Tuesday, August 26, 2008

First Day of School!

Our family went on vacation last week, which was great, and spent yesterday reacclimating and getting ready for . . . the first day of school! Oh, I do love the first day of school. I think my kids do; I know I do!

This year is particularly exciting because it's Leo's first day of kindergarten. We missed MLK's kindergarten orientation last week, so he and I dropped by school to distribute homework folders to the teachers, and then visited Ms. Abrames' classroom for a few minutes (thank you, Ms. Abrames, for your graciousness during our surprise visit during your prep time!). Leo was impressed to see his name already on a class list posted for all of the kids to see, and was also very interested in all of the books in the room, and the activity centers. And what really got his attention was the tennis balls covering the feet of every chair. So interesting to a sporty five year old! I think he's thrilled that he'll have so many tennis balls in his classroom.

We also had our annual back-to-school lunch. Each year since Elias started kindergarten, I have taken him to lunch the day before the first day of school. Sometimes it is just the two of us; other times, friends have joined us. This year, Kevin made it as he wasn't back at work yet, and Leo joined us too! As did our friend Harry, going in to 4th grade at King. We talked about school memories and how our summers were and had a fine time.

And today it starts. The PTO at King is hosting a back to school coffee hour so I need to be ready for that before school starts today, as I want to spend a little time with Leo in his classroom. And I'm excited to meet, or catch up with, new families and familiar friends. The boys' clothes are ready (they don't seem to care what they wear for the first day of school, but I do!) and backpacks are waiting for them. Just need to make some lunches, get breakfast into them, and we will be off! 

Best wishes to everyone who is starting school or is parent, family member, or friend to a person who is off to school. I hope that a great year awaits you, and if anyone reading this wants to comment on how it went, please do!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I (heart) Sandra Tsing Loh

I have been following Sandra Tsing Loh's work as an active public school parents in LA for a while, in blogs and in The Atlantic, and am delighted that she's captured her thoughts in Mother on Fire which I have ordered from Amazon and cannot wait to read because I need some solidarity, and I need it now. Loh makes the craziness of cutting through the fog of information, disinformation, rumor, speculation, and worry that comes with figuring out where to send your kids to school hilarious and totally real to those of in the middle of it.

Most of all, she is a tremendous advocate for public schools, and God knows we need as many as we can get. And she's a great model for how to let go of your angst and find what's best for your kid--what YOU think is best for your kid, not what you think you should do, even if it's what everyone else you know is doing.

Read "Who Will Save Public Schools?" in today's edition of Salon for some of what she's about. Love her. Love that she brings her superwit to this subject that is nearest and dearest to me. Hope others are reading her and getting the message.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting Ready for Kindergarten today on Kidoinfo.com

Kidoinfo.com is running some thoughts from me on getting your kids ready for kindergarten.

13 days until the big day for Leo!!! (Providence Public Schools' first day is Tuesday, 8/26.) Our project between now and then: he wants to learn how to write his last name. He's good to go without that, but he wants to be able to do it, and so we're doing it. Also, he's memorizing our home phone number--that does seem useful.

Tomorrow's a PTO-sponsored playdate for all of the incoming kindergarteners at his school, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary. We're very eager to meet the new kids and parents, and see some of our old friends--lots of siblings in kindergarten this year.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Schools and Kids' Best Inner Selves

Friday's New York Times ran "Phelps’s Mother Recalls Helping Her Son Find Gold-Medal Focus," an article by Michael Winerip featuring thoughts from Deborah Phelps, the mother of Olympic swimming phenomenon Michael Phelps. Diagnosed with ADHD, Michael Phelps struggled in school, and teachers suggested that he wasn't capable of anything that required focus or attention. Not so much, as it turns out.

He was fortunate, of course, that his was a "swimming family," as Deborah Phelps describes, and that he received that support and conditions that he needed to excel in the extraordinary way that he has. And he was also tremendously lucky that his mom, a teacher herself and now a middle school principal, recognized that there was way more to her son than his early grades teachers suggested. She advocated for him, sought the right kinds of support, and most important, listened to him and kept her faith in him. As a mom, I imagine it must have been tough at times; it seems that he really struggled in school.

Of course, eventually "Michael the swimmer appeared," which must have put his school issues in perspective, and it seems that he was able to channel formidable attention and focus into his swimming, not only in the pool, but into the work he had to do on land to improve. I imagine it must have been immensely gratifying for his family to watch him blossom.

I think of so many other kids who struggle in school like Michael did. Not all come from families who are able to support and advocate for their kids as effectively as Ms Phelps, and not all find allies or are known well by other adults who can help them find their way. And not all are able to experience that thing in life that makes them extraordinary--maybe not Olympic-level extraordinary, but that thing that makes them feel great, that they can do well, and that makes them feel like a fully integrated, competent, successful person. Without that, it's all too easy for kids and perhaps even their families to believe the "he can't" and "she won't" messages that can come from schools that are overly focused on getting every kid ready for standardized tests at a uniform pace. We believe that all children deserves an education that allows them to gain literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking skills--but that does not mean that what we provide for kids should stop there. They deserve and require so much more.

Some kids find their way, as education reform advocate/writer Mike Klonsky reflected on in "Looking Back on Bernie Mac," a reflection on actor/comedian Bernie Mac's sad and early death this weekend. And many, many more would find their best inner selves if we made our schools places that not only support them as they develop literacy and math skills, but also make sure that they have meaningful experiences with all forms of the arts, the natural world, literature and poetry, music, sports and physical movement, performance, and as many other aspects of human endeavor as possible.

