Category Archives: School

Education Reform – Why am I involved?

PARCC Test Prep
PARCC Test Prep given on the third week of Kindergarten.

After the debacle of my first child starting kindergarten last August, she was a shadow of her happy, bouncy self. She was exhausted and weary by mid-September. All this because she started kindergarten in the wrong school. What’s worse though is, while I know I won the lottery with her new school, her old school is only following orders from up high. The district school board and the state of Florida have their hands, pockets (and asses) deep in the system, a system that is crumbling while simultaneously shattering children’s self-esteem, burning out students of every grade, and materials being taught only to suit the answers on a specific test.  Just those 5 weeks in her old school made me so sick to my stomach with stress and anxiety that I was barely able to function. What she was exposed to in her old public school is what every student has to face across the state and it’s unacceptable. Her first week of kindergarten, she came home with an hour of homework every night, photo copies of the PARCC test  for her to fill out, and an ad nauseum regurgitation of letters that rendered homework a complete nightmare every single night. After three weeks of this, I timed her homework. It took one hour and fifteen minutes. I was done. DONE. The next morning, I told her teacher to expect her homework to routinely be returned incomplete. I was not going to subject my child to this at aged 5. The teacher, whose hands are tied thanks to the system, agreed wholeheartedly. Began talking about retiring after she warned me that the homework would only get worse after Christmas due to the EOC (End-of-Course) tests they’ll all face at the end of the year. What? The EOC for kindergarten is another set of tests – yes, I said ‘set’. The EOC for kindergarten comprises of 186 questions over the course of two weeks in May. So kindies all over the state in a public school are working solely towards this test. That’s just for math and english. Doesn’t include the tests for the other subjects!!!! Not only is this bad enough, but the tests counts for nothing for the students. It’s meant as a means of benchmarking the teachers. I happened to talk to my girl’s school principal early this week. He told me that he’s not even sure they’ll bother with the kindie EOC. He knows what his teachers are like. While the final decision hasn’t been made yet for her school (hers is a charter, so they are allowed more freedom than the standard public school), I’m going to have my ear to the ground just in case. Two weeks of testing is bad enough. Two weeks of testing that has zero merit for the child is downright ridiculous.

FSA
What time is this?

And this is just the beginning. Currently, all grades have EOC tests, and when you get to 3rd grade, you get to take the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment). Detailed info here. Initially, it doesn’t sound so bad. But then practice tests were sent home and the questions defy logic. For example, take a look at the clock. How are the hands positioned? Which is the hour and which is the minute hand?

FSA2
Answer this!

Maybe this question is better? What’s the answer??? Anyone? Anyone?  I’ll give you the answer below. When I say “answer,” I really mean I’m giving you the correct answer as designated by the test and by which the students are compared to. Expectations are that 70% of the students will fail this year. Who the hell approves and administers a testing system where 70% are expected to fail?? My hurricane is three years away from having to do the FSA but when the time comes, we know she’ll be opting out. We in no way wish to damage the school’s rating so we will follow very specific guidelines to achieve an NR2 score which will meet the minimum requirement of participation without any repercussions to the school from the district school board. There are so many examples of this test. It’s wrong. Just plainly wrong. So my obligation as a parent is to get involved. I am guilty of prior ignorance on this matter but now that I have a child in the education system, I’m listening. I really don’t like  what I am hearing. No more. I am writing this post because others may also not know about it and the more informed we are, the more we can become active, let voices be heard and stand up for our children. School isn’t school anymore, it’s a testing prep factory. And it’s time for that to end. Oh, and the answer to the question above is B. Did you get it right?

Red Alert! Red Alert!!

warning-parentMy 6-year old hurricane has mentioned a boy in her class a few times. It’s always been in the context of how he was messing around in class and causing trouble. Last night, we were talking about the after-school clubs that her school has. Students can sign up for free to these activities (yoga, fit for fun, art, horticulture, music, reading, drama, poetry, science, lego, etc.) but since we were late to the school year, all the clubs were full. For some odd reason, I pulled up the club list last night and was asking her what she wanted to do next year. She calls out a bunch and when I get to one particular club, she says she wants to do that one because X is in it. I’m a little confused. He does sit at her team table in school (the students are grouped into teams of 4-5 in the classroom) and I’ve previously commented to my husband that of course she’s sitting with the troublemaker. She would be drawn to that excitement like a bee to honey.

