An update on having skipped two grades: the high school years

Looking back, skipping DC1 two grades has accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish.  DC1 is being challenged an appropriate level in school.  Zie has to work to get As in many of hir classes.  It would be nice if zie always succeeded, but I’m not sure that two additional years would fix the stupidity, capriciousness, or sheer right-wing craziness of some of these English teachers or that one Spanish teacher.  I do think that getting high grades in the other classes would take less work if zie had a couple more years under hir belt, but it is good to learn how to study.

What we are missing out on is DC1 being clearly one of the top genius students in the school for hir year.  Zie is definitely in the top 10% and is taking all 5.0 courses (except one required semester of PE and the first two years of Orchestra which are only 4.0) and a packed schedule of AP classes, but zie is not Tabitha (valedictorian, name changed) or Rylan (top junior, name changed).  Zie isn’t blowing away scholastic bowl (name of team changed) or qualifying for nationals at all three exams for math, chemistry, and physics (in fact, DC1 FORGOT to even take the qualifying math exam last year!!!!).  DC1 isn’t much of a joiner and hates competition… I assume with a couple of extra years zie would have more free time and it would have been easier to bully hir into one of these things.  With more free time, I suspect DC1 would have a bigger sound-cloud and maybe more stuff on hir youtube channel, as well as a potentially viable video game or two under hir belt.  I don’t know how attractive those would be to colleges, but …

Skipping two grades in many ways is much less impressive than single-subject acceleration would be.  (But soooo much easier on the parents who don’t have to drive to middle school to drop a kid off at the high school in the middle of the day.)  It’s more impressive to be a freshman in AP physics than it is to be a junior of the same age in that class.

With two more years, DC1 might have been more attractive to schools like MIT and Harvey Mudd.  (And depending on how viral hir hobbies got, maybe someplace like Stanford, who knows!)  Zie could always take a gap year to explore life and become more attractive to top schools, and that may still happen.

But, I think having skipped two grades, it’s ok to go to a college that isn’t insanely difficult.  Like, I understand why Obama had to transfer from Occidental. Occidental is great, but I would literally have run out of classes to take at my level before I hit senior year.  I’d have had to transfer or graduate early (or get a third major if that’s allowed…).  If DC1 had not skipped a couple of grades and done single-subject acceleration instead, I think zie would be in the same situation that I would have been in given college credit as a high schooler.  Skipping two grades means that it’s ok to get that additional difficulty while picking up a masters (or maybe a PhD, who knows what DC1 will end up doing?).  So going to one of these smaller schools that is likely to take hir is not off the table (for example, zie was really impressed with the love letter the Fiske guide wrote to Grinnell).  I don’t know how competitive zie will be at the regional ivies (ex. Northwestern, Vanderbilt. etc.) but those would probably be fine too, though DC1 seems less interested in them.  I mean, sure if you’re going that level it would be nice to have the cache and excessive grade inflation of a Stanford or Harvard, but these top private universities give excellent educations.

Sidenote:  In the larger scheme of things I’m glad my (prestigious SLAC) alma mater got rid of legacy admissions, but at a personal level I’m a little annoyed!  I do think that it would be perfect for DC1 in terms of difficulty level and support networks, but DC1 is not really that good a fit from a what-they-say-they-want in admissions standpoint.  (I really was a perfect fit in terms of what they wanted outside of grades and test-scores in a way I wasn’t for the prestigious SLAC I was waitlisted at.)  DH’s uni still has legacy.

Before I get too derailed about college admissions, let me get to the part that inspired this post.

So DC1 is a junior now and is the same age as the average Freshman, give or take (younger if there’s a lot of redshirting).  Spanish 3 was so awful (see above note about the terrible teacher) that a ton of current juniors just decided not to go on to Spanish 4.  That means that DC1 is one of two juniors in a class with a bunch of dual-language Freshman who took Spanish 1-3 in middle school.  Originally Tabitha was in that class, but she decided to drop and take study hall so she could devote more time to being the best at sports and extracurriculars.  The other junior in the class was thinking about dropping too, but DC1 begged hir not to– “Don’t leave me alone with all these freshmen!”

There’s also a Freshman in hir AP Physics class.  I’m like, this is great, what’s hir name?  You can get to know other high achieving people your age.  And DC1 is like, but zie’s a freshman!

Zie completely and totally identifies with the junior class and with being a junior.  Because of some course selection choices and being in varsity orchestra, zie also knows a few of the high achieving seniors.  Zie mostly socializes with what I would call “normal mostly college-prep kids” and not the other kids who are taking all AP courses.  Zie seems to fit in with them just fine, though this semester in order to protect hir sibling zie is not sitting at their lunch table because they are ignoring social distancing protocols.  Zie says they talk across the table and wave.  Zie does not get invited to things (there was a birthday party once pre-pandemic at a friend’s mom’s apartment, but that’s really it) and doesn’t go to dances or anything like that.  Zie doesn’t text hir friends (I don’t think?) but does have an active life on Discord on a minecraft forum playing and hosting text-based mafia-style games (I think?).  Zie seems really happy with hir level of socialization.  Zie is just kind of a low-key chill person (much like DH).  Most of my friendships throughout my life have been situational as well– just whoever is around without any deep connections.  DH may have been my first really close friend.

Sidenote 2:  DC1 also noted that zie sleeps a lot more than hir friends and gets teased about it.  (Zie is usually in bed by 10pm.  But gets up on hir own around 7am every day including weekends.)

