Monday, October 10, 2011

School of Choice

We have moved from a school system that has three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school to a school system that has 21 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, and 6 high schools. 
On Friday I had the opportunity to visit two of the schools through a series of "Patron Tours" put on by the school system.  It's a way to let people in the community know what is going on with the school system and the various schools and programs offered in the schools.  I am truly overwhelmed by the choices here.  Someone asked me today what high school the girls will go to.  There is no simple answer to this question... all the "ifs" and "maybes" play too big of a role.

Our first stop was the Arts & Academics school.  It cover 6th - 12th grades and, as the name implies, works to integrate arts and academics together.  What an amazing school.  We visited a video editing classroom where about 20 7th graders were working on editing footage... each on their own computer.  No one had to share.  Then we went to a science room where the teacher could ask a question and each of the kids could repond immediately on a handheld device so the teacher could decide if he should go over the material more in depth or move ahead.  We saw the "Composition" room where over 20 keyboards/computers were set up to allow kids to create their own music.

And this is just the proverbial scratching of the surface of what's available at this school.  There is dance and literary arts and dramatic arts and... well, you get the idea.  All I could think is how the kids leaving this school are probably already half-way to a career... and then, "how do I get my kids in?"  See, you have to apply to get in and there are only about 80-90 new students accepted each year with over 300 applying.

Then we went to an elementary school.  The principle there described it as a "true urban school" with lower income families and a wider ethnic diversity than most of the schools in the system.  We watched 4th graders look up vocab words on iPhones and watched 2nd graders "tape" themselves reading for fluency on iPhones. 

But what I found truly amazing this day was where we went next... to a classroom filled with low-functioning autistic children.  We were warned before going in that a lot of them didn't like noise or commotion, that it was probably best not to try talking to them like we'd been doing with the other students the rest of the morning, that we should just quietly observe.  The kids in this classroom had just gotten some iPads with a special program that allowed them to communicate with their teachers.  For some of these kids, it was the first time they were able to communicate.  The iPads were customized to each child and what "motivated" them, whether it was M&Ms, the swing, a string of red beads they liked to play with, or wheat crackers.  Each kid was learning to touch what they wanted to do or have.

As I watched these kids, I was hit square in the chest by the amazing blessing I have in my three daughters.  They are healthy.  They have no learning issues... no speech issues... nothing to stop them from understanding me or communicating with me (except perhaps their own stubbornness on some days).

And the problems I was fretting about that day and the day before melted away.  And since Friday, I have tried to keep hold of the picture of the boy trying to press a button to tell his teacher he wanted to swing... and be thankful for the noisy, talkative chaos in my life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mornings... with a (small) side of applesauce

Mornings.  Need I really say more?  I don't know of anyone with kids who has a smooth, peaceful morning.

Ours is always filled with griping and complaining. 

"I'm tired."

"My finger hurts."

"I can't find anything I like for breakfast."

And then there's the jockeying for position on the couch, or the tug-of-war over the favorite blanket.

"She's touching me."

"I was sitting there."

Inevitably, someone spills something, and then it feels like everything goes to hell. 

I have been trying to be more pleasant.  More accommodating.  More slow-to-anger.  I have been trying to make mornings better around here.  (I have been trying to embrace the morning chaos.)  But sometimes I don't have any control over what happens.  Like this morning.

As I scooped applesauce into a container for Abby's lunch, Ella let out a blood-curdling scream.  I am not even kidding.  This is NOT for dramatic effect.  It scared the snot out of all of us.

Then she burst into tears.  This is not unusual with Ella, but the screaming is.

Turns out that, as she sipped from her water bottle for school, she sipped a bug.  Not just any ol' bug... an earwig.  Ewwww....  If there's one bug I can't handle, it's a earwig. 

And then sat crying... and crying... and crying...

I was already feeling a bit on edge from all the standard morning complaining, but then Abby went to the counter, picked up the applesauce I was getting ready for her and said, "Is this all the applesauce I get for lunch?"

REALLY?!  Her compassion is just overwhelming.  I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped open.

So I am standing there, hugging Ella with my heart breaking for her and the way her day has begun, and then feeling like an utter failure as a mother because my other daughter can't seem to muster any compassion for her sister... or maybe even finish scooping up her own applesauce.  She's nearly 11 for &#@! sake (I am trying to stop swearing... sometimes it works, sometimes my daughter nearly swallows an earwig and all I feel like doing IS swearing)!

The worst part... it was time for Ella to leave for the bus.  So I watched her drag her feet down the driveway, looking over her shoulder at me, with tears in her eyes.

I don't have a happy ending for this one.  I'm still crushed and on the verge of tears myself. 

Mornings suck.