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Catching up…

October 10, 2010

Autumn is here, yet it feels like summer.  The temperature keeps climbing into the eighties, and the shorts have been pulled out once again.  The leaves are dressing up in their finery and I can hardly take my eyes off of them.  Autumn is one of the reasons I live here.  I love it when it cools off when the sun disappears, enough to cuddle under a blanket at the soccer field.  I love having two heavy blankets on my bed, and making my own little nest while I sleep.  I love the crisp, sunny mornings before the sun has burned off the dew from the grass.  Everything sparkles.  The light is almost magical.

Yesterday was our annual Girl Scout adventure to Camp Spookamaga.  We took fourteen third graders to the haunted camp for the day.  Last year the girls were at the perfect age.  They were big enough not to be scared, yet little enough not to see how contrived the whole thing turns out to be.  This year the expectations were high, and I think they were a little disappointed.  There were a couple of good attractions, but most of them were pretty lame.  (Older Girl Scouts make haunted cabins for the little girls.)  Maybe we just had a lot of duds this year, but I had to field the “I’m bored” from my own child more than once.  Next year… we’re going at night.  That will put the “spook” back into them!  But, the trees, THEY were the main attraction for me.  There’s nothing like hiking around in the woods all day under all of the spectacular beauty that surrounded us.  In shorts, no less.

This week at work, was better and worse.  I think I may have figured out why I am struggling so much with this content.  I met with one of my colleagues, to talk about an online supplement that we are both using.  We ended up talking about “main idea” for a while too.  She ended the conversation by saying, “Just remember, we’re building them up to read a real book.  We are putting all the pieces together so they can do it.”  That was an “Ah-ha” moment for me.  My philosophy is exactly the opposite.  Give them the “REAL” stuff and then break it down.  That is why all of this is not meaningful to them.  They don’t have anything to “hook” into.  It feels so good to be able to label what is wrong with how I am teaching!  But, it makes it so much harder for me because I really don’t have time to revamp the entire course.  Not now, and I won’t have time before next semester either.  It takes so much time to choose text and activities within that text and make it meaningful, and make sure to hit all of the teaching objectives that are required.  So.  I have hit a wall.  I am sure I will figure this out eventually.  I am actually excited to try.  I haven’t started googling yet, because I need to plan my next chapter.  But.  I may have to steal a little time today to just try it out….

The problem at my children’s school is bad.  The school district has decided to change the attendance area boundaries for the whole city.  I understand and agree with their objectives.  We have a very high concentration of families with low socio-economic status living in one area of our city.  We also have a very high concentration of wealthy families living in the opposite area of our city.  We have everyone in between as well.  The problem is that because of the property values, all of these families are segregated into their own schools.  So, we have some very high achieving schools and some very low achieving schools.  Families who look at test scores tend to open enroll their children in schools of higher achievement to avoid their “neighborhood” school if it is one of the low achieving schools.  Therefore, the low achieving schools dip even lower.

The second tier of this problem is that historically our district has touted an “open enrollment” policy.  Different schools offer different styles of teaching, although all of the schools teach the same curriculum.  If parents decide to open enroll their child outside their neighborhood school, they are in charge of transportation.  One school in our district has 40% of its students open enroll.  We also have a “community school” that is open to all students across the district.  You have to apply to be put into the lottery.  If you get in, the district buses anyone to this school.  My kids attend the community school.  This school doesn’t have an attendance area.    The schools across the city have over crowding and under utilization problems as well.  Some schools are way over capacity, others are at 70% capacity.  The whole thing is a mess.

I believe the reason that this issue is being brought up is because of the low-achieving school’s test scores.  They are not making the “Adequate Yearly Progress” list for the No Child Left Behind law.  I think they are about to lose funding because of it.  The district does not want to lose funding, so they are upsetting the apple cart and deciding to treat it like a band-aid–rip it off all at once and let the pieces fall where they may.  They want to implement changes for next year.

What the plan is as far as I can figure out, is to draw the boundaries.  Assign the community school an attendance area.  Put everyone in their neighborhood school.  Then, if parents want to transfer their children OUT of their neighborhood school they have to request a transfer.  There will be a limited amount of transfers per grade level per school.  (I have heard that they will allow 5 students per grade level to transfer out.)   It will be a lottery to determine who will transfer.  If you get your transfer “out” ticket, then you go through another lottery at the school you want to transfer in to.  Needless to say, this will affect my kids.  I don’t think all three of my kids will be chosen in the lottery to transfer “out.”  Sarah is devastated.  She went around with a notebook to see if any of her friends would be going to our neighborhood school, and found out that NONE of them will.