One part of the high school experience that DC1 is missing is the drama(!)  My colleague is always telling me about the dating tribulations of her senior (the salutatorian) and their friendship group (which includes Tabitha).  I reported back to DC1 and zie said, “Why would it take so much time to get over being dumped?  Shouldn’t it be like just a few hours?”  Which… there’s something to be said for doing hardcore AP classwork while *not* worrying about your crush or any of their drama.  (DC1 mostly hangs out with same-gender peers who are also not dating, whereas the super high-achieving friendship groups are mixed gender and sound pretty incestuous in terms of dating– meaning they all date and dump each other.  I am so glad I am not dealing with teenage dating angst either as a participant or first-level observer anymore!  The stories through my colleague are more than enough!)

I do feel a little bit guilty that DC1 is unlikely to be finding true love in high school because we skipped hir two grades, but there’s no guarantee that zie would have followed DH’s family norm (they all have married their first significant others that they met in high school) instead of the more random could happen at any time norm in my family (or indeed, most families).  And zie will still be a good catch in college or out or may decide never to date at all.  That’s up to hir.

So, as a whole, no regrets so far.  DC1 seems to be happy too.  Would zie have gotten into Stanford with another two years?  Who knows.  Is that worth it over wherever zie will end up going instead?  No idea.  We made these decisions for DC1 back when zie was 4 and 5 years old (and zie would have started Kindergarten even earlier if zie had been the decision-maker!)  What comes after is up to DC1.

I am not ok

I have not dreaded a school year starting this much since grad school.  Or maybe even middle school.

My state government wants to kill my family and me and everyone else too in some kind of political power move.  It is unpleasant knowing that super villains are both real and in charge.  And most of the parents I know are too burned out to fight anymore.  (The irritating “liberal” White Doods, though, are still happy to tell us that everything is pointless and also anything we do is wrong.)

Last year’s thing with the associate dean really killed my desire to get up in front of a required core class, especially one where I have all the people who signed up late because it’s an 8am class and the later sections are full.  The previous year’s cheating scandal also still lingers.  And the year before the insane and potentially dangerous student who started threatening me because on the first day of class I asked him to move up a few rows (and my chair just sat there after forcing a meeting with him and listened to him accuse me of things until I left)– he did get moved to the online version of the class and went on to threaten other female faculty members and students in his other classes… nothing was done about him.

I don’t want to go into the office, and one of the reasons is because the anti-masker pro-gun faculty member who encouraged last year’s student to go to the associate dean now has an office directly next to mine.  And of course he goes in every day.  I assume he’s gotten vaccinated, but if he keeps up what he’s been doing (meeting with crazy right-wing students unmasked in his office and classroom) eventually he’ll probably get a breakthrough infection.  Who knows.  Maybe he’ll take horse dewormer and get super sick.  One can always hope.

I worry that I can’t protect my kids.  DC2 is homeschooling but DC1 or I could easily bring the virus home.  And probably zie would be ok.  But there’s also a chance zie wouldn’t. Or that there would be long-term consequences that affect hir entire life.  I will do a lot to protect my kids that I will not do to protect myself because they don’t have the power to make these decisions yet.

One of my colleagues quit this summer without another job lined up because he and his wife couldn’t stand living here anymore.  Last night I dreamed he got a last minute position at Delagar’s school where masks are required.

I wish I were taking this semester off as unpaid leave.  And indeed, if I get called into the associate dean’s office again this year, that’s what I’m going to do.  Take leave without pay for the rest of the semester.  The students can have the monotone adjunct for the rest of the semester while I do more job applications.

Maybe it won’t be as bad as I’m worrying.  But now that I think on it, this class has been wildly problematic for the last 3 years.  And this year I have nothing to protect me from the rabid Trump loving anti-masking anti-vaxxers like I did last year.  It’s not irrational to be dreading this semester.

But I do have an escape plan.  I can leave.  Heck, I could even quit my career at this point and Barista FI (though being an actual Barista sounds pretty awful).

Ask the grumpies: Can we talk about masks?

Lisa asks:

Since you mentioned masks, can we talk about that for a minute? I’ll be teaching a class full of students tomorrow – they should be masked and I will be masked. I’ve been reading about which masks are “best” (for me and for my kids who are at school). But I feel like the “best” masks don’t work so well for a few reasons.

If I were to fly on an airplane or something, I’d wear a KN95. Best protection, fairly easy to wear. However, when I’m talking, the KN95s and surgical masks move all over on my face and I’m constantly adjusting them, so I can’t really wear either of those options to class. The Old Navy masks fit me really well and stay on well while I talk, so that’s what I’ll be wearing, even though cloth masks are not as efficient at filtering things out. The ON masks are triple layer, though, which is not nothing…

Same issue for my kids – the two oldest can wear KN95s although one of them prefers the ON masks. I feel like either is OK since they’re vaccinated and the vast majority of the school is masked as well (for now). The little one doesn’t have any KN95s that fit well (we’ve ordered a few to try), likes the ON masks pretty well, but is wearing some double layer minecraft character masks I got as a special back to school surprise (which is clearly my fault, I should have made them stick with the triple layer ON). I’m wondering how much of a difference it really makes. As long as the mask fits well and the kids will wear it, and as long as everyone is wearing a mask and the ventilation is good, I’m hoping our cloth masks are protective enough. If we were in the situation your DC1 is (few classmates masked or vaccinated), I’d go for as much protection as possible. But I’m hoping that with near-universal masking the stringency doesn’t have to be as high. What do people think?

