Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

School

Every Child Left Behind

Posted on Apr 4, 2011 in Featured, School |

Every Child Left Behind

I want so badly to write a post about the No Child Left Behind Act that is tearing into schools and communities throughout California. I want to write about angry parents and saddened kids and politics of the whole thing. But in all honesty, it’s just too maddening a subject to write about. I don’t understand how we Americans could have allowed a bill into effect that could cause so much damage to all children.

No Child Left Behind seems to help no one. It doesn’t help the high performers, the midline performers or even the low performers it’s designed to aid. NCLB seems to attack the very notion of Darwinism. Who let this obscene form of standardized hell for children come into our schools?

I want to write what I’ve been hearing statewide for months: Why can’t there just be smart kids and dumb kids and kids in the middle? Why can’t we have support for all of our kids? Why do all of our needs have to go to the children who will never prove to excel academically no matter what kind of services we pour into them Why? Because there are smart kids and dumb kids and most kids who fall somewhere in the middle. It’s not pretty, but this is what’s being said on playgrounds from Sacramento to San Diego.

But I can’t write that.

Somehow I’m encouraged and paid to write about Earth Day, skin care products and diet options. But I can’t write about what matters right now. Right now I can’t write about political decision that affected every child I know. The fallout for NCLB in California is like effects of a tsunami, barreling through our communities and leaving disaster everywhere. Families that can leave public school are leaving in droves for private education, home prices are so out of whack because of the schools that we find ourselves trapped, unable to leave and unable to stay in public schools. It would be unpopular to write about the clear racism that stems from NCLB, where the Hispanic kids in California are seen as the little rodents that our dragging our schools down because they were not raised speaking English and have a higher likelihood of being underprivileged.

I can’t write about how painful No Child Left Behind is for the middle-of-the-road kids, or, how kids with true potential are falling through the cracks right before our very eyes because all of the support services goes to the underperformers. I can’t write about how frustrating it is to see midline children in need of a little boost get no support at all. I can’t write about the high-level performers who also receive no support or learning services of any kind.

What are parents left to do? Fight? Fight whom? Fight for what? And which battle should we fight first?

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The Truant Mom

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 in Featured, School |

The Truant Mom

I remember rambling along in a long yellow bus filled with 60 second and third graders heading to the La Brea Tar Pits. Another month, another trip to see and touch the history, social science and life we’d been learning about in school. I saw tide pools, art exhibits at LACMA, Olvera Street and more. Learning used to include a vital tactile element. Today, my kids learn to test, not learn to learn. And certainly with the sad, sorry state of California schools, we are not teaching or learning for the benefit of building a whole child.

I refuse to allow my children’s education to be reduced to filling in bubble exams. Call me truant. I’m not going to stand for a lesser education for my kids because the California economy has held our schools hostage, reducing their  education to test taking frenzies.

So. I’m a truant mom, taking my kids’ education into my own hands and taking advantage monthly to support their public school education with what used to be best practices:  Shark “hunting” at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fleet Week tour of military ships in San Francisco, a hands-on experience of planets and space at the Academy of Sciences, building claymation videos at Zeum to demonstrate art and computer science, and, the Impressionists exhibit at the DeYoung museum yesterday.

I’m not a home schooling type. It’s not my thing; it’s not the kids’ thing. But yesterday… yesterday was magic. We named our day: GO-GONE (in nod to Gauguin). Here’s how we spent the day:

8 a.m. — Spell out Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin for kids and have them research the artists they will see today. We used Yahoo! Kids to do the research.

9 a.m. — Draw and paint. Kids used Impressionist book to gain inspiration on drawing. We made paper airplanes and banners using colors of the artists. We talked about cubism — how a cone can be a tree and a circle its fruit. We drew what we thought was cubist in style.

10 a.m. — Meeting! We ate French crepes at a patisserie nearby in honor of the Muse d’Orsay (where the Impressionist collection is on loan from), and discussed one thing about each artist we knew. We cut out pictures of our favorite things we wanted to see. Van Gogh was the most popular: Sunflowers, Starry Night, the Artist’s Room. The kids knew that Cezanne had two sisters: Maria and Rose (my aunt and mother’s names, respectively). These tiny tidbits of information excited them.

