As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this past year I didn’t have to worry about M’s schooling. She had a great year at her new school. She did have her ups and downs; if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know what I’m referring to here, but I won’t write it about here since I am not behind a password. Certain stories are for M to tell, not me.
That said, M’s ups and downs were very normal. She is doing extremely well–she LOVES school. She hated to be absent last year–the first time she had a stomach bug, she cried because she didn’t want to miss school–and she is excited for school to start up again next month. It is such a relief to see her so happy and well-adjusted. I didn’t realize until this year just how much of my mental, emotional, and physical energy her issues with school had taken out of me.
At the beginning of the year, we weren’t sure what to expect academically. She skipped an entire year of math–she went from doing third grade math in public school to fifth grade math at her new school. She tested into that math class, so I knew the school was confident she could do the work, but I still just didn’t know what to expect. She had never really studied social studies before this past year; in third grade she did a little group project on the tools Native Americans used, but that was about it. She had never had a social studies book or a test. She’d had very little grammar. In second grade they talked about nouns and verbs and maybe adjectives (can’t remember for sure), but that was all. I don’t think she’d ever written a report at her old school.
During the three months I homeschooled her, I tried to work in as many of these things as I could, but it’s hard to make up for three years of education in three months. She studied Native American history with me, I made sure she had her multiplication tables memorized and that she felt confident about division, I had her write book reports, and I worked with her on vocabulary and identifying the parts of speech, as well as the subject and predicate of a sentence. That was really about all we could do, in the time we had.
She earned the lowest grade she’d ever received on her first social studies test; I can’t remember what it was exactly, but it was in the 60s. She was upset, but G and I told her not to get discouraged. She had never taken a test like that before–a test with short answer questions, multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, etc. All she had done to that point was spelling, as well as a science test where she had to label all the bones in the human body. We stressed to her that she was learning for the first time not only social studies, but also how to take tests like these, and that takes time. She worked diligently throughout the year, and her grades went up with every test. By the end of the school year, she had the highest social studies average in the class, an accomplishment of which she was extremely (and rightfully) proud. We were also very proud of her, because we saw how hard she worked to grasp a whole new way of learning.
She struggled with grammar quizzes throughout the year–grammar requires an attention to detail that is difficult for her to sustain–but she learned a lot and showed improvement by the end of the year. Her vocabulary grades were excellent; she was consistently one of the top scorers the entire year, and those tests were hard. She had to know not only the meaning and spelling of the word, but also its part of speech and number. She also had to be able to identify the words’ synonyms and antonyms. I am not exaggerating when I say that some of my first-year writing students could not pass those tests.
She did pretty well in math this year, but she blew the doors off the achievement tests in math this spring. Because she scored so high on those tests (and those test scores were consistent with her math scores during her admission testing and the IQ testing we had done), she’s skipping another level of math. For next year, she’ll be with the kids who were in the math class above hers this year; the class is Math Foundations II and III or something like that. In sixth grade, she’ll be in pre-algebra, and she’ll take Algebra I in seventh grade. She is very excited about this development, as her goal this year in math was to move up to this math group. I have to admit that I am not sure why it meant so much to her to be with this group (most of her friends are in the group she was in this year), but it did, so I am happy for her.
I am a little nervous about her skipping ahead again, but I do know that she needs to be challenged. She tends to rise or fall to the occasion. To use a sports analogy, she plays to the level of competition. If the bar is set high, she meets it, but if the bar is set low, she meets it, too–doesn’t exceed it, just meets it. Given that we have ample evidence from both school and her neuropsych testing that this is her M.O., my husband and I, as well as the school, think this is the right call. If we are wrong, we can always seek tutoring for her.
The thing that makes me happiest for M is all the friends she made. She made so many nice friends this year, and it was wonderful to see her feel so happy and included at school. She always had people to play with at recess, and she played with a variety of kids. At our last parent-teacher conference, her teacher told her, “I don’t think there’s one kid in fourth grade who doesn’t like you, M. You make friends wherever you go, and that just proves once again that what happened at your old school wasn’t your fault.” I was so happy for her when I heard him say that! This also shows how wonderful her teacher was this year–again and again, he made sure to point out her strengths as well as her weaknesses, as well as helping her realize how far she had come this year and that the situation at her old school was not her fault.