I am not a medical professional and I don’t study the effects of masking or modern virus transmission.

From what I’ve read and from what natural scientist has said, the #1 thing (after will your kids keep them on) is fit.  Filtration particle size is a distant second after that.

If everyone else is masked, then yes, it is safer!  It is such a simple solution, and yet evil evil people have made this a political issue such that I will “get in trouble” if I ask my students to wear masks.  I had a really cute anonymous survey planned at the beginning of class where I was going to compare people who got Moderna to people who got Pfizer across another characteristic, but I have to scrap that because we got a lengthy email from general counsel about not asking people if they’ve been vaccinated, even anonymously.

DC1 likes cambridge masks and primalwear masks.  They are thick and hot and expensive.  DC2 is a HUGE fan of enro. They are light, washable, fit really well, and are cute(!) but they are likely sold out.  We have been unable to find KN95 that actually fit DC2, though that’s moot now that zie is homeschooling, at least until DC1 or I bring covid home. DC1 also likes the Old Navy masks, but they don’t fit completely around hir face–there’s gaps, so that’s out of the question for now.

The last two days at student orientation I’ve been rethinking my mask choices because so few of our students were masked (like 30% the first day and maybe 10% the second day). Day 1 I double masked with a crappy “Vote” mask and a KN95 construction style and it would just not stay put (though to be fair to n95maskco.com, I’m not sure if I used one of theirs or one of the KN95 from the grocery store– I had better luck double masking with them and a cloth mask back last February). So day 2 I double masked with a really nice (and very expensive!) disposable N95 (Respokare® NIOSH N95 Respirator Mask) that works way better. I’m trying to decide whether to steal one of DC1’s fancy masks or to just use N95 or to double mask with an N95 and a cute but useless redbubble mask. My initial plan of loosely and comfortably masking is completely out the window.

Double masking was hard on my ears last spring and I had some trouble keeping both sets on my ears at all times.  N95 are nice because they’re head straps, not ear straps, though they are incompatible with me wearing a pony tail.  DC1 has added the head straps to the ear straps on all hir Cambridge masks.  We’ve been doing a lot of experimentation.

Jenny F Scientist adds:

I did a post on this (http://naturalscientist.blogspot.com/2021/07/masks-yet-again.html) and the answer is… ??? Everyone wearing a mask is definitely more effective than any non-N95 mask you could wear (and even those, if the fit is not PERFECT, are generally no better than a surgical mask, no really, they fit test them for medical professionals annually with hoods and a bittering agent and really and truly the fit is no longer okay after 3-5 on/off cycles). If you look at Figure 5 there, the *source* wearing a surgical mask captures 90% of particles and the receiver also wearing one will capture another 50%(ish). And also, yes, fit, i.e. sealing, makes a difference (SMNat vs. SF data points; N95 with vaseline or without).

I have worn N95s and KN95s in both medical and scientific settings, everyone hates it and they are super uncomfortable and sweaty no matter what. I tried to wear a really fancy Cambridge Mask in the airport last week and I was so hot I nearly fainted and had to take it off. “Objectively the best but unwearable” is, as you say, perhaps not ideal.

Honestly the next best thing you can do in a classroom is more air exchanges: tape a 22″ square filter to a box fan, mask off the edges with cardboard if you want, and set it running in the doorway…. (like this but you can do it with one filter: https://www.texairfilters.com/how-to-improve-the-efficiency-of-the-box-fan-and-merv-13-filter-air-cleaner/)

SP says:

I’m interested in this topic. In the toddler classes mask use among kids was pretty spotty, but they seem to be more consistent in the preschool so we are trying to upgrade our masks. By the time I went to google to see what was recommended for kids (Enro, but probably not a fit for toddlers, and happy masks), they were completely sold out with months long wait list. OK, fine. I am starting with a better fitting set of masks with low cost, which is better than some of her others – but still shopping around for something I’m happier with.

On the flip side, it all feels a bit futile because LO is not yet 3, so even best case use seems to be marginally useful with a room full of little ones. (Teachers are masked/vaccinated too.) And I’m happy to take ANY margin I can get, I just don’t know how much difference the mask choice will make in the long run. And they also must remove masks for nap time (indoors, 1-2 hrs). But, this presumably is not going to go away any time soon, and her proper mask usage will likely improve over time, especially with comfortable/good masks.

Alice adds:

I tried to get a better quality of mask (happy masks, others) for my 5-year-old, and got too frustrated by the Not In Stock situations everywhere I looked. It doesn’t matter what’s best if you can’t get it anywhere. We’re still using basic cloth masks with a filter pocket, and I’m using the PM2.5 filters that you get from Amazon. She at least loves the patterns. (Space! Favorite colors!) Based on what I see at pick-up, she’s on the middle-to-high end of standard for her class. Everyone is wearing masks (thank goodness for the mandate), but there are definitely kids wearing single-layer no-pocket masks. They do all have them on, though.

 

Our first attempt at a plan to homeschool 5th grade

I made this.  It’s hard to see but I can’t get wordpress to allow anything bigger.  Sorry!

Weekly home schooling schedule (described in more detail in the text below).

As always, all Amazon links are affiliate links.