I take the conversation last night in my stride. Nothing stands out since I know the students will be all mixed up next year. Then my husband drops the bombshell. Apparently, she told my husband while I was away that she kissed this boy. Whhhhhhhaaaaaat? Now when the f**k did this happen? And why didn’t I know about it immediately? Then he tells me that another time, he kissed her. I have no doubt that the kiss is probably equal to how she kisses our dog but still. STOP THIS!!!! I can’t say a word to her about it, because she’s exactly like me. I know if I make a big deal out of it, she’ll zone in on it faster than an interstellar comet. I’m already having a very hard time knowing that her next birthday means she’ll be 7. That just seems so . . . so . . .  not a little girl. Six means she’s still little but for some reason, 7 isn’t that little at all. Now this!

I know I’m overreacting. This just threw me a curveball because she’s never,ever, ever been interested in boys before. I’m praying that’s still the case and that I’m just reading too much into it.

Yeah, that’s it. I’m just reading too much into it. Denial works well for me.

What has happened to Kindergarten?

10708783_10152475639178860_6213760241580596127_oI love our new school. My 6-year-old tornado is doing great there, but I’m still increasingly concerned by the standards that these kids (all kids in any sort of public/charter educational system) have to get to. I love her teacher. She’s a sweetheart and sends home a newsletter every week with updates on what’s going on in the class, things they need, things that’ll be coming up. This week, the newsletter said that next week, the kids would begin spelling tests. In kindergarten???

Am I just out of it? Am I alone in thinking it’s entirely ludicrous that kindergarten has been reduced to this? There’s a list of sight words that the kids are tested on (to read) at the beginning, middle and end of the year. I tried to help out, and I typed our Sight Words so every week, my girl and I go through the list. I add a page every now and then. I thought this was a lot for a kid to have to learn. Where’s the fun here? Now she has to do spelling tests? WTF!

Just this week, we were going over her homework. Mostly, it’s greatly conceptual and I’ve no problem with it. Maybe write a couple of sentences. They’ve been working on math too so they’re doing simple equations such as 6+1=7. Nothing goes above 10. OK. But this week, the homework unit was that I was to write out a few equations such as 4 + = 10 and she was to figure out what x was. Say the hell what????? When did algebra become necessary in kindie and when the hell did abstract algebra factor in here?? How the heck is she supposed to conceptualize that x can stand for any number at all and that it all depends on the equation. For the most part, I just counted with her – if I’ve got 4, how many numbers do I need to get to 10, and then finger count along with her. IT’S KINDERGARTEN!!

I even talked to my 14-year-old niece who fondly remembers kindergarten and then said that things got serious in 1st grade.  I told my niece what my 6-year-old is doing and she was shocked. They never did that in her kindergarten class. Well, I guess the educational system has pushed that crap downwards and now the kindergartener gets to do what used to be for the older grades. It just feels like a bunch of this (especially the x equation, come on!!!) is well beyond her mental capabilities and she’s a smart kid.

Having had my rant, she’s still a happy camper in school. Although, she did ask me this morning if her 100 days of summer is coming up soon. This is because the 100th day of school celebration is this Friday but I think she thought that meant she was getting ready for summer break. Sorry, kid.  She asked me to put together a calendar for her to look at so that she can see when it’ll be summer time. I think that might have more to do with getting up at 7am than the work itself. She still bounces into the car each afternoon and runs into school every morning.So they must be doing something right. Maybe it’s just me that has the problem or maybe she just doesn’t know any different. My youngest, the 3-year-old will be starting VPK in August and it more than likely looks like I’ll be able to get him into the same school she was in. She loved that place so much. He’s started asking if he can go to school and she’s been telling him how much fun preschool was. And while I do think she is happy in her current school, the inference was that kindergarten isn’t as fun as preschool.

And that makes me sad.

It’s a Wonderful Life.

lillyI had an experience the other day that made me swell up with joy and happiness, and realize just how lucky I am. Sunday morning, I took off to store on my own. Our family has a habit of always waving goodbye to each other as we drive away. It brings back some wonderful memories for me when my grandmother and aunt would always stand at the door, no matter how cold it was outside, and wave goodbye to us until we were out of sight. Even when we got a train that happened to pass by their house, they would learn the time of the train departure and wait outside their house for that train to pass, waving blindly, every single time we traveled. We always saw them there, we waved back frantically in the hopes they saw us back. As a child, it meant the world to me and I loved that warm feeling they always gave me.

