Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finding a good-enough school

It's that time of year again.

No, I'm not talking about the holiday season.
(Although, it is the holiday season.  Happy Holidays and all that.)

I'm talking about school choice. Our local school district offers school choice, if the local school has any room after taking all the kids in its' designated area.  There are also several charter schools in the area.  This means that signing up for school isn't as simple was walking to the neighborhood school and filling out a form.  For most of us it means we have to make an active choice.   At PSD registration deadline for school of choice is in January 27 for secondary schools, February 10 for elementary.  Dates on applications to the charter schools vary, so check out each school directly to be safe.

I've been asked (sometimes with voices tinged with desperation) "HOW?  How do we choose?  How do we find the perfect school for our child?"

My answer? 
You don't.  There is no perfect school.  If you're lucky there might be a good-enough school.  If you're super-duper-extra lucky, that school will be your local school.  Actually, for lots of folks, especially those people whose kids fall into the "normal" category, your local school may be an excellent choice, but wouldn't it be nice to feel confident that it was?

So, given that, and a recent question that showed up on FB,  I thought I'd share our process with you, in the hopes that it might help you think about your own process and what your priorities are.

Basically, we visited all the schools that seemed like they might be a good fit. We sat down w/ councilors at each school, did a peer tour, etc... made a spread sheet with pro and cons of each school and compared it to our kids' list of priorities. We supported them as they did this, they didn't do it alone. If we thought they'd missed a category we ask them to consider it, if we'd picked up on a nuance during the school visit we'd ask them about it... etc.

Things you might want to consider as you ponder schools:

Location - there's a lot to be said for being able to walk to school.  If you can't walk, is there a school bus?  A public bus? What is the schedule like?  How far is it to bike and/or drive and is it on the way to other places (like your work, another child's school, etc.)  Is a carpool possible?  What are your limits around driving time?  Consider that if your child does after-school activities the school bus probably won't bring them home.

Why is your kid going to school?  
Academics?  Social outlet?  Sports?  Music or art?  Some schools are better at somethings than others.  Some have a specific culture, or some special teachers and/or programs that really stand out.  What does your kid need?  What do they want?  What are you seeing at the school?

How much does inclusivity  matter to you?  A higher rate of free/reduced lunch likely means that there's more racial and socio-economic diversity, which can be of value.  It might (not necessarily, but might) also mean a school is overwhelmed with higher need students.  Think about your values, your child's needs, and compare it to the actual school.
Here's a list of questions we asked during our visits:
(pick and choose freely)

Can you describe your school culture?
How do you think you are perceived in the community?
How is that perception accurate?  How is it inaccurate?
How would you describe the relationship between the staff and faculty with the students?
How would you describe the relationship between the school and parents/families?

How many students attend this school? (ask for break down of grade levels, free/reduced lunch, number involved in extra-curriculars, graduation rate, attend college rate...)
What is the student/teacher ratio?
How do you handle special needs kids?
What kind of gifted programs do you offer?
Do you have experience with profoundly gifted students (ask more if they say "yes", PG applies to 1/10,000 or fewer students, so they might not realize what you're talking about)
What kind of support for students with learning differences/disabilities?
What kind of differentiation?
Does your school offer co-enrollment (college credit during high school)  Under what circumstances and how to access that?
What other special programs (IB, AP, experiential learning...?)

What enrichment programs do you offer?
What kind of music program do you offer?  Classes vs. before or after school?  Marching band required for all band instruments?  Different instructors for band, orchestra, and choir (for bigger schools, not realistic for small schools to have many music teachers) Ask to meet the instructor if this is an important area for your kiddo.
 What kind of art classes are available? (If you have an artist kid, ask to meet the teacher)

What clubs are on campus?  Which are student run?  Which are supported by school/teacher/coaches?
Can students from a different schools or homeschooling join your clubs/teams/extra-curriculars?

What programs do you have set up to help students make connections, fit in, "find a home" in a large school?

 Is part-time school an option?
Is this an inordinate amount of work?  

