Sunday, October 30, 2011

God Help Us All, We're Homeschool Freaks


I did it. I emailed in my Notice of Intent - legalese for letting the school superintendent know that we are officially out and are homeschooling the E. While the decision itself was daunting, once I had committed, the actual act was somewhat cathartic. It felt just as good as turning in the cable boxes did. A sort of weird you're bucking the norm/welcome to uncharted territories thrill. 

We called Eion in sick last week, which he was kind enough to point out was LYING, in order to test the waters. And while I will fully admit we are most assuredly in the honeymoon phase of this whole ride, it has gone great. But first, let me go through how we got here....

If you've been reading recently (and if not, shame on you), you are aware of our ongoing reading saga and the fight for scarce reading resources. In spite of the extra help we did procure, things were going poorly. When the girls were in 1st grade, they would come home with their reading and read it in 5-10 minutes. You might have to help with a word or two but they had largely already learned it at school. In Maggie's case, she petitioned me not to have to read it aloud since "you know I know it anyway." A petition I granted because it was SO TRUE. 

But E was coming home tired and we would have to sit down and teach him to read. There were tears aplenty and more than enough frustration to go around. When we finally would finish reading, he would have maybe a half hour before bed, leaving him distraught that he never had any free time. 

So it occurred to us, he totally gets math and science and social studies aren't much of a problem either. The only thing he really needed from 1st grade was to learn to read. Since we were teaching him that at night anyway, why the hell not pull him out so we can cover these topics while he's fresh. 

Not to mention, he was getting in trouble every single day and being made to walk laps at recess. It seemed that what 1st grade was teaching him so far was he 1) wasn't too bright and 2) was a troublemaker. Neither of which were on our lesson plan.

Our trial week has gone swimmingly. Eion's ability to focus at 8:30am is infinitely better than at 5pm. Seeing as we have a 1-1 teacher to student ratio, we are moving at a rapid pace. So far, we can cover about a day's work in 2-3 hours, with no homework. Eion is able to chill in the afternoon and I am available again to the rest of the family. 

Lord knows I have some work to do. More than one person has asked what my method is, to which I have replied, "So far, winging it!" We're going to need to improve on that. But after extensive review of what Virginia public schools teach in the 1st grade, I can say with confidence, I've got this. My tennis game is likely to suffer (a lot) but E is going to be just fine. I spent an hour tonight preparing for the week's work: spelling words, math sheets, science (motion), and social studies (maps.) We're ready to go!

So I'll keep y'all posted on our progress. I'm sure somewhere along the way I'll be in tears, wondering what the hell I've done with my life. I hope I'll remember the encouraging words of all the people I encountered this weekend (many of whom had E's teacher - who seems to be almost universally loathed) who assured me I am absolutely doing the right thing. 

Halloween - Just for the Kids This Year

Sadly, my very favorite adult Halloween party didn't happen this year so I had no reason to go out and spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect big poofy dress, attempting to get Tim to do a theme costume with me and failing miserably at that endeavor. So this year was just for the kids!

I thought they would feel too old for the Club's Halloween party but I was so wrong. Morrigan was easily the oldest child there but they had a blast.


They might even have ingested some real food in addition to candy. But really, we barely saw them. We hit the door and they were off running. And while the bounce house/maze was great for them, it very much hampered my photography. There's always tomorrow.



Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Did I Say....

Did I say no more marathon posts? Well call me liar, liar tennis skirt on fire 'cause here we go!

My tennis team won its flight!!! My partner and I were 5-1 for the season (Mary's in the white hat on the far left.) And incidentally, I thought we were about the same height. I really do have this overinflated sense of height and constantly think I am taller than my mighty five feet two inches.


We carved our pumpkins with the kids (girls anyway) actually doing their own! It was way more fun than them picking out intricate designs, noshing on some seeds and hightailing it out of there while we carved for hours.



Though in Eion's case, that is still exactly what happened. Sadly, this beauty from the hands of Tim has already succumbed to the still quite warm weather and had to be chucked off the deck.


Where, incidentally, we discovered that seeds of Halloweens past have grown a pumpkin plant. You have to navigate some precarious thorny plants that tend to leave you looking like Pinhead to get there but they are growing. 

Mom and Dad came for Grandparents' Day at E's school. 


Naturally, he dressed as Indiana Jones.


We'll partially blame their presence for the dearth in blog posts. But when it comes right down to it, the blame rests with my own inner turmoil. Probably, this topic will be the subject of its own post, but while we're here, we can touch on the news that we're strongly considering (let's give it 99% odds) homeschooling Eion.