DC1 did 5th grade in a different state so we don’t have anything leftover from hir experiences that would translate here.  Some subjects we’re fine with following the state standards.  Some subjects we really need to know what is being taught this semester compared to next semester when presumably DC2 will be vaccinated and back in school.  And some subjects I am just fine throwing away whatever garbage is being required by an evil state legislature that cares more about propaganda than educating or protecting.

While DC1 did not do 5th grade here, zie did do 6th grade and it was a total waste of a year with the exception of math and orchestra.

So here’s what we’re planning:

PE:  On M/W/F, DC2 will join DH in the morning for calisthenics.  On Saturday and Sunday we will do something outside in the neighborhood (ex. bike riding, basketball, scootering, roller skating, tennis, etc.  Probably not swimming because there’s more risk there given our neighborhood.)  T/Th are free choices for DC2– 15 min of exercycling, ringfit, YouTube videos, whatever.

Music:  As always, DC2 has 15 min of piano practicing every day and a 30 min less on Thursdays.  New this year is the violin.  DH and I were both brass players so we have no idea what to do here and you can’t really teach the first semester of violin virtually.  Fortunately, DC1 has gotten really good at violin (including tuning!) and remembers learning it and is on board with helping us out.  DC2 got the violin a few days ago and they are ADORABLE.  So far they’ve just been practicing how to hold a bow and hold the violin.  DC1 told me I needed to order fingering tape, so I have done that but it hasn’t gotten here yet.  We’ve also still got Suzuki book 1 and DC2 has been listening to the cd that came with it (DC1 runs away or starts practicing piano or hir own violin which this happens as zie is thoroughly sick of twinkle twinkle little star and all its iterations.) These lessons are for 15 min a day, which isn’t very long and even so I’m concerned about them fitting into DC1’s schedule once school heats up.  But in the worst case scenario, DC1 played trumpet in 5th grade switching to violin in 6th and started placing at regionals in high school so all is not lost.

Math:  This one is easiest for us.  DC2 is in 6th grade math.  Zie is going to continue working through Singapore Math (Not affiliate) and Brainquest Math.  In addition zie will work through Khan academy 6th grade math.  We’re not sure if we should do Khan academy by time or by topic, but we’re trying by time first.  I’m not worried about losing number sense from missing some of the new new math because the new Brainquest has some of that and Singapore math has some of it, and zie has gone through Hard Math for Elementary School at least once and will probably be doing virtual Math Circle this year.

Spanish is a hard one.  DC2 is in dual language and in theory half of hir classes would be in Spanish.  My Spanish is just not good enough to support that.  Based on a commenter’s recommendation, we’ve hired a tutor from Overcome the Barrier (not affiliate), which is ridiculously inexpensive.  The first few lessons have been great but also pretty remedial and the teacher uses too much English (saying, “What color is” instead of “Que color es” for example), but DC2 had some embarrassing summer slide this summer and forgot some pretty standard words (though zie still understands them) so perhaps understandable on the teacher’s part.  (DH says we should wait and see before addressing it with the teacher.)  We figure even if nothing else, this will add someone else to talk to besides us.  DC2 has been doing 15 min of duolinguo all summer, but that’s obviously not been enough.  So M/W/F zie is going to watch a video of hir choice in Spanish (this could be anything from Harry Potter dubbed to Pocoyo), and on T/Th zie will spend 30 min reading books in Spanish.  I have started hir with little kids’ picture books, but the hope is to graduate to chapter books (of which we have many interesting looking ones!)  We also have an unused 3rd grade biology textbook in Spanish along with solutions that zie will do (but that’s listed under Science).

Science:  We’re going to completely ignore what the state is doing and just watch a Sci Show or Crash Course Science video each day, starting with earth science.  On M/W/F when zie is not reading Spanish books for Spanish, zie will do a section of the science textbook and answer questions at the end of it.  Weekends we will try to do experiments.  We still have a few leftover from a virtual summer camp on weather that got cancelled that should be fun!  (We already did a couple that were, but needed to get hairspray and alka-seltzer and freeze ice cubes to do the remaining experiments.)

Social Studies:  Other than acknowledging that this is a US history year rather than a state history year, we are going to throw out whatever the school/state is doing and just watch Crash Course US History.  After that Crash Course US Black History.  Then if we’re still going, Lies my Teacher Told me (which DC1 told DC2 was very interesting, but DC2 tried to read it and said it was sooo boring, which suggests to me that it’s still too advanced for DC2… maybe we should get the younger kids’ version…).  We may also supplement with historical novels sort of as a History/English crossover (lots of Jean Fritz and Mildred Taylor out there… though I find Jean Fritz too “from the perspective of the plucky White boy” so maybe not her).  But that’s going to depend on English.

ELA:  I have no idea what this class is going to cover when.  We emailed the ELA teacher to ask, and she said she’d get back to us but hasn’t yet.  My sister also asked one of her friends who is taking the year off from teaching because she has a newborn and doesn’t want to be exposed to covid, but we haven’t heard back from her yet either.  So… we have Brainquest and DC2’s Spectrum Spelling (6th grade) workbooks.  The spelling workbook is almost done, and I am planning to replace it with a workbook of Latin and Greek roots when it’s finished.  In the mean time, I stole a list of 5th grade novels off a random California teacher’s website and we’re starting with From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, for which I have stolen another random teacher’s questions.  It is shocking to me, but DC2 has never had to read a novel for school before, much less one with comprehension and discussion questions.  DC1 didn’t do that in 6th grade either– all they did was crafts.  DC2 is going to read and fill out questions for 2 chapters a day, and then after work, DH (who is reading the book perhaps for the first time, which also seems crazy to me) will do a little book club discussion with her (questions for which I found online) each day.  This will be very much like my 4th-8th grade ELA experiences back in the day.  In theory, next week the book of children’s poetry I ordered will be here and I plan to have DC2 practice cursive by copying one of the poems nicely and then we’ll have some discussion questions for whatever poem it is.  By then I’m hoping that we’ll have heard back from the 5th grade English teacher to get more direction.  If we hear back affirmatively from my sister’s friend we will just dump all of this on her.

