Posts filed under ‘My school experiences’

A visit from CPS

I was at home today… Sunday and somebody knocked at the door.  The person was wearing a CPS badge.  The guy was from some department called Child Outreach or something like that.

He inquired as to why my son hasn’t attended school yet this year.  I said “Oh my God, you’re the TRUANT OFFICER!”  If you read any old kids books (such as the Beverly Cleary series) you hear a lot about truant officers who come and check up on absent kids, but I thought that was an outdated position.  Actually I don’t think this guy claimed to have any authority but rather was serving to remind me to send my child to school in case I’d been having him play Nintendo DS for the past 2 weeks while I watched soap operas.

I explained that my son did miss the first day of school due to lice (always good for getting someone to take a step back from you) but that he’s been there every day since.  He seemed to believe me.

Those in CPS are probably familiar with the method for informing parents that their child is absent.  You get a recorded message from your child’s school (that somehow distorts the voice to sound oddly scary) well after 1pm on the day they’re out.  If you’re the parent of a little kid, chances are that you know your child’s whereabouts, but if you have a teenager they may have gotten into all kinds of trouble before you find out that they never made it to school.  Gone are the days when Mrs. Horlick from my high school office would make a stern call to the parents early in the morning to find out where you were.  She knew every parent’s voice and could immediately detect a fraud.  Bah.

September 20, 2009 at 6:55 pm 8 comments

First grade off to a good start

Well, my son skipped off into the school with nary a glance back at me today.  It fills my heart with joy that he’s not clinging to me whining about having to leave but also makes me sad to realize he’s OK off on his own.

I suppose a week in seclusion with your mom fighting lice could make any kid ready to break free and hang with some other 6yo boys.  By they way, if anyone gets lice, get in touch.  I am now an expert.

So far first grade seems more “grown up” that Kindergarten was.  The kids have to take responsibility for their own lunch tickets, put stuff in the teacher’s In box, get stuff into their folder from the Out box, AND put their own chairs down in the morning.  Hard to believe it’ll all get accomplished.

Homework is now once a night, due the next day which’ll be interesting and possibly challenging.  I was just discussing with other parents this week how to motivate kids on the homework issue.  Money?  Make them tell the teacher they didn’t do it?  Take away all fun stuff until it gets done?  Oh, the nagging I will be doing.  I dread it already.

So far so good though.  My little grump reported that the first day was fun which makes me happy.  His teacher attended CPS for elementary and high school (and not that long ago, I might add.)  I should talk to her some time to get her point of view on CPS.  For the record, she attended an Ivy League school, which can give us all hope.

September 10, 2009 at 11:22 am 10 comments

How much of a pain in the butt should you be at school?

Well, here’s the type of rant that I knew would come along sooner or later.
I’ll start by saying (my mantra) that communication is one of the weak spots of CPS.  Even the best administrators and educators don’t seem to understand that parents need to find things out in a timely fashion.  It’s like they think you’ll just know stuff by osmosis by having a child in the school.   So throughout the year I’ve been mildly fed up with this.  My point of view on complaining to the school is to do it only when I have a solution that I can help implement if needed (or other parents could help with.)  I wasn’t willing to take on doing a weekly newsletter so I just let it go (and grumbled to myself and other playground parents.)

So this week, 2 weeks before school is to start, we finally get some info on the afterschool program (basically the info is to contact the provider – an external organization.)  I find out that we can’t register until Sept 1 (a WEEK before school starts!) and so we won’t find out whether my son has a spot until who-knows how many days before school begins.  This isn’t tragic for me since I don’t have a job yet, but what if I did?  If he doesn’t get a spot I’d have Labor Day weekend to find a sitter!  We also found out 2 weeks out that the program now has a fee versus free last year (very affordable, but still.)

So to top off my grumbling, I find out that the school office lost my “Interest Form” that I turned in at the end of school in June.  So now I am at the bottom of the heap in terms of applying.

During my son’s first year in his school I tried not to be a pain-in-the-ass parent (although as you know I can always find “room for improvement” in a school.)  Instead I tried to forge a good relationship with the admin and to always volunteer when I could.  I hate to be that parent who bitches about stuff.  But I finally reached my breaking point and had to convey my irritation or I’d start to harbor a slow, simmering resentment.

And WHY didn’t I check with the office?!  I always warn parents when turning anything into a CPS office to check and double check that the paper is in the right place.  Why didn’t I follow my own advice for God’s sake?!

So now here I sit, hoping I’m not on some administrative shit-list where the principal and asst principal cringe when they seen me approaching.  Many of us walk fine lines in our schools because we may need “favors” down the road:  A sibling to get a spot in the neighborhood program, a space for your kid in an extra-curricular program that is full, consideration to add Lego Robotics as an afterschool program, etc.  Do I want to get on the bad side?

Sigh.  I guess at some point parents need to speak up if thing really need an improvement or the administration will think everything is just peachy.  And I’ve learned my lesson.  Everything I turn in to the office gets some sort of written acknowledgement!  I advice you to do the same.  Our office lady is fabulous but there are a million and one forms passing through that control center.  Some are destined to disappear into a black hole.

(As a point of reference, part of my anger was built on knowing of parents who’d applied at certain magnet schools only to find their applications never made it into the lottery.  They had no recourse.  Office black hole strikes again.)

August 26, 2009 at 11:10 pm 3 comments

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.

July 11, 2009 at 7:04 pm 8 comments

Report Card Day

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.

November 13, 2008 at 1:27 am 2 comments


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