Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Education Updates

Two years ago I did a lot of grumbling here about Brenna's first year of school. Then last year, after much prayer and agonizing, we transferred her to the school district north of where we live. Still unsure that we had done the right thing, we agreed to re-evaluate the situation at the conclusion of her first grade year. There were, at that time, many educational options on the table, both at the school and in our minds. I had read several books and talked with the principal of the new school. I knew what I could request and felt reasonably sure that this new school would work with us to do what was in Brenna's best interest.

Brenna had a phenomenal first grade teacher who tiered her lessons to meet the needs of her students. She pinpointed Brenna's spelling weakness and met her constant desire to explore new topics. It was a great confidence building year.

As we've reviewed the year, we've made a few decisions. The first is to stay at this school. The second is not to pursue a grade skip. We've spoken with some parents whose children skipped a grade, as well as some who chose not to go that route. It seems that when you skip a grade, you often trade one set of problems for another. Since the teachers working with Brenna are very good at adapting lessons to fit the needs of their students, I feel confident that she is being challenged. A push ahead would have magnified her spelling weakness, plus she still needs to practice writing as fast as her little brain goes.

There is much good that comes from the public school experience. I'm glad she has so many friends, gets to explore art, and is learning to work with many different adult personalities. I know, however, that she could work through the curriculum much faster than the pace of a 25 member classroom. It's a little give and take, I guess.

The new county did retest Brenna and confirmed the gifted "label" she'd been given in Kindergarten. She's eligible for services and the GT teacher does work with her class. But I've come to realize that she's still a sponge, just like she was at age three. So we try to keep feeding her mind as often as possible. Next month she's going to stay after school once a week for a hands on science class. At home, she's learning to quilt and to do math puzzles. She likes creating and is currently working on some kind of popsicle stick design of her teacher's name. Yesterday she came home from school so excited because she had learned all about the Prime Meridian and also because she had checked out a book on the Greek goddess Athena. Sometimes I just shake my head and grin. However did this child land in my home?

As expected with child number two, I have not been as diligent with Daniel's preschool work as I was with Brenna's. Then again, he doesn't beg for it like she did. He enjoys some of the workbooks, especially dot-to-dot, but his attention span is short. We are currently working through the first Handwriting Without Tears book and attempting to make the jump from knowing letter sounds to sounding out words.

A few weeks ago, I took him for what I thought was a speech evaluation. His pediatrician had trouble understanding him and suggested he be evaluated. When we arrived, I learned it was actually a full preschool evaluation, with speech included. The instructor spent about 45 minutes working with Daniel while I sat in a tiny child sized chair nearby. I was surprised by some of the things he knows and can do - which is precisely why she kept me in the room. Turns out his speech is right on target for his age. More than likely he was just talking too fast at the doctor's office that day. (Incidentally, his hearing is just fine, as well. Though he's certainly had me fooled often enough.)

There were two things that made all the effort of getting to the evaluation worth it. First the teacher suggested that I use a dry erase board to help Daniel practice writing letters. It's less intimidating than pencil and paper because it's more easily erased. It has worked like a charm. In less than a week I taught him to write his name, where I hadn't accomplished that in all the previous year.

Second, and more importantly, she picked up on a trait that we've seen over and over but have never expressed. She pointed out that if Daniel thinks he can't do something right, he often won't even try. That's the struggle I've had with teaching him to write. We've done tracing, but he gets all upset before his pencil ever touches the paper because he knows he can't stay on the line. She advised me to teach him to write his name and to work on cutting so that when he arrives in Kindergarten next year, he'll be ready to participate. She said that students like him will often shut down if they think they cannot do something like the other kids can. Although it's a different environment, we see that all the time at home. I was very thankful for her insight.

And that's where we are with the kids' schooling. There are some big decisions ahead of us as we move north. You'd have to understand how public schools are set up in Virginia, but basically where we move within the county will determine whether Brenna will have to change school tracks yet again. As a friend once noted in my comments, "I would gladly do the right thing, if I just knew what the right thing was." There are so many factors playing in to all of this, but schools is definitely one of them.

As for the way future....I've told the kids that at least one of them has to go to Ohio State. They can earn scholarships and go voluntarily or they can draw straws. Either way, someday I get to go to an actual Buckeye football game in the Horseshoe.


TurtlesButterfly said...

Would you settle for Ohio University? I might be a little partial, but if you time it out right you can still visit the Horseshoe for a game. (Maybe our mascot won't tackle Brutus then either.)

Glad your schooling is working so far :)

MomBrose said...

I needed to read this today. We are in the midst of a major decision. Reagan's school is NOT meeting her needs. She's been "labeled" as well but they can't do anything about it until fourth grade. That's unacceptable to me. She had a phenomenal kinder teacher but it has gone downhill from there. We are considering home school next year. Skylar starts kinder next year and she's reading pretty well. When I spoke with a kindergarten teacher at the local school she said they only get 1 or 2 kids that read coming IN to kinder. She's already ahead! It's frustrating and confusing and I don't know if there's a right or wrong answer. I just know that status quo isn't cutting it. I'll be praying for your continued decisions....

Sarah Dressel said...

Hi Julie! I loved hearing about your education choices and evaluation for your kids. We aren't there yet obviously but it is ever on my mind as a former teacher, and I'm already feeling a bit of stress and anxiousness as I anticipate the big decisions we will have to make. I love how intentional you are with your kid's education. You are clearly a wonderful mom! What preschool materials did you use to prep your kids for school? I do a lot of things with Caroline now but I don't use a book yet. I wanted to start looking into that very soon so any tips on materials or techniques will be very appreicated! PS - I LOVED the last paragraph about OSU. Go Bucks!!!!!! :)