Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pocomoke Middle School

I spend a lot of time thinking about education and education reform and have been semi-following the Today Show's Education Nation feature. But totally missed today, when my middle school was featured! Yay Pocomoke!

Totally recognize the classrooms, gym, cafeteria, library. The principal is new to me, and since she hired 82% of the teachers there, I only recognized one who was my home ec teacher back in the 80s. This was a good school, and the high school was a great school when I was there, despite all the challenges.

And yet, on the same day this incredibly positive story appeared on the today show, two of my cousins have facebook statuses that talk about a stabbing in the fields behind the middle school (can't find any online links). It seems like, as always, there is the good and the bad.

Here's the current online stabbing story.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Just 11 months ago, many of my bloggy friends and I were complaining about the supersizing of Halloween - so many opportunities to wear costumes and get candy. I'm too tired to find the links. Because tonight, we're finally through almost all of the birthday.

Party at a park for ~50 people Sunday
29 cupcakes for school today
dinner for extended family tonight

A very happy 5 year old

And a very tired mommy and daddy


Happy birthday Sweetpea. Hard to believe it has been 5 years. The days are long, but the years are short.

Monday, September 20, 2010

school daze

When I was in third grade, I had Mrs. Talbot for reading (and spelling, but that is a different long, long story). We had individual work books we all had to proceed through. I think you'd work on your workbook, then once finished have Mrs Talbot look it over and then hand you the next one. That you had to work through. By yourself. Ad Naseum.

I trudged my way through the workbooks, but I really disliked them. There were 25 in the whole series. My friend Amy L was, I think, the first to finish all of them. And a bunch of other kids finished theirs, too. I was still trudging along at around book 20 or 21.

And then one day Mrs Talbot came over to me, took me by the hand, and said, "here, dear, come over to the reading group." "But what about my workbook," I asked. "Just leave it, dear."

And over on the other side of the room, the kids who had finished all 25 of the boring tedious workbooks were reading. Real, actual stories. And discussing them! Out loud! With each other! And then reading another, real story! It was interesting! And fun! And I did not give those hated workbooks a second thought. Except I think Amy L raised the point I hadn't finished all my work, but Mrs. Talbot quickly shushed her (which cheesed her off, but nyah nyah nyah).

In third grade, I didn't really think about who were smart kids and who weren't quite as smart. But by 4th grade, it was apparent I was one of the best of the best readers in the grade, a title I never relinquished from that day forward.

I type this story for a couple of reasons. First, I never learned what the schwa is. That was covered in book 23 or 24, and I just never got that lesson. Still have no real idea, but I seem to have survived my academic career without that crucial piece of knowledge so that's ok.

But most importantly, THANK YOU Mrs Talbot, for recognizing I was dying a little death with each page of the workbook and I was just ready to read. I did not need to be doing endless workbooks, I needed to be reading. And discussing. And learning.

But, at the same time, that third grade me? Is so me. Give me a tedious task to do and I will procrastinate and procrastinate. I am not one to grit my teeth and get through tedious tasks. (Amy L just whipped through those workbooks without a care.) I am one, over and over again, who is still waiting for Mrs Talbot to recognize my innate talent and rescue me from tedium. (and, often enough, I did get rescued from tedium.)

So, sometimes I wonder. Should Mrs. Talbot have had me work through the rest of the workbooks? Would that have been a good lesson for me to learn? Should she have worked through them with me, to get me over the hurdle of tedium? How did she know? How did she know to move me into the top reading group? And, scariest thought of all, what if she hadn't known? What if I trudged along through those damn workbooks, dreading doing them, slacking off and doodling or daydreaming or reading my own things under the desk? Would someone else another year have asked, why isn't this girl is reading group 1?

Elizabeth is having a tough time in K. And we're all struggling. The teacher wants her to write. At home, with us, she writes all the time, letters that she says spells out words that we can't quite make out. But at school when it's time for writer's workshop, the tears flow. In the mornings, getting ready for school she whimpers she can't write sentence [sic] and why does she have to go to school. The teacher doesn't want the kids to draw pictures of hearts and flowers - she wants them to draw real things, things from their lives, and then label the pictures with arrows and sight words, like "me."

I don't want her, in K, to sit at her desk and clutch her fat pencil and copy sentences off the front board. I want her to love learning, and reading, and trying new things. She comes home excited about "tally marks" or questions marks or the plot of the chapter story they read every day. She sits at her little table and happily draws picture after picture, with arrows and letters surrounding the people and objects. At home, she eagerly and quickly completes the homework - a worksheet about a specific letter, tracing then writing Rs or Ms or Ss or Ts, or a worksheet counting and coloring objects, or a worksheet asking her to circle things that begin with the letter T. She is eager to learn, and she is learning. But if you ask her about class, her eyes fill with tears and she says she can't write.