We have a few more rules that we’re hoping will help everybody get work done:

  1.  Hold questions and do not interrupt a parent to ask.
  2.  Mom will stop by to check on you every couple hours when she needs a break, ask her questions then.
  3.  Dad will have a dedicated time to meet with you after his lunch meeting every day and at the end of his work day.
  4.  If you’re stuck, try to figure out how to get unstuck (Google is your friend!) or move on to the next task.
  5.  If you run out of tasks and are still stuck on something, try to figure out how to get unstuck or do more Khan academy or more Duolinguo
  6.  After you’re done with everything you can have free time to read or play or whatever (no screens unless they’re Spanish language only), but if you’re stuck on something you cannot move to free time until you get unstuck.  See 5.

We’re open to suggestions!  Especially for getting DC2 to have virtual human interaction.

Why we decided at the last minute to home school DC2

We were not planning on homeschooling DC2.  We’d bought all the school supplies and scheduled the bus and the after school care.  We even had submitted a grocery order full of easy to pack and quick to eat DC-approved lunch foods.

If our schools had the same protections in place that they had last year, we would not be homeschooling.  We were even still planning on sending hir to school with no mask mandate, though we were uneasy about it.  What happened?  Well, first, at schedule pickup, less than 40% of everyone there was masked (it was waaay less at high school schedule pickup, maybe 15%?, though presumably all of the kids in high school have the option to get vaccinated, though in reality they don’t because they need parental permission).  Second:  we found out some really horrifying things about lack of parental notification and how they are discouraging quarantining, in exact opposition to CDC recommendations.  A kid could sit next to an unmasked covid positive person every class period and lunch and the parents would NEVER KNOW.  Additionally, quarantining will only be allowed for covid positive children, not children who have been merely exposed.  Since people can be contagious before they show symptoms or get the results of a positive covid test, this spells disaster.

I think what happened was they saw headlines from other states that had already opened without mask mandates and thought, well, we can’t have 800 kids quarantined for exposure if we don’t allow quarantines for exposure!

We started looking into virtual schooling options a few weeks ago when it became clear that no masking would stay the rule.  But it seems like it was too late and all of the highly rated virtual options were full while the ones remaining got poor reviews or looked scammy.

We are also going to have to be careful with DC1 since vaccinated kids can get Covid too.  We’ve upgraded DC1’s masks. When the weather cools down a bit we’re going to keep windows and doors open and the fans will be on all winter.  We bought an extra air filter for the mystery of the musty cupboard though I’m not sure whether to put it in DC1’s room (as the most likely carrier) or DC2’s (as the most vulnerable).  Possibly we should buy a third filter and do both.

I know there are naysayers who probably don’t read this blog (or who hate-read it) who think we’re being too risk averse.  But the thing is, we do not know what covid is like in a situation where someone without 100% working protective gear is constantly exposed to the virus.  (Healthcare workers wear protective equipment that fits AND they can eat lunch away from the covid ward.)  If nothing changes, these schools will become seas of virus particulate.  And no, I don’t think this is fear-mongering– it is just logic.  There’s a reason we have quarantines!  And we know that there are breakthrough infections and we know that covid infections are worse the more exposure to the virus someone has had.  On top of that, our hospitals are full and the children’s hospitals in our surrounding towns have been turning people away.  Any non-covid emergency is going to be more dangerous because of these problems.  And I’ve seen the full gamut of what can happen to covid-positive previously healthy young adults… there is no way of predicting who will be asymptomatic and who will have a brief hospital stay.  Or who will recover after a few days and who will still have massive brain-fog for the rest of the semester, possibly longer.  And DC2 is a foodie– losing taste and smell would be awful.  Not to mention that we have no idea what the long-run outcomes will be.

I’m a little worried about DC2 although zie assures us we shouldn’t be.  But this summer and last year zie had virtual classes with a teacher and other kids and had regular minecraft playdates with hir friends 2x/week.  The playdates are ending since hir friends are returning to after school care (we’d signed DC2 up too, but that was before our state and school district decided to go crazy).  There’s no virtual teacher to ask questions, no virtual class to socialize with.  And DC1 won’t be home during the day.  We did hire a Spanish tutor and are considering an English tutor, but that may not be enough.

I am also worried about how this is going to affect our careers.  We’re both working full-time.  During the school year I’m already frazzled trying to get all the parts of my job done plus just seeing day-to-day things with the kids.  There’s just too much going on.  This year will be especially bad because we are hiring for 3 open positions and we have several third year reviews happening.  DC2 has been given strict instructions on when we will have time for hir and hopefully that will be enough.  And zie has sworn zie won’t whine or tantrum, which I find extremely draining.  Hopefully zie will stick to that.  If I were planning on staying here forever, not getting stuff out this year might be ok, but I am desperate to leave this state, so I need to be active.

