Saturday, September 7, 2013

Back to School and Other Ethical Dilemnas

Little K goes to Kindergarten!
More pictures below.
Mr. Lamadingdong.  
He's a really great young man.  Smart--just tested into all of the "Gifted and Talented" academy classes.  His teachers always comment that they love having him in class; he can sit next to anyone and get along.  He's a good friend, easygoing and likable.
He's humble and agreeable.  Really never in trouble.  And if anyone in our home is going to slip through the cracks at school, it's this one.
When he hits a challenge, you can almost see him physically push his head against it and hunker down until it's conquered.  Works hard.  (Has a "Math Brain," but not a "Spelling Brain" and thus if he studied for the test, would get an A, if not, an F.  Really no in-between.)

This was the 3 year-old who would "read" a chapter book for half an hour at a time, patiently turning the pages systematically, even though he couldn't read a word.  
He has a tender heart, and is very physical.  He's hard on shoes and goes through them so fast that now he wears reinforced hiking boots on a regular basis.

Mr. L was registered as a 7th grader for: 8th grade advanced math, academy English and History, band, Russian, and the other Jr. High classes at the local Jr. High.  His locker combination was a palindrome (YES!) and he was at his first day of school when the preppy elitist public charter school down the street called to say that he had "won the lottery" and was next on the waiting list, if he'd like to enroll.
It is a "public, independently operated charter school with an open admissions policy.  It serves ...7th to 12 graders....small classes, a student/teacher ratio of 22 to 1, and an advanced core curriculum designed for college-bound students."  The students wear uniforms.  There are no cafeteria services, so they bring lunch from home.  The school day is longer, and there are some great travel abroad opportunities throughout the school year.  The school focuses on helping students stay organized and helping each child succeed.

  Each parent is expected to volunteer at the school at least 40 hours a year and record those hours on the school site.  There is no transportation.  
Basically, even though it is "public school" and there are no blatant racial or economic barriers, like my friend Jaime so eloquently puts it on her recent blog post, here:  my son is Nemo, and this is his anemone.

The school basically eliminates the knotheads, ding-a-lings, and riff-raff.  But if you were the low income kid of an illegal alien, you'd have to be pretty motivated to succeed here.  They're pushing for excellence, and if you're not working, you're not gonna get "left behind" you're gonna get "kicked out." (They had waivers and used clothing for sale, but it was the wrong size and beat up.  You'd have to walk or bike, and what about the parent volunteer hours and the online access stuff?)  But I know for a fact that if you wanted it badly enough, they'd kill themselves to make it happen for you.  They would.  You'd have to provide the courage and the drive, but they would get you there. These people care and they care BIG, and so do the parents involved.  You'd have a family, carpool and mentors, and it wouldn't end when school was out.

The uniform polo-type shirts are about $25 a pop.  (He owns exactly 2.  He changes after he bikes in from school, and I wash.)  The dockers pants we bought at Savers.  The cardigan, (Sigh.  Yes, my son owns a cardigan.  The poor Jr. High kids wear a cardigan.  "Hey, son!  Get in the car!  Let's go buy you a cardigan!"  A freakin' EXPENSIVE cardigan.  Which he'll guard with his life, wear on "Formal Mondays" with a white shirt, dockers and tie, and then graduate to a blazer when he's in HS.  Poor kid.  A  red cardigan.) oh, the cardigan.
  There are no online pictures of a boy wearing these.  Can't imagine why.


So they called and told me the good news about his acceptance, and I called the Jr. High and told him.  He said, "Eh. Nah."

I knew that he was ready to just settle in with Mediocre Jr. High, so I scheduled a tour.  Sadly, the thing that sold him at the Academy was the amazing Basketball team which took State last year.  Their "Starters" all moved on to the HS team, and Fergus was pretty much guaranteed a hot position.  (He's a big kid, and a good player.)  He was sold, I was STOKED and we transferred him.

It took two days.

When I was at college becoming a teacher, all of the talk about the voucher system, charter schools, home schooling and the problems with education was just heating up.  I had some pretty passionate ideas as an educator, and I have some now as a mother.  Some are the same, and some have changed.

Basically I believe that:
1.  Education is one of the main keys to happiness, freedom, and success.
2.  Most people are doing the best they can with what they have.
3.  We should make decisions in education based on what is best for the child.
4.  Homeschooling is a final desperation option, and it comes just before suicide.  (Ha!  I crack me up.  But.  Seriously.)  I'd like to think I home-school them after school with "enrichment programs."
I feel better when I think that.

