rd grade in a small classroom with about 20 kids and 1 teacher and a part-time student aide. She got off to a decent start socially - the teacher cleverly seating her next to an extremely social and outgoing girl - but has been overwhelmed and disorganized about work. She never brought the homework packet home, and I discovered last night that she had a spelling test today, but she had no idea on which chapter in the spelling book, and she seems to have lost the book (Danger Along the Ohio) that is serving as their reading and social studies text (it has never come home). The teacher has been responsive to email, so I hope we can get Casper sorted out soon. She is happy, in general, and they have started division (with Smarties) and she picked it right up, and I sent her in with $5 to buy a recorder for music class.

At home she had a brief phase of obsessively reading Dahl's Matilda (her proper first chapter book) but she has stalled out on p. 91 and I need to get her going again. Neighbor 8 year old takes a dance class that seems fine, so I think we will sign Casper up for that too. Next to look at are Girl Scouts (although she does not seem interested at the moment), and maybe Art club at school, and then when our finances settle out some kind of music lessons I think.

Every afternoon the 4 kids on the block play together, outside, at their house, and at ours (Neighbors have a 5 year old girl with an October birthday, so she is still in preschool; she and Dillo are not BFFs like Casper and the 8 year old, but they deal perfectly well). I was brave and spent 45 minutes with the parents over a glass of wine yesterday (and nearly burned our soup - gas stoves are enthusiastic!) so I am starting to get to know them.
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We're in Week 7 of the summer this week - there are 11. The last one is the camp-free week, which I am taking off, but it looks like mr. flea has no vacation for, so maybe his mother and his sister and her kids will come down (his father has jury duty, which I'd have thought you could postpone for a family vacation, but he's not that kind of guy.) All up in the air, mostly.

This week Casper is at her second non-YMCA week camp - the local nature center, run by the city. She wasn't as wild about it as I'd expected - she was much more enthusiastic about the first day of Zoo Camp. Her friends the twins are there, but have been for several weeks so have a regular gang, and S. didn't sit with Casper at lunch. (In Good Save news, a friend of hers from Zoo Camp is there this week, and sat with her.) Her small group is all boys but her, and nobody interesting she says, and her swim buddy is a girl she knows from school but thinks is weird. I emphasized that she needs to be friendly to swim buddy girl just like she wishes S. would be friendly to her.

She's had a good social summer up to now, and this was supposed to be the highlight, with her close friend, but oh well. She's made good friends this year at the Y (so strange to have met none of them) and has successfully navigated some mean girl social stuff there (a girl told her her parents have stupid jobs - that girl's parents are apparently a musician and a tattoo artist. So sue us for not being hipsters!)

Dillo does okay at the Y, but he's not very happy. Like with school, he would much rather be at home, and tells me so. Several boys - at least 5 (Clayton, Michael, Eli, Cooper, and Baptiste) - from PreK - are at the Y too, but they are all already 5 and in the older group. He is with the little dudes - they have nap time! (Dillo hasn't napped in YEARS). Every Monday (this week, Tuesday) I have to use all my persuasive powers to get Dillo to go to the Y successfully. Luckily I am damned good.

He's also had a couple of evenings when he's overtired, and at bedtime segues into a litany of worry and fear and complaint about the upcoming kindergarten. He is afraid of homework (which they do not have in K, and he knows). He once wailed, "They are going to teach me to SPELL!" and it was all I could do not to laugh. I have talked about the cool K teachers (teacher assignments aren't until right before school starts) and how he will have some old friends from his PreK class and some new friends, but he isn't buying it. He's started to ask me to homeschool him, though not in so many words. Poor guy just doesn't like change, and doesn't like organized stuff, and wants to do his own thing. I hope we get the teacher our PreK teacher recommended, who is said to work well with the independent. He used to like school...
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Never mind that we've been in the near-100-degree range for the past week and are forecast to continue this - fall's around the corner! It's Dillo's last week at day care and Casper's last week of camp. Sunday mr. flea's parents come for a week, with them doing some child care and us alternating partial days off so they don't get too frazzled by 4 year old antics. August 3 we have a PreK orientation and August 5 it's school open house where we find out teacher assignments, and then the following Monday school starts.

We've got to do something about the sleep situation - these last couple of weeks we've overslept a lot and ended up late for our morning routine (only by 15 minutes at most, but nearly every day.) And when school starts that wakeup time needs to ratchet back half an hour, since the bell rings at 7:45, which means leaving the house at 7:35 if we drive and 7:15 if we walk, which I'd like to start doing, with our neighbors. I've been sleeping badly, partly because of the heat. Last night is an excellent example: Dillo went down late (9:30) even though it was the weekend. mr. flea found and killed a roach crawling on him in bed at 11:30, so I was awake for some time after that imagining roaches crawling on me, and listening to Dillo cough (he has a little cold) downstairs. Also it was 83 in our bedroom, which is about as cool as it gets when it's 98 outside all day (THIS is why we wanted a metal roof). Then Dillo woke up and wanted me and came into our bed, so I kept getting woken by him wiggling, and ended up sleeping across the foot of the bed (mr. flea had removed to the couch.)

