Friday, November 14, 2008

A Long One Off My Chest

Since dear Marc hit the nail on the head in comments on my last post, I thought I'd go ahead and talk some more about this parenting crap.

Marc commented:

Umm...just a thought...but gifted children who aren't challenged enough (read: the school is "easy") are more likely to get into trouble because they are bored and are racing ahead to the next thing. I have a feeling your kids might be in that category and maybe it isn't hard enough for them. Easy is not a good thing for smart children. Maybe this isn't it...but it could be. This may sound like a dumb question, but have they been tested?

Well, Marc, it isn't a dumb question at all.

My son has been tested both academically and psychologically. He actually scored perfectly on the academic part and the summary of his individual testing included the words "extremely intelligent". He is gifted, although not a true genius.

At his old school he was in an accelerated math program where he had math class with a specialist and two other students.

My daughter hasn't performed so extraordinarily in school that we felt the need to have her tested, but she has always scored in the 97 to 99th percentile in language arts on standardized tests. She has been summarized as "very bright" and a "gifted writer". Her third grade teacher told me to make sure she got in an accelerated writing and language arts program when we moved.

Here's the thing, and don't hate me for saying this, but having smart kids does not equal having easier kids. In fact, I think it can be quite the opposite.

So here's the deal. My son is having trouble staying focused in school. They don't have a math specialist so the extent of his math enrichment is to have extra work every day. But while he's suppose to be doing his extra work, the lower level reading groups are meeting feet away.

Apparently, he keeps answering their questions for them.

I really do think that he is bored. The class is still working on math facts to 10. He's doing carrying and borrowing and money related word problems. He's ready to start multiplication, but here's the kicker. He's not learning any of this stuff at school. The teacher gives him math sheets she finds online and I teach him the problem solving process at home.

Basically, I'm home schooling him in the three waking hours he has at home.

Oh, and I have to mention that the homework for first grade is to correct all of the mistakes from that day's work at home. He doesn't have any mistakes.

But my daughter is another story. She got demerits for forgetting homework at home or completing the wrong homework. Her problem is that she is incredibly messy and therefor unorganized. But that is fixable. (and punishable)

The real problem is that she isn't her happy self. She told us she is "nervous all the time". That is a huge red flag for an anxiety disorder.

Except we've known she's an anxious, sensitive kid since she was a newborn. There is a fine line between having a nervous personality and having an anxiety disorder. So her doctor, teachers and I have been watching it carefully. And she never has tripped over that line. She's matured every year.

We could chalk her anxiety up to the fact that she moved to a new school, but I sensed it was more than that.

So I met with her teacher yesterday. In our long talk she revealed a few things to me that I think sum up our problems. She is a veteran teacher but she told me that she has never had such a discipline problem in a class before. She said the kids are out of control. And I told her, "My daughter said that she feels like you're really frustrated and anxious."

An anxious kid can not have an anxious teacher. She needs her teacher to be a rock. A touchstone of sanity. It bothers my daughter a lot when other kids misbehave. When other kids are mean to each other, she can barely handle it.

Her teacher also told me that she has a major gap in the class. This is supposed to be the enrichment level course but she has only a few kids (my daughter included) who can really keep up. So she hasn't been doing the creative, engaging things she usually does.

Her answer is to get the literacy specialist to pull the smart kids out for some more enrichment.

But most of all, my daughter does not feel known. Her teacher asked me to tell her about some of the things my daughter really enjoyed at her old school. When I told her that she loved drama and music and had been the lead in the grade-level plays she was astounded. When I mentioned something about violin, she said that she didn't know my daughter played.

(Never mind how she told me they used to do grade-level plays and they used to do a multicultural celebration--which made me want to say, "and some day we'll used to have gone to your school." We're paying $16,000 a year for used to!)

So, back to my point, we're sending my daughter to talk to a school councilor. I'm just hoping she'll benefit from the adult connection.

Her teacher did say one very interesting thing, though. She said that my daughter is "so mature and just on another level completely". Which is probably why adult connections are so important to her. What we always considered immaturity--not being interested in the High School Musical-type crap, not caring about clothes or hair, not making clique connections---although good immaturity (i.e. innocence) was really a level of maturity that so transcends her peers that she doesn't fit in.


So I have hated this school since the beginning. Not because it is a bad school but because it doesn't fit with our family. And because the level of education doesn't even come close to what we're paying for. But I kept wanting to give it a chance. Just because I'm unhappy doesn't mean the kids are.

But I still knew we'd apply to the other two similar school (where we were wait-listed) for next year. We even looked into public schools which are excellent here.

Then I was leaving our violin practice last week and took a different turn through the teacher's neighborhood than I usually do. And I drove by a school we only paid cursory attention to when we were moving because it was so small.

Then we went to a violin workshop and I found out that one of the families goes to that school. I decided to call.

It turned out they were having an open house the next night.

And I have found a ray of hope.

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