Our school year has come to a close here in Seattle (we got out a bit early this year, I assume because they decided to cut mid-winter break from a full week in February to a Friday and Monday in February). Here are some of my thoughts after one year in our local elementary school.
I still feel like I have no idea what's going on half the time. I'm going to go ahead and assume that most other parents feel the same way, especially if they've only been dealing with the schools for one year. But I also wonder if I'll continue to feel this way for the entirety of Gareth's journey through school. I can't help but feel that part of it is due to the enormous size of the school district, which is completely different than what I'm used to. My kid is just one teeny, tiny speck that, if you just look at the big picture, hardly matters at all. I have a feeling it's going to be very difficult to advocate for what an individual child may need in such a large system. I also think part of it was that I wasn't up at the school volunteering a lot. I did what I could, but when you've got an infant trying to take two naps during the six hour period of school, it gets a bit difficult to work around that. I'm not sure what future years will look like, but hopefully time will help increase my familiarity with the school and how things are generally run.
I'm a bit nervous about what math and language arts will look like next year. They don't have an accelerated program at our school, except they sort of do. Maybe. You can test your kid to be labeled as gifted, which qualifies them for a self-contained program (which may not exist anymore soon or at the very least will be revamped and which they were having issues of not enough spots for all the kids testing in, so even if your kid did test in they may not get to be in the program), but doing that program would've meant switching schools, Gareth didn't qualify anyway (apparently he may have if we'd had him privately tested, but at $400 there is no way I'm doing that!), and I really, really don't want him in an isolated program. But if you decide not to do the self-contained program they can still be labeled as such and do ALO (advanced learning opportunities), which it sounds like can look very different at each school. I've heard that if the kids score well on the standardized test they're automatically put in ALO (which, so far anyway, Gareth has scored very highly on those tests). What does ALO look like at our school? No idea, and no one I've asked really knew either. So maybe it's just a label for their record that doesn't mean anything. I think at most it means the teacher tries to give them some extended work once in a while. But I have heard others talking about their fourth grader being in fifth grade math, so it sounds like they do try to place kids where they'll learn the most. But I've also heard of problems with that - not enough space in fifth grade math so they try to tell the kid that already excelled in fourth grade math that they can just take it again. Anyway, I feel like Gareth is the kind of kid that will only go as far as is expected of him, so I'm a bit worried that if he doesn't get a teacher willing to push him beyond the minimum standards that we'll end up with any of a variety of problems (boredom, behavioral, or just not reaching the levels he's capable of for example).
I have a complicated relationship with the bakery that's on the way to school. So, so yummy. And way, way too tempting, especially when we don't have much in the house for breakfast. Too easy to say, "Oh, I'll just grab a muffin/danish/croissant after I drop the kiddo off". And the children begging to go there after school every single day gets old really fast. But I don't blame Gareth for wanting it every day because it is so very delicious.
I wish all states adequately funded education. Washington does not. This puts a lot of pressure on parents to raise money and donate a lot of time to fill in the gaps, meaning wealthy areas end up a lot better off than less wealthy areas. Our PTA does a ton of fundraising. This gets overwhelming rather quickly. In the fall we got a flyer for a direct drive fundraiser. I'm thinking, "Awesome! No wrapping paper sales! Maybe I'll donate something just because I don't have to sell anything." and the very next day we get home the information for the jog-a-thon. Will my kid be upset if I don't support him in the jog-a-thon? I have no idea, and end up debating which to send money for until I just don't do either. They also hold a spring auction, auctioning off art that each classroom makes as well as various donated items. Tickets run $50 per person and this event, held at the Seattle Center, hauls in $150,000. I think the jog-a-thon brings in something like $20,000. Or was it $40,000? Anyway, some insane amounts. Because we live in a school area where the parents fork over such obscene amounts, our kids get to have a music program and new computers. That money also helps pay for an art docent program (they don't have a full-time art teacher) and keeps the office staff at the needed levels. But we still only have a nurse twice a week, meaning students with special health needs such as,say, diabetes, would have to pay out of their own pocket for an aide to be there daily, or have to move to another school that can provide them with the services they need. Oh, and lack of funding means overcrowded classrooms. Gareth's K class had 26, but his teacher was new and I think they were trying to help her out a bit. One of the other teachers had at least 28. And the numbers allowed per classroom go up into the 30s once they hit first grade.
The gym teacher at our school is awesome. Gareth loves PE and I've got to say, they do some really cool stuff. Archery. Roller-skating. Yeah, we never did that when I was a kid. Older kids do a bicycle unit; some even get started on unicycles (and ride them in the Syttende Mai parade).
I don't like getting all the artwork only at the end of the year. I didn't think much of this at the beginning, figuring maybe it'd be nice/maybe there was a good reason for it. I can't remember the reason his teacher gave; I'm not sure she even knew, except that that's how she'd been told it worked. But I've decided that it's really dumb. I want to see, and possibly hang up, the things he's creating through the year. Especially since my kid is not a prolific artist, I like having the occasional piece from school actually come home. Next year I will ask his teacher to send home his pieces (at least some of them) after they're finished displaying them in the classroom or hallway.
I love having a neighborhood school. Apparently Seattle used to work on a lottery system, which I've seen so many other people have problems with and which can mean your kid ends up getting bused across the city because they didn't get into the schools near you. Now you're guaranteed a spot in your attendance area school - usually within fairly easy walking distance. You can apply to get into a different school if you want, and that is based on lottery, but if you don't get into the school you apply to you at least have a spot at your neighborhood school. I love that we can walk Gareth to school (though I will only get to walk to pick him up during fall quarter next year - our sitter will walk him two days, Ryan two days, and I'll drive him before heading to class one day). You meet so many other parents just by walking your kid to school. And you get to chat a bit with Fred the crossing guard, who is well-loved by everyone. And we're close enough that a lot of kids hang out and play on the playground after school, so you get more opportunities to socialize with parents then.
Gareth loved his Kindergarten year. I think any of the K teachers would've been great, but it was fun to have the new teacher because she's young and brought a lot of enthusiasm into the job. She tried her best to challenge Gareth in math and to help him work on some of the social things he needed help with - dealing with disappointment and keeping his hands to himself with his friends for instance. It was a great year, Gareth is super excited for a break from school, but also for what 1st grade will bring, and so am I.