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.
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.