Kindergarten, how's it going?

Laurel has been in school for 8 weeks now and we are feeling pretty good about our decision to send her there (and grateful to have won a lottery seat for a very small amount of kindergarten slots). The word that keeps coming up for me is "thoughtful." A great deal of reflection and planning seems to go into a lot of what she does. The communications from the school to home make sense. That's kind of a low bar to set, but last year I volunteered to be a classroom parent at her old school and 90% of what I did was track down information because fliers came home that were vague, or dates weren't correct and if you asked anyone for clarification they would sometimes have no idea what you were talking about.

As a former public school teacher, I just feel bad for everyone who is muddling through situations like that. I'm starting to be far enough removed from my classroom experience that I feel like I can start writing about some of the things that happened. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell stories, especially if you are in special education, because you don't want to violate your students' privacy. Or lose your job. Worse than that would be to make your principal angry with you so they don't back you up when sh*t goes down. So in the past, I would write about the cockroaches that would fall out of the ceilings at my first job, because it was too complicated to get into why we were illegally instructing children in their first language because everyone knew that was the right thing for those kids to keep making progress. Just FYI, math is the same in Spanish as it is in English. And often I revert to talking about how terrible it is when teens lose their lives to gun violence - which it is. But that keeps me from talking about how PPS has classes that are labeled "AP" in their course catalogs, but then only read 1 or 2 novels the entire YEAR in AP English and nobody passes the AP test. It's not just a slacker teacher at fault. Talk to the teacher and you'll find out how they have never taught the same course two years in a row and have maybe been pulled into that classroom because they meet some technical certification requirement but haven't actually ever studied how to teach that subject. Ahem, that would be me. Teaching high school math because I passed college calculus once upon a time. (I was actually a certified Reading Specialist and took ONE class in a post-bac teaching certification program about teaching math.) It's an icky, sticky mess and an uncomfortable one to discuss because I have to take responsibility for actions I took - however well-intentioned - that were probably not the best path to serving an underserved community.

But this self-censorship is ultimately very damaging to the many kids and families who are dealing with complete crap. I always knew Laurel would get a better deal than the kids I was teaching. I feel guilty about it everyday. But I also want to tell you about the cool stuff that she gets to do.

Every Friday they go on a hike in the nearby park. I am thrilled just that they are getting outside for a little fresh air and exercise, but when they go they usually have a purpose. At first, they talked a lot about traffic and safe pedestrian behavior. Then they started to observe wildlife. They learned to do scientific sketching of their observations and her art and sketching at home became much more realistic. PE is often outside and her teacher is apparently telling her a lot about general health practices and not just teaching them to play dodgeball, or whatever they let kids do nowadays, because she comes home and talks about heart rate and started to get really interested in "eating a rainbow" of vegetables.

Science and Art are an integrated class they call "Thinking Lab." I also get a weekly email from this teacher that has the guiding questions for the unit. They interview and record the kids as part of their ongoing assessment, although I haven't yet heard the recordings.

There is no homework until they get to the upper school in 4th grade. We get a paper every week that says what phonics and sight words she is learning. We are encouraged to read every day. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to not have to deal with a thick "packet" filled with worksheets that will never be thoroughly checked by an overworked teacher and can't be done independently by anyone because the directions are puzzling and were written by some unemployed teacher freelancing for Scholastic or Pearson and making $10 an hour. This also means that we have time after school and on the weekends to do whatever we want.

And school lunch? I will save that gem for another day. It's freshly prepared, recognizable food. You would happily eat it.

It's not a utopia. The school day is long and I think that's a little hard on her. She gets super excited and talks too much and gets in trouble for it. Cliques are real and they start in kindergarten or before. They told us that they would take the kids out in "all weather" but that doesn't seem to be 100% accurate as recess has been indoors a couple of times.  They don't have a librarian or even a library.

Laurel goes to a publicly funded charter school that happens to be in our neighborhood, but we didn't get any preference to get in. We don't pay tuition and it's open to anyone in the district (but lots of people want to come, so there's a random lottery held each winter to see who gets a slot). Lots of people think charter schools are terrible because they pull the "better" kids out of the main public school population and suck resources from the districts. There's an interesting breakdown of Facts/Myths on this Facebook page and unlike most comment sections, these are pretty thoughtful and not a cesspool of internet trolls. Her school claims to spend $14K per pupil, far less than the PPS average of $20K, but it's a little hard to compare those figures directly.

Pennsylvania is currently at an impasse with the budget and this is really hurting all schools, but her school was recently informed that PPS wouldn't be making full payments until it's resolved. I think they'll get 50% of what they are supposed to.

I'm going to really go down a rabbit hole if I get any further into this budget stuff, but I would urge everyone who reads this to review how your public schools are funded from local, state, federal and random Mark Zuckerberg investments (I guarantee that unless you already work for a public school district in a budget department, you will learn something new). And while you are at it, look at a district that has a higher population of low-income kids than yours does and check out their revenue streams. More money does not always equal better results.

Laurel's school journey (and eventually Marko's and their soon-to-be-born little brother....eek! 9 weeks until  my due date!) is always going to occur alongside my own journey as an educator and advocate. It's a tough space to want the best for your kids and to also keep in mind the needs of all your neighbors' kids.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like reading what you write.