11 a.m. — We head to the bookstore to find kid-friendly books on impressionist artists. Two books of Van Gogh led the kids to be bounding around the store talking about the Sunflowers and can’t wait to get to see them later today.

2 p.m. — The De Young exhibit is packed. The kids get their own maps, their own audio tour head sets (Thing 1 called it the “Mini DJ”). They hit the exhibit with excitement. One piece by another Impressionist featured a straw hat. My kid told me, “This is by Van Gogh.” When I told him it wasn’t, he told me, “Then why is Van Gogh’s hat in the bottom right corner of the painting?” A man standing nearby tapped me on the shoulder, “You have got to be kidding!,” he told me. I beamed — beamed! — with pride.

4 p.m. — We write stories on our Un Dia del Museo — an essay in Spanish on our day at the museum. Words come flowing from the kids — writing pouring from their minds to the page.

My babies fell into bed last night, exhausted and filled-up with colors and images and textures drifting them to sleep quickly. I am reminded again that parenthood cannot afford to be a complacent role. I literally saw my children learning by observance, growing from experience and applying their in-school learnings to real world beauty. I’m a truant mom. And I’m okay with that.

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Mama Bear Pounces on Unsuspecting Teacher

Posted on Sep 23, 2010 in Featured, Rants, School |

Mama Bear Pounces on Unsuspecting Teacher

I can see the headline now, “Mama Bear Pounces on Unsuspecting Teacher” with a horrific tale of a mother at wits-end with her child’s teacher. It’s not pretty. Trust me, because you’re looking at Mama Bear. Rowr.

I’ve been wondering what’s going on with my Thing 1, a normally fun-loving, silly, smart, smartass, school-loving kid. About a week after school started he began to refer to himself as “bad,” started lying, getting in trouble at school almost every day and yelling at his friends. At home, his regular excitement for school was replaced with silence. Something was wrong. I asked the doctor, talked to friends and to my Thing. Why the seismic shift? Somehow for all my investigation into what could be bothering my child, it never occurred to me that it was his new teacher that would be the cause.  And when it hit me — it hit me. Hard.

In a fit of frustration, I pounced on the poor woman. I screamed and pointed and cried. I smashed my hand into my fist and went off on her, “YOU are the reason my child is unhappy. You know what’s wrong with him? YOU! YOU!” Oh, that was just the beginning. I went completely off-the-deep-end. After 10 minutes, I left, exhausted and frustrated. She had said nothing.

Somehow, the mystery had clicked for me and I was mad as hell. I — who writes strategic marketing plans for school programs for fun, who worships my kids’ teachers and promotes their school and their programs like it’s a full-time job — completely let-loose. Never mind that this woman is a  seasoned, highly regarded teacher with a stellar reputation.  I was the mama bear protecting her baby and there was nothing that was going to stop me from letting this woman know how I felt.

I went home and was sorry. Not sorry that I’d finally gotten to the bottom of what was going on with my kid, but sorry that I’d spoken to someone with such passion. I wrote an apology note immediately, but you and I both know, an apology at that point is worthless, I caused more damage than she could have ever done to my kid. I am now going to be known as the crazy mom that went off on her kid’s teacher.

The next day I read about the father who had boarded a school bus to defend his daughter being bullied. The normally upstanding guy with a nice family and good home simply lost it. He told CNN the next day: “She finally opened up and told me what was going on,” Jones said. “And from there, you know, being a dad just loving my daughter … and just loving all my kids, you know. … [At] that point, my heart broke when I [saw] her standing there … [she] wasn’t going to get on the bus crying. And a dad is a dad. And I was going to be her protector that day.”

I can relate. Truly. My feelings as a mom overruled any logical, reasonable behavior I could have mustered. I truly feel for James Jones as a parent and as a dad who was overcome by the need to protect his child. I feel for him as a parent who must apologize, like I did, for behavior unbecoming to any upstanding person. I feel for him as a man who made a bad situation worse, because that’s just what I did. I made it about me, not about the issue.

