Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Finding the Right School

Last year, as Alex struggled with boredom in our local public school, I wrote about the importance of being bored. Whenever my children tell me they are bored and then ask to turn on the TV or computer, I secretly chuckle and usually decline their request. I know that if I get out of earshot and leave the screens black, they will soon dive into creative play. When that play tumbles into the backyard, I am even happier that they had moments of boredom. But when it comes to school, that boredom needs to be monitored, because once it turns into disappointment and anger at school, something needs to be done. In school last year, Alex was beyond bored. He lost all interest in going to school. Among other issues, he was required to sit through the math lessons (his favorite subject) despite scoring perfect scores on all the pretests. In other words, he had to sit through weeks of lessons on math he had mastered, complete endless worksheets in class and at home, and feel his voice was not being heard. Like all bright kids whose needs are not met, he lost faith in the educational system. If I could go back in time, I would have pulled him out of school by Christmas. When we had the opportunity to move him to a private school in April, we should have. He experienced a horrible bullying incident last spring that would have been avoided if we had moved him. But, the incident solidified our decision to send both kids to private school. For months, we had entertained the idea of private school and so we toured a number of them until we found the one that had the right feel. Alex and Izzy only needed one visit to fall in love with this school. The cost of a private school education is a tremendous burden for most families, and one that relatively few would consider taking on. For that reason, we remained on the fence about whether to go down this road. But watching Alex's slow decline last year, I knew we had to find a way to make it work. We applied for a scholarship, reduced our spending by putting projects and vacations on an indefinite hold, and I went back to work full time. So, now we are in November, with several months of school under our belts and the positive change in both kids is astounding. Izzy, who struggled with the craziness of the Common Core math curriculum, is excelling in math and has improved her reading, writing and public speaking skills tremendously. The expectations she has for herself-academically and civilly-have skyrocketed. And as for Alex, simply put, he is happy. Where his old school forced him into a box, his current school has opened the lid and encouraged him to find his voice. Where his old school "required" that he sit through the 2nd grade math curriculum, despite his high math scores, his current school is taking the time to test him, to find the right math level for him to slip into. Their math solution? Have Alex take all the post-tests for all the units, starting with 3rd grade and stopping only when he hits a level where he hasn't shown mastery. He has mastered 3rd grade, is nearly done with 4th grade and will move on to the 5th grade post-tests next week. Last week, he had a vacation day and so came to school with me. To keep him busy, he visited the 6th grade math class and took the 6th grade course pretests. He scored a 75% and an 88% on the course pretests. The next highest score for the entire 6th grade course pretest was a 55%. I can't imagine the thought process of Alex's 2nd grade teacher (last year), forcing him into the 2nd grade math box when he had the ability to show mastery of the 6th grade math curriculum. I don't see the problem as a public school vs. private school mentality, I only see it as an issue of finding the right school. As a public school English teacher, I try to bring Alex's experiences with school into my classroom. I work to challenge the kids who would otherwise sit in the class, bored and angry. It takes a lot of work, since I have 80 kids to worry about, but I see each one as an individual. I work so that my classroom is the right classroom. Finding the right school is hard work, but it is crucial to a child's development. Alex lost last year. Not only can he never get that time back, he is left with terrible memories of bullying, boredom and sadness. I only hope that he can use those experiences as I do, to help shape a positive experience for someone else, now that he has found his place in school.

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