Friday, March 14, 2008

second thoughts

Evangeline and I had a long talk this afternoon about school and how dissatisfied she's become with it.

A few weeks ago, Rachel had asked Evangeline whether she preferred being homeschooled, or attending the charter school. Since she had felt so isolated from other children while she was homeschooled and was so thrilled to attend a real school, I was floored when Evangeline answered, "There's some good and bad for each." Today when I picked her up from school, she asked a question or two about whether there would be an advantage in going back to homeschool, academically speaking.

So, once we were all home, the two of us went out for a walk around the university campus, and had a long, honest talk about our options for her education, and what the merits and pitfalls were of each.

Essentially, here's what she told me about the charter school: She likes seeing her friends at school, she enjoys recess, and she likes to eat lunch. She also likes her teacher, but she's bored by the reading and language arts part of her work plan, is not challenged by her math section, and remembers going over the latest science lesson (on the water cycle) with me when she was in kindergarten. The homework is more challenging, but that's because she's getting the homework for fourth- and fifth-graders, and even then, it's only the math that's more challenging, and she generally is mastering those concepts quickly. The biggest challenge she's having with it is getting it all done, because it's so voluminous.

What she misliked about homeschooling was that most of her time was with me and her younger sister. Play dates were hard to come by, because the co-op we hooked up with was based in Princeton, and none of the other kids was local for us. Otherwise, she remembers being interested, reading some good books, and learning all sorts of new things. (I was starting her on multiplcation when she began first grade.)

And even though she didn't use the word "voluminous," that still seems articulate for an 8-year-old.

We started weighing the pros and cons together, and I told her that if she were to transfer out of the charter school for fourth grade, that she still could see her friends -- but she wouldn't see them every day, and probably not even every week, although she would always be welcome to call them and initiate a playdate or sleepover if she wanted. And of course, there's no guarantee that she could transfer back in later on if she decided she regretted her decision, because spaces for the upper grades become available only if someone doesn't stay in, and you can't count on that.

On the flip side, there is a very active homeschooling group here in the Nova Bastille area that we have learned about. Rachel and I go to weekly co-op events with varying degrees of structure and activities, and there are other activities in the area besides that one, including a 4-H homeschooling group that we really haven't been involved with, because it conflicts with when we pick Evangeline up from school.

And we can always supplement the last music and P.E. with private lessons and musician studies of our own, along with sports participation, which we'd like her to do anyway.

I also mentioned the possbility of attending a private school, but cautioned her that attending one would depend on a scholarship and finding one that was good, since there's no guarantee we'd find one that we like or that will keep her challenged and interested. She was intrigued by the notion of a Catholic school, but I figure that's probably because she's never attended one. (I did, for a year.)

She decided she wants to keep her options right now -- combination of smarts, I think, and plain old reluctance to make a decision and commit to a course of action -- but we're going to explore our options and see what exactly is out there. I don't feel inclined to enroll her at the nearby Christian school in Piscataway because of the distance and because I have a pretty dim view of Christian schools in general, but I suppose I should check it out and see if they're using some abominable curriculum by A Beka or Bob Jones University before I rule it out completely.

In the meantime, as a board member at the charter school, I'm going to push really hard for the school to put more effort into retaining gifted, talented, and high-performing students. We do a good job of meeting the needs of kids who need basic skills instruction, who don't speak English at home, or who have special education needs, and we do all right with kids who fall squarely in the middle of the bell-curve distribution, but I'm not the only parent who has felt dissatisfied with the program where exceptionally bright children are concerned. If we're going to retain them through eighth grade, which I would think we would want, we're going to need to do more to make it worth their while to stay.


Gary Barker is a good charter school. It's one of the best in Iowa, to be honest. We use the Montessori model of education, so a lot of the learning is student-directed. Evangeline theoretically can go at her own pace, pick projects to work on that she's interested, and find the learning style that engages her the most. But she is so far out of the middle that the school doesn't really seem to know what to do with her.

It's frustrating, because if she doesn't feel engaged, she won't want to stick with it.

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