There is something carnal about parents and their children. Maybe it’s instinct to protect or an overwhelming sense of responsibility to make their lives as happy and peaceful as they can possibly be. Maybe it’s a chemical reaction that bears have to their cubs — keeping danger at bay with all the ferociousness they can muster. Maybe I’m just a mom.

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A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

Posted on Sep 20, 2010 in Featured, School |

A Little Montessori Goes a Long Way

If I could send my kids to The Waldorf of the Peninsula school, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I believe with my whole parenting self, that giving my children the freedom to find joy in their learning, the power of overcoming their fears and the strength of education is one of the greatest things I’ll do with my life. But education philosophy and budgets rarely match up. At $12,000 – $20,000 per year, per child, my hopes of my children being educated in the  Montessori philosophy are all but gone.

As the public school system in San Jose continues to decline to dangerously low funding, I find our school’s programs being cut — science, art, athletics — key cornerstones to a well-rounded childhood education. And, thanks to the not-even-remotely-helpful No Child Left Behind Act, our public school teachers are trapped by having to teach to test, not teach to learn. Even the greatest teachers around (ours included), can’t fight off an economy in peril and a broken school system. Teachers find themselves sneaking in art and music, wiggling around systems to find some creativity in their teaching and eek out moments of 1:1 time with kids.

Meanwhile, across town, for the cost of some family annual paychecks, children are learning by touch and feel and movement. Their worlds are filled with peace and balance and a basic belief that their brains are developing just as they should. It’s hard not to hate them. I want my kids to have that freedom to learn, despite our inability to pay $30,000 annually. I’ve thought about this a lot. If I cut our lifestyle down, could we afford Montessori? If I:

Gave up wine: $200/month or $2,400 a year. Nope, not even close.

Gave up organic food: $150/month or $1,800 a year. Why would I give up feeding my family organically?

Gave up both @la_gringa’s and my iPhones: $250/month or $3,000 a year. That won’t work.

If I went from full-time flexible consulting to completely full-time in-house, we’d be able to pull it off, but then, I’d need a nanny, aftercare and, most of all, wouldn’t be there to participate in the rearing of my own children’s lives. That might work for them, but what’s the trade off for having no mommy face-time?

After a year of jealousy, I’ve decided to bring a little Montessori to our home — if we can’t go to a developmental private school, the least I can do is bring a bit of it home to my kids. Although my plan is just coming into action, I’m finding Thing 1 and Thing 2 to be fully engaged in the new system. I’ve started with manipulatives: putting odd things in their art cart — a strange shaped item, a tool they don’t know how to use, a giant vacuum cleaner box. Next, I’ve planned time in their day to let them explore these things and others that they find interesting. When I take down barriers to activities, the kids seem to really respond. Answers that used to be no have turned to yes. Questions like “Can I make myself an Aztec warrior?” are answered with “Of course you can.” So far, I can’t believe how creative the kids have been, how receptive they are to failure, trial and error.

Next on the agenda is to loosen the physical restraints we put on our kids. A Montessori kid I know can climb trees all the way to the top. She has no fear. She’ll sit at the top of the tree, eat a snack and watch the world go by. I’ve seen other parents completely freak out at this kid (and her parents), but somehow I get it. This girl is in no more danger of falling out of a tree as others are from falling off a bike, or getting a concussion from a linebacker’s tackle. I want my children to reach for freedoms physically. Yesterday I told my daughter to go outside and climb a tree. She looked at me like I was nuts, and then, went and did it. A half-hour later she ran back inside, showing off her scraped hands and knees — “I was in the tree!,” she said, proudly.

Finances can keep us from attending private Montessori schools, but not from offering our kids the freedoms to explore the world the way they want and need to.  I’m working to get to the place where our home is full of  structured freedom — enough room to find their own way and enough structure to help them get there.

Three of my newbie tools:

Montessori for Everyone Blog

Children of the Universe book

Journey to Montessori Elementary video

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Bilingualism is Inevitable, So What’s the Problem?

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 in Featured, School |

Bilingualism is Inevitable, So What’s the Problem?