Before my girl started Kindergarten, the kids and I would all stand outside, give out hugs and kisses to Daddy and wave him off. It meant so much to him, and knowing that it was going to be fleeting since she starts school earlier than he goes work, he made a video of it. Now I drive her to school, and he stands outside waving goodbye to us. But on Sunday, Daddy was inside while I was leaving. So my little 6-year old girl and 3-year old boy stood at our gate as I backed the car out. I rolled down my window, waving and blowing kisses, watching these two precious little creatures frantically blowing kisses back, yelling, “I love you,” and jumping up and down. And my heart exploded. I just happened to be in a state where I wasn’t thinking about the thousand things that need to be done or the mess of the house. I just looked, appreciated, and loved. I realized that I will probably never be so loved in my life as I am right at this moment when I am these children’s entire world. I soak up as much of this as I can.

Just today, I walked my girl to the door of her school. As customary, I kneeled down so that she could wrap her arms around my neck to give me six hugs and six kisses. A Mom and little kid were walking close by and I heard that mother tell her son, “See? It’s OK to give mommy kisses at school.” I know this loving scene we do every morning is only temporary. Soon enough, she’ll just want one kiss, then it’ll be a wave and before too long, it’ll be “see ya!” So for now, I spend those precious minutes smiling from ear to ear, I look at that infectious smile my daughter has that lights up a room when I tell her that hug #6 was so tight I couldn’t breathe. Her face lights up with delight and I will rush to give her six hugs and kisses back.

On her once-a-month Dress-Down-Days at school (no uniform day), she always wears her unicorn leggings and t-shirt. Last Friday, she had to wear her Christmas dress, complete with Santa hat. It was just pertfect, and so her.

So while the world is swirling, debts are due, time is crunched, space is limited, I’m on the brink of insanity most days, and the to-do list never ends, it’s really a wonderful life.

Updating!

Remember the kid who hit my girl on her first day of her new school? Apparently, he’s no longer in the school. My hurricane (I may downgrade her to a tropical storm soon) informed me of his departure when I was walking her into school this morning.

This change of school has done wonders for her. She’s a new, happier child when she comes home. She bounces into the car with glee when I pick her up. Before, she would wearily and slowly get in the car. It’s amazing what a difference the school can make. I’m really liking this new place. On October 30th, they are hosting a Mad Scientist Night where the kids get to make fake wounds (molds), mix up some green goo, carve pumpkins, etc. This Friday is Dress Down Day so if you haven’t had multiple issues in class, you are granted the privilege of not wearing your uniform. She’s going to be a unicorn (unicorn leggings and unicorn t-shirt) and she couldn’t be more exited.

My challenge over the next few months is to work on my 3-year old’s VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten) enrollment for next year, when he will be 4-years old. I’m hoping desperately that I can get him into the same place I got my girl into last year. She loved that place, the staff felt like family, and I want him to experience the same thing. Even though enrollment won’t begin until February, I’ve already sent the director an email to say hi. If I can get him squared away there, I’m sitting pretty. He’s grandfathered into the new elementary that my girl is at now, thanks to the sibling-clause so I won’t have to go through this kindergarten nightmare again. And that would be amazing because I never want to go through this again.

When Children Aren’t Children Anymore.

Naturally, it wasn’t until I became a parent that I began questioning the normal societal rituals that our children go through. School has become one such ritual that I am increasingly scared by. The United States, ever competitive, must-always-be-best, has created an environment that in order to get ahead, you have to do more. It sounds logical, right? For instance, in my girl’s old school, the county school board mandated an extra hour of school every day (for all elementary grades, even kindergarten) to try to rectify the bad test scores of the previous year. Thankfully, I’ve been able to move her to another school that not only doesn’t have this extra hour of school work, but it has much more play time (recess every single day and PE three times a week). The difference in my child has been staggering. She is so much happier when she comes home from school, less stressed, less anxious about the next day. Think about that – I’m referring to a five-year old being less stressed about school.

I don’t discard the vital importance of an education. It’s how we educate that worries the crap out of me. More, more, more! More homework, more hours, more studying. This all comes at a cost and the cost is our children don’t get to be children anymore. Their own interests are tossed aside, natural never-ending energy isn’t being expended, and nonstop testing rules the classroom.

