Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don't judge me

Please don't judge me, although I deserve it.  I should have learned from experience last year at Brady's preschool open house.  As we parked our car among the many Lexus SUVs, and added our homemade pasta salad to the gourmet picnic spread, I felt a little out of place.  When I tried to join in the conversation of parents who were either professors at the university across the street or were able to be stay at home moms due to a husband's lucrative job, I felt displaced.  And yet, when my sweet boy, oblivious to all the fears and doubts and comparisons that plague me, ran off to meet new friends and find his place, I knew all would be well.  And it has been.  He thrived in a welcoming yet challenging environment.  He entered as a shy follower and emerged as an independent and occasional leader (particularly to his sister, whom he reminds that she needs to learn to put on her own shoes and unpack her own lunch).  He became a big fan of rules, and schedules, and routines, which we had worried about.  He taught himself to read (with lots of support and encouragement), then set new goals for himself.  The school prides itself on creativity and learner-led curriculum.  It is a peaceable school that successfully initiates collaboration between classes and among all age groups.  We started to feel at home.

But we knew it wasn't going to last.  It is a private school, which we can't afford for two kids.  Part of me feels a little elitist and uncomfortable at the thought of private school anyhow.  One of my arguments for buying our current house was that we would be in a relatively good county school system.  But that was before.  This is now.  Today, I sent my precociously bright and creative (and have I mentioned sensitive) son off to kindergarten orientation at his new elementary school.  And I found myself judging...on the other side of the fence.  I'm not proud of it, and I tried not to even speak my concerns, but my husband seemed to know from the look in my eye.  So you might as well see the darkness within me.

-Some school staff, including teachers, were wearing flip flops and tank tops.  I know that means nothing, but now I can understand why my employer stresses our dress code so much.  It does send a message, and not always the one we want to send.  When you're facing worried parents, professionalism helps.

-While they were harping on the school's "wellness program" they mentioned their healthy lunches.  Looking at the menu, I saw chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and some variety of potato for almost every meal.  This was backed up by their PE program, which is facilitated at least 2 or 3 times every two weeks.  (his preschool emphasized free play outside at least 2 times a day and we had to sign a covenant promising to pack a healthy snack and lunch each day as well as emphasizing healthy habits at home).

-Due to standardized testing, we were warned that Kindergarten is not what it used to be and a lot is demanded of our children.  While Brady is bright, I worry that he will lose the joy of learning.  He already knows much of what they said he will learn this year...so will he be able to find his place and be challenged?
 (his former school did not have grades, standardized tests, or homework, but was led by students' goals, a flexible curriculum that met the changing needs and interests of the class, and valued a family's time together)

-I lost count of the number of kids in his class, then looked over and saw 7 remaining name tags of the kids who were absent (I was contacted by his former school, which Maryn will be attending, to ask my permission to raise her class size from 7 to 8).

We are entering a different world, and I'm sure my struggles come from my perceived (or actual) lack of control.  He will be gone all day and I will have little awareness of how his time is spent (although I was assured I could check online to see how his lunch money was spent...as if that's really my big concern).  I will probably not get to read three-days-a-week blog entries from my son's teacher as I have become used to, or visit often and get to know his friends and classmates.  While parents seem welcome in the school, they're not as dependent on parental help as his small "community" school was.  I barely even caught his teacher's name today, and know nothing about her although she looked as nervous as I felt.  Perhaps that should give me greater compassion instead of fear.

But then he ran off to join his new classmates, without even a look back, as is his style.  I came back early to catch him running freely and with excitement on the playground.  He told me little about his morning, noting the library was his favorite part of the school and that he got to ride a bus around the parking lot.  His sister asked, "Did you sit in a seat next to your best friend?" and he answered, "I don't have any friends there...yet," with all the confidence a 5-year-old can muster.  Maryn answered, "Well, I'm your friend, and I want to go to kindergarten, too!"

I have so much to learn from these sweet kids...

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