Posts filed under ‘Kindergarten’
Just so people can see what’s going on in the world of CPS, the school my son attends is offering half-day Kindergarten for free and asking parents to pay for full day. There are 2 neighborhood classes and one gifted class and the half day is offered as an all-or-nothing deal, which I think makes sense. Yes, I know that CPS *may* be paying for full day K for the gifted program (and who really knows for sure?) But I think it’s only fair to make it equal. Both programs bring resources to the school that benefit each other.
Unfortunately, the timeframe in which to raise the money for full day was reallly short. In the past, CPS would sometimes let the parents pledge the money and they could raise it by the Fall. If they didn’t get it, CPS would take the position away. But in the current economy, it appears that CPS wants that cold cash in hand. Now. You want full day Kindergarten, you pay now people!
Our school needed to raise $125K within a few weeks. By June 15th. As of now, they still need $45K. I ain’t lookin pretty. I don’t know if some people are holding out to see if the money is really needed? If they can get away without paying? If 45 families will be willing to put in an extra $1000 each to make it happen?
Obviously the difficulty is that now everyone can or will or wants to pay, so the bill can end up being pretty high. This also makes it weird for letting in people from outside the neighborhood. You can’t REQUIRE them to pay, but who wants to let in outside freeloaders? (Eek, I sound like the state of Arizona — but it seems to make sense here!) I’m thinking 3 classes would be about 80 kids so if everyone paid, that would be about $1600 per family. I think they asked for $2000 per family, which means that only about half the families have paid. Or some paid less.
Such a weird situation. I’m curious to see what happens.
UPDATE: They’ve done it! Hit the deadline just $2K short of the required. Hopefully some out-of-district family can buy their way in and make up the difference (just kidding.) But the school has approved full day K. That was an impressive effort. That will need to be repeated again next year. Sigh.
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.
Just responding to a friend of mine who heckled me about my post about hating homework. Yes, just the week before she heard me say at an LSC meeting that I love homework. And I do. I just don’t like doing it with my particular child. I would like doing it with an angelic, focused, self-motivated child. You know, the kid we all planned to give birth to before we had actual children.
On a recent tour of my son’s school, one of the main questions that parents had about the gifted kindergarten class was about the amount of homework. I’m sure people have this question about any kindergarten class, but I suspect that some of the gifted programs in the city have scared people off a bit. A couple northside schools have a reputation for giving oppressive homework, even in the young grades and that is just not OK for me. (So yes, I like homework but only if it is the perfect amount that I want.)
My son’s current program gives a nice amount – pretty much one worksheet a night for 4 nights of the week. We get them on Monday and they’re due the following Monday so we can choose when to complete them. Every week I vow that I will teach him good study habits and we’ll stay on schedule. And every Sunday night he’s doing a page that we put off to the end.
I like knowing what they’re working on in class. I like seeing how they’ve progressed since the begining of the year. I like seeing that my son has learned stuff that I didn’t know he knew yet. And watching him complete his homework is a good way to keep track of that. Sometimes I make up little stories for him using the sounds they’re learning that week. Mine are always funnier than the dumb ones written by Hartcourt, I might add. Also more inappropriate for 5-6 year olds.
Having volunteered in the classroom throughout the year, I also think that with the big class sizes they have, homework time is one of the few chances any kid gets for one-on-one attention during the week. If they don’t get something in class, there isn’t much of a chance to speak up, slow down, ask questions, etc. Sure, grades and conferences can help a parent understand where their child needs some extra work, but I think seeing the kid in action is much more helpful.
So each night we do homework, we sit down and I am full of passion and motivation about helping my child succeed. Then it is basically downhill from there. Half the time he does better when I’m not sitting there being uber-parents. Half the time he goofs off. But still…. in my parenting fantasy, it’s a good thing.
One of the new trends brewing in north side elementary schools is the request that parents foot the bill if they want full day Kindergarten for their kids.