Schools can't be everything for everyone, but they should be places where all kids can shine and discover themselves. And for many kids, home and community life don't always offer a range of meaningful, safe, well-designed activities and exposure. For many kids, school and afterschool programs are the only place this can happen. Our kids deserve schools and communities that allow them to develop their full selves. When we cut arts. physical activity, and so much more from our schools, we limit options for individual kids, for communities, and for our collective future.

New Superintendent Meets with PTOs + Community Meetings

On Friday, 8/8/08, the ProJo ran a report of PPSD Superintedent Tom Brady's meeting with a group of parents from Roger Williams Middle School in one of series of "backyard chats" that he's having with PTOs around the city. Along with other parents from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, I participated in one of these meetings in July. I heard at that time that Brady was meeting with family members from nine schools; the ProJo article on the Roger Williams meeting states that he has thus far met with five.

It's worth reading to get a sense of the issue that are foremost on the minds of parents of PPSD students; the issues may vary from school to school and neighborhood to neighborhood, but those reported in the ProJo are good representations of what's on parents' minds: lack of translation services for the huge number of Spanish-speaking families (and, it seems fair to extrapolate, families that speak other languages at home), school safety, communication with teachers, inappropriate discipline strategies, and a teachers union contract that gets in the way of the best possible teaching and learning.

If your child's school PTO group hasn't met with Brady, or if you want another chance to hear other parent and community member concerns and state your own, Brady is holding larger forums for community discussion this month (two have already happened). They will take place from 6-8pm on Aug. 13 at Veazie Elementary School, 211 Veazie St.; and Aug. 20 at Providence Academy of International Studies (PAIS), 182 Thurbers Ave. Childcare is available. See the Providence Schools website for more info.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

blog purpose? and PPSD PDK report

In the next couple of posts, I am going to think out loud about what the purpose of this blog should be. I am inclined in two different directions: activism and recruitment. 

Activism: Parents Talk about Providence Schools is an online space to engage current public school family members around the challenges and opportunities facing PPSD with the explicit mission of organizing us to play an active part in improving our kids' schools and the district as a whole.

Information-Sharing: Parents Talk about Providence Schools is an online space focused  on providing and exchanging information among family members whose kids are not yet in school. This blog helps them understand and learn more about their options. It also helps family members whose kids may be in school and who seek more information about alternatives or the next phase of schooling.

Is it possible to pursue both of these missions here? I will contemplate that, too. I'd love input from anyone reading (and I know a few of you are - thank you!) about what would be useful to you.

In more current PPSD news, today's Pro-Jo covered the recent Phi Delta Kappa International PPSD curriculum management audit, reviewing the key points of the audit and Superintendent Tom Brady's reactions. "Report details racial inequity in school achievement" is in the Metro section, but it's not online (why not???); I'll link to it when it arrives when the ProJo gets around to putting it on the internets. In the meantime, find the paper edition and read it. And weep. 

Brady describes the report as a call to action; yes, though more like a scream for action. PDK's findings show that significant numbers of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian PPSD students will not demonstrate educational achievement as measured by our state's standardized test (the New England Common Assessment Program, not Placement, as the story quotes PDK's report) that is on part with their white peers unless the district dramatically interrupts its reading and math instruction.

Here's the entire report. I haven't reviewed it yet. And here's a letter from Brady that lists the overall report findings and current actions the district is taking to change practices and improve student performance. Again, I am posting this to share; I will come back with more on the report, letter, and further actions the district is taking.

And readers, if you've gotten this far, please know that when I got this far, I realized that this should be two individual posts but cannot convince by computer to cut and paste a chunk of this text to a new blog entry! Well, we're all learning as we go; I'll figure it out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

getting ready to go back to school (already? about time!)

Technically, we're only halfway through summer, but for those of us programmed to run according to school calendars, summer is nearly over. Providence public schools' first day of school is Tuesday, August 26, less  than three weeks from now.

This isn't going to mean the same thing to all families. Some view the approaching date with dread, knowing that fun family time is going to end. Others view it eagerly, knowing that kids will have a safe and structured place to be during the day, with breakfast and lunch provided. And of course, we'll all have our own reactions as diverse as the different families that send their kids to our city's schools.

I am feeling both eagerness and dread. I feel lucky that my kids are safe and happy this summer, with enough to eat and plenty to do. At the same time, I am excited for them to get back to their school routines--or, in the case of my son who is starting kindergarten, start their school routines! I am wondering how much homework my third grader will have. I am wondering what the newly minted kindergartener will think of school. He thinks he will love it, and so do I. He's eager to read, and I think he believes that he'll show up on the first day of school and his teacher will wave a Magic Reading Wand and presto! he will be able to read. I suspect that won't happen. But what will?

If you want to connect with other families getting ready to send their kids back to school, join in the Providence Public Schools' Back to School Celebrations that are happening on Saturday, August 16 from 10am-1pm. Backpacks with free school supplies will be distributed for students who need them, and schools, afterschool programs, and support organizations will be at the various sites to provide information and help. 

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization (which I will henceforth in this blog refer to as the MLK PTO!) will be at the back to school celebration at Hope High School, 324 Hope Street. Other similar celebrations will take place at the following sites: 
  • Nathanael Greene Middle School, 721 Chalkstone Avenue
  • Perry Middle School, 370 Hartford Avenue
  • Providence School Registration Center, 672 Prairie Avenue
  • St. Teresa's Church, 18 Pope Street (corner of Manton Avenue)
  • West End Community Center, 109 Bucklin Street
And here's a post from Kidoinfo sharing similar news about the back to school celebrations, with additional info about sites outside Providence!

So, how are you and your kids feeling about the first day of school's fast approach?