Monday, January 25, 2010

The Education of Miss B

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

-Mark Twain

Mr. Twain had the right of it. There is so much more to our education than what we learn in a classroom. The classroom should provide a solid base for us to build a lifelong education. But what if your child's schooling did interfere with his or her education?

Our school system, like so many others across the country, is facing economic turmoil. Classrooms are currently packed to the gills in most buildings. Extra programs are being cut. And now buildings are being closed and structures are being dramatically altered. Previously our grades were grouped as follows: elementary schools containing K-5, middle schools containing 6-8, and high schools containing 9-12. As of next year however the structure will change as follows: K-3 in elementary schools, 4-6 in intermediate schools, 7-9 in middle school, and 10-12 in high school.

We are from a city that once boasted three thriving high schools. One high school closed several years ago, and this restructuring signals the closing of another high school. Several elementary schools have closed over the years as well as one of the middle schools. Money does need to be cut from the budget...

But the real question for me is how long do you gamble with your child's education before you take action?

It's so easy to jump in and say that you never take a chance with their education. This is too important to do anything less than the best. But if we step off our soapboxes, we will see that it's not so black and white as all that.

This school system is the same one from which I graduated. I feel that I got a very strong education, one that prepared me well for college. But lately, I have worried that Miss B isn't getting that same quality of experience. Class sizes have grown and teachers today have to be able to handle a more diverse group of students. I feel that this most affects those students at the top and bottom of the class.

Teachers must spend so much time making sure students are caught up, that sometimes there's not much left for those either far ahead or woefully behind. How do you give so many kids individual time and attention? Most frustrating to me is that the school system apparently lacks any sort of gifted program for elementary students.

Back in olden times, when I was in grade school, they started a program where gifted students were pulled from class once or twice a week to work on different projects. We learned things like brainstorming and critical thinking. We did real research. They don't offer anything like this anymore. Nothing extra for high achievers.

But what happens when you leave a bright student to their own devices? Sometimes that brightness can dim a bit. There is no stimulation beyond the everyday work that they finished a long time ago.

I want to be clear that I don't think Miss B has had any bad teachers. She has generally liked them all and has indeed learned each year. I also want to be clear that I don't think Miss B is a genius or a special case. But that's the problem. She is clearly above average, but nothing else is offered to her beyond puzzles in her spare time.

So what's a good parent to do?

Our school system is restructuring. This may help the quality of education. I really don't know though, as our school board is well known for not sharing information with the public until a vote is taken. Our superintendent started at the beginning of this month. A lot needs to fall into place before next fall. In our town there has been the kind of devotion to tradition normally reserved for professional sports teams. This distracts from the more important issues. While the town waits to find out which mascot and colors will be kept, I want to know what opportunities my daughters will have next year. Full day kindergarten for Sister Goldenhair? Gifted and talented magnet classes for Miss B? These are the real issues.

And this is why we have applied to another school district for admission. It will cost us, though not as much as private school tuition would. I would love for both girls to attend the church-backed private school where Sister Goldenhair currently attends pre-school, but we cannot afford this option as we have grown fond of things like food and shelter.

If all goes well, the girls will attend schools that are actually closer to our home than their current school system. And they will also hopefully benefit from a school system that carries one of the highest average test scores in the area (our current system falls below the state average, and that sure doesn't say much).

And I am still on the prowl for opportunities to improve this situation. This is my job for at least the next 13 years.

It's one of the most important responsibilities I have. They deserve my best.

1 comment:

gina said...

the PEAK program? I was in that when i was a child- now MA doesn't even recognize gifted children or above- never mind do anything for them. My third daughter has had some struggles with our school system (and my second had struggles for the opposite reason- an LD) . check out all I've had to say about it on my blog- look for the label UNSCHOOLING on my sidebar- it's my favorite conversation, it's so important!!