I don't think things are going to get much better until it cools off and starts getting dark sooner.
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I'm tired of the recurring issue of upper middle class parents protesting plaintively about issues in the public school, in ways that just completely expose their socioeconomic privilege. Manifestations of this I have personally encountered (at two schools in two states but with similar demographics and neighborhood vibes):

-Protesting the sale of coupon books as a fundraiser because the coupons were largely for "unhealthy" fast-food or chain restaurants. A parent managed to very politely point out the classism of this, bless her.
-Protesting the sale of chocolate milk at lunch and suggesting that skim white milk only should be sold. Many of the children get the only milk they get all day at school, and some could use the calories of whole milk and the chocolate makes them actually drink it.
-Concern about the discipline system (color charts) and the fact that one's child is sensitive and/or it fosters competition in the classroom. This is not an unschooling environment, folks, and it is not a Montessori school. Please be realistic about what this school actually is, and choose another option if you don't like it. You have the choice.

Here are things upper middle class parents can do to IMPROVE the public schools their children attend in majority poor districts:

-Support your teacher. Tell her you appreciate the hard work she is doing. Especially if she is a first year teacher.
-Donate your time (another adult in a classroom can be a great help) or money (many teachers purchase both general classroom supplies and materials for poor students, like books to keep, out of their own pockets).
-Get grants for things that will benefit all the kids - better playground equipment, materials to build a garden, instruments for the music classroom, etc. But work with the school to see what will be useful first.
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The Dillo has slept through the night - aaaall the way through the night, from bedtime to past 6 am - for the last 4 nights in a row! I am so well-rested that I lay awake in my bed between 5 and 6:15 am today!

It's not likely to keep up through the week, alas. He is much more likely to sleep all night when he hasn't napped (as on weekends). With no nap, he goes down fast between 7 and 7:30; with a nap (as in, last night) it is a huge struggle to get him down (last night he wasn't asleep until 9:30, and was rubbing his face on my saying "I wuv you, cat momma" for about an hour before that) and he is often awake in the night. But not last night!

Casper took off all her clothes as soon as she got home last night and scratched herself like crazy for hours. She has a little patch of skin on her cheek that sometimes flares up like eczema, and it was flaring. I rubbed her all over with lotion which didn't immediately help but I hope will - we've been having cold nights and the heat and dry air (very staticky heads!), plus she and Dillo and mr. flea had a huge bubble bath Sunday night which may have dried her skin out.

Casper is going to the dentist today (for the first time in 18 months, oops) and is VERY HAPPY and EXCITED about it. Also yesterday I was complaining about a boring day at work and she said I should come to her school, where I could "practice [my] coloring skills!" and read, and that would be exciting!

I emailed her teacher about something, and mentioned the "Casper is tall and beautiful" statement she (Casper) used to illustrate a fact, and she (the teacher) replied: "She has a wonderful imagination, and quite a well developed self-esteem! I wish I had her confidence!"

Heh. She's been sassy lately; we need to do a little cracking down about respect.
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I talked to the after school program coordinator, who is also Casper's classroom aide, this afternoon, and it was a good window into how she's doing and how she's viewed at school. Mrs. E said that she makes them laugh all day long, by being so outspoken and firm. She related a story about Casper complaining about being woken up in the morning ("I'm not ready!") and the story she told about a recent night that Dillo was up crying a lot and I had to sleep with him ("my brother had a cold and was crying and kept waking me up!") She also apparently grabbed a boy in the class very forcefully by the shirt at gym and told him, "Stop following me! I told you that I don't like it when you follow me!" No steel magnolia she - all steel.

Mrs. E said Casper is settling down into the routine and seems to be more focused on her work - at first she tended to rush through it, but she takes more time now. This is good to hear since this is a classic issue with Casper. Mrs. E described her as very articulate.

She has been taking milk at lunch, which I didn't realize until late last week, but I guess is fine. She insisted that the milk was free for everybody, but we got the bill today. I am fine with her drinking school milk - Mrs. E assures me she chooses plain 2% even! - so we'll start an account for her. I just wish it hadn't taken 4 weeks for us to figure out the situation, but no harm done.

school news

Sep. 8th, 2008 01:43 pm
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It was Kindergarten Parent Breakfast on Friday at school, so I flex-timed it a little and went with Casper. It didn't worry me, exactly, but it didn't greatly reassure me about how things are going in her classroom.

I sat in the classroom for the start-of-the-day routine. Casper is supposed to hang up her bag, put a frog on the chart for lunch choice (interestingly, every single child who was in class that day was buying lunch - am I the only one who sends a lunch? The low-income kids probably get free lunch, but there are at least 5 middle-class kids...) Several students were doing puzzles on the floor and the rest were at their seats doing small hand projects (blocks, coloring, etc.) Based on the dynamic I was seeing, I wonder if "playing with puzzles on the floor" is the teacher's answer to the kids who haven't got good control of sitting quietly - those kids got most of the classroom attention in the entire time I was there (including in the cafeteria at breakfast). So now I am worrying that because Casper knows about sitting quietly she'll get no class attention.

