Friday, May 25, 2012

Choosing Schools

When we started our house search last year, we narrowed down the search areas in order to keep our kids in the same school. Ironically, it is that decision to move that has ultimately prompted us to change schools for next year.

The home we ended up falling in love with is in a wonderful community in a consistently top-rated public school district, with a large, growing, and vibrant parish school nearby. The closest public elementary is about two minutes from our house. The parish school is three minutes away (almost exactly one mile). Add another six minutes worth of drive time and we come to two more good parish schools. The independent Catholic school our kids have attended is about 20 minutes away, closer to 30 in rush hour. But for the first half of the school year, we didn't seriously consider moving schools.

We knew our youngest would have a rough transition from daycare into a highly-structured pre-k program. Add the house move during the second week of school, and I'm impressed the kid didn't implode. He actually held up really well, in my opinion. We had some potty challenges to overcome. He is potty trained, but due to his assortment of bowel surgeries and non-standard musculature "down there", he has more trouble than the average kid. That is never a good start.

Then his pre-k teacher told us that he was hard to understand and probably needed speech therapy. That was a bit of a shocker to me, personally. I could understand my son perfectly. In fact, he had been speaking in long paragraphs with multi-syllable words for quite a while. But after I thought about it, I realized that I was frequently repeating his words to others so they could understand him. Our school district evaluated his hearing and speech and found that he did, indeed, qualify for speech therapy. He also failed their hearing screening.

He eventually failed three hearing screenings from the school district. We didn't fully count the first two results because of ear infections (our little guy has a history of many, hard-to-kill ear infections). But the results were confirmed by our pediatrician, who referred us to an ENT, who diagnosed him with temporary hearing loss due to persistent fluid build up behind the ear drums. In four months of speech lessons, his intelligibility has markedly improved.

Meanwhile, we had another conference with the pre-k teacher who began the conversation with "Would you give him the gift of another year in pre-k?".  That just floored me. She went on to show us his "academic" work--he knew every letter, every sound, every number, could count to 30 or higher...can you see my confusion?

I have a child who is, in all likelihood, gifted. He had been evaluated by Parents as Teachers since babyhood and consistently tracked as a kid one or two years older than himself. When I started researching the characteristics and needs of gifted kids, it was like a chorus of angels singing (hokey, I know, but when you get one of those "aha" moments, sometimes those silly cliches are true). And I wasn't grasping at straws here--as a kid, I personally was evaluated and deemed "gifted", my husband likely is too, as are all four of my sisters (if not officially across the gifted mark, then certainly way up there on the IQ scale). I'm not qualified to make that determination for my children, but I read articles like this, and am pretty convinced.

Back to T-man and the question of holding him back from entering Kindergarten. He has a March birthday, so is "young". We realized that much of his pre-k class are actually old for the year. Many turned five before the school year started (our son just turned five this spring). My son is also small, physically. That's not due to developmental reasons. Its pure genetics.  My son has been consistently bigger and taller than his older sister when you compare their growth charts, but he is still at the bottom of the scale for boys.

So his classmates were taller, older, heard better, and spoke better than he did.  The teachers called his social/emotional development immature. There might be a good reason for that. He is difficult to motivate if he isn't excited about an activity, but when he gets engaged in an activity, it is difficult to get him to let it go before he has mastered it to his own satisfaction. I can well understand why he is a handful when sitting in a classroom full of children who are eager to please the teacher.

Eventually, the current school decided that they would accept our son for Kindergarten next year. But the whole conflict had already sent us researching our options. From the local highly-rated public school system (with actual gifted education options), to multiple nearby religious and independent schools, we have lots of options. Lots. I toured the nearby parish school. They do have an out-of-classroom program for advanced kids. They also have a big student body and still offer the option of half-day or full-day kindergarten, expecting that some of their youngest students will need extra social/emotional nurturing the first year. They have band and art and sports and after-school foreign language classes, and really most of the same offerings that our existing school has. 

And they are three minutes from our house. Our children spend most of an hour every day in the car, commuting to/from school. Next year, they will have about 10 minutes a day. And the parish school draws from the local neighborhoods, where the independent school drew kids from a much wider area, making playdates difficult to arrange.

Our daughter has done wonderfully at her current school and is sad to leave. She had her First Communion this year, and got to dance the Maypole during the May Crowning at school and I've been her Girl Scout leader for the year (something for me, personally, to feel sad about leaving behind). She has bloomed academically this year too--I suspect she is also gifted, though in slightly different ways than her brother. Her talents include a lot of deep insightful thinking, which tends to work really well in a classroom setting.

This is the right decision for our whole family for now.

I can't predict whether this will be our last choice of school. Perhaps we will be with the parish school until both children have moved on to high school. Perhaps we will re-evaluate after only a few years. I hope that we will not regret the decision, but somehow it seems that the events of the past year keep leading us down this path. Yes, I do believe that sometimes there are larger forces at work in our lives, leading us to where we belong.

1 comment:

Kathy G said...

It sounds like you've really weighed all the options and came up with the right answer for your family. Good luck!