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Work, School, and Charming Children

October 4, 2012

First can I say how often I’ve thanked God for you? You keep clicking over and reading even when I’m not writing here! Thank you for encouraging me that way.

Second: where I’ve been. I’m working, part time. With all the changes in our family this year snowballing from my husband’s heart attack, we decided I need to consider history a real job. I feel blessed to be able to do something I love to do so it doesn’t feel like work. But it still takes up much of the research and writing time I used to spend here. If you are interested in that part of my life, my history blog will keep you up to date.

But I’m not giving up writing here!

Emailed from their daddy’s phone: two charming children find their mommy’s book on display in a store.

Just having returned home from volunteering at school (Mercy, Hope and Joy all attend our neighborhood elementary) I want to share how surprisingly happy we are –as former home schoolers of special needs kids –with our public school experience. God was not obligated to make it work out this way. But He chose to.

Here’s what some residents of our neighborhood think of this school:

  • The building is old, so old I attended K-6th there.
  • The school is in the oldest section of our city, the part with the most affordable housing and the lowest average family income.
  • The school is the bottom half of district schools on standardized test scores.

In fact, when they heard we were thinking of sending Hope there, the first question our neighbors asked was, “Do you know about open enrollment? You don’t have to send her there.” (Open enrollment is an option here where kids can attend any school as long as parents don’t mind driving them.)

This is how that school is working out.

1.) Our transracially adopted kids are in highly multi-ethnic classrooms. Nobody stands out and that’s a lovely thing.

2.) There’s not much social pressure to dress better than “creative outfit assembled from re-sale shop pieces” because most families can’t afford to shop any other way. This is a huge bonus for my daughter who is unusually conscious of what people around her are wearing.

3.) There is an enormous range of learners and learning styles within each classroom. English is not the first language or the language spoken at home for quite a few kids. So the school is built around an early-intervention model. It has more specialists (one-on-one teachers) and ability groupings by subject (math, reading etc.) than the typical school in our district where the student population is more homogeneous.

This is perfect for the areas in which my kids are gifted and in the areas where they are learning-challenged. Further, it is every child’s experience at school that they change teachers depending on subject or are pulled out to work on something one-on-one. So far, there is no discernible pecking-order based on ability.

4.) The principle leads the building on a “character counts” behavioral model. It is a-religious. But the school staff walks their talk in a style my girls thrive under. I’m volunteering so I see it happening.

Kids are routinely praised with things like, “Thanks for returning your library books. You are showing responsibility!” (This is the opposite of the way school ran in my childhood: where children were expected to remember their library books, and if they did not, were increasingly penalized.) Or the teacher might interrupt silent reading time to call attention to the silence and add three “Good job!” pom poms to the class’s earning-a-popcorn-party jar.

The flip side is that the staff takes infractions seriously. The first week of school Mercy came home crestfallen three days in a row because her entire grade earned a “red” token that day for exceeding acceptable levels of noise in the lunch-room  despite dim-the-lights warnings. But the teaching-learning opportunity worked; there have been no red tokens at lunch since.

Joy lost her first tooth Sept. 11.

Last, a charming-child story.

Background: the theme for Joy’s preschool class this week has been “apples.”

Yesterday, Joy’s PCA sat Joy down on one of our front steps next to a pumpkin. Joy began patting the pumpkin and said, “Apple. Apple.”

“This is a pumpkin,” the PCA supplied. “Pumpkins are orange.”

“Orange. Orange,” Joy echoed, then paused, considering it.

Then Joy’s face lit up. “Apple! Orange! Banana!” she shouted :).

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