Year-End Thoughts on CPS Kindergarten
Well, my son has completed Kindergarten in his CPS school (a neighborhood school with a new regional gifted program) so I figure it’s time to look back and reflect about the past year. This time last year, my main concerns were about switching to a traditional classroom from a Montessori pre-school and concern about CPS’s image: (big classrooms, low budgets, too many rules and not enough creative teaching.)
Overall, I can say it was a great year. The school was great, the teachers were great, and my son and his dad and I both ended the year happy and having made some new friends. He’s learned a ton and is actually sad that he doesn’t get to go to school during the summer. That is like music to the obsessive parent’s ears, no?
I expected the CPS school environment to be a bit chaotic, and it comes across that way at first. But all the kids know where they’re supposed to be going and what they’re supposed to be doing. By the year’s end, I came to see it as “energy” rather than commotion.
I really do love that energy of CPS schools. I like being around the parents who have all come together to make this public school thing work. It’s nice to meet people who live in the neighborhood and to feel like you’re part of a school and local community who can band together to celebrate the successes and lament the foibles of CPS.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well thought-out the lessons were. Topics were integrated across reading, science, art, and their foreign language. The pace of learning moved along briskly. Discipline was handled well and kids (notably boys) weren’t overly singled-out for their inherent energy-fueled naughtiness the way I’d worried about after reading Raising Cain. The days seemed to be quick-paced and active and the kids were kept engaged most of the time. My son remarked quite often that he couldn’t believe the day was 6 hours longs since it flew by so fast because they “make it fun for kids.” Good, good, good.
So what, you ask, were my complaints? (critiquing CPS being my specialty, of course.) I think the number one issue I have is the class size. I’ve heard time and time again that “a good teacher can handle a large class.” Yes, I now believe that. They can “handle” the class. Our teacher did a fantastic job of keeping 27 kids happily under her control. I just question whether even the best teacher can effectively teach that many kids at once. At Center time, the teacher works with one table at a time and the kids are effectively teaching themselves the rest of the time. Many of the materials seem decent for self-teaching, but it’s clear that a kid who needs some extra attention could easily fall through the cracks and a child who’s working well ahead of the class could be bored in 2 minutes. At other times the teacher roams the room, stopping to check work, give feedback etc, but it’s very brief. I noticed during handwriting time that many of the kids were writing their letter from bottom to top. The teacher would never know this from looking at the final work, but if they’re to learn to go top-to-bottom, someone needs to sit and watch what they’re doing and suggest the corrections. It’s sad to think about the kids in CPS who don’t have parents with the time/means/energy to make sure their kids are keeping up in class. Even in a gifted class there are kids who are slower at learning reading or math than the others and could use an extra boost to help keep up with the rest of the class.
In terms of classroom experience, I’d love to see some longer work periods. The day is fast-paced and lively as the kids are moved from activity to activity (which really works great for 6-year-olds.) But I think wistfully about the Montessori idea of a “natural work cycle” where a child can finish their book or story or picture without being shuffled on with their thoughts incomplete. I’d like to see kids get to choose a longer-term project to work on that reflects their own interests. One kid in the class was really into the Titanic while my kid is into robots and another girl is into animals. How about something that lets them integrate skills while following what excited them? (Of course I can see my son choosing Sponge Bob or weapons as his topic of study as well and me being horrified.)
I wish there were more teaming up with parents to help us reinforce what’s being taught in class. The kids got vocabulary words every week and I’d have like to have seen the list each week so I could use the words around the house. I’d love the French teacher to give the parents some ideas for helping the kids practice when we don’t know the language. I need to start making suggestions, I suppose.
As for the gifted element, our class seemed to run exactly as the neighborhood kindergartens did except that our kids’ workbooks were one grade higher. This worked well this year as the kids needed to learn the basics of reading and writing but I do wonder if the program will shift more towards the “in-depth” style of learning that CPS describes as the plan for the gifted classes.
One of the main frustrations of CPS (it seems no matter where you send your kids) is communication. It seems that some of the best educators have such a focus on the kids that they don’t think about what the parents need to know (What day is gym? What is Field Day? When is X happening? (Oh, tomorrow? Really?)) Without word of mouth, a lot of information would never get around.
I think overall I’d say we were lucky to have found a gem of a school (and I think many parents in neighborhood schools would say the same thing about their own school.) Let’s just say that I would do some things differently if I were running CPS. For now, I’m certain I won’t run out of things to discuss in the upcoming school year.