From conversations I’ve had, most people initially find this shocking and appalling. So a bit background as to how this has come about:
CPS, as a school district, is required to provide HALF-DAY Kindergarten for all kids (although it is not mandatory for kids to attend Kindergarten.) The district will provide a teacher for every 56 kids who enroll in Kindergarten at their neighborhood school, which means that one teacher will have a morning and afternoon class of 28 kids each.
Each school gets money called Discretionary Funds that is largely tied to the number of low-income students in the school. It is something like $720 per child. So some of the over-crowded school that are all low-income could be getting a three-quarter million dollars each year to help beef up their school, whereas schools with few low-income kids get much less, more like $150K. These funds are usually used to “buy” things like teaching positions to keep classroom ratios down, teachers for enrichment classes, assistant principals, and workbooks and supplies.
Since CPS has been largely low-income so far, nearly every school has used their discretionary funds to buy an extra Kindergarten teacher so they can provide full day Kindergarten. However as certain schools lost low income students when neighborhoods gentrify, they see these funds shrink and can no longer afford the extra K teacher/s at a cost of about $70-$85K each (this includes their pension, benefits, etc.)
The simple solution is to just offer half-day Kindergarten. Many suburbs do this and their kids clearly turn out fine. In Chicago, however, there seems to be a greater interest in a full day program. Maybe there are more working parents, maybe we’re just used to everyone else getting full-day. Who knows? So where will the money come from?
At Blaine this year, parents were required to raise the money to fund the full day program (the school may have kicked in a little $, I’m not sure.) I believe Alcott does the same. This allows the kids to stay the full 6-ish hours and participate in art, music, gym, etc that they wouldn’t get otherwise and also gives them more learning time and play time. The hard part is that people cannot be required to pay, so the families who do participate may need to cover for the families who can’t/won’t. Families could end up paying from $1000 – $2000 per year for full-day Kindergarten, which really isn’t a bad deal if you break it down hourly. It’s just the principle of the matter that bothers people.
Part of the unfairness of the situation is that Magnet, Gifted, and Classical programs automatically get full day Kindergarten, once again putting the neighborhood schools at a disadvantage (but that is a whole other rant.)
CPS is working on setting up an automatic payment system that is similar to the one used in the tuition-based pre-schools. Which can only be a sign that this will become more widespread.
So despite the objections, I don’t see it as unfair. The state is kicking in extra money for low income kids, and families who can afford it will be kicking in their own share.
Ultimately, it just makes the school decision process more complicated. What if your neighborhood school only offers half-day and you want full-day or vice versa and you’re asked to pay for full-day when you don’t even want it? Make sure you ask the questions when you’re touring schools.
Well, my “baby” has gotten his first report card. And what a report card it was. CPS breaks down the child’s ability into an extreme level of minutae, so that I can learn whether many skills are well developed or partially developed. I am pleased to learn that he is good at skipping! My homeschooling there has paid off. (Actually I lie.. I think he learned that in gym. So that’s why they measured it.) It’s hard to believe that the teacher actually knows the abilities of all 27 children at such a discrete level, but the best part was was I did NOT hear: The words, “We think there was some mistake in your son getting into this class.” But no. Yay! He is keeping up.
The other good news is that I have confirmation that he was not well-suited for the Montessori environment and seems to thrive in a class where he’s told what to do at each point during the day. His teacher even commented that during the Exploration portion of the class, where they can select their own activity (fun stuff that will disappear in first grade like building robots out of legos) he tends to wander aimlessly, unable to select some materials. No problem about that. He can wander for 20 minutes (and at no cost!) Heck, I used to pay almost $1000 a month for him to wander around the classroom for the whole day!
The other fears that were put upon us with his Montessori prek have also turned out to be unfounded. They felt he was “living too much in the world of imagination and fantasy” (accompanied by implications that we let him watch too much TV, read comic books, etc.) We left that school with the fear that unless we got him out of his fantasy world quickly and into projects like potting plants and pounding nails into wood that he would have a hard time in school. Well, I never got him around to the potting and pounding (they do sound like fun kid projects though) and low and behold he has really blossomed in his more traditional-style classroom. And I’m glad we didn’t try to squelch his imagination — it’s a core part of who he is.