GASP

Yeppers. While the girls have thus far navigated the public school system adeptly, things are not going as well for E. And we might just be out. You think you're shocked? No one is more surprised than me that we are going to be homeschool freaks (with no offense to my new brethren.) Give me a few days and we can go through the whole bloody saga. I'll also accept and prayers for my sanity as well.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Entrepreneurism


Morrigan: Bacon is a very useful thing to have in my lunch.
Me: Because it tastes good?
Morrigan: Yes and it is very popular.
Me: Popular?
Morrigan: Yes, it's very good for trades.
Me: You trade your bacon? For what?
Morrigan: Oh cookies, gummy bears - people will give me just about anything for it. 
Me: Why don't they ask their parents to pack them bacon?
Morrigan: They have but their parents say it isn't healthy.

[Ok, we have to pause in our narrative to examine exactly how backwards it is to refuse your child bacon but to pack gummy bears and cookies.]

Morrigan: Cindy Lou Hoo tried to swipe some bacon the other day but I caught her.
Me: Cindy is Jewish.
Morrigan: There's nothing wrong with being  Jewish.
Me: Of course there's not but most Jewish people don't eat pork products. I'm not sure her Mom would like that.
Morrigan: No pork? That's really sad. So is it ok that I trade my bacon?
Me: I suppose so but try to get a good price for it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Benefits of Being the Squeaky Wheel

Not long after my encounter with the school board, I received an email from the principal letting me know that, while they thought he might be too advanced for it, Eion would indeed (for the moment), be remediated. Can I get a hallelujah?

I met Cathy, the reading specialist, yesterday and thanked her for letting E in. She told me he fit right in and "I know this sounds funny but I think he is faking it." [Reading that is.] Ah yes people, now you see. The crazy lady ranting about how her kid couldn't read was onto something there.

Just to make sure E gets off to a good start, we have additionally hired a private tutor. When we met with him yesterday, I mentioned the comment from Cathy and he said that "faking it" was very common. He said he sees this all the time in boys who are ADHD (check), really smart in math (check), and can't seem to understand phonics (check, check!) They are bright enough to recognize a few words and then use the context and pictures to fill in the rest of the sentence without actually reading it. The good news us is most of the time, people don't catch this until the kids make it to 3rd grade and the sentences become too complex for "estimating." At least we are nipping it in the bud.

Eion seems to like tone tutor and is excited about learning "reading secrets" that I assured him his sisters didn't know. And we continue to reward him for reading with lightsaber battles and learning square roots. [I'm not kidding, he thinks it is really fun. Ask him what the square root of 50 is.]

But the best part of the encounter with the tutor was this:

Tutor: If you could have one superpower, invisibility, super strength or super speed, which would you have?
Eion: I would want invisibility so I could sneak up on people and kick them in the head.
Tutor: But only the bad guys right?
Eion: Yes and people I don't like.

It's going to be an interesting year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

And Perhaps I Just Like to Get Stung

Who's in the bridge burning, hornet nest kicking kind of mood? Well I am, so let's go. Disclaimers first. Actually, screw disclaimers, I am undone and not much in the mood to censor.

Tonight I came face to face with how little I (or you for that matter) mean to the school system. Better yet, how mechanisms are in place to make you think you might have an impact while shutting you and your opinions out entirely.

About a week ago, I was at a Central Council PTA meeting where a representative from the School Board (we'll leave names out but they are all available at www.rcps.info in case you want them) came in and told us about an agenda item for their next meeting. We were asked to keep the discussion "in this room," which quite frankly put me on alert immediately. As far as I'm concerned, government agencies, boards and employees should be operating under 100% transparency at all times. But I digress.

It seems Roanoke City schools had received something along the lines of $100,000 from the federal government to use for crossing guards, freeing up a commensurate amount in RCPS' budget. The school board had plans for the money.

Was it cut the 2% additional meals tax that has been imposed for the last year, ostensibly to prevent teacher layoffs? Was it to hire additional staff to help meet the needs of kids who might be failing first grade reading but were in a school that lacked adequate reading resource teachers?

Nope. Their plan was to give bonuses to non-school based administrative staff.

At which point I was thinking, you have to be %#$%&*^$@!@$ kidding me. Just to be clear, they were planning on handing out bonuses, in the middle of a recession, with 9% (or more if we're being honest) unemployment, when many people I know have had their pay cut and benefits slashed. Oh and let's not forget, while they had an additional meals tax in place because they would otherwise have to lay off teachers.

But no, they weren't kidding. Said representative added that the bonuses might be uncomfortable seeing as RCPS had pledged not to give out bonuses while the additional meals tax was in place. But no worries, they had talked to the City and no one was going to raise a fuss. And we were reminded to keep this quiet. They would, AND I QUOTE, "have" to release their plans when the school board agenda came out but didn't want any advance publicity.

Personally, I took this as somewhat of a challenge to tell as many people as possible about the whole plan. Including the newspaper and local television. While the outrage was widespread, seriously, I talked to nary a person who supported the bonuses, when it came down to the meeting tonight, I was flanked only by Kirsten and a Mom from Highland Park.

