Thursday, December 03, 2009

Flying Up Ceremony

In the next couple of months, I have to decide where Jarrah will be going to kindergarten next fall. This isn't an easy decision, because while our neighborhood public school is across the street, it's the only one in our local cluster of five that doesn't report high test scores. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not really clear on what the test scores mean, and that I'm not a big believer in tests as a major indicator of learning. But still. The fact that the other four schools have very high scores is enough to make me want to check them out. And the fact that San Diego has the "choice" program, where I can enter Jarrah in a lottery for any school I want, is both encouraging and overwhelming.

Recently, I called all five schools to ask about tours. I had a wide range of responses. One of them has tours every Monday, at 7:30 a.m. (heaven help us.) One of them has a special touring day once a month. Two of them said yeah, sure, they'd have tours but they didn't know when yet. And our neighborhood school chortled and said "Tours? Just come in and we'll give you a tour. Anytime."

Today I went on my first tour. I did the monthly one, because it is only monthly, and because 8:30 sounded at least a smidge better than 7:30. The school is Benchley-Weinberger, and it's one of two magnet schools on my schedule. (The other one is Green, which is an Athletics magnet. That sounded idiotic to me until they explained that the kids get P.E. five days a week instead of one (!) like the other schools. What the @#$%&*? Kindergarten with only one day of P.E.?)

Benchley-Weinberger's magnet is Communication. I am all for Communication, and starting it young. They are also something called a "California Distinguished School," which they apparently had to apply for, an arduous process arduous enough that they may let the honor expire. We were invited to meet in the auditorium for a short presentation and video, followed by a tour of the classrooms, library and computer lab. And I was practically on time.

I know I must have a few local readers who are going to be familiar with the schools I mention, and who will be far more knowledgeable about public elementary schools in general if they have older children than I do. I encourage you to share your impressions with me (privately if you wish) because I am trying to learn here. I don't have a lot to go on--just what I'm told. I plan to tell you about my tours as I take them (the deadline for enrollment is February 15) and I'd like all the advice I can get.

I didn't catch the name or position of the gal who gave the tour, though she was friendly and enthusiastic. We briefly met the principal, who described herself as as grandmother, one who would be "proud" to see any of her grandchildren at B-W. We also met two little girls who welcomed us in sign language. One of the Communications features of the school is that the kids learn sign language starting in kindergarten. They also have Panda Pals, which is why one of the girls was more like a third grader, escorting her kindergarten pal.

This little display brought tears to my eyes, a sudden and embarrassing development that continued throughout the hour. Certain things about the place (or the idea of the place?) stirred up some kind of inexplicable emotion for me. I also got choked up seeing the kids in the library, watching them work at little round tables in the kindergarten classrooms, and hearing one of the kindergarten teachers tell me that they spend a lot of time working on what it means to focus on a task, in case the child did not pick up this skill in preschool.

I wondered about my tears. I have heard many people say they cried when their child started kindergarten because it seemed like they were growing up, but my child has already been attending school full-time for two years. It's not like her schedule (or mine) will change. Something else was afoot. Maybe it's the knowledge (displayed prominently) that she will be reading and writing, two pleasures so dear to my heart. She'll have access to a world that has been my constant support for longer than I can remember, and this feels significant. Maybe it's the idea that she will be making friends that she may know for years, or forever. Maybe I'm freaked out by having to make such a big decision for her, choosing her daily environment until she's 11 years old--what if I make a terrible mistake? Maybe it's just the abstract wondering about how she will be: happy, busy, motivated? sullen, lonely, struggling? I almost can't bear considering the latter.

In any case, I enjoyed the tour. Despite the grim state of the buildings (why do all California schools look like bunkers from WWII?) the classrooms were decorated with student art and the teachers seemed cheerful. The kids were busy reading and writing and drawing at different "stations." I liked the idea of the campus "news station" (which even kindergarteners can anchor) and newspaper, and the fact that they take field trips to the theater. It frightened me to hear that the school could lose its magnet at any moment due to budget cuts, or that the size of the kindergarten classroom could go to 29 for the same reason. But I won't avoid those problems on my other tours unless I start thinking about private school, and I can't see that happening.

