Monday, June 06, 2005

sweet victory

Today I did what many dream of, but few ever accomplish: I beat the bureaucracy.

The cutoff date for kindergarten registration in our school district is Oct. 15. Children born after that are out of luck, and must wait another year to attend kindergarten. The same date holds true for children who are entering first grade. Since Evangeline's birthday is two weeks later, I have been assured by dozens of petty bureaucrats that she would be in kindergarten next year, despite having completed kindergarten in a homeschool setting.

Today I proved them wrong. I have lost track of how many people I've called, but they range from the guidance counselor at the Lord Stirling School, where she would have attended school, to an official in the state Department of Education. I read the riot act to administrators at the charter school, and I read it again to the administrators in the public school district, but I finally got my message through: She has completed kindergarten. There is no reason for her to repeat it.

They listened -- thank God, or bene swa l'etenal, as they say in Haiti -- they actually listened. I have a letter from the superintendent of schools in our district accepting her kindergarten experience as valid, which means that she qualifies for first grde.

She'll be the youngest child in her grade next year, I expect, but she'll be in the grade that she's ready for, and she probably will have had a better kindergarten experience than her classmates. She can read chapter books now, speak a little Spanish, and has read fairy tales from all over the world, as well as everything else we've done with her.

Thank God the fight is over. Thank God I won.

Now I just wish they didn't all hate me.

The charter school itself runs from kindergarten through eighth grade and relies on heavy parental involvement. It operates multigrade classrooms -- Evangeline's is kindergarten through second grade -- and it has a big emphasis on the arts. Students in the upper grades this year just did a movie in conjunction with a grant from Lucasfilm.

Essentially, the school combines the advantages of homeschooling, such as learning at your own pace, individualized curriculum and flexibility, with the economies of scale of public schooling, like having a larger support staff, greater resources and other children to interact with socially. I'm sure that it also creates problems unique to a charter school setting, but I don't know yet what those are.

A friend of mine whose son went to the charter school for a couple years tells me that the guiding philosophy of the school is humanistic, which really comes as no surprise to me. To be honest, as long as they teach the kids to think for themselves -- or if they don't encourage it but at least allow it -- I'll be happier with it than I would with a Christian school, which usually teaches a fair amount of arrogance and unquestioning accept-what-you're-told thinking.

I told Evangeline that she would be going there next year, but I don't think it's entirely sunk in. Still, when we visited the school a couple weeks ago for an arts show it had in the halls and we started to get a feel for just how great a deal this was going to be, she did ask if she could start going to school there the next day, which unfortunately was a Saturday, so the answer was no for two reasons.

In many ways, I'd like it if Evangeline could continue to homeschool, as she definitely has benefited from it this year. She's reading at a third-grade level, we think, writes well, and has pretty much mastered simple addition. She's about to tackle subtraction soon too.

We've studied botany, hurricanes, electrify and magnetism, and various on-the-spot things about inertia, Newton's laws of motion and other oddball science that comes to mind, plus the field trips we've taken to places of interest scientifically and historically.

She's learned a lot about the American Revolution, and has had a decent exposure to the Spanish language, and has received more advanced gymnastics and art training than she would have received in a public school kindergarten. Music is probably about the same.

All this was done without the benefit of an actual curriculum. If we had had the money to actually buy a copy of a used curriculum, I can only imagine what she would have learned.

Unfortunately, Evangeline hates being homeschooled. Absolutely hates it. She doesn't hate being with me, and she doesn't hate being with her sister. What she hates is not being with other kids her age. Evangeline attended preschool for two years at Somerset Presbyterian Preschool, and she loved that.

She thrived in the preschool setting, with the other children, and she thrives in the gymnastics and arts classes where she other children to interact with. She has complained on a regular basis that she would rather be with other children her age, sometimes quite vehemently.

And so we enrolled her in the charter school, and so I fought for her to be in a more appropriate grade, even though that grade marking largely will come into play only if we move at some point and have to transfer her records to another school someplace else.

It may be that partway through first grade, Evangeline will realize that she had it made in homeschool, and we'll have to discuss withdrawing her from the school for homeschooling in the second grade. I don't know. We'll have to see.

That she is going to the charter school for first grade, of course, does not mean that I am through teaching her. I am not. We're going to continue many of our activities, go on field trips and whatever else we can, particularly during holidays and the summer season. I wouldn't be surprised if we continue with some academic lessons after school ends. (I plan to continue stuff over the next three months while regular school is out, as it is, albeit with a fair amount of flexibility to allow for day-to-day summer activity.)

But that's all in the future. Today, we beat the system, and that's enough.

Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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