Schooling update: Spring Semester

I was looking through blog posts I wrote last year about DC’s schooling dilemma.  It’s crazy to think how much has changed since then.

At the time, DC was in preschool, all hir friends were heading to kindergarten (almost), and hir (quite excellent) preschool had run out of things for hir to do.  They suggested that DC become a teacher’s helper the next year as hir main activity.  At home ze had whizzed through all the magic treehouse books and done increasingly more math.

We were worried about DC’s increasing perfectionism.  DC slept very little (~7 hrs/night, no nap) and was bouncing off the walls while awake.  Ze was even starting to have little behavior problems of the type that a child trying to entertain hirself often gets into.  I read approximately a zillion books on giftedness for solutions to these problems, and they were pretty unanimous that starting K early would be the answer for our situation.

So we looked into schools in the area and decided on the one that called hir in for a second round of testing after ze passed the first kindergarten entrance exam.  They suggested, based on the testing, that DC start K a year early and spend half the day in first grade for math and reading.

Several readers had concern about the acceleration.  Were we destroying DC’s childhood?  What about when ze got to middle school or high school or college.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  And you know, there was that one kid who was accelerated and ze was WEIRD, so obviously acceleration (and being weird) is a horrible thing.  [Note to people:  Correlation is not causation.  That kid would have been weird ANYWAY, and probably would have been perfectly normal surrounded by kids who were more accepting of differences instead of by assholes.  Oops, were we projecting again?]

DC has flourished this year.

The perfectionism is gone.  The first grade teacher is a miracle worker.  DC is no longer afraid to try things ze doesn’t know right away.  Ze comes home with the occasional 80% exam and grins and tells us what the right answers should have been, and ze knows that now.  Ze tells us ze will get things.

Ze is learning things and excited and tells us all sorts of interesting science and history and theological and mathematical ideas.  We discuss lines of symmetry and ze stumped me on a parallelogram (they don’t have a line of symmetry!)  Ze love love loves school and learning.

At school DC has practiced the things ze didn’t want to practice at home.  Hir printing looks a lot nicer than mine did as a second-grader.  Double-digit addition is no problem.  It’s nice being able to pick and choose to only do fun stuff at home without being limited by what DC can write or compute.

DC now sleeps 9 hours per night on weekdays.  (Still less than that on weekends, but what can you do?)  That extra grown-up time is wonderful.  At home ze is so much calmer (again, not so much on weekends unless we get that hour of exercise and hour of thinking in).  We don’t have to do homeworkbooks on weekdays because DC doesn’t need extra thinking to help hir settle down, just on weekends.  (So we’ve greatly slowed the pace we’re getting through Singapore Math, and I am fine with that.)  We don’t think this is just getting older– when the 1st grade teacher was gone for two weeks, DC started reverting to previous behaviors.

All reports tell us that DC is an angel at school.  So far ze has gotten two “yellows” all year (every other day is “green”).  One for rolling off hir mat during naptime (during the horrible 2 weeks that the first grade teacher was out with a family emergency), and once for leaving the room without permission (“I didn’t know what that meant”) to go to first grade early.

All the kids are pretty well-behaved and DC is something of a pet among the older grades.  They love to ruffle hir hair.

Socially, DC isn’t even the youngest in hir class.  Though, as always, ze prefers spending time with the older children.  Hir best friend is a 6 year old who moved here mid-year and goes with hir to first-grade for half the day.  DC likes to use the word “noodle” in place of everything and hir best friend has played along and decided to be a meatball.  The V-day card was adorable– to Noodle (picture of noodle) From Meatball (picture of meatball).

Of course, all has not been smooth sailing.  The school has sucked hours upon hours of our time and thousands of our dollars in donations.  The headmaster is afraid of numbers but also can’t let go of control… and most recently has quit (long-term a good thing, short-term a bad thing).  The board is weak and also not so good with numbers.  In fall, the school came out with press announcements that it was going out of business unless they raised 500K (the actual number needed turned out to be closer to 400K, and would have been less had they been capable of cutting anything that the finance committee suggested cutting).  Because of poor management going forward, we opted not to give them the second installment of the large donation my father had offered.  We’re still not sure if the school is going to be around next year.  The finance committee told the headmaster she needed to come up with a bare bones budget that ensured the school would be around next year without assuming an increase in students.  Instead, her budget assumes an enrollment increase of 20 students.  That isn’t going to happen.  And it isn’t going to happen because current students cannot recommend the school to their friends if they don’t believe the school is going to stick around next year, which they could believe if the head had listened to the finance committee.  This is why not being afraid of numbers is so important.

The first grade teacher will not be returning next year.  She wants to get paid more than 23K and to have job security.  We’re bummed about this.  The replacement teacher, the current 2nd grade teacher, has a good reputation and DC would have been spending half the day with her anyway.

So we filled out the form next year, and would have put down the deposit had it not been waived.

