The good news about my son starting early in the public school system is that it will give me plenty of material for the blog. And last night was no exception.
We live in one of the best school districts in the nation. But--as residents here love to tell you and anybody who listens--we also pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation. Combine that with simultaneously living in an era when people love to dump on teachers and our educational system and you have an interesting recipe if you want to sit back and observe what it's really like.
We left impressed.
It was an evening for new students to that elementary (not our "real" school where Cole will go for Kindergarten, mind you) to take tours, meet staff, see their classrooms, etc.. So lots of preschoolers and Kindergarten, lots of people new to the village in general, and then I was happy to see that a couple "veteran" preschoolers came back to visit. We even got a report from a mom who was in our program and has her son heading to Kindergarten this year. Nice to see her happy with the outcome.
Where to begin...when we arrived, Cole had been talking all day about taking his supplies, meeting his teacher, and going to school. We came in, said hello, found his cubby for hanging up his backpack, looked around the various areas, then he and his sister got to playing. By the time the "official" school-wide meeting was about to begin 45 minutes later a whole group of kids had made a mess with the toys, sand table, dinosaurs, markers, etc.. It was time to go outside and get a popsicle but all he wanted was his teacher to come, too. So I'd say that's a good sign that he wasn't sure he wanted to leave.
His classroom is really just one big area equal to 2-3 normal classrooms. It's divided up into several mini-areas for snacks, dramatic play, storytimes, the bathroom, an area for playing house. Everything was clean but certainly not tidy...hard to judge since nearly all the classrooms were littered with the debris of teachers trying to organize. Class lists and bus routes don't come out until tomorrow afternoon so everything is still last-minute for getting ready.
The teacher everybody seems to love. She's older and just the right mix of pleasant with realist. She talks to the little ones well and also seems to be ready with straight answers for the grownups. Asks if we have questions always. And she was prepared with lists of the normal daily routine, the educational and development outcomes they teach to, and a packet for us to fill out if we want to volunteer, give permission to have photos used on class projects, etc.. Just an outstanding first vibe...really from all the staff I encountered including on my tour.
When we went out to the playground for popsicles, the parents could get a free bag with a couple water bottles and the like from the PTO. And you got a color/number card for when your tour of the building was scheduled. We were one of the first up, so Kelly elected to stay with the kids on the playground to help them eat while I went alone. (Turns out, a big kid pushed Cole off the merry-go-round, Leda fell off something, and it was a generally tiring experience for them. They were ready to go home.)
I, on the other hand, went on a too-long tour of the school which was interesting even if Cole may not be making full use of it. My tour leader was one of the Spanish instructors because every child at the school gets Spanish either 2 or 3 times per week. An hour of music where the teacher rarely sets her classroom chairs out because they dance. An hour of gym. (Cole gets gym every other week...with trips to the library in the off week, I believe.) There's a huge library with a Mac lab. An auditorium. A multipurpose room where the kids eat lunch...even the Kindergarteners. Which blows Kelly and I away...a couple years ago our district moved to all-day K.
The building itself looks fairly dated and probably from the 1950's or 60's. Compared to where Cole's entrance test was, it looks like a palace. But still. I'm not an advocate for just doing away with the building, but a serious gut rehab is in order. Nobody in the 21st century wants to send their kid to school in a building that hasn't seen major work since the parents may have gone to school there.
The staff was all almost too peppy. I get it that we want the kids and families excited for the First Day. But between the happy and all the motivational posters throughout the building talking about bullying and teamwork, it would just bring me down everyday. There's nothing worse than being told learning is awesome only to go to a school everyday where the list of rules is so long and the attention to you as an individual flies out the window in favor of bulk-teaching a classroom with 22 students. I actually think this will be a great experience for Cole, but we're both--as parents--wary.
Last night I compared it to getting a t-shirt after a race where they're all medium or large. That's great if you're a medium or a large, but if you're XL or small what are you going to do with the shirt? I have a feeling I'll be writing much more about that topic in the coming years. When I was actually IN public schools I never felt like my education was suffering. It got me through college. But as an adult who is a lifelong learner, I see now how and why the public school system leaves much to be desired. Call me crazy, but I wish my children could walk into a building where they literally had endless choices for what they'd like to learn for the day. Frogs? Mortar construction? Wetland ecosystems? Solar flares?
Anyway, all that aside, it was a wonderful evening. Kelly and I had lots to talk about during grownup time. But from the kid-perspective, it was a huge success. Cole is excited for Monday. Kelly is less nervous. Leda wants to go to school like her big brother. And I'm just happy I could schedule a 2 yr checkup for Leda without having to worry about dragging an anxious Cole into the room, too. Her appointment is while he will be at school in the morning!