Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Private Switch

Now we get to a subject I didn't think we'd be dealing with for a few years still.  We have had a very tumultuous week in our house.  The girls have been in school for five weeks now, and I had been to Syd and Cora's classes three times.  Each time I was so heart broken to see what goes on.  

We have loved the school we were at for Katie's Kindergarten and first grade experience.  We were looking forward to it for the twins, but many, many things have changed.  The school now qualifies for free lunch and breakfast for everyone.  I have since found that what that means is a high level of poverty in the school with not enough parents willing to fill out the paperwork to provide their kids with free food, so the way to keep kids fed is give everyone free food.  That has brought issues into our house due to the amount of snacks given in school, not enough time to eat the lunch I send them with, and the girls not always having an appetite for their dinner.  I'm all for providing kids who do not have food at home with food, but this was starting to cause problems for our family, and we really couldn't tell our kids to not have the second breakfast in the classroom and the snacks when all of the other kids did.

That was the first thing.  Other things were popping up, like a high amount of screen time.  I have no problem with computer use in schools, but they were watching videos of actors reading them stories, instead of the teacher doing it.  They were watching videos of someone teaching them a song and dance for a "brain break" instead of a live person doing it.  There was a LOT of screen time for activities I feel very strongly are more effectively done with a live person.  

I was able to work one on one with several of the kids in both Sydney and Cora's class.  Some were doing well, but over half of the kids in Cora's class could not even recognize their ABCs, let alone the first letter of their name.  After working with them I could see that several of them have never been read to, have no idea what it's like to have an adult make eye contact with them, and truly struggle to make cohesive sentences.  My heart aches for these kids and I was glad to be there to help them, but what that translates into in a class setting is a teacher's energy being used almost completely in behavioral management instead of teaching.  There are no aides for these teachers of 24 children because there have not been any applicants who can pass a background check.  Both had developed such strict bathroom use policies to keep the difficult kids out of playing in the bathroom, that Cora actually peed her pants twice out of fear for needing the bathroom at the wrong time.  She didn't even tell her teacher the first time because she was afraid of being yelled at.  

Katie, in the mean time, had been moved up to third grade for reading time, but all they were doing was "read to self."  In fact, a lot of the "learning" I saw in all classes was the kids working on something by themselves.  I am all for independent work, but especially for the kindergarteners and someone who's ready to take reading a lot further, I was hoping for more involvement from the teachers.  

So I was torn.  I know all of the studies show that the best help for the struggling kids is to have as many involved families in the schools as possible.  I also know these teachers were doing their very best with the group of kids that were coming to them.  But I was seeing some sad things happening with my girls, particularly with Cora.  

I went on a mission to find an answer.  I found Katie's old Kindergarten teacher (who now teaches preschool elsewhere, so both Syd and Cora's teachers were new), and talked to her about everything I saw and felt to get insight about what I needed to do, or if I was just an oversensitive parent.  She heard me out, told me to trust my gut, be my kids' advocate, and try everything.  So I visited with the principle who more or less asked me what did I want her to do?  Her hands were really tied on so many levels, and she even offered to call other principles for me to help us transfer.  I was disappointed that as a stable, involved family we were so easily let go of, but it was answer enough that nothing was really going to change.  I visited with other schools.  I went to the ones I knew had better numbers related to poverty, and each of them only had room to take one of my children, not one of them could take all three.  The only ones that could take all three were in similar or worse situations as the current school.  So I cried and prayed and cried and prayed in the car and ended up stopping at one of the Catholic schools in town.  I didn't mean to but broke down crying as soon as the secretary asked how she could help me.  The principle visited with me, then took me to meet the kindergarten and second grade classes and teachers.  The kids were so well behaved, appropriately dressed, interacted well with their teacher, peers, and the principle.  The second graders sang me a song about joy just for going to their class.  I left there, sat in the car, and sobbed.  It is not fair.  It is not fair that school NEEDS to be like that, should be like that for everyone, but only families with enough money to put their kids in private school can find it.  I knew what my answer was.  I visited with a friend for a bit after I left about all of this.  Her social worker background understood the part of me that did not want to just leave the bad situation because of the needs that are there.  But the needs of my kids matter more.  

I have learned to quit saying "never" about almost anything.  I was never going to do a private school, at least while they were in elementary because how bad could kindergarten through 5th grade be?  Now I'm eating my words and they start tomorrow, Sept 28th.  I feel so much better about it.  I think there are too many emotional issues I would miss with a new baby coming in a few weeks and I need to know these girls are all right, that I don't have to worry about what's going on in their class.  I will still be involved, but I don't have to be sick inside sending them to school.  We have bought ourselves a year of peace.  Hopefully in that time we will figure out what works best for our family and maybe another option will open up.  

I still hurt over making decisions based on the poverty level of the schools, but the reality of what "normal" turns out to be in those cultures is something I do not want my 5 and 7 year olds swimming in every day.  Not yet.  We will see how this all plays out, but I am so grateful I could find somewhere for them.  

Fall Unofficial Family Pictures

We decided we'll wait to do the real pictures with a baby brother, but I couldn't resist trying to get a few in the fall.  To Giant Springs we went again, with our short attention spans and time frame, but we got a few good ones.  

Family Fun

Just getting in the pictures of some family fun.  

We decided to take a family hike to one of the dams, then out to a sulfur spring.  Sydney helped her pregnant mama along after papa bear took Cora and Katie up ahead.  

Katie wanted to sketch the spring for us.  

We were very happy that the girls and pregnant mama especially made it for all 3.2 miles of the hike.  Though we were less than impressed with the mosquitos we had to battle.  

Sydney and Cora getting a ride from Lindsay.  

Pele caught herself a squirrel.  She brought in the leg long enough for me to see her with it and follow her back out to see her proud display of what was left of her prey.  She was so proud, and so was I.  Our dog is still a mighty hunter.  She may be terrified of wind and lightning, but she could at least fend for herself in the wild.  

We caught our first family football game.  The Great Falls Bisons is our local high school team.  I think the girls had more fun pretending to be cheerleaders and they had at least twenty questions each.  It was a good family date night.  

I took the girls to Giant Springs Park to enjoy the rest of their Saturday last week.  We found a lot of snails, fed and touched fish, and played with a lot of other peoples' dogs.  

 I was very happy to find these wonderful jackets at the goodwill store in town.  The girls were so excited to wear them!

Blood Moon Eclipse

We did make sure each of us got to see some of the eclipse.