Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Game Changer

Hey ! Did you know that I live one block from a fantastic public school that is FREE ?!?! One block ? Free ? Good school ?

And I might not send my kid there. She might go to the fantastic Catholic school that is NOT FREE and that is a mile from my house. A mile that is on a busy road that would require DRIVING her there or biking there.

See, we had made our decision. Beezus would go to the public school (for either kindergarten or first grade, still TBD) and after I dropped her off on the first day I was going to drive right to a car dealer and buy a new car to replace our 9 year old Highlander that has almost 90K on it. I was excited, I felt good, I had heard rousing endorsements of the kindergarten and first grade teachers.

Most of all, I was happy that our decision was made.

But then, the game changer. It was Catholic Schools Week and at mass on Sunday all the faculty from the school attended and opened up their classrooms for an open house afterwards. I actually GOT TEARY seeing the teachers at Mass and acknowledging that they were giving up their Sunday with their families to be at work ! Seriously, WHO DOES THAT ?!?! Lots of people, I suppose, and all the teachers I know work way more than what they are paid for. But still, I was touched.

Over the past few days, I spent some time re-reading this new "classical curriculum" that this school has implemented. I read the bios of all the teachers, including the EIGHT TEACHERS THAT ARE NEW TO THE SCHOOL THIS YEAR. I looked at their daily schedules, weekly homework schedules, and learning objectives. I read the 46 page student handbook. I was still excited but not convinced.

Many of the teachers have master's degrees and/or experience in another area of education. For example, the first grade teacher has a master's in special education and experience in a Montessori school. The second grade teacher has a master's in reading and spends FIFTEEN MINUTES every day reading aloud to the class. None of these things guarantee that the teacher will be "good" but they do imply that these teachers will likely have more tools in their toolbox.

Then, today, I went to the open house. I spent several minutes talking with E., a former CUA student who is now their resource specialist. Then I spent an hour talking with him and with the principal and touring the K-2 classrooms, lunchroom and gym.

Wow.

Because this school was built in 1943, there are floor to ceiling windows along one wall of every room. The ceilings are high and have plenty of blank space at the top so as not to overstimulate the children. The walls are painted soft shades. The classrooms were clean, free of clutter, and well organized. THEY WERE NOT OVERCROWDED. (I know it's Catholic Schools Week and they did a lot of work to clean, but still.)

The lunch room also has floor to ceiling windows along one wall (southern exposure, I might add) and round tables with proper chairs with arms.

The gym is gorgeous - a wonderful large space where the children have PE and where they have recess on rainy days or when the combined wind chill is below 40 degrees.

When talking with the principal, I mentioned concerns about quantity of homework. She said something to the effect of "Well, homework doesn't fit in very well with all the components of a classical curriculum on a daily basis. In fact, there is NO research that demonstrates that homework is even helpful in the learning process." I stared at her open mouthed and dumbfounded and sort of whispered, "Yes, I know. Homework . . . not that helpful . . . until 7th grade . . . " So then, I said, "Well, some homework does help develop executive functioning skills" at which point she nodded in agreement.

There were several other instances where I felt like the principal and I were speaking the same language. It. felt. good.

When we observed in the 2nd grade classroom, the children were in a transition phase. As it was winding down, the teacher said something to the effect of "in your seats, please" and put her hand on her head and started counting backwards from 5, with her voice getting softer as she did so. At 3, she leaned over to the only child standing and whispered "I'm on 3, you need to hurry. I thought it was a cool way to restore order and a respectful one at that.

But the best part, the very, very best part ?

When we observed in the first grade class, the teacher was teaching a lesson that was comparing a contemporary children's story (which the class was reading aloud together) with a Greek/Roman myth (one of the many that the children learn throughout the year). The children were sitting on the floor in a rough rendition of an oval. Well, some were sitting. Some were kneeling, some were wiggling, some were bouncing on their knees, some were slouched against the wall, one was even sort of half-sitting/half-laying in a way that looked very uncomfortable. ALL OF THEM WERE LOOKING AT THEIR BOOKS AND AT THE TEACHER !!!

When I called Mr. Q after the visit, he gently reminded me that I have a tendency to get excited about things right away and that perhaps we should let this simmer. He also reminded me that I have not yet visited our public school. I told him that he was right, that I would turn in our application and the non-refundable deposit and that I would visit the public school this coming week. But I won't write the tuition check yet. Honestly, I fully expect to be this enamored of the public school as well.

It's possible that Beezus will go to the Catholic school this year, or maybe to public school for a year and then to Catholic school, or maybe . . .

But now, I'm just. so. grateful. Grateful that we will likely have two wonderful choices to choose from. We are very, very lucky indeed.

But I'm still annoyed that I might not get my new car. Darn game changers.

1 comment:

Stimey said...

I'm not sure whether to be happy for you or to laugh a little bit at your misfortune that you have to make this decision. :)

It's wonderful that you get to choose between the better of two goods instead of the lesser of two evils. I look forward to reading your tortured posts as you weigh your options. :)

 
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