We hope to return DC2 to regular schooling just as soon as it is safer.  Right now we think that means mask mandates + actual quarantining + lower community transmission rates OR DC2 getting fully vaccinated + quarantining or parental notification or something.  But there might be some combination of the above that would encourage us to send hir earlier.  We were told that school returning from homeschool should only occur at the beginning of grading periods, so every 6 weeks we will look at what is currently happening.

I guess I’m going to split this into two posts.  This one explains our reasoning.  Wednesday’s will be a less emotional “what we’re actually doing” post.  Maybe there will even be some dollar values in it, who knows!

Are you in a state that prohibits mask mandates in public schools? You can complain!

[Update:  If you are in a school district where they are mandating masks for under 12s (or older), send a letter or email or call supporting that decision.  Because they’re hearing from crazy people right now and could use some support.  See comments for one school committee member’s plea.]

I am extremely worried about my unable-to-be-vaccinated middle-schooler going to in-person school in a few weeks.  After a couple of weeks with unusually low numbers of new cases, we’re back to creeping up from orange territory even though the college students aren’t back yet.  We’re not in red or purple yet, but we didn’t have case counts this high this time last year and they exploded deep into purple two weeks after the university started back up.

Last year the 5/6 middle-school that DC2 will be going to had low numbers of case counts with masking and social distancing in place (comparatively).  Not so all of the schools (overall 6% of students in our district were out of school for covid reasons and 17% of staff were and the other middle schools had higher numbers than ours).  And, indeed, the big difference I could see between the high school we’re zoned for which had the largest numbers of case counts compared to the other high school in our area that had much lower case counts (almost 2x, even though the student body sizes are similar), was that the principal of our high school would send out group photos of kids with most of them unmasked and the other high school’s principal didn’t.  I suspect that’s correlated with whether or not the mask mandate was actually enforced.  The circumstantial evidence suggests that masking and being careful about social distancing leads to less transmission.  And, despite what crazy anti-maskers say, that circumstantial evidence is backed up by actual science.

This year there won’t be a virtual school option.  And, because case counts at DC2’s upcoming middle-school were so low and spread out last year, we didn’t think we needed one.

But then our state government said that state-run schools (including K-12 and including the university) are not allowed to have mask mandates.

And then all the news saying kids under 12 would get a vaccine in the fall switched to saying, just kidding, approval won’t happen until winter.

Middle school is a time of strong peer pressure.  If the school can’t have a mask mandate, then people will assume they don’t need to wear masks.  If enough people don’t wear masks, then kids on the margin will stop wearing masks.  Kids who do wear masks will be made to feel uncomfortable until they, too, unmask.  Heck, I went into work this summer and wore a mask and felt uncomfortable about it AND the secretaries were kind of rude to me, and I’m an adult with a PhD. (My plan is to wear masks in hallways etc. so other people feel more comfortable doing so, and only take my mask off in rooms if I know that everyone else in the room is vaccinated.  At least until DC2 gets the vaccine.)

I am really worried.  Yes, I know my kid is 9 and probably won’t get major complications.  But I also didn’t eat cold coldcuts during pregnancy.  Some 9 year olds are going to get major complications.  Masking seems to be the same kind of cost-benefit analysis as microwaving my coldcuts, and if we’re looking at this from an epidemiological viewpoint it will *save lives*, not just of infected under-12s but also all the people they come into contact with.  And if you don’t care about the lives of the unvaccinated, masking in schools will also lower morbidity of the vaccinated who still catch covid.

On top of that, kids are growing and losing a sense of taste seems like it could have overall effects on say, growth.

We don’t have to be silent about these worries.  We don’t have to take them as given.  We can complain.  There’s still time for a last minute exemption.  Once one ultra-conservative governor flips, the rest will too (especially if the FL governor makes a switch) because they’re all idiot copy-cats.  Worried “soccer moms” (or just parents in general) are still considered to be a voting bloc.

Who do you call?  You can find your elected officials here.  If you have state legislators or state representatives, that’s a great place to start.  You can also call your state governor, especially if he’s eliminated the ability for K-12 schools to have mask mandates by fiat/executive order rather than it going through the legislative process.

If you’re brave, call during business hours.  If you’re like me, call after hours or in the wee hours of the morning and leave a message.

It doesn’t really matter if you ramble or if you have a perfectly crafted statement that you read out.  I tend to do both– I need the statement to start with because I’m so bad on the phone.

My script:
Hello, my name is [Firstname, Husband’s last name]. I’m calling from [City, Zipcode] where I am a constituent. I’m calling to request that school districts be allowed autonomy regarding mask mandates, particularly for schools that have kids under 12 who cannot be vaccinated. I have a [9] year old who is unable to be vaccinated and I am incredibly worried. Last year with masking and social distancing, 6% of the student body and 17% of staff got covid. Without masks, those numbers will be much higher for the unvaccinated population, which includes my [daughter/son]. I am very worried about her/him catching covid, especially with this new Delta variant which is more contagious. Even if (s)he doesn’t get very sick, (s)he could still lose his/her sense of smell which might affect her/his growth. Also, last year, because of masking, the school was able to not quarantine entire classes if someone got sick. Now the choice is either to let covid run rampant or to quarantine the class every time a kid gets sick, which will be very disruptive to their learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics [and just now the CDC] just came out with a statement recommending masking in K-12 schools and the FDA just said kids under 12 won’t be able to be vaccinated until winter. Please remove the order prohibiting schools from requiring masks so that school districts can make decisions based on the covid numbers in their area and healthcare recommendations. Again, I’m calling from [City, Zipcode].

