Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Thing About School

We've been having a bit of a time when it comes to school for the fall.  Mary Grace will turn 5 on August 10.  The cut off date is August 1 for the local public schools. 

She is tall, and smart, and articulate, and self-selects a slightly older peer group when playing with kids in the neighborhood.  She builds robots for fun and uses words like "oscillation."  She has already had two years of preschool.  Her Daddy is a rocket scientist and her Mommy has a fairly high IQ (although I am kind of the poster child for not-achieving-my-full-potential).  We're worried that if she's already 6 when she starts Kindergarten, she'll get bored.  Her current teachers say that she would probably be fine in Kindergarten, but she would also benefit from one more year of preschool.  I'm anxious to see what her evaluations look like in April.

When I called in January, our neighborhood public school said that there were NOT taking any early enrollments, and that they would not be even if I called after Kindergarten Round Up.  Terrific.  They suggested Montessori, but I don't have a spare kidney laying around that I can sell.  Seriously, Montessori, if you're more expensive than my college tuition for Kindergarten, then you lack perspective.  Anyway, we started investigating our options in January.

(Aside:  rather than having a firm cut off date, wouldn't it make a whole lot more sense if they said, "Anyone who turns 5 before June 1 is automatically in, and anyone who was born between June 2 and August 30 needs to test in."?  Duh, public education.  Duh.)

I called the local charter school (which first hit my radar when MG was just a little baby), and they said lots of good things, including "they have to be five by the first day of school," (she will be), and "thematic learning," and "whole child," and "music and art education," and "lots of field trips," and "Spanish instruction from K-8," and, when I asked about homework, "we don't give a whole lot of homework because research doesn't support that it does kids any good..."

Be still my heart.

However, it's not accredited.  And they're housed in the annex building of a church downtown, and while it's an adequate space, there isn't an excess of space or storage so there is a lot of "visual noise."  I found it distracting to be there as an adult.  I would have had a very hard time learning in that environment as a kid.  (I hate bulletin boards.  Visual distractions annoy the snot out of me).  There were open shelves full of boxes of materials, and everything felt extremely crowded...  Like the walls were closing in on me.  I know I'm weird, and MG won't necessarily be weird the same way I'm weird, but it's a concern.  They're building a new building that they'll hopefully be in for fall 2011, but the location they're considering isn't my favorite.  The grocery store that used to be there got robbed a lot.  To be honest, the current location isn't exactly ideal, either.

Our third option is to keep her at her current school (where we've been very happy) for their four day pre-K program. She and Claire would attend in the same building, which would be convenient.  Claire will start in the two day preschool program for 3 year olds in the fall (where did the time go??).

The neighborhood school would be 5 half days.

The charter school would be 5 full days (eek).

I bumped into my friend Casey at preschool drop off on Thursday and she said, knowing what the neighborhood school told me about NO early admissions in January, that there were lots of people at K round up doing early admissions.

And my head flew off.

I marched straight to the school to complain.  The principal was very nice, and she said that they'd had new people start in January, and that I probably spoken to one of them.  She allowed me to fill out the application and assured me that we didn't miss anything.

However, she also strongly discouraged me from enrolling MG in Kindergarten early (even ten days early) because our school district tends to run "a year ahead" according to her.  In other words, the things they're studying in 3rd grade are typically covered in 4th grade elsewhere.  Also, she talked about emotional maturity and social maturity.
I assured her that I had a family full of teachers and former teachers who would tell me if they didn't think MG was ready, and that we had other reasons for wanting MG to start this fall, including, "I already told her that she would be starting Kindergarten this fall, because I thought the cut off dates was September 1, and she's excited about it," and "It would put her two years apart from her sister in school, instead of just one, which I think would be better for both of them..."  Not to mention that we're losing Allison this fall to grad school, so our childcare situation is completely in flux, and knowing where MG will be, and whether it'll be half or full day, will help us figure out what we're going to do.

So as it stands now, our neighborhood school is our first choice, if they have spots and she can test in.  After that, our second choice is the charter school, with the idea that she can do Kindergarten there and then stay, or start first grade at our neighborhood school in 2011, or even do another year of Kindergarten at the neighborhood school in 2011 if we don't feel that she's ready for first grade (the answer which appeased the neighborhood school's principal).  And if we don't get the opportunity to test into the neighborhood school, and we don't lottery in to the charter school, I've still got a space reserved for her in the four day pre-K program at our current school.  Far from being a third choice, though...  Our current school is tied for second.  In fact, if we hadn't told MG that she'd be starting Kindergarten in the fall, I'd probably keep her there.

I'm totally hedging my bets. 

I know it's stupid to feel like the fate of her entire future hinges on this decision - where she attends Kindergarten is not going to make the difference between going to Harvard and working at McDonald's...  But it's hard not to feel a lot of pressure to do the "right" thing.  There really is no "right" answer, and that's hard.

I'll tell you what, if I ever get pregnant in November again I'm going to ask to be induced on July 31, just to avoid this kind of foolishness in the future! 

(Generic picture of a Kindergarten class to break up the constant flow of words words words brought to you by Wikimedia Commons.)


Kathryn said...

