Saturday, October 22, 2011

Public School, take one

I'm sure this won't be the first time I talk about P's school, but I've had several little thoughts lately that I just wanted to get down.

First off, let me say right out that we were dead set on homeschooling. Like, had a home school group, had a membership to Enchanted Learning, I was doing "lessons" daily at home that I tracked with a teacher's book, we still have a "lesson's table" with a roll under storage container full of supplies and a small bookcase near it full of skills books and children's fact books. We did excursions with other homeschool bound families, joined message boards, laughed at HS jokes, and it even played a part in our search for a house. We chose our neighborhood for several reasons, such as diversity, relative security, no HOA, great location, park within walking distance, not too far from Nik's work(s), and... not the school. In fact, the school was one of the poorest rated in Raleigh, and we were fine with that. It kept housing costs low, and it would pretty much guarantee that we'd follow through with our HS plans.

And then life hit us.

And while some of our friends in the HS group have gone on to home school successfully, we were not one of them.

Now let me say that I'm still all about homeschooling. I love being able to tailor your curriculum to your child, and to your family in general. I love knowing that children can get enough food and rest and down time, that they can explore the natural world all day, that the family can take field trips whenever, that history is taught in such a way as makes sense to the family. I love knowing that a child is challenged, not forced, and that they can learn different subjects at their own speed. And seriously? Home schooling is absolutely still on the table, still something we think about and still something we may do in the future should we see a need to do it.

And yet... we found that traditional schooling worked best for our older son.

One thing I always said, and that I hold true to, is that when it comes to my children I will shove aside my hopes and my ideals if it benefits them.

And when our first (wonderful, incredible, God sent) counselor strongly suggested preschool for P, no not a HS group, but actual, 5 morning a week preschool.... it HURT.

I felt like a failure to the Nth degree.

Thing was, while my child was learning from me academically and soaking it up like a sponge, he really had to learn how to be a "normal child." And as a child who did not have a normal first few years of life, he did not have the basis of simply knowing how to be a normal, happy kid.

In short... we put P in school because of social skills.

Yeah, we were told that our home school bound child wasn't getting enough socialization, the biggest myth of home schooling, and we realized that, in our case, it was true. And it was hurting him and hurting our family and hurting all of our relationships. I was frustrated with him all the time, he was frustrated without constant, every day playmates and every relationship in our house was strained (except for everyone's relationship to the new little baby in our family, Ambrose, because man did we all adore him!).

So he went to a carefully chosen school that stays very, very close to our ideals.

And he thrived there in a way I could never have imagined!

Thing is, with our kid, he NEEDS people and he NEEDS stability.

A once a week home school group is nice and all, but he needs the same children every day, the same activity repeated over and over. And his preschool provided that.

And now, his Kindergarten is providing that...


So with that very long background story out of the way...

Let me just say that I was so, so uncertain about his elementary school.

I mean, when we chose this house we were absolutely certain that we wouldn't even consider this awful, failing school with a horrid reputation. It was the exact opposite of what we wanted for our child!

And yet, in the 3 years between writing that school off and enrolling him for Kindergarten in it, a lot has changed.

The school became a Magnet school, the first in the area focusing on Engineering. This means that while my child gets to learn normal public school things he also gets to spend a lot of time building, thinking, working with different technologies, and learning more math than your average kindergartner. The school teaches the children how to work solo and in a group setting, how to be a leader, how to think outside the box, how to use all available materials, how to change plans halfway... these are all things he's learning now in bits and pieces that will be reinforced over and over.

On top of what we think is actually a really awesome curriculum, the school has been given grants, new teachers, new administrative staff, and resources galore. All schools in this county are struggling, but ours is actually faring pretty well.

On top of that we have:
-Kindergarten classes with one teacher, one every day TA who is just as involved (both qualified and caring), and a class size of 15-18 though they capped it at 16 this year.
-A principal who greets students at the door and is working to know everyone's name. (one who we've heard was brought over due to his incredible work in other schools)
-The principal, teacher, and TA all hug my child when he's coming in or leaving for the day, smiling happily and calling him by name.
-The school is small, intimate, and full of happy faces and bright pictures.
-There are several playgrounds, and all of the children have recess, even the 5th graders (rare in this area to have recess after 1st grade).
-An extra Kindergarten teacher who rotates between the 5 kindy rooms to help teach math.
-Extra work and challenges for students who are excelling.
-No PTA, but they're organizing one right now and the principal has sworn that we will not use this for fundraising, but instead will try to get all families involved with their children's education.
-Computers in the classroom with P's teacher's class website up, tailored to their class, updated frequently, full of interactive academic games and songs, accessible at home.
-The ability and encouragement for parents to volunteer frequently in the classroom.
-Constant and easy communication, teacher and principal initiated.
-A home visit to our house by both the teacher and the TA just to "get to know" P's back story and our family.
-And to top it off, a school lunch menu that typically contains a vegetarian option most days, and frequently serves local NC products.

So yeah... not perfect, no, but my son is happy and we're happy and actually beyond impressed. We had a LOT of worries, a lot of second guessing, a lot of "well, maybe I'll sign back up to the HS group just in case." And it's worked out great so far.

One interesting thing of note though...
A few weeks ago P's teacher sent out an email to me and another student's mother saying that our boys were the top students in the class and that they'd been getting extra challenges in class and they were also getting extra homework at night just to work on those extra skills. Of course, I'm happy to hear this but I assumed part of their quick success in Kindy had to do with preschool experience (though P's was not an academic preschool but one focusing mainly on social skills) and with age, given that P will be 6 next month and the other child just turned 6 as well, with many of the students being almost a year younger. So not a big deal, and it could all even out in a few months anyway.

There was an open house on Thursday, 5-7, with hour long presentations by the teachers in their classrooms (one at 5, one at 6). We wanted to get the kids fed and in bed on time so Nik left work early and we went to the 5 o'clock presentation. Imagine my surprise when, out of 16 students in the class, there were only 2 families present for the first presentation: our family and the family of the other top student. Two more families showed up halfway through and seemed more... awkward? More uncomfortable in the school setting. Not asking questions or looking through the student books or anything. I just kept thinking, is there something more to this "top student" thing than just age?

I mentioned it to my mother in passing, and she just sighed and said that was her experience exactly. "You wouldn't believe how many times I'd show up for a teacher presentation and be one of two moms who showed up, both of us with the top students!" Hmmm... makes you think...

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I really admire how you are able to put your original plan aside in order to do what is best for your child. That is so selfless and can be truly hard to do. What a blessing that things have started to turn around at the school too! Sounds like it is working out great!