Is the teacher - who says many of the kids will be writing sentences by October - pushing too hard? The teacher says Elizabeth is clearly smart, and is right on the cusp, and one day she will get it and it will flow. But, now, the teacher will ask her to write something specfic in class and Elizabeth loses it. She needs help, she can't do it, she doesn't understand. The teacher says to her to just try. To try and maybe fail and try again and she will eventually get it. And Elizabeth says no. She raises her hand, and goes to the bathroom (in the class) and sits against the wall for the entire writing period (30 minutes).

Elizabeth is bright. And in a lot of ways, I don't care if she's writing words in K. I know it will come. I don't think she needs to be pushed past her uncomfortableness. Or, does she? Is this just a hurdle that will be quickly overcome, and we'll never look back? Or is this setting up a struggle that will last throughout her school years? If she doesn't pick up writing now, in K, will she be behind and in third grade working on the workbooks (that I really hope they don't use anymore) while other kids are reading stories? The standards of learning for K doesn't say ANYTHING about reading or writing. K students should recognize most letters. Period. So why this push to write? Why not take it slower, especially in the first six weeks of school? But then again, the teacher reports there are kids in the class who are ready and eager for more challenging work. So she pushes everyone. Don't we want Elizabeth to be in that top group?

Why is this so hard? How do you know if it's just a mental block that once broken, will be quickly forgotten? How do you know when a kid needs a push to fly, versus a little extra time to be comfortable? Do we just wait it out, since her behavior and demeanor at home is still positive?

We've had one meeting with the teacher, and I've talked off line to the principal, who has told me one on one that she's working with the teacher to set her expectations in line with the reality of K students. And we'll meet one on one with the teacher again, we hope next week. Stay tuned......

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Starting school

Last two weeks of August and thoughts turn to....vacation? End of summer blowout? No, not us - we head off to school, two weeks before Labor Day. And yet school doesn't end for the year until mid June, so not sure what an early starts gets us, except for a long Christmas break and at least one day off per month. So, hi ho, hi ho, it was off to kindergarten.

Our school didn't tell us classroom assignments until we were actually in the school. The absolute sweetest thing of the entire day was seeing E's teacher from last year, with her entire class from last year clustered around her. Before school started, I tried to prepare E for what a new school year meant - a new classroom and a new teacher. Unfortunately, that made the week or so before school started worrisome for her, as she fretted over and over how she wanted to go back to school but didn't want a new teacher. Last year's teacher, Ms D, later told me that kids this age have trouble understanding the transition. That may be, I replied, but she was the only teacher I saw who had her entire former class clutched onto her that first morning. Despite our worries last year, clearly something good was happening in that class.

So we're now two weeks into the new school year, and the transition has been hard for E. Last year she went off without a look back, and loved nearly every second of it. We don't know entirely what it is, and we're trying to stay on top of things, but she regularly says she hates school and it's too hard. Her teacher says it's developmentally fairly typical for K students to get worked up about their "work." If they can't do something perfectly, they get frustrated very easily and want to quit. I had noticed this on our vacation, when playing skeeball. Andrew just loved rolling the balls around, and I thought Elizabeth would just enjoy flinging the balls, too, but if she didn't score points she would scowl and say she was no good at it and she didn't want to play anymore. At school, Elizabeth has been having trouble in the "writing center." I was worried perhaps the school was pushing her in ways that weren't appropriate, so asked what writing center meant - there are number of "centers" in the class, and they divide into small groups to be in each center. At Writing Center, they are given paper and crayons and asked to draw a picture and write whatever they want - a letter, scribbles, or whole words for those kids who are already writing. Elizabeth does this all the time at home, entirely on her own without any prompting from us. But when asked to do it at school, she's just losing it. Apparently there is a little boy in her clas who can write sentences, and this seems to have freaked her out that she also needs to write a sentence. But, yesterday she came home with a note that said she had a great time at writing center, and when I read it outloud she beamed with pride and couldn't wait to show Daddy when he came home, so maybe we're over that hurdle.

More worriesome for us has been the times she's said, I am bad at math, I hate math. This is not something an engineer and a science major want to hear from their daughter. And furthermore, it's not like they even have "math" in kindergarten! There is no math. No one says the word math. Clearly she is repeating something she thinks she should say, and as a firm believer in - nay, proponent of - gender equality in the sciences, I've got my eyes on this area. Our district uses EveryDay Math for their curriculum, and I've been reading the pros and cons. Essentially, the rub on it is the fundamentals get short shrift, because there is not much focus on drilling or the basics in favor of familiarity with numeracy. So there are lots of recomendations to supplement at home.

Stay tuned as we continue to epxlore life in a title I, inner city, rebuilding, non-adequate-yearly-progress-making school in our era of (badly needed but poorly understood and executed) school reform in the No Child Left Behind overly tested modern system. yee ha.