I know for us that $ was not a deciding factor in our decision to go the Montessori way. But, with that said, knowing what I know now, I would find the money somewhere to make it possible for my kids to attend the Montessori school if it were a factor. I really believe that the start Kelly and Ian have gotten there is a big part of the success they have had so far. The educational foundation that they get there is really hard to get elsewhere. In addition to the educational things, kids are allowed to work at WHATEVER level they are at in WHATEVER year (grade) they are at. I might suggest that you do another year of preschool BUT at the Montessori school. That way she will be able to do the kindergarten or 1st year or 2nd year work while being in a group of her peers. Ian is in his 3rd year but reading and comprehending at 7th grade level and is at 4th grade level math. He can learn and absorb as much over the base level of social studies, etc... as he is able and can progress at his own pace. He is able to excel at each of those because they have the resources available for him to do that. It would also give you the opportunity to see if she, and you too, are the personality type for the Montessori Method. Have you visited the Montessori to see what the classes are like? Maybe there is a discount of both the girls are at the school. Call me and I will talk to you about it.

angel0199 said...

I like a lot of things about the Montessori approach, except that a bright child who is not driven can so easily "under-achieve" in that environment. We have considered it for our girls, but I know that my son would slack there. He actually does well in a competitive environment or where expectations are outlined. The Montessori work at your own pace would have him doing the bare minimum. So when people recommend it you need to think of where their child that does great there has a similar personality to MG.

I was getting worked up reading you post when you said the local public school told you know early admissions. Well that is illegal. According to IN DOE website- each school corporation must have an appeal process for parents requesting early entrance. See this memo that your district superintendent should have received-

Try not to obsess too much. Of course I have an August dd and a July dd so I have done my share of over analyzing each option. My guess is MG is a girl who is going to excel where ever you put here. If she isn't challenged enough in a subject at school she can come home and build a robot with dad or write a novel with mom. And she won't be board in kindergarten if she waits a year because when she gets done reading her book early she can help her friends.

My son is 2 grade levels ahead in math and reading. I was worried he would be board and get in trouble in class. Instead he makes it a game. He takes sudoku puzzles to do if he finishes his work first. His teacher is checking out extra books for him at the library because he has read everyone in the classroom, and he races to be the first one done with his math. Luckily has lousy handwriting isn't holding him back. MG will be fine anywhere. If the work is too easy it will just give her time to focus on the important things like being a good friend.


Anonymous said...

I missed the birthdate cut-off by three weeks. I wish it had occurred to somebody to try to get me pushed ahead. I spent my entire school career feeling like I already knew most of what was being taught in my class. And when I was able to start taking a class here and there with kids one or two years ahead of me, I did so. If you think MG is ready for K, then do what you can to get her into K.

I have an attorney friend who told me his daughter's first year in preschool cost him more than his own last year in law school. No, it isn't fair.

Cate said...

Everything you're going through reminds me of the angst I went through last year trying to get Esther early-enrolled in Kindergarten, jumping through hoops and having folks at the district office try to poo-poo me and put me off. I so empathize!

The thing that I realized this year after Esther did get to go to Kindergarten was that even though she was academically, emotionally, and socially ready, was that she lacked the physical endurance to really enjoy her first semester much. Her classroom is very play-based, they have a lot of down time, not very much pressure, but she still was SO TIRED every day. I thought she would get used to it much quicker than she did. Now in almost March, she's good. She doesn't complain about being tired and she doesn't have a breakdown every day. I spent most of last year worrying that I wouldn't be able to meet my child's needs by not getting her into school, and I spent most of this year worrying that I pushed her too hard and made her miserable. Finally things are reaching a kind of equillibrium (and it IS cool to see what she has picked up -- both in Yup'ik and English, and sometimes, things ahead of the kids who are a year older than her!). I am slightly agonizing now over whether she should go to 1st grade or repeat K, since in 1st grade she would have an extra hour of school per day (now she gets out at 2:30, 1st grade would be 3:30). The first grade teacher is amazing, though, and it may be her last year before retirement -- how many kids can say their first grade teacher was a Yup'ik Eskimo elder? I think she would get a lot from this lady, who is so knowledgeable and wise and soft-spoken yet unflinchingly, quietly strict and full of expectations for her class.

So anyway, that being said, I would push for whichever school was the half-day option as hard as possible. Especially since MG has been in preschool however many days a week, going 5 half days won't be as much of a transition.

Erin said...

I had an interesting "conversation" with Katelynn's current preschool a couple of weeks ago. Her teacher asked if I was enrolling her in pre-k next year (a 5 half day a week program) and I was like of course I am. She said okay, gave me the enrolling info I needed. Later that day when I was picking Katelynn up, both her teacher and the preschool director had an impromptu talk with me about how they felt (9 months out) that Katelynn was too immature to be in the pre-k next year, she needed to redo the 3 year old program and be held back from Kindergarten until she was 6.

They thought that half of her class wasn't ready to move on either. They neglected to mention that the half they did feel ready had been in their preschool for the 2 year old program last year. The reasons they felt she wasn't ready had to do with her behavior (which she will outgrow) and nothing to do with her intellect.

Anyway, we did our homework and found another pre-k in the area that has a looser structure, but teaches the same things to be accredited by the state. I spoke with a friend of mine that had enrolled her oldest daughter (who is now 9 or 10) at Katelynn's current preschool, was basically told the same thing, so my friend switched her daughter to the same "new" preschool Katelynn will attend next year. And subsequently the rest of my friend's 3 other kids attended it too and all 4 of them have turned out fine.

So I guess it's not a "one size fits all" approach to preschool or kindergarten either! I also thought MG & Katelynn would be in the same grade at school, but maybe not! Good luck getting her into the best fit though! :)