After that I had some worried rambling. Because I am extremely worried.

If you don’t want to call, it is better to email than to do nothing.

If you’re super awesome, write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the problem.  I’m not that awesome, but I did call.

You can also call or email your school super-independent to ask what they intend to do and encourage them to lobby the department of education to lobby the state government.  I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, but I am sure that being able to say that they have frantic/worried parents of kids under 12 can only help these decisions.  DH has that on his list to do this coming week because he’s a hero.  (He also called our elected officials last week.)

https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jul/18/rise-in-cases-gives-parents-pause/

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2021/07/23/texas-students-wont-be-required-to-wear-masks-what-does-that-mean-as-a-new-covid-strain-spreads/

 

Are you worried about school starting in your area?  What’s your state’s situation in terms of masking in public schools? Do you also feel like nobody cares about or even remembers kids under age 12?

Kahootie academic planner (for school kids) review

I got these undated academic planners from Kahootie for my kids at Target, but sadly Target seems to be out of stock.  Amazon does carry them though (affiliate link).  Kahootie doesn’t know we exist.

In any case, they are PERFECT for what my kids needed this summer and I’m hoping they will work well in the fall too (though I have some doubts about DC1 remembering to write down things like assignments).

They’re a weekly spread across two pages, which I like.  What’s even better is that they have a column for school stuff and then a column for *after school* stuff (something DC1 frequently forgets!).  And there’s a daily chores tracker on the right that they can check off.  DC2 loves the little space under the chores tracker and fills it up with pictures from books zie is reading or lists of pokemon zie caught that week etc.  Saturday and Sunday have smaller spaces, but that works too.

Week of DC2's planner with camps and chores listed.

One week of DC2’s planner.

DC2 has really gotten into hirs.  Zie updates it on Sunday or Monday morning.  Zie excitedly checks off chores.  Sometimes zie puts down weekly goals (“learn how to lightening strike a pig in educational minecraft”) and the weekends usually say what baked good DC2 is going to make that week.  More recently, zie has moved the two evening Minecraft dates and one piano lesson to the “After School” column.

DC1's much sparser planner

DC1’s planner. Pen obscures a password.

DC1 is getting less use out of hirs.  Zie actually *has* done the daily chores, zie just doesn’t check them off.  Zie doesn’t put in assignments (that blue in on Sunday is my writing…) or really use it for planning at all.  The class times are in the planner, but they’re also in Google calendar.  We’re hoping that a combination of the two systems (electronic and paper) will help DC1 remember to TURN IN COMPLETED ASSIGNMENTS and GO TO AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES once school is back in session, but it’s not looking hopeful.  Maybe being a year older will be enough.

I didn’t get much use out of paper planners in middle school or high school either.  I’m not sure how I remembered to get things done in high school (in middle school I just finished all my work in class so it was irrelevant).  I guess I just had a separate notebook for each class and a binder and checked those daily.  I started using a weekly planner (similar to the small weekly Moleskines, but with nursing branding on the front) in college some time when DH gave me one that his mom didn’t want.  Then I got free branded econ ones. Then I started having to buy my own Moleskines (or rather, I started having to ask for a small Moleskine planner for Christmas, which is an excellent thing to put on the Amazon wishlist for the in-laws who aren’t sure what to get you).  Along with those small weekly planners with meetings and deadlines listed, I had lots of loose leaf to-do lists.  These Kahootie planners look like they should have enough space for middle and high school to-dos, but I guess we will find out next semester!

Did you use a planner as a kid?  (If applicable) Do your kids use planners?  Have your planning needs changed over time?

An email DH sent DC1’s English teacher

Subject: Poetry extra credit

[English teacher’s name],

My [child, Child’s Name], is in your English class.

I appreciate that there is an extra credit opportunity, and I like the way it is structured, but I am concerned by one of the websites that was suggested.

This site: [not sending any blog traffic its way]

Its first recommended theme is “The negative effects of communism and socialism on the West.” It makes propagandistic claims about communism, as though the Cold War is ongoing, and it makes incorrect statements about socialism.

Unsurprisingly, the “trending poems” appear to also be full of propaganda, e.g., ‘Poem for the Second Inauguration of President Donald J. Trump,’ and ‘On the Main Stream Media’s Fake News.’

I would prefer that what seems to be a far-right, inaccurate, propagandistic website not be presented to my [child] as part of [their] education.

Respectfully,
[DH’s name]

No response.

Ask the grumpies: What acceleration to prioritize and what about when they return to school?

Chelsea asks:

We are homeschooling because of high rates of transmission in our area and because my kids don’t sit in front of computer screens and pay attention well (TV on the other hand…). I have a question about a kid with mismatched skill levels. My DC2 just started K (will be 6 in Nov) and has very mismatched math and language levels. He’s a pretty normal Kindergartener as far as reading and writing goes (can write simple words but handwriting is terrible, can read sight words and is learning word families) but he has very good number sense and will probably be ready to start Singapore Math 2nd grade in a few weeks.