We’ve looked into a local preK-6 Montessori and we think this will be a good option if the school does go under, assuming we can get on the list quickly enough.  (And as members of the finance committee, we may get insider information in that respect.)  They’re on board with DC starting in the elementary room as a nominal first grader next year (rather than K with the 3-6 room), and they are completely self-directed and have materials up through standard 8th grade.  I love their New Math curriculum (combined with more traditional Singapore math workbooks).  You should have seen me drool over their units on math with different bases. The main problem with them this year was that they closed at 2:30, but for the first time ever next year they’re adding an after school program until 5pm.  Which is still cutting it close, but since the Montessori turns to be very close to my work it should be ok so long as I do pick-up.  (Sadly, it is far from our daycare Montessori for #2!)

Starting in public school kindergarten next year cannot happen.  That much is pretty obvious right now.  Going back to a year of learning letters and numbers and colors after this would be frustrating for everyone, especially in a large class with a lot more kids with very different needs from DC’s.  Heck, it would have been frustrating for this year!

Did we make the best decision (or at least a good enough decision) based on our options?  Unequivocally yes.  All the things people warned us about with acceleration would probably have happened had we not accelerated.  Instead DC fits in well, is challenged, behaves well, has friends, and loves school.  This year has been a good one for hir, and by extension for us.  The sacrifices we’ve made have been worth it, though we wish we would not have had to make them.  We hope the school is still around next year, but all we can do is one year at a time, one month at a time, one challenge at a time.

32 Responses to “Schooling update: Spring Semester”

  1. scantee Says:

    Thanks for the update. My oldest starts K next year so we’re currently thinking a lot about what school would be best for him and us. I enjoy reading how it has worked out for others.

    We’re in the opposite situation as you were in that our son’s preschool is amazing and we wish he could stay there forever. The mom of one of his classmates has a child in K this year and apparently toured every good school in our metro area. Every good public, charter, religious private, prep private and alternative private and her takeaway is that what we’re looking for (something like my son’s preschool) isn’t out there. That’s definitely sad but it is reassuring to know that he’s not missing out on the perfect education for him. At this point we’re leaning towards sending him to the very good, urban public school in our area.

    My son isn’t gifted and I don’t think of him as being particularly advanced but he will be one of the oldest kids in his class because he has an October birthday and our school district has a Sept. 1 cutoff. He’s starting to read a little bit now and we still have a year and half before he starts K. I’ve heard that the urban public we like is good at differentiation so hopefully he’ll be able to get what he needs there.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The preschool was fantastic… ze just outgrew it!

      Most kids don’t learn to read before K. IIRC the average age to start reading is ~6 (and most kids are reading by age 7).

      It’s a little difficult here as the entire state has much lower milestones per grade than other states in the country. We would probably still have needed to accelerate at some point, but maybe not so badly in a different part of the country. (Though in some parts of the country ze would have started K this past year anyway.)

      • scantee Says:

        We’re fortunate to live in a state with a great reputation for education. There are actually tons of great schools around, just not specifically what we’re looking for and what we think would be the best fit for our kid. I was a little panicked about the whole thing but then I had a conversation with his preschool teacher where she said we just need to focus on finding a school where the parents are involved and the teachers seem happy. I definitely think we can do that so I’m feeling better it now.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It sounds like things will be fine. And if they’re not, you can worry about then! Often trouble doesn’t ever come.

        We’d actually been planning to keep hir on through kindergarten in hir Montessori and were surprised when that obviously was no longer going to be a viable plan.

      • Cloud Says:

        We’re a bit worried about the October birthday thing, too, but for my younger child, who is only 2.5 right now- so it is too soon to know if it is going to be an issue. I hate the fact that they are removing the wiggle room because people were abusing it. If we had faced the same situation with my older child, it might well have pushed us over to private school. At almost five, she is so very, very ready to start Kindergarten. I can’t imagine making her wait one more year! I’m not sure what we’ll do for the younger kid. I guess we’ll start worrying about that in a little over a year.

        I hope things work out well for you! We were happy with pretty much all of the schools we looked at as possibilities for my oldest, even though a lot of our “peers” at the day care center wouldn’t even consider them.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We probably would be too if we lived in San Diego!

        I was at a talk the other day and the speaker made the declaration that democracies never made mistakes, only authoritarian governments. Immediately a huge list of mistakes the US had made ran through my head. Then I realized that NONE of those mistakes are in the TX textbooks that they use here and I’d initially learned them all from the K-12 CA textbooks they use in the part of Midwest we hail from.

        There’s something wrong with that philosophy of hiding historical mistakes. And I think it’s part in parcel of the same philosophy that pervades the rest of K-12 public education around here. Nothing too challenging, nothing that could force thinking, or alternative viewpoints… But who knows. Things are supposed to get better at the high school level.

      • Cloud Says:

        Hee hee, @Nicoleandmaggie- I replied to the wrong level. I was hoping things worked out for @scantee, with her October birthday kid. But I hope things work out well for you guys, too! It sounds like you have a good fall back plan, which was the key for making me stop worrying so much during our choice process.

