Thursday, February 26, 2009

nineteen eighty-nine

I have a daughter who is a senior.
Unless you, too, have had a child who is a senior, I don't think you can completely understand the stress, the pride, the fear and, in my case, the utter frustration that one feels as a parent of a senior.

Senior year is not an easy year for many kids. There are graduation requirements that need to be met (culminating project). There's the prospect of the future: Go to university? Community college? Tech school? Take a "gap year" and work, travel, loaf? Assert independence that you aren't so sure you're ready to wear? It's really, really tough. I know it has been *forever* since I was a senior in high school, but I remember the feelings that go with those decisions quite vividly because intensely felt feelings carve into your soul never to be forgotten.

I remember feeling that so many of my friends had their stuff together so much better than I. They were going to universities, community colleges. I didn't have a strong sense that I could take on those responsibilities. I was barely making it through my senior year! I felt a bit of a loss and that I was dangling out in the limboland of loserville. It pretty much sucked.

These are the things I remember as I see my own child struggle to fulfill her graduation requirements.

What saved me from myself my senior year...or, more specifically, *who* saved me from myself was a new teacher to our school. He was my horticulture teacher. I loved horticulture, and I still enjoy it, so don't mock. Plants are life and oxygen and are essential to our existence. Yeah, it would be considered a slacker class, but it was fulfilling--far more fulfilling to me then than, say, math.

Anyway, I was chronically truant. I had 20+ absences at one point in a semester, and it is easy to fall behind when one misses that many days in a semester. I was also taking a Zero Period class (I think it was History or Econ with Mr Kelly) and I had to take freaking Commercial Foods in order to get credit for my job. My senior year schedule sucked.

My horticulture teacher, Kirk Stuart, told me at one point that he was going to do whatever he could do to assure that I would graduate. He may have just wanted to get rid of me, but his motive is unimportant to me 20 years later. It was unimportant to me then. He was the only teacher I had in three years at that high school who appeared to care about my success at all. At that point, I think he cared more than I cared.

During my horticulture class, I would work on missing assignments from other classes. He'd help me if I needed it. He was a good guy.

I think about Mr. Stuart more than I think about any other teacher (except maybe Mrs. Pickens because I was just such a bitch to her--entirely unnecessarily, too). When I finally went back to school (community college), I thought of Mr. Stuart. What he did for me back in 1989 was really big of him. I don't know if I ever thanked him, but I am so grateful.

Now I see my kid fighting a system that can't be fought. She doesn't want to do certain things in order to graduate: compiling her portfolio from freshman through senior year, which includes 20 hours of community service, letters of recommendation, letters from college(s), resume, evidence of learning, etc, etc. It's a lot to do, and she has pretty much done none of it.

She won't listen to me because I am 20 years removed from high school, and she knows what a crap student I was because she mentions it often enough. Plus, I am her Mom. Moms are dumb. This I know because my Mom was dumb was I was Paige's age. I don't know what it is about moms, but once a kid turns about 16, the mom becomes retarded. I don't mean that in a derogatory way. I mean it literally. Their brains are not fully developed and are therefore reatrded in growth. For some reason, once the child reaches the age of about 20 or 21, his/her mom is suddenly normal again. It really sucks to be a mom in her retarded phase, which is what I am in now.

Paige needs a Mr. Stuart. A teacher who has confidence in her. A teacher who can relate to her. A teacher who can light a fire under her ass like no other person can. A teacher who believes she can graduate and then do whatever else she wants to do.

The problem is that Paige is not in a school with only 400-500 kids like my 9th-12th grade high school. She is in a 10th-12th grade high school that has more like 1500 kids. Her graduating class is *huge.* She disrespects her advisory teacher, who is supposed to walk her through this process. She has little to no respect for many of her teachers, and when you feel like a kid thinks you're slime, why would you ever invest your time and effort into helping her?

I know we'll make it through this year alive, and if she gets her ass in gear, she may even graduate on time with her peers.

Oy, but it's tough to be the parent of a senior.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

what will I be like when it comes time for her to go to college?