The kids sang and celebrated, paper painted signs hung from the balcony and Colombian music played in the courtyard. From where I stood, this was one heck of a celebration — our teacher had been named the California Bilingual Educator of the Year! I couldn’t stop smiling and watching the Latino children playing and dancing with their white-faced buddies, completely unaware of the minefield around them. Overheard in the hum of the singing and dancing was a parent blurting out, “You’d think we were the minority here,” while another across the yard was heard saying, “It’s not Cinco de Mayo, is it?”

Well, Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Whites are the minority at our San Jose Unified school, just like other awesome schools in the area, including the renowned Cupertino school district where the Asian population far surpasses that of the white community. And, many of these children are learning in two languages like their European counterparts who master at least bilingualism by age 12. Having children who are bilingual statistically leads to all kind of rad stuff — from advanced math skills, music comprehension and higher AP scores. It leads children to be multi-cultural too. You can bet my half-Mexican butt that no parent with children enrolled in Two Way Bilingual Immersion would ever consider saying the derogatory kind of things parents are overheard saying. What is the problem?

I started my children in Spanish Immersion in Kindergarten. I expected a delay in language skills. Instead my children read at over 90 percent comprehension in both English and Spanish on advanced levels. I expected a lack of integration with schoolmates not enrolled in the Spanish Immersion program. Instead I found my children to be playground ambassadors. I expected my children to resent learning in Spanish when neighborhood buddies got off easy and learned in English only. Instead, my children tout their Spanish-language learning as an elite class.

Of all the things I expected, the backlash from parents unhappy with the Spanish Immersion program at their school was not only unexpected, it was shocking. As a parent, I find myself between two worlds: that where my neighborhood mommies drink Starbucks and get their nails done, and, those neighborhood mommies who wipe the floors at night at the same shops in order to make rent. I find myself championing for a culture that seems as much a part of our community as the other. I live in Limbo between these two worlds.

I’m no fool. I understand that socio-economic status and ethnicity go hand-in-hand here in San Jose and that it’s the expendable-income families that truly make the school go-round. They offer intellectual wealth beyond their financial wealth. They are educated and value education. They contribute time, treasure and talent. Those things are the differentiators at our school that make it a great place to be. Here, in a state where public education is suffering exponentially, we rely incredibly heavily on the families that have something to spare. Our children’s futures rely on it.

But the truth is this: California has nearly as many Spanish-speakers as English-speakers. We are becoming a bilingual state. What else is true is that many Latino families in San Jose just can’t give to their schools in the same way we can. There are few gifts that English-learning families can offer to our local schools. They don’t have the time to give (two jobs!) or the treasure to give. But there is talent to give. And one of those things is helping our English-only children learn Spanish fluently. It’s a special and important way these families can give back to their community, their school, their classmates.

I truly do not understand why bilingual education in San Jose isn’t more embraced. What can be the downside? Better educated, more well-rounded, bilingual, biliterate, bicultured children? I’ll take that risk.

Original post to SV Moms Blog.

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A Good Guy for a Good Cause

Posted on Nov 27, 2009 in Giving, Holidays, School |

As many of you know, our annual Community Tree Lighting Ceremony  is Thursday, December 3 at 6:30 p.m. As more of you know, I nearly lost my skull worried over the actual *lighting* of the tree. It’s a bad economy, we all know it. But no lit tree in our town? Really, I need a scotch just thinking of it.

But the tree will be lit and the community will have it’s tradition. This year, we won’t be using a cherry picker or crane to hang our lights —instead, Straun Edwards, arborist and owner of Trees 360 Degrees will deck the tree by doing what he does best: climbing! Our angel wears spikes in his shoes and is a whopping  6-foot-8.

Tomorrow my tree lighting angel will hang the lights. You know where I live? Then come out to see Straun 45-feet sky-high in the neighborhood tree tomorrow at our local elementary school.  That’s right, Mr. Edwards’ donation is to *litearlly* climb the giant fir tree outside the school to hang the lights for the tree during the holidays.

We fly home tomorrow to watch Straun climb the tree (kids are freaking out, they think he is SpiderMan). I’m grateful to him beyond what he knows for a cause more important that he could ever guess.

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