I guess the question is… should I care or try to do anything about the mismatched skill level? Like back off on math time and push reading and writing more? Or just roll with it and figure that his reading skill will catch up? DC1 made huge strides in reading in 1st grade so I assume this will probably happen for DC2…

Also, both of my kids are working ahead of their grade – at least for some things. DC1 is in 2nd grade and doing Winning With Writing and Growing With Grammar 3rd grade, etc. What should I do when they go back to school? Should I try to maintain what we’ve learned through homework (which is unappealing because they will have school homework, too)? Not really worry about it? I don’t think grade skipping is something that is done here, nor do I really think it’s what we want because I’m not sure they are ahead in every way (especially in maturity).

Thoughts?

I’m of two minds about letting kindergarteners just explore their interests and… helping give kindergarteners the skills they need to be able to discover new interests.  I mean, learning how to read is BIG and opens up huge wonderful worlds to explore.  It’s basically necessary for everything else.  So, I’d say in this case, so long as the kid is happy with it, add some phonics.  Since he likes TV, get a copy of the Leapfrog DVDs and learn their wonderful phonics songs by heart.  Sing them while doing chores.  As you continue to read to your child, putting your finger under the words you’re reading while you do it, reading may just happen on its own without additional upper-level instruction (We loved the Step into reading readers, like Too Many Dogs and Cat Traps — way more interesting than the dreadful Bob books).  A good phonics foundation is important, but there’s no reason not to start off in a way that is easy on you and fun for the kid.  No need to add any upper-level workbooks unless you and the child want to.  We also had some fun phonics puzzles where the kids matched a picture of an animal with the name of an animal, that sort of thing.  And definitely no need to cut back on math to make room for reading– just swap in some educational videos for TV and reading together for family time.

In the more general question… should you try to keep everything even, or allow single subject acceleration… What we have generally done:  If we think there’s going to be a grade skip, we push on anything that is not on level for the next year (like memorizing facts about who “invented” the steamboat in the US).  If one of the kids is behind on something (like spelling or grammar or Spanish or handwriting or typing) because it wasn’t picked up in the schools, we supplement for that, at least up to grade-level.  For acceleration, we mostly focus on making it so they’re not bouncing off the walls.  I love math and both my kids are interested in math, so it has been easier to push them on math than on other things (though DC2, the only artist in the family, has been using youtube to help explore that side of creativity, and DC1 has an extensive and growing knowledge of magic tricks).  So, for the most part, we have a baseline level of what we expect them to have, and we make sure they’re at that baseline, then we accelerate in things they (or I) find more interesting.  But a lot of it is about getting rid of some of their energy so they don’t start moving things with their minds like in Matilda.

When they get back to school, play it by ear.  You may want to talk to the teachers about if they do single subject acceleration or if they do differentiation and clustering within the classroom.  They may need to have new placement tests.  Also look ahead:  testing out of fifth grade math is REALLY common in our school district… in DC1’s year they had two full classes of seventh grade algebra because of it.  If something like that is common, you may want to make sure you keep up with the math and fill any missing gaps.  If school is challenging enough, then only supplement if they want it.  Currently we have DC2 doing a full set of workbooks on weekends, but only Singapore Math (on grade level currently) during the week.  Since zie only does a page a day instead of a full lesson a day it doesn’t generally take that long after everything else is done.  When school wasn’t challenging enough, we had more supplementation during the week.  DC1 finished a round of handwriting practice this summer because hirs was atrocious but zie doesn’t have any other outside-of-school assignments because zie gets enough at school (as a sophomore) now and isn’t super behind on anything.

Grumpy Nation, what are your thoughts?  Anyone in a similar situation, what are your plans?  Philosophically, how do you feel about whether to allow a single subject to be super accelerated vs. making subject learning levels more even?

Getting a gift-card for DC2’s teacher was even harder this year

DC2’s virtual dual language teacher continues to be amazing.  So we thought, why wait for teacher conferences (and will we even have parent teacher conferences this year?), let’s donate to her classroom now.  And since there’s only one teacher instead of two, we’ll just give her the full amount.

I figured we’d just go to giftcardmall (not sponsored) and order two $500 cards as per usual, but alas, they only allow up to $250 now.  There is one company that does still allow $500 cards, but Walmart doesn’t accept purchases over $50 from them and the internet is full of complaints about numbers being stolen and the cards being made useless.

We emailed the principal at the home school for the teacher and confirmed that gift cards are still the best way to donate and that we could donate anonymously through her.  Yes and yes.

After a lot of going back and forth, I decided that the risk wasn’t worth it and paid the extra money to get 4 cards for $250 each instead of 2 cards for $500.  That also meant I had to pay extra for shipping, but shipping was safer.  The cards came a few days later.  I stuck all 4 giftcards into one of the greeting cards they sent, added a note explaining, taped up the greeting card envelope, stuck it in one of those pronged envelopes which I also closed and wrote the teacher’s name c/o the principal’s name on the outside.  Then DH dropped it off at her home base elementary school.

Shipping + fees = $34.75.

I feel really silly for having to do this– four cards seems silly.  Spending $35 to convert money into (riskier) plastic money seems silly.  But… doing it this way does allow the teacher to circumvent having to use approved suppliers or get bids.  And I’m so short on time this semester that I was willing to pay it just to stop having to think about the best solution.

This will probably be the last time we do this since 5th grade is in middle school and there are multiple teachers.  Donations will go back to being in the form of kleenex/paper towels/wipes, assuming there’s a vaccine by then.