How important is a child's primary school years?
Maya is in 2nd grade, and she is part of a unique program within our school district; the program is multi-age (1-2 class, 3-4 class 5-6 class) and a full day kindergarten. It's been an excellent program for teaching leadership and mentoring skills, and the kids tend to do well-above average when tested in reading, writing and math. The class size tend to be smaller (low 20s or less compared to the 30s), and there is a minimum requirement for family volunteer hours. Field trips are taken at least once a month and sometimes more frequently.

I have to admit that I wasn't in love with Maya's 1st grade teacher, and there were some things she did that I strongly disagreed with as far as discipline within the classroom; however, aside from a few glaring exceptions, she had a great learning vibe in her class. The kids were always questioning and seeking answers. It was awesome.

She retired at the end of the year, and so Maya had a new teacher this year.

I love Maya's new teacher; if we were to go out for coffee, I could chat with her all day long. She's funny and personable; however, I hate how she runs her class. It's like stepping back in time 10-20 years. She is painfully traditional. If one were to walk in the classroom, it wouldn't be evident that it is a multi-age class. She has even admitted that she's not teaching multi-age; it's truly painful.

Recently it was announced that the beloved full-day Kindergarten co-op teacher's class will be cut to half-day. She doesn't want to do half-day and will leave the co-op if full-day is no longer an option. Ugh. She really gets the whole multi-age concept, and she is into the Responsive Classroom model, which is so cool. It would suck to lose her, and I feel (as many others do, too) that her absence will have a huge impact on the longevity of the co-op.

In addition to all of that, there is a new 3-4 co-op teacher this year, too. I haven't heard much about her. No one seems to be in love with what she is doing with the class, and no one seems to abhor what she's doing either. I want to be impressed with what is going on in the co-op classes, so I find it mildly upsetting that no one seems to have much to say about her.

Oh, and I also found out that our new principal, who is completely unsupportive of the co-op (the co-op consists of three multi-age classes and one full day K within a poorly performing public school; the kids in the co-op consistently test higher than the rest of the school) has decided that she will add 6th graders who are *not* part of the co-op to the co-op class because there are only 16 kids in the 5-6 co-op class; whereas there are 31 kids in some of the school's 6th grade classrooms. That action would totally undermine the concept of the co-op because those incoming kids' families would not be held to the same contracts that the rest of the families in co-op classes are held to.

All of these things have left me scrambling to find a really great educational model for my kid. Right now I have her on a waiver to attend the co-op. I drive her to school every day because there is no bus transport from our home to that school. We are contracted to 90 hours per year of volunteer time per school year (that's for one child; with each additional child the volunteer hour obligation increases). We pay for numerous field trips (an average of 2 per month) and a yearly registration fee. I want to see something different from the classrooms in my neighborhood school; otherwise, I might as well just stay in my neighborhood school and volunteer how ever much I want to volunteer and not spend money above and beyond what is required for normal public school education.

It's frustrating.

I found a great program, though. It's not in our district, so chances are slim that I could even get Maya into the school. It is about an hour away from where we live. It's a public school that is fully multi-age. Every class is either K-1-2 or 3-4-5. It looks amazing. They do an out-of-district lottery in the spring, and I think we might try our luck and see if we can get Maya in for the '09-'10 school year. We can do that until she's in 6th grade and then come back for 6th grade to our current co-op program. I've heard really good things about the 5-6 co-op teacher.

I never thought I would worry so much about primary and intermediate education for my kid, but I don't want her academic spirit to be killed. Already this year, her creative writing, which is one of her strengths, has diminished. Creativity, expression and exploration are simply not fostered this year, and it makes me so sad. Leadership and mentoring, which are cornerstones of muti-age learning, have been completely discarded.

What I would prefer is to change the existing program back to the vital and innovative program that was once its reputation, but if no one else is able to see the disintegration that is happening within the co-op, I will definitely take my kid to a school an hour away...if she can get in. If she can't get into the other school, I may just go to the school up the street. I don't know.