In case you've never been to a school board meeting in Roanoke, Virginia, the way it breaks down is this: they have a sign up sheet. You indicate about which topic you are interested in speaking. Before any topics are discussed, you are given the floor with three minutes to speak, during which time, the members of the school board and the school superintendent completely ignore you while looking intently into their laptops. [save the representative to Putney's right - she was paying attention.] You're then thanked and they move on.

When the topic came up on the agenda a half hour later, the chair asked if there was discussion. The Board proceeded to say how all the staff really needed the bonus and just how darn selfless it was for the executive administration was to exempt themselves from this proposal. My concerns, you ask? The need for additional reading specialists or help for the students (don't forget, that's why we're all here) was ignored entirely. The pledge not to give out bonuses was dismissed as "that citizen's claim" which that particular school board member said he didn't remember at all. [As an aside sir, I recommend you check facts with the board member to your left as he referenced the promise last week.]

Then the chairman asked if there was any further discussion. The board, in its entirety, chose to ignore my hand, which had been in the air for several (very polite) minutes. After all, I had my three minutes and GOD FORBID we have any sort of debate. And then they voted unanimously to give out the bonuses.

I left to go home and send an email to my son's school, begging them to let him have a little bit of the scarce reading specialist resources so he can actually learn to read.

Not to overstate things, but I have never been so disgusted in my entire life. I went to the school board, to appeal to them about Eion, and all the kids like him, who don't have the help they need, who are falling behind, who are struggling, who are failing, and I was shown what really matters to them. And it sure as hell isn't my kid.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

When Distractions Throw You Completely Off Course

So I know what you're thinking. There she is, kitchen done, nary a care in the world  - what is up with the radio silence? I've been stressed. Really, really stressed. Not sleeping well, on the verge of tears (which is something for me) stressed. 

Eion is having a tough time in 1st grade. While math and science seem to be moving along fine, he is failing miserably in reading. While we knew things were not going well, the hour spent trying to finish 10 minutes of reading homework, complete with tears, clued us in, we had no idea he had failed his reading assessment and was falling further and further behind. That is, until the meeting we had at school this week, week six that is for anyone keeping count, where we found out how poorly the whole reading thing was going.

Better yet, we found out that, yes, he was failing but no, not failing enough to get remediated. No, it doesn't make sense to me either. When I suggested that he might need some help, I was told he didn't suck quite enough for them to be bothered to teach him to read during school, but they we happy to keep him in the Tuesday after school reading program once a week, for an hour and a half. Riiight. Because six year olds who have been sitting in class all day really absorb lots when they sit for ninety more minutes at the end of the day.

The school and I are currently in "negotiations." [Which is terribly ludicrous in and of itself, that I have to encourage them to teach my child to read.] I'll keep y'all posted.

But after that rather drawn out intro, here is what we've been up to in addition to stressing!

VA Tech's hockey team had a match against UVA last week and we took the kids. Including the seasonally inappropriate Eion.


It was a great family adventure. It was cheap (kids free, adults $5) which is always favored around here and the kids loved watching the game. Eion and Morrigan were especially enthralled by checking, exclaiming "Good one!" and "Ooh, that's gonna leave a mark!" enthusiastically as players slammed into the boards. Tim, former child hockey player:


(really, he's just the cutest) was flummoxed by the play, wanting to know why the hell they didn't clear the zone until he realized they were "club" teams. In spite of their insufficient zone clearing, fun had by all.

We went to our friend JT's 40th birthday party which was a last minute gathering we were so happy to make it to! Not to mention, a reason to go out on a school night.


Maggie and Eion tested for their orange belts. They said they would call if they didn't pass so we're going with no news is good news here.



In spite of my and my partner's loss, my tennis team is still solidly in first place, having won enough matches that, regardless of the outcome of the last match of the season, will win first place! Woohoo flight four tennis!

I spent Friday at the Highland Park walk-a-thon. My children refused to solicit donations so I figured at least I could help. Not to mention, it was a beautiful, sunshiny day.


I came in 1st place at our couples poker game surprising everyone, including myself. 

And the highlight of my week....meeting Herman Cain!

Kind of by chance I found out that he was going to be signing books at Liberty University this Saturday and thought this was a worthwhile field trip for me and the kids. When I told them we were going, they broke out into cheers in the car.


He was every bit as personable as he seems when you hear him on tv and took some extra time to talk to the kids, who invited his grandchildren over to play. When Eion told him, "You can come too if you want." Herman broke out into a belly laugh.


It was totally worth the trip. What? You say you don't know who Herman Cain is? Well allow me to shamelessly plug here for my favorite GOP Presidential hopeful! Click through to learn more about my main man, Mr. Cain! 

So that just about catches us all up. Let's hope my mental state improves over the next week so I don't have to subject you to more marathon posts.