P’s update won’t be anywhere near as lengthy, because he doesn’t have M’s tumultuous history. He was in the pre-kindergarten class this year, and fall semester was rough. I don’t think it helped that he started off the year with surgery (his adenoids and tonsils were removed and ear tubes were inserted), but the main problem was that his preschool class was doing things M did in kindergarten. He wasn’t ready for that. He was a four year old boy, and like most four-year-olds, he wanted to play. He had no interest in sitting at his seat and learning how to write not only letters, but also words, sound combinations, and the like. I understand why the teachers were pushing the kids harder–this year marked the beginning of statewide standardized testing in first grade (!). Because of that testing, there is so much more pressure now for kids to be doing even more in kindergarten.
But P was not ready for that–he just wasn’t. It became pretty clear to G and me that P needed to go to M’s school. We hadn’t necessarily intended on sending him there right away; we wanted him to try public school and see how things went. But M’s school doesn’t have to do any state testing, so the curriculum is free from teaching to the test. We also suspected that P would constantly be in trouble in a public school classroom. M had 28 kids in her kindergarten class, and the sizes just seem to be getting bigger, thanks to budget cuts. One of my grad students had a first-grader this past year, and there were 31 kids in his class. I know a gym teacher in the district who had kindergarten classes with 35 and 36 kids. That would be a disaster for P. He is a bit of a class clown as it is, and to have that many other children to perform for would be too great of a temptation for him to bear. Throw in the fact that he would receive little attention from the teacher and that he would have to sit and do a lot work, and it was clear to us that such a classroom would be a disaster for him.
For a while, we thought just going to M’s school would be enough; there are only 16-18 kids in K-4 classes there, so he would have plenty of attention and wouldn’t feel as much of a need to act out to get it. But by Christmas it was apparent to us that he simply was not ready for kindergarten, no matter how small the class would be. He is very bright, and some of his insights about other people can be devastatingly accurate; he doesn’t say as much as his sister (few do, lol), but he can cut to the heart of the matter very quickly and with an accuracy that astonishes me. But in terms of developmental readiness (attention span, physical stamina, motor skills, etc), he just wasn’t there; this was his preschool teachers’ opinions, as well as ours.
Over Christmas break, G and I decided we would seek to enroll P in the school’s Kindergarten Prep program. This is a program for kids who are chronologically old enough to go to kindergarten, but developmentally aren’t quite ready–a perfect description of P. It runs from 8-1:15, instead of 8-3, and there are only 14-16 children in the class; there is a teacher and a teacher’s aide, too. The academic demands are not as great, and there is a real emphasis on art, which P *loves.* We just thought it would be the perfect program for him.
While we knew he would have to go through the full kindergarten admission testing, I told the admissions director we were only interested in Kindergarten Prep placement for P. He did all of the testing, and it confirmed what we knew: his aptitude tests put him well into the above average range, but he consistently scored in the 4.0-4.5 year old range on the Gesell developmental testing, with two scores in the 5-year-old range. That was pretty accurate, since P wasn’t going to be five for another three months at the time he took the test, but for kindergarten placement, the school wants kids scoring in the 5.0-5.5 year old range. As we knew, P simply was not ready.
So, P will be going to school with his older sister this year: Kindergarten Prep for him, and 5th grade (and middle school!) for her. They are both excited to finally be going to school together, though I know P is nervous about making new friends and having all new teachers. Over the next few weeks there will be a couple playdates at the school so that the kids can get to know each other, see the classroom and the teacher again (Pete met her when he visited last winter and loved her), and all the rest, and he is looking forward to that. I think those playdates will really help dispel his nervousness.
He has grown up so much this past year and has really come into his own. He loves sports; he played baseball this spring, went to a basketball camp at IPFW this summer, and is going to play soccer this fall. His preschool teachers this year taught him so much about art, and he really took to it. He loved learning about the artists and created some amazing stuff. I had no idea he had a talent for art until this year, but it’s become clear to me he does. I am so excited for him to go to Kindergarten Prep, because he will absolutely love all the art. The teacher is known for her use of art in teaching the kids and is an artist herself. He’s going to really enjoy it.
Well, I guess P’s update wasn’t that much shorter than M’s. :)