Tag 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.

In Four Short Days….

unnamedI had another stretch of time without my kids (see here for why). The calmness and freedom that ensues that alone time is great. This time it was almost two full weeks which is a very long time for a kid. However, due to the circumstances of my departure, I wasn’t thinking too much about them. I was enveloped in the moment at hand. They did great when I was away after Christmas, but signs of trouble were showing. Two days before leaving to return back to the United States, I got an email from the 6-yr old hurricane’s teacher that my girl hit a teacher twice in school. Whhhhhaaaaaattttt? I about died on the spot and was really confused. This was way out of character for her.  Aside from the immediate scare that she would get kicked out of the one darn school I was happy with, I was stunned to hear my girl had lashed out. And then, reality hit me and I knew I needed to be home ASAP. It actually made leaving the motherland a little easier. The oldest of my two was resorting to violence to work out her feelings and lashing out at those around her. She’s never done that before, but we’ve also never been in this situation before where I’ve had to disappear for a long time (to a child) with 10hrs notice.

Two days later, I walked through my airport and was literally tackled to the ground by the force of the hugs and love showered on me. I stayed on that floor for a few minutes, just hugging and kissing my two little terrors that encompass my heart, silently acknowledging to myself how lucky I am. But so began damage control.

I had a talk with her teacher the next morning and I am truly grateful that they were completely understanding of what happened, how hard my absence had been on her. When I first left to rush back to Ireland, I emailed her teacher to let her know what was going on. She was appreciative for the heads up and she told me that the tornado had been out of character all of the past week. Very little was made of her incident. It was recorded and she was given two conducts points, but nothing else was to happen. Phew. OK.

Not unexpectedly, the 3-year old mental patient is a mess. He’s been sick with a cough and snotty nose for a couple weeks now. We can’t seem to get rid of it, despite all attempts. Mind you, I’ve had the same thing for a month so I guess we have to let it run its course. But add to that my absence and I’ve had a little boy who has been a bit of a nightmare since my return. Basically, he’s now releasing all that pent up anguish and confusion that surrounded him for two weeks. We didn’t have this when I got back from South Africa, but that was for 10 days, hubby only had to work for three of those and Grandad was here most of that time, keeping them company. So a very different kettle of fish than the past two weeks. Either way, it’s all manageable and I’ll let that run its course too. Once he is confident that the old routine is back and isn’t stressed that I might disappear again, he’ll be back to his old cuddly self.

I’ve laughed over the things that can come out of their mouths though. For example, while in carpool lane on Monday afternoon to pick up the 6-year old, my son exclaims “Mom, my penis needs to come out.” Uh… what? He was strapped into a 5-point harness child seat. There is no way that he can maneuver what he wants to achieve.

By Tuesday, I was trying to normalize the routine by taking the boy to the park to meet his best friend. As I unstrapped him outside the park, my phone rang and I heard the dreaded words that it was the school secretary calling about Lilly. My heart sank and I wondered what she had done now. Instead, she told me that Lilly was at the front desk, they suspected she had ringworm, and I needed to collect her. Again, whhhhhaaaattt? Since it’s highly contagious, she wasn’t allowed back into the school until I could provide a doctor’s note confirming with treatment or denying the condition. In the end, the doctor’s office couldn’t work us in, but the nurse was kind enough to let me email her some pics of her arm, and then confirm it was ringworm, assign treatment and email me back a doctor’s note for the school. She definitely was going to miss the next day of school though. So much for the routine. I decided to turn it into a day of fun. We chilled around the house first. No rushing. Then to the park for a few hours, then onto their favorite – the numbers restaurant. Then off to Target to get some frames for the pictures of my aunt. A pretty simple and fun day for the kids and they needed it. The boy is still a little mess, ready to break down at the drop of a hat. That just means he needs lots of extra loving to make him feel good.

Today is Thursday. I’m still delirious from exhaustion and a little vertigo. Despite the eventful four days since I’ve been back, it has highlighted to me how much Mommy is needed. I’m their Mommy. Their well being, emotional and physical, is mostly on me since Daddy works god awful long hours. It’ll be good for me to get back into a routine too. The world turned upside down at the end of January for me and my stress level went through the roof.