I am worried about my kids, but I am even more worried about those kids who are living in the areas of poverty.  These families voices are not being heard, mostly because school issues are not on their radar.  I can’t imagine how taking these children who are living in generational poverty and putting them in a different school will help them.  Their problems will just travel with them, and their teachers will not understand or be trained to handle those problems.  I used to teach in a school very similar and very close to the school in question here.  Just across the freeway.  I can’t fathom taking a group of third graders from my old school and plunking them into my kid’s school.  I got a note home at the beginning of the year from Sarah’s teacher.  It was four pages long.  It was about homework.  If kids don’t do their homework, they are sent to the quiet room for recess.  They are still not allowed to do their homework, because that should be done AT HOME.  I can tell you right now, if they do what I think they are planning, who will be in the quiet room EVERY DAY.  I would hate to have these young children labeled “bad kids” because their teachers are not trained in how to teach children living in generational poverty.  And, they are not.

I have written my letter to the school board and I am awaiting what will happen at Monday night’s board meeting.  I sure hope they decide to slow down.  These needs need to be addressed, but they need to take their time and make sure all of the kids needs are met.  Even those kids whose parents are too overwhelmed surviving to fight this battle.

On the home front, soccer season is coming to a close this week.  Katie and Nicholas finished their season last week.  Sarah has playoffs next weekend.  I am relieved that we lived through such a hectic fall schedule.  It felt like we wouldn’t make it some days.

I hope that all of you are having a lovely Sunday.  Do you have any news to share?

*Updated to add the photos*

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8 Comments
  1. October 10, 2010 2:28 pm

    I have comments to make on the school issues but am still sitting here STUNNED by those tree photos: WHOA!

    • October 20, 2010 9:33 pm

      I cannot take any credit. That tree is the one who should.

  2. October 14, 2010 3:28 pm

    Yikes about the school situation. Will the sudden upheaval actually be good for anyone? My heart hurts for Sarah. I guess one bright spot in this is that she’ll get to meet some new friends who live nearby… but I’m sure thinking about that doesn’t help when you’re a child faced with the collapse of your entire social sphere. I hope a wiser decision can be reached.

    On another note, I’m seconding Liz’s comment about the tree photos. Those colors are incredible!

    • October 20, 2010 9:36 pm

      Yes. Sarah is also my sensitive child. She will be devastated. But, all I can do is to write my emails, show up to the meetings, voice my concerns, and hope for the best. Even if the worst happens, it isn’t going to kill anyone. It will just suck for a good long time.

  3. October 16, 2010 5:25 pm

    Thirding the comment about beautiful photos!

    And I was really interested to read about the school situation. This is SUCH a dilemma, the issue of equity vs. neighborhood schools, since so much of the US is segregated economically by neighborhood. I live in San Francisco and there are no neighborhood schools here; all parents must go through a lottery. The result is that most middle class parents move out of the city when their children reach school age, and the city is left with the very wealthy (with children in private schools) and the lower middle class and very poor (in public schools, sometimes having to take a bus clear across the city). I don’t have children yet, but it’s a major consideration for us in choosing where to live once we do….

    Best of luck to you as you navigate this with your kids!

    • October 20, 2010 9:38 pm

      Thank you so much Willow. I am so glad that you stopped by and joined in the conversation. I am looking forward to getting to know you on your brand-spankin’-new blog!

  4. October 17, 2010 6:52 pm

    My comment got eaten! I tried to leave one the day you posted, but alas, munch munch munch goes the comment eaten. (It was most likely ME. Our new laptop keyboard is touchy.)

    I am so confused about what you’re teaching at this point. You’re teaching college kids? And they need to learn how to read…critically? For comprehension?

    I am so sorry to hear about your school district being in upheaval…our public schools are in such a mess! It makes my head hurt to hear about it. Sending your child to school is such an act of trust…and it’s hard to trust in a system that is broken in so many ways. I really hope they can get some of these issues ironed out before everything changes next year!

    • October 20, 2010 9:49 pm

      I have been out of control with my eating lately, but I swear I never touched your comment!

      Yes, I am teaching my students to read for comprehension. I would also like them to read critically, but I am not sure I am being explicit in my teaching for that. I am teaching “Reading Skills” to college students who fail their placement exam. My curriculum requires me to teach vocabulary, topics, main idea, supporting details, paragraph patterns, fact and opinion, pre-reading and post-reading strategies, and inferences. I have a text book that takes you through these skills one by one and gives a lot of skill and drill practice. What is lacking is the ability to connect with the text, because they are reading the short little (stupid) paragraphs in the book and that is it. There is nothing for them to connect to. I am trying to pull in meaningful texts, but I don’t have time. I don’t have time to find the engaging text or the time to teach it!

      My students are developmental college students. They have some special needs, even if it is not “Special Education” special needs. They need to learn how to be in college and how to take responsibility for their own stuff. My class is sort of an in-between place between highschool, or regular life and college.

      Does that sort of answer your question?

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