After the official tour, we were encouraged to wander around, poking our heads into older classes, or anywhere we wanted to go. I liked that, and found that I was feeling peaceful now. Not so much because at least one school seems like a warm and inviting place, or even because I get a bit high researching things (though I do.) I think I was feeling peaceful because I remembered that I believe in Jarrah, and know she is up to the challenge of a new place, new friends, new tasks, new information. I might wring my hands about where to send her, and wring my hands frequently (even after the decision is made) but she is the constant.

She welcomes what is new, and that's always been true. Wherever she ends up, she'll be happy. And having this kind of trust and certainty in her makes me so very lucky.


Stephanie said...

Yes you are, and so is she.

Mrs. Chapman's 2nd Grade Class said...

As a kindergarten teacher I want to wish you luck as you choose the right school for Jarrah. Kindergarten is such an exciting time for both kids and paretns. I know you will choose the right school. It sounds like the one you visited today is very nice.

Samantha said...

@Steph: Thank you, dear. :)

@Jennifer: That's right! I should have thought to ask you from the get-go! I may be contacting you closer to decision-time, if I may. I appreciate your support. :)

Myrnie said...

Good luck! We sign Ernie up in March, for the school down the street. Big changes are afoot...

Lion's Cub said...

So, given that I work in education and have kids public school, I have *much* to say.

First, unless you are thinking of moving, don't just look at kindergarten. Consider the entire primary grades. You don't want to have Jarrah in the best kindergarten only to find out that the 1-3 program sucks.

Second, consider who she will play with after school. When we were in Iowa, the boys went to a magnet school out of our home district. They didn't have many friends in the neighborhood, and that made a huge different in after-school and weekend activities. We had to take them everywhere. Here, the kids go to the local school and their classmates are their neighbors. It makes a huge difference for us--there is always someone around that they know and want to play with.

Third, teachers matter more than overall programming. Meet the teachers; ask them questions. Find out how they stay in touch with parents. Watch them in the classroom. Ask them what their personal teaching philosophy is. If they don't have one, run away VERY fast.

And don't forget that much of a child's educational achievement is predicted by things outside of the school's control. Parental involvement is key. And since I sense that you will have the perfect mix of involvement and get-out-of-the-way-ment, I think Jarrah will be fine in whatever school you choose.

Good luck!

erin said...

Definitely one of the better things about living in a bigger city is choosing your school. Here in the town I grew up in and now live we have a really excellent school system, but my kids' school (the one they HAVE to go to) is downtown. About five blocks from my dad's store (he's a pharmacist)...which is like a den of crack whore, porch dwelling white trash and pimps. I'm not even kidding you.

The school in wonderful, it's location less than desirable.

But I think there's a bigger problem moving and sending them to a low scoring rural school (our school scores the best in our area and has many neat extracurricular activities) where they have to deal with 4H kids (not that I'm ripping on 4H, we're just not involved with farm life and farmingish things) and rednecks.

Wow. I sound like a huge jerk. Max is going to Kindergarten in September. We actually considered holding her back, but I'm just going to throw her in there. Toss her in the ring, so to speak.

Unknown said...

Think about whether you'd rather spend your time together in the car, or working on school projects. I think that's a strong point in favor of the across-the-street school.

Mrs. Chapman's 2nd Grade Class said...

You can contact me anytime you like. I don't know that you'll need to though...your insticts seem right on! :)

The Wades said...

Erin, rednecks need lovin' too! ;)

Sam, I just love you! What a good mama you are. You are going to make the absolute bestest (hee hee) decision ever, I just know it!

Suzy said...

Ironically, your days away from J might be even shorter than they are now, as in addition to considering 29 per class, they are also considering changing them to half days! Imagine taking her to school at 7:30 and picking her up at 11:30!! Mind you, the standards for learning will be the same with more kids and less time. Sounds encouraging, doesn't it?