If your kid is comfortable where they are, then you probably don't need to change anything.  If, however, your kid is struggling, is not feeling challenged, is acting out, etc... then it might be worth thinking about what is working and what isn't, and what you can do about it.

For us, all that work paid off with our oldest when he was picking his college. After his high school experience he had a strong sense of his priorities, what he could and could not put up with. He's in his first year of university and really enjoying it.  Woot!  
Let's celebrate the victories when they happen, eh?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

So good to see you!

Let me tell you about Pieter, and the power of a joyful welcome.

Pieter joined our church choir while I was a well established soprano.   He was older than me.  That is, he was no longer middle aged, but he's spry, cheerful, and active, so it's hard to say "old", just older than me.  We were glad to have him, he has an excellent tenor, and gawd knows our church choir can always use more male voices.  (Of course, it would have been better if he had been a bass.  Who doesn't need more bass?  But we were glad to have him anyway.) Beyond his voice, he was engaged, reliable, and cheerful.  Every organization needs more people like that.

The thing about Pieter is that, inexplicably, he was always glad to see me.  Me. Personally.  Shortly after he joined he started to seek me out at the church social hour. (Social hour is like coffee hour, except inclusive of non-coffee drinkers too, 'cause that's how we roll).  Most people just say "hello" and smile, and that's nice, that's expected.  I'm cool with that.  When Pieter found me he didn't just say "Hi". 

Pieter would greet me with remarkable enthusiasm.  His whole face would light up with a big smile, he would open his arms wide, "April!  So good to see you!" and offer a hug.  He never forced a hug, just opened his arms to welcome one. 

The first time he did this I was actually a little startled.  I don't remember anyone ever being so glad to see me. (OK, maybe my dog.)  I remember thinking "What does he want?"  But he seemed safe and well intentioned, so I stepped in for that hug.  It was an excellent decision, because seeing Pieter at church has become something that never ceases to make me smile.  Nearly every time I saw him after that he repeated his sincere and energetic greeting. "Hello April!  So good to see you!"  Hug.  Sometimes he followed up with a compliment "What would our choir be with out you?"  or an inquiry "How's the family?"  He introduced me to his wife Mary Pat.  He started to tell me about his grandchildren.  I learned a little more about his life and history.  We started to become friends.

Although it doesn't seem like it's been that long, all this happened over the course of years.  I met Pieter while I was still in the church choir.  I dropped out of choir to do my year of cancer treatment in 2012, over 4 years ago, and I've never really gone back.  I can't reliably stay up that late and still drive home,  and too often the kids' school schedules things on choir night.  I miss choir, but not enough to miss my kids activities, or enough to stay up and drive home once a week so late.  We don't sing together anymore.  I only see him at church social hour.

But still, every time he sees me, Pieter still greets me like a long lost friend.  Which, now, he is.  His joyful greeting, open heart, and willingness to be vulnerable has given me not only his friendship, but that of his wife's.  I look forward to hearing about their holiday plans.  I worry when I see he's been sick or hurt.  I'm glad when he gets better.  I care about him.

I didn't, and still don't, understand why he started greeting me that way.  I liked Pieter well enough, but only knew him as a choir member.  He wasn't even in my section.  We'd never had a heart to heart.  For some reason, he just decided that he was always glad to see me.  Or, he acted as if he was always glad to see me, which, from my perspective, was exactly the same thing.   His repeated and sincere greeting created a friendship where there was none before.

I don't know if it was hard for Pieter to do that.  Did he have to think about being outgoing and engaging or did it just come naturally?  Was it even conscious?  Does it matter?

What magic.  What power.  What a gift he gave to me.

Monday, November 14, 2016

So, that happened....

Boy, 2016, it's been some year.

We've had some big changes in our house, and, gawd help us, some big changes in our country.

The ascendancy of Trump changes everything.  It changes how I look at my fellow citizens, 24% of whom voted for a known sexual predator, a self-professed racist, and a reasonably incompetent and demonstrably amoral businessman.  It changes my  assumption that I knew what "long" meant when Theodore Parker said "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  It changes my complacency about social and political involvement. 