So it’s time for us all to get back to normal and while our ‘normal’ can sometimes resemble the Addams Family, it’s still good to us.

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.

Forget Ragged Mommy, Meet the Ragged Teacher.

Seriously, I am overwhelmed at the depth, length and breadth of information that has simply to be entered into systems for record keeping, let alone actually teach the class, prepare lesson plans, keep strictly up to date with state mandates, all the while, try to keep a jovial or at least civil face to the students.

My 6-year old in doing very well in her new school. She loves it, I love it. Still, I’m alarmed at the information thrown at them. For example, here are her courses for the year:

courses

Seriously, kindergarteners now have social study and science. I can’t even begin to describe the website portal that parents have access to. Every single thing they do, I can see on this portal, as well as how my child has performed. Guess what? The poor teacher has to input this information every day or every week. For eighteen students. I can click on each of these subjects, open up the attendance records, see the individual aspects studied weekly as well as the grade again. Holy crap. I kid you not, as a parent, it’s almost a full-time job to keep up with the information flowing forth. I can’t even fathom what the heck these teachers have to do to get it all in there. And that’s just the main portal.

Then we also use Study Island, which (oh joy!) covers the Common Core standards for reading and math. Here are both that she has to complete over the course of the year. We’ve now begun getting assignments here for homework.

Study Island1Study Island2

THIS IS JUST KINDERGARTEN, PEOPLE!!!!!! It blows me away. Again, having said all that, whatever way it’s being done must be OK for the kids because my child still jumps into the car as happy as can be. We get homework on a Monday and have to hand it in on Friday. I usually insist we blow it all out on Monday night while she’s still fresh from the weekend and that way she’s free for the rest of the week. When it comes to the online testing, I do have to fight myself to not lean her towards the correct answer. I must be doing well on that issue because she did fail a test so we redid it, with fewer distractions around, and she did just great.

Books she's covered this month.
Books she’s covered this month.

As a parent, we have to keep a reading log every night because there’s a very heavy emphasis on reading at her school. Reading can mean we read to her, she reads to us, or a combination of both. Basically, they want to ensure expose to books. They have an Accelerated Reading program and for every book a child is involved in, they complete a little test (3-5 questions) and get points for correct answers. It sounds pretty bad but with every point added, rain drops are added to a sunflower and they get to make the sunflower grow. My little girl has been gobbling up the books just to make that sunflower grow and covered more than enough this month to be involved in the monthly AR celebration.

Then, our overworked teacher also keeps up a classroom website on shutterfly to send out information or downloads. The poor woman has to be working at least 12 hours a day. In our parent/teacher conference a few weeks ago, she showed us the Dolch list of sight words that the kids are tested on at the beginning, middle and end of the year. From our old school, I know how to motivate my girl with sight words so I took the entire list and made sight sheets, Here’s the PDF list of Sight Words if you’d like to use them. Feel free. I offered them to our teacher and she was so grateful, she sent it out to all the parents. Every week, I add a new sheet to the fridge and at night, we’ll go through the words. My girl loves it when she nails a word she didn’t know before. So this method works very well for us, right now.

It’s every teacher that gets worked to the bones, day in and day out. No matter what the grade, no matter what the subject. The paperwork involved alone is mind-boggling. I can easily spend an hour every day going through the various portals and websites gathering information. And I’m not the one teaching.

So for the love of God, be nice to your child’s teacher. They don’t work 8am – 3pm, having this cushy life with long vacations and days off. They work their asses to the bone, every single day.

A Day in the Life of a Mommy.