A parent writes: “My kid ended up at XYZ CPS School. At first i was freaking out because the class sizes were 32 ,32 and 33. After about 2 weeks or so we heard through a parent that we were “getting” an extra class but it would be a half day only. No one signed up for it so we waited for the next repsonse, that came a few days later,they then said we would get a full time teacher and that they would take 5 kids from each class and put into the new one. ”
I seem to recall having a conversation about this topic with a parent last Spring. Perhaps even this exact same parent — who knows after all my school-related yammering sessions. Anyhow, the parent claimed that the school had small classes, to which I replied that you never know how many neighborhood kids will walk in on that first day or school and surprise the principal. Schools that are in the growing stage will often take in a bunch of kids via the CPS lottery, which makes sense since each kid is really a check for $$$ disguised as a cute little munchkin with a giant backpack. More kids = more money. But… how is a school to know how many to take in? They want to have nice mid-size classrooms, but what happens when kids from the hood show up who haven’t registered? The school has to take them in and mad scrambling ensues. As it did in this school.
The “rule” with CPS is that if you have more than 28 kids, you get another teacher. But lets face it – they won’t pay for another teacher if you have 29 or 30, splitting the class into 15/15. The reality is that sometimes they will let the classrooms go higher than 28 or even 30. Then if you wind up with one or two crazy-energy kids in there, running the giant classroom becomes every adult’s worst nightmare (well, mine at least.) So just to be sure kids have ended up where they really want to be, CPS waits almost 3 weeks before officially taking the count and assigning the new teachers. And with a new teacher is usually the need to scramble for classroom furniture and supplies. Stuff don’t just show up all shiny and new because you added another teacher. In any case, it results in September chaos and kids being shifted to different teachers and classrooms just when they get used to their first one. The kind of stuff that makes parents of Kindergarteners crazy when all we wanted was a peaceful transition into school.
In the end, it worked out well at this school because they ended up with nice small class sizes. And they were able to find a way to pay for the Full Day Kindergarten out of their limited funds.
What to do about it? Get the school to do everything in their power to encourage registation well before school starts. See if someone can post little flyers at the local park reminding people to register for school. When you encounter people who say their child is attending your school say “you ARE registered, right?!” and express shock and moral disapproval if they say no. Stand at the entryway and heckle those who are not registered on day 1. Not really on that last one unless you’re pretty brave.
We’re 5 days into CPS and so far so good. In a totally out-of-character way, my son has said that he’s liked every day so far. What goes on in the classroom remains a bit of a mystery, but it seems to be enjoyable. He says its “fun,” – something he never said about his preschool. I suspect the teacher is easing them into school and once the real learning-time starts he may be less enthusiastic, but the tranisition is going well.
Morning drop of is a totally-IN-character experience with him getting weepy and clingly (as am I but I’m better at hiding it than he is.) There is something so heartbreaking about seeing these little kids crying as their parents leave (oh no, he wasn’t the only one.) The fact that they have no self-consciousness yet about crying at school or wanting their mommy or daddy makes you realize how young and vulnerable they are inside, which makes it that much harder to walk out.
I like the CPS environment a lot, although its exponentially more chaotic than our private school was (car drop off run with military-like precision, each kid and car assigned a number) but I think this is the kind of chaos I like. There’s a certain anonymity to chaos that I think will suit both my son and me better. Part of what “sold” him on the school was the promise of Freedom. The freedom to play on the playground after school because its a public school. And that ANYONE can play on the playground. And parents are ALLOWED in the classroom as volunteers. I may as well have been waving the American flag as I described the personal freedoms that would be enjoyed at his new school. Of course I didn’t mention the 8 million rules that will probably be enforced inside. I will let that unfold in due time.