I could write for days, months, on the effects we're already seeing from the 2016 election.  I might,  but right now I'm still processing this.  Trying to get my feet under me, trying to understand, trying to figure out how to be most effective and support those who are already feeling this seismal shift in our national expression of democracy. 

I. Can't. Even.

So, I'll sequester that for a bit, and think more immediately.

The biggest change for us personally this year is that Firelord accepted an early retirement package last spring.  His high tech employer was reducing their workforce and he qualified for early retirement.  That was way better then those who simply were laid-off.  (He came in one Monday morning and some really excellent engineers were missing.  That certainly didn't encourage him to stay.) We felt the timing was good, we have some savings, the Affordable Care Act meant that we could be insured even if we didn't have an employer's group policy.  Firelord could have some time with our last 2 boys before they leave home for good, give some time to the local Maker Space, think about starting his own business or consulting firm.  I could work on my own pursuits a little more. (You know, after I figured out what my own pursuits might be after all these years of sublimating my personal energy.)  Maybe we could get our house clean. (Shhh.. let a girl have her little fantasies)

Then last Tuesday happened.  He-who-must-not-be-named did what so many of us thought was laughable,  dangerous, impossible.  Today's paper exclaims his new cabinet choices.

I know there are others with bigger more immediate worries.  Compared to our Muslim friends, our black friends and family, our LGBTQ friends and family, we're privileged.  Privileged enough that I sat my boys down and gave each of them another Mama Talk.  We talked about using their privilege for good, the dangers to society (and to their souls) of being a bystander, and how we can safely support each other when we're calling out the forms of bullying.  I hate that I had to do that, I'm ashamed it took so long.  I'm proud that they felt they already knew that.  I'm proud/sad/frightened that Hot Dog chose to wear a safety pin to his pubic school orchestra today. 

I know we're privileged, insulated by our class and my husband's white skin and my ability to (mostly) pass.

Which isn't to say that we're aren't personally affected by this.  Most immediately we no longer can depend on being able to get health insurance when the COBRA runs out.  Stage III cancer is one hell of a pre-existing condition.  The next time I need cancer treatment it could wipe us out. 

We are now looking for ways to make this work.  We'd have to make some serious bank to cover medical costs if we don't have insurance.  Can we do that?  Do we try to start the family business Firelord has in mind?  Does one of us need to go back and work for "the man"?  Which one?  Do I go back to grad school so that I can work (finally) as an engineer?    Dare I write more? Keep up with my volunteer work? 

And can you imagine navigating these changes if you are a person of color in this country?  If you're brown and fellow citizens are shouting at your children to "Go back"?  If your black child comes home from school shaking because a child in her class called her a "nigger"?  These things are happening to people I personally know.

So today I'll remember to be grateful for my 1st world problem of how to get and keep medical insurance, and I'll think about how we can change this country to truly include everyone wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

September/October Books

Masterminds and Wingmen was written by the same gal who wrote Queen Bees and Wanna Bees, and is a similar book.  It gives clueless parents (me) insight into modern boy culture (HotDog).  I don't know that it's as helpful as Queen Bees, but then I never had girls so maybe that wasn't as helpful/insightful as it seemed to me at the time I read it.

I liked what Between the World and Me had to say, but the lack of chapters made it a bit of a run-on sentence  Except for not, because it has sentences and paragraphs, and flowed well.  I just like an easy spot to close a book for a while.

The Raven Boys is the first in a series, and I was please to rediscover than I like Stiefvater.

Octavia Bulter - how did I miss her work all these years?  Luckily book group fixed that, so now I can go find her other stuff.

Feyland was one of those free Kindle books, which can be hit or miss.  This one was mostly a hit.  Nothing particularly literary, but a good read, and hey!  That's what I was looking for.

Buried Destiny is the first in a series by a new author.  It's a paranormal gay romance, I enjoyed it, and gay romance isn't my usual thing.  (Full disclosure, I've known the author since we both had nursing babes, so I might be a bit biased.  Except I'm not, if you like gay paranormal romance, this is a good one.)