7:00am – That damn alarm goes off. Rat Bastard.
7:07am – Fully dressed & ready for the day, I go wake the 6-year old tropical storm for school. The 3-year old is up already.
7.15am – Make it downstairs by carrying each child individually.
7:16am – First tantrum of the day because the 3-year old’s pancakes are too hot. Thankfully, the 6-year old takes them.
7.17am – Tantrum escalates higher when I refuse to give the 3-year old a chocolate sandwich for breakfast.
7:20am – Peace negotiations calm the escaped mental patient as we agree to “hot chocolate coffee” which is warm milk with Ovaltine served in a cup.
7:25-7:50am – Make sure 6-year-old is dressed, brushed teeth & hair, while persuading 3-year-old that I am not abandoning him.
7:50-8:20am – Drive oldest to school.
8:25am – Make coffee for me.
8:26am – Youngest needs to play doctor and examine me.
8:30am – Listen to hubby rant about work. Drink my coffee while he talks. Wonder if it’s too early to put Bailey’s in my coffee.
8:49am – Hubby leaves for work. Mental patient is satisfied that I am in situ and goes to the backyard to write letters & numbers with chalk.
8:50am – I sit down.
8:51am – Youngest demands to get dressed. Dress him but he dislikes his shirt intensely and demands another one. I allow this to occur because he has only about 5 shirts that he will wear and today, I tried a new one unsuccessfully.
8:53am – Go upstairs to get an approved shirt and notice that my husband has not made our bed (again, as in every.damn.day) even though he is the last one out. Make our bed. Grab green shirt for the boy.
8:57am – Put a bandage on the number 4 repeatedly.
9:00am – Check bank balance to see if I have enough money in checking for small grocery shop.
9:07am – Put Pocoyo on TV so that I can stare in hopelessness at the kitchen I need to clean up.
9:15am – Receive call about some tax news. Have nervous breakdown and begin research while I plonk kid in front of TV.
10:25am – Clean kitchen.
10:40am – Feed the beast.
10:50am – Check coupons for shopping.
11am – Pack up rugrat and head to store.
12:35pm – Back from store and have to convince 3-year old child that I cannot deliver Christmas today.
12:36pm – Unpack groceries and begin cleaning the kids’ bedroom. I don’t look in the playroom. That would be scary.
1:58pm – Have some lunch for myself and the smallie.
2:05pm – Begin searching online for Christmas toys.
2:15pm – Actually spend time snuggling, tickling & kissing my son.
2:45pm – Leave to pick up oldest from school. On the way home, discuss with her how a star didn’t make the apartment building currently under construction.
3:15pm – Home, snack, and start doing the week’s homework. This takes an abnormally long time today because we normally can do a whole week’s worth of homework in 45 minutes. But today took two hours because she needed everything to be perfect and I refused to spell out words for her (suggested to me by her teacher). As soon as I walked away, saying I was starting dinner, she completed all the remaining homework in 5 minutes. More than had been done the previous hour. All the while, I had to keep the 3-year old away from his sister. At one point, he found the numbers on the printer in Daddy’s office and decided to wreak havoc on it. So when I locked him out of the office, another epic 10-minute tantrum started. I’m surprised someone didn’t call the cops for the length, volume and pitch of his screams. Sigh. I need a drink.
5:15pm – Start cooking dinner. I am taking the bowls and utensils directly from the clean dishwasher, because I have neither the energy or motivation to actually empty it at this point. It’s pasta tonight because it’s easy and both of them will eat it.
5:37pm – The boy refuses to eat the pasta.
5:40pm –  He declares his bum is sore and needs cream. Oh joy. The excitement just never ends.
5:43pm – Begin picking up the strewn toys all over the floor that the escaped mental patient threw while I was doing homework with the kindergartener.
6:00pm – Make daughter’s lunch for school tomorrow and save in fridge.
6:09pm – Begin the mental countdown to kids’ bedtime. It used to be 7:30pm but I found that 7pm worked just oh so much better for me.
6:10pm – Try to breathe slowly to lower my blood pressure. TV is on and three shows have been declared. One hour to go. One hour to go. I can make it. I can do this.
6:15pm – Begin texting husband who does bedtime routine that the clock is ticking.
6:16pm – I sit down and play Candy Crush to escape reality for 5 minutes.
6:25pm – play with the kids, lots of laughter, kisses and tickles.
7:15pm – World starts falling apart (youngest is so tired now). Daddy on his way home so bedtime will be soon.
7:20pm – Chaos ensues so I usher everyone to the bathroom for teeth and potty. We’re done here.I sit in precious silence as Daddy takes to them in their bedroom.
7:30pm -8:00pm – Silence over. Daddy is done with bedtime. Talking with hubby about our day.
8:00pm – 9:30pm – ME TIME.
9:30pm – Head to bedroom and contemplate having a shower that I desperately need, but just have no motivation for.
9:45pm – Go to bed, catch up on Facebook, take a deep breath.
10.45pm – Sleep. Hopefully.

unnamed (1)

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.