Moving on:
When we were walking the halls of the old Jr. High, one of the administrators stopped us and asked why we were transferring.  I just let my son go on about the basketball program.  Mr. Admin asked, "But what if our school had a basketball team?  Would you have stayed?"
I know that the administration at the old school is doing their best.  They have several programs in place that are good, and they are working to help the children.  I know that they care.  They are meeting with each child to help them set goals for the future.  They have the older students mentor the younger ones.  They use positive rewards to reinforce good behaviors, and involve the community.  There are good teachers, and good advisers.    
The problem is that it is all geared toward leaving no child behind.  

There are so many children in that school who are at risk of being left behind, that all of the focus is on them.  This is good.  They deserve an education.  As we lift them, we lift society.  

My children, however, have discovered that as long as they are not being left behind, they can coast sometimes.  
*My daughter's 8th grade Advanced English class was dismayed when their standardized essay tests came back GRADED BY A COMPUTER!!!  

*When we transferred to the school, Mr. Cool was unable to be in the 9th grade Advanced English class, after two years of Advanced English in our previous state with A grades, because the class was full--he was #17 on the waiting list.  (They couldn't open up a new class?)

*But, there is a choir teacher there who sings with the MoTabs (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, you Gentiles) who can get kids motivated in a way that brings tears to your eyes.  She can play the piano, lead a group of 200 kids, and keep it going in a 50 year old auditorium even when the lights have gone out and it's 100 degrees.  I get the feeling that she'd teach even if they charged her money to do it.  She's changed my daughter's life forever.

Still, there are too many children, too much expected of the teachers and administration, too many government hands in the goulash, and not enough freedom for those who should have it.  The local and national government just keep tightening the noose, and setting up the system for failure.  In my opinion, anyway.  I'm just not too keen on the new little "grading system" the state legislature decided to rush through.  I think we're about to need some Tylenol.  And don't even get me started about Core Curriculum.

Whatever.  It all boils down to this:  for this one child, in this one situation, this new school is the best choice.  We chose to do the best thing for this one child.  (22 kids in a class!  They learn Latin!)

Maybe what this child needed was for a busy mother of eight to devote two entire days and several hundred dollars to his education.
Maybe he needed to see that he is so important, that I am willing to drop everything during one of the busiest weeks of my life to focus on getting him into the best learning environment.  

Possibly, he needed to watch us dip into precious savings to pay the extra $250 registration fees, $150 clothing purchases, and $150 school supplies to make everything exactly right for him to begin the first day of the rest of his life in his new school. Possibly he was needing a nifty red cardigan.

He needed to have undivided attention and hours of pep talk about his career and education goals.  He needed to know that a lot hinges on the choices that he will make in the next 10 years of his life.  He needed to know that he is not just a number, that it's not a game, that HIS LIFE IS IMPORTANT.  

When he knows all these things, he can go out into the world and resume his functions as a friend, as a well-educated contributor to society, as a mentor.  When he sees how a good school system works, he can help other schools to function in better ways.

He would have been successful in the old school, he was a good student, self-motivated and a had worker before.  But he has stepped it up a notch.  He's a better student, and has grown already.  This was a good move for him.
Lil' Mama is a Freshman--still in Jr. High
I'm not saying that everyone needs to transfer to his school.  In fact, my 9th grader is still in the old school.  She is one of the student council, one of the mentors.  Mrs. Kingman invited her to be in A Capella choir, and she made it into advanced Drama.  She is taking advantage of  the honors classes that are offered, and trying to decide where to go to High School next year.  Whatever she decides, we'll support her.
And she's helping the administration with their school standardized test averages by writing papers that the computer likes.  (Heaven help us!)

Here are some more Back to School photos:
Princess (5th) and Little P (2nd)

The bicycle brigade--there are 9 kids in the cul-de-sac that ride together

Princess holds the door for Little P

Inside the school

Mr. Cool is a Junior at the other Charter school.  When he graduates next year, he'll have his Associate's Degree, also.

And Nellie L leaves this Thursday for the University to begin life as a Freshman adult.  'Cause I live in the Twilight Zone.

That will make 7 children in 5 different schools, and the caboose at home.  Giddyap!

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