Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Farthest Star

One of the my favorite things about the girls' elementary school is the way the teachers and staff involve the parents in the education of the children. The school hosts several events at school throughout the year, and the teachers often invite parents to participate in activities in the classroom and to work on projects at home. The staff also encourages parents to volunteer and visit the classrooms and be an active part of the learning process. I really feel our school is successful because of this type of parent involvement.

Kiki's 3rd grade teacher recently assigned the parents "homework", asking us to write an encouraging letter to our child, to help boost her confidence during the week of
ISTEP testing (Indiana's assessment tests for school children). Bill and I took this homework very seriously, as we wanted to help encourage Kiki without making her too nervous. She already tends to be a "Nervous Nellie" when it comes to assessments and tests, so we wanted to do what we could to ease her mind.

I couldn't believe how tough of an assignment this was. I write Kiki and Boo notes all of the time and put them in their lunchboxes. I am forever giving them pep talks and doing what I can to make sure they feel confident in their intellectual ability. I often tell them things like "You will do great" or "I know you can do it" before they have a test or when they are working on a project for school. So why was this so hard? Maybe because we wanted to find just the right words, knowing she would likely read that letter over and over again.

Bill and I talked about what we wanted to convey in our letter, and then I sat down to write it. At first I just sat there and didn't know exactly what to write. But as I thought about my beautiful, smart, 3rd grade daughter, I couldn't believe all she had accomplished in her short nine years! My heart filled with pride, and the words started flowing from my mind with ease.

Here is what we wrote:

"We are so lucky to have you in our lives. We are so proud of all you have accomplished in your 9 years and are especially proud of what a great student you are. You work so hard everyday and are a great example to others, including your sister.

ISTEP is your chance to show off all you’ve learned this year. Relax, take your time, and just do your personal best, just as you do everyday. We know you will do great!

We love you all the way to the false planet Pluto and back a million times!"

Kiki didn't tell me when she read her letter. I knew the teacher would be handing out the letters sometime during the first couple of days of testing week. A couple of nights into testing week, after the girls were in bed, I found an envelope addressed to me in Kiki's handwriting on my bathroom sink. Bill found a similar letter on top of his computer keyboard in his office. We knew that meant she had read our letter.

As you can imagine, those few sentences we wrote meant the world to her. She loved the letter so much, she keeps it in her desk at school where she can read it anytime she needs a little boost to get her through the day. I also keep her letter near my desk, right there and ready for when I am needing my own boost:

"Dear Mommy,

I love you a whole bunch! Thank you for that nice letter. It made me so happy that I cried a little bit. I am so happy that you are in my life. Every morning I read the letter that you and Daddy wrote me. I love you up to the farthest star from home and back to you. "


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Nothing to Lose

My girls love music and art. They are constantly singing, dancing and creating. Boo especially loves art and is constantly crafting. She is forever getting out art supplies and cutting, gluing, drawing - you name it, she loves it. Boo couldn't wait for 1st grade so she could attend "specials," and finally be able to go to art class like her big sister. If you ask her what her favorite thing about school is, she will tell you without blinking an eye, "art." She enjoys music too, and will sing often, but art is definitely her favorite.

Kiki is definitely the more musical child. She sings nonstop and just about anywhere and everywhere. I am not exaggerating when I say everywhere - the child sings while using the bathroom! Her new favorite place to sing right now? In the shower! She loves music class at school and I can always tell you what they are doing in music because she will come home singing the songs she's learned in class. When they have a special event they learning songs for, such as the Veteran's Day assembly, she rehearses every chance she gets. By the time the event comes, I could practically sing the songs in my sleep, I've heard them so much. While Kiki enjoys art, she would tell you music is her favorite.

The art and music teachers at their school are wonderful. Both of them really know how to make their subject fun, but also teach the students valuable skills that relate to what they are learning in the regular classroom. They don't just sing and draw, but the learn all about technique, patterns, reading notes, art mediums, composers and artists. I could go on and on. Just recently Kiki told me her favorite classical music song was Beethoven's 5th Symphony and she knew and could pronounce the composer's name of The Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky, in case you didn't know). And she's only in third grade.

I can't imagine school without art and music class. These subjects, while enjoyable, also help make our children well rounded. They learn that math can be found in a song or a painting and not just in a textbook. Music makes learning those subjects more fun too - anyone learning to count or spell with a song can tell you that. And for a child who may struggle in math or reading, excelling at something such as art or music can really boost self esteem, which goes along way to helping them succeed in school.

Due to slowing economy and budget cuts, our school district, and many others across the state, may have to cut art and music in grades K-6. We may also lose our media specialists, nurses and clerical staff. Class sizes may increase from and average of 25 to 44 students. When I first heard of this last week, my heart sank. I felt sick to my stomach. And I am not even one of the teachers that may be affected by those cuts. Just the thought of my girls and all of the students missing out on such important education, makes me sad. I want to cry when I think of losing the loving and dedicated art, music and media teachers.

I have a college degree in Education. I've never been fortunate enough to have my own classroom, but I've subbed, was a teacher's aide for a student with special needs, and I now volunteer regularly in my daughters' classrooms. I know how hard these teachers work every day and that they often go above and beyond for their students. I see the passion these teachers have at our school for educating our youth. Despite the fact that they have 25-30 kids in their classrooms, they manage to help each student the best that they can. They do what they can to make sure students who are struggling get extra help, and challenge everyone to do their personal best.

I can't imagine how difficult teaching will be if there are 44 students to a classroom. How are they are going to be able to focus on making sure kids can read, write and add and also find time to teach art and music? If they manage to find a way to the media center, they will likely only be checking out books. There won't be anyone to teach them lessons on the computer or involve them in an author study.

I am not a politician and I don't particularly like politics. Part of my disdain is that politicians of all shapes and sizes say they are going to make education a priority in this country. Yet every single one of them seems to put it on the back burner the second they are elected into office. Our schools are losing money by the day and no one seems to care. Everything else takes a priority, and I just don't get it. When are people going to realize education is our future? That none of the rest of it would happen if we didn't have teachers and schools to help educate our children. Sure we could all home school. I know there are some really great parents who have had great experiences homeschooling their children. But not everyone has the means or ability to home school. Even with my background, I am not so confident that I could do so and be as successful as the classroom teachers are.

Our country is failing when it comes to education, and something has got to change. Education is becoming for the privileged, and everyone else is left to get by on whatever they can afford. Which for most means no special classes, no opportunities to learn about music, art and technology.

I hear so many people say they don't want tax increases, that they can't afford to spend money on schools and education. And of course not nearly enough people want to devote time to figuring out a solution. Politicians are too busy campaigning to really come up with a good education plan that they will implement past election day. I keep hearing "we can't afford it." My question is, can we afford to continue this way? Can we neglect our children and schools to the point that our country falls apart? By devoting our money and resources to improving education, we have everything to gain. As a country, we could only get better. Seriously, what is there to lose?