The breakfast was fine, and Casper was extremely pleased that I was there. I spoke to a couple of the parents whom I'd met before. J had just switched classroom seats because of behavior issues, and his mother was a bit concerned. Gave her a card, and S's mother too. B's mother (the one who freaked out on the first day) wasn't there (nor was B).

I'll be working Tuesday nights starting this week, and I'm wondering if it's worth it to offer to volunteer in the classroom that morning. I was so looking forward to that free time to myself, but I'm worrying about school a lot. I don't know if it would make me feel better or worse to be there, though - and it might be disruptive for Casper. We get reports next week, so maybe I'll see what the teacher has to say at that point.
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Ask Moxie's talking about school today, and the comments are focusing on gifted and talented programs, which in some areas seem to mean "ways we can pull out the mostly white, upper-middle-class kids from the rest of the unwashed masses" and in some areas actually seem to mean gifted and talented kids. There is a G&T program in our city's schools; I don't know what it means here yet.

I posted some of my feelings about how Casper's school this year is going. I'm sort of half-hearted about it; I didn't have a strong positive at the start of the year, and now that we have 3.5 weeks under our belts I am still in the same place. It's the classic middle-class anxiety - I want her to be at school in a special place, one that will challenge and stimulate her, one where she comes home full of new ideas, one that recognizes her for herself and helps make an individualized path to learning. I just want that all in a public school that takes all comers, including the kids whose parents don't speak English, or are only semi-literate, who don't have books in the house, kids who don't get enough to eat at home, who are smacked around or neglected. I think, in theory, that it should be possible, with a low enough student-teacher ratio (in practice, budgets do not allow for this). I think we saw a better approximation of it at our public Montessori magnet last year than we are seeing in our current public school, unfortunately.

Also, no long term reader will be shocked to hear that I an deeply snobby, intellectually. I am tired of being smarter than the people who are teaching my kid (I do grant that they have more training in education than me, and that I would be a disaster as a home-schooler).

We don't have a lot of options for schooling, here. We've already looked at most of the ones that would be at all reasonable for our values and our budget. This seems like the best of the bunch. And it's not bad. But I'm sad that we can't send our kid to a public school that is exceptional, remarkable. I'm sad that EVERY kid can't go to such a school.


Jul. 2nd, 2008 09:33 am
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Yesterday was a grueling day, mostly because the night before was grueling (kids don't sleep well on mats on the floor in a new empty house, surprise!) and because Casper turns out to be the kind of child who will poke the kid in the next seat every two minutes for SEVERAL HOURS. Dear Lord I wanted to slap her several times, and mr. flea turned to me at one point and said, "Let's not have another."

Accomplishments of the day included getting Casper into Chase Street school - by luck and the skin of our teeth. There was so much demand that they decided to open up an additional kindergarten at Chase last week, and we got in. We almost were doomed to the bad school way the hell on the other side of town.

Also, we bought a couch and a chair. I am not sure about them; it was a long long day, and by the end of it my faculties were impaired. We'll see how it all works out when they show up in GA.

So we don't have a negative post, here's His Cuteness:

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Casper slept on the top bunk of her bunkbed last night. (The first night she christened the bottom.) Dillo remains very excited about the concept and says "bunkbed!" a lot. Actually Dillo has a small and changing repertoire of words and phrases that he brings up at odd moments, out of context. Maybe he just likes the sounds or newness of them. Right now they are "bunkbed!" "YMCA!" and "Barack O'Mama!"

Dillo says "yes" a lot and almost never says no. I'd say this implies something about his temperment - have YOU ever met an almost two year old who never says no? - but he does say "DOP! [stop]" a lot. So I guess that's his no word. He used to say "yeah" and "nope" which was adorable, but now it's just a rather serious-sounding "yes."

Casper finished pre-K on Monday, and gets off at 1:30. We thought it might be nice to take her to tea at the Big Fancy Golf Course Hotel (which has afternoon tea) but there is no tea on Mondays. Ah well.

The current Ugh is worrying about Casper's fall disposition. The elementary school 4 blocks from our future house is our top choice, but kindergarten may be full (thinks the PTA president) and could even have a wait list. The school district assigning-person won't say. We can't even apply for Casper until we close on the house, so that's probably July 1. With school starting August 7. Of course, since this is public school we are guaranteed a spot somewhere, but the hassle of transport (busing? parent driving?) and switching after a year is not something I want to submit her to. We looked at the private Montessori school, which looks wonderful, although not very diverse. Unfortunately they make no guarantee about placement either, and it didn't sound likely. Our other option is in the day care with Dillo, where we could almost certainly get a spot if we wanted one. But she would be one of only two 5 year olds, and I'm not sure that's what would be best for her.

In good news, top choice school will have an after-school program starting this fall, and if that falls through (or sucks), the YMCA buses kids out for after-school there, like what she's doing now. We just need to hang on and hope we get a spot.


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