The first quarter of the 20th century saw huge leaps forward in education and productivity, but as the decades have marched on, our educators have forgotten these lessons. Superwoman was already here to breathe new life into education, beginning in 1907. Thankfully, Montessori is growing rapidly throughout the United States. Click here for a more information on it. It focuses on the growth and individual interest of a child, addressing individual needs, autonomy and responsibility. None of these things exist in the current public school system.

And what about play time? Take a look at Finland’s school system, which is #3 in the world, by the way. They didn’t pile on the work, the lessened it. After every single class, children get to go outside and play for 15 minutes. After every.single.class.

Not only do Finnish educational authorities provide students with far more recess than their U.S. counterparts75 minutes a day in Finnish elementary schools versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.but they also mandate lots of arts and crafts, more learning by doing, rigorous standards for teacher certification, higher teacher pay, and attractive working conditions.

The more, more, more, attitude of school, hunker down those kids, burying them in books is suffocating our children. Clearly, our current educators do not see a parallel between our childrens’ education and the exploitation of the middle class in the early 20th century either. Previously, average factory workers were expected to work six and seven days a week to maximize output in factories. On May 1st, 1926, Henry Ford mandated that his workers could only work 40-hours per week, five days a week, as well as almost doubling the hourly wage to $5 per hour. Yes, you can thank Henry Ford for pioneering the five-day work week, because it became, and still is, the industry standard.

The news shocked many in the industry but turned out to be a stroke of brilliance, immediately boosting productivity along the assembly line and building a sense of company loyalty and pride among Ford’s workers.

So why can’t our educators at the top see that less is more? Less nose-to-the-grind and more play for children. Happier children have an open mind to learn. Strung out, overworked children do not. Homeschooling is on the rise, private schools and public charters are exponentially gaining popularity. People will do anything to avoid going into public school. And for all of us that say “well, I went through public school and it was fine,” the public school you and I knew is not what it is today. It is very, very, very different.

Pay teachers what they deserve. Every teacher I know works a minimum 10-12 hours every single day, throws in extra time on the weekend and even then, might not be able to catch up on paperwork. Considerably raise the salary of our teachers and not only will productivity rise, the desire to become a teacher will increase too. Flood the school market with teachers clamouring to teach and you’ll raise the overall quality of the teacher in the classroom. Raise that quality of teacher, and you’ll start to generate a better education system. When both the teacher and student are respected, are able to be whom they were meant to be, whom they want to be, the entire school system will win.

Confronting a Bully on the First Day.

10708783_10152475639178860_6213760241580596127_oYesterday, my hurricane began kindergarten at her new school which was a rousing success. She came home happier than I’ve ever seen her when coming home from school.  She did talk a lot about a boy in her class that was making lots of bad choices, and it eventually came out that he hit her in the chest. I asked her what happened after he did that, and she told me that she informed Ms. Y (her teacher) and the boy was removed from the classroom temporarily.

Forward to this morning. I wanted to walk my love into her classroom and talk to Ms. Y about the entire day yesterday. No other children were present in the class as we spoke and it sounded like the issue with the boy was being addressed appropriately. Then my girl announced she wanted to talk to the boy about what happened. As we moved along in topics from school binders to supply lists to P.E. being three times a week (for real!!!!!!), as well as recess every day, I began to bid my girl farewell with our usual kiss and hug, when the door opened and the particular boy involved walked in the door with his mother. Ms. Y explained in detail to his mother what happened and his poor Mom looked like she wanted to die on the spot. Ms. Y told him that my daughter wanted to speak to him about yesterday’s occurrence, so she and the boy moved to the other side of the room. My girl stood right in front of him, ready to have her say.

She wasn’t indignant about it, she wasn’t spiteful, she didn’t even seem hurt. She was genuinely trying to be helpful and watching her handle that situation just took my breath away. She told him that he should think about how others will feel before he acts, that he should keep his hands to himself and never hit. That if something is upsetting him, to use his words and think first, before acting. I watched in amazement as my daughter, on only her second morning at this new school, was calmly confronting and trying to guide a child that had wronged her. It took everything in me not to cry with pride. What she said probably won’t change his behavior but it might make him think twice before he messes with her again. Because she won’t take it lying down. In fact, she’ll face you head on with it.

So while I know I’ve screwed up a thousand times with this parenting thing, today, my girl made me stand tall and swell with pride, because she is as awesome as I’ve always known she is. As I left the classroom, I hugged and kissed her, and whispered in her ear how exceptionally proud I am of her. <3