        My husband is fairly confused by the weird things in our educational system. I can’t imagine how much more confused he’d be if we lived somewhere like you do.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m totally cheating leechblock by replying to notifications on other people’s wordpress blogs… the problem is I can’t actually see the whole thread, just the immediate “in reply to.” Hence the confusion.

        Did I mention how evolution doesn’t exist in the entire state? (Except, apparently at the Montessori we toured– they had a timeline and everything. Shocking!)

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I had an amazing kindie experience with my son too. He had such an incredible teacher. I was so happy, just like you sound now. First grade…not so much. Just like all professions, teachers run on a bell curve with regards to performance and your kid isn’t always going to be lucky enough to get an excellent teacher from now until adulthood (even at good schools). You’ll have to figure out what you will do if/when that happens. I don’t have any advice to give except that I guess it represents the real world and learning how to cope with the mediocre is an important life skill as well.

    We have a montesory nearby that supposedly has an excellent staff. I was thinking of giving them a call but thus far haven’t.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re taking it a year at a time.

      And we’re not afraid to try to make changes if something isn’t working. I think that’s an important lesson too. Learning how to deal with the mediocre may not be as important a lesson as learning how to circumvent the mediocre. In any case, that’s a lesson ze can always learn as an adult if necessary. And a good reason to become highly skilled– one has more options that way.

      • ARC Says:

        Obviously you can’t change every time something is less than perfect, but I *HATE* the idea that sometimes in school kids just need to learn to “deal with being bored” or having a teacher who sucks or whatnot. That just KILLS any desire to learn or try harder and often *causes* behavior issues. (I know, because I was one of those.) Good for you for being willing to look at other options.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You can’t change every time, but you sure can try!

        And that trying is often freeing.

        That’s one of the key points I got out of YMoYL. Just having an escape plan can make a horrible job more bearable. Everything is only temporary. (Doot doot doo doo, doot doo doo doo… Now I’m going to have Avenue Q stuck in my head all afternoon.)

        I was also a behavior problem. (But never really got in trouble because my mom had a Reputation even before she got on the school board.) My mom says she sometimes worried that I’d end up getting shot fighting injustice (that’s mild hyperbole there). I wonder if she’s a bit disappointed with my grown-up pragmatism… It’s just part of my job is to teach kids that passion isn’t enough and can sometimes do more harm than good.

  3. bogart Says:

    Sounds good. DS will start kindergarten next year at the public kindergarten down the road from our house; we are (all, I think) looking forward to that, though the ~7:30 start will be a shocker to this non-morning family. We’ll cope. Actually it will probably be good for us parental units.

    I’d advocate transposing sentences 2 and 3 where you wrote: “The first grade teacher will not be returning next year. She wants to get paid more than 23K and to have job security. We’re bummed about this.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, we’re not bummed that she wants to get paid more than 23K and job security. Though if she didn’t, then she might not be leaving! We wish she had become head of the school if she’s not going to teach. :| (She actually has a CPA and MBA in addition to teaching credentials. And she’s from the midwest.)

      Actually though it may turn out to be moot for DC… the school wants DC to skip another grade and go directly to 2nd. Ze will be doing a little trial on Thursday.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    “learning how to circumvent the mediocre” – Heh. A terrific life skill!

    Your DC sounds like an awesome kid. Made me think of Charles Wallace from “A Wrinkle in Time.” Or the kid from the SF short, “In Hiding.”

    I was reading before kindergarten thanks to my 18-mo-older sister and Sesame Street. Fortunately we were in a literate community in Wisconsin, so I wasn’t a complete freak … as I was after we moved to south Georgia.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Haha! Yes, there are definitely regional differences in “complete freak”! A reason we may stick with private schooling even after next year… Private schools tend to attract the freaks, and thus somehow freakishness is not such a stigmatizing issue.

      DC should be old enough for Wrinkle in Time sometime next year. I remember enjoying it immensely when I was 6… I don’t think ze is quite there yet in terms of interest levels, but I could be wrong. One hope is that we shelter hir enough as a child that ze doesn’t end up really identifying with the mistreated freaks in books (Ender’s Game, for example) to the extent that we did. But that may be impossible. There’s really a long long way to go.

      Being adults is so much easier than being a kid ever was for us.

      • Leigh Says:

        As a kid, I always wanted to be a grown-up because I thought it would be better. I was so right. I spend so much less time being made fun of!

        I hope that if I have kids, my kids will have a better school experience than you or I did, like you are working on for your kid. Like you, I don’t really believe much in the public system from my personal experience.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s amazing how you don’t have to hang around with middle schoolers when you’re no longer in middle school!

  5. femmefrugality Says:

    That’s all such great news! Too bad about all the current upheaval at the school, but it sounds like it will all work out in the end.

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    And you know, there was that one kid who was accelerated and ze was WEIRD, so obviously acceleration (and being weird) is a horrible thing.

    Hey! I’m not WEIRD! I’m ECCENTRIC!

  7. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    Ah yes, acceleration. And the mythical “one child” everyone knows who was accelerated and everything was a complete and total disaster. Who knows, maybe if school was more challenging, we’d have fewer people arguing that anecdotes are evidence.

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