Thursday, May 05, 2005

Public school

She only actually got to 200. I guess something else got her attention, or maybe she just realized how boring it was. She was, however, concerned about not losing her place and decided to leave the dictionary open to the page she was on. I checked later and sure enough, she was on page 398 (she was counting physical pages, not the page faces as they are numbered.) Fortunately, she was also on "K" and "L" so if she notices I eventually closed the book & put it away I can redeem myself. Apparently there aren't that many words that start with "K" in Spanish, so it gets a page (397) all to itself. Then "L" begins on the facing page. Much more popular letter.

Right. So today there was a parents' meeting at the kindergarten. Most of it was about preventing burns. The teacher recently received some training that made a big impression on her and she dedicated a whole week to the topic with the kids. Then she got the parents in to tell us about it. Very good.

At the end, there was some general class business to discuss: four special events (three with costumes required) in the next two weeks, etc.

And she wanted to talk about homework. She sends little homework pages home on Fridays, and reminded us all that they are to be completed by the children, not the parents. She pointed out that she spends a lot of time with the kids, and that she knows what they're capable of and can tell when the parents do the sheets for them. Okay, I'm with her there. The thing is, it's hard to really understand just where a parent might get involved with these sheets. We're talking color in the big number three, then color in the three bunnies next to it. Well, okay, then they were supposed to trace the number three a couple of times.

Hey y'all, remember when Robin started writing her own name? It was when she got that big Magna-Doodle (thanks Lorena!) for her birthday. When she turned two. Well, okay maybe she didn't actually start right when she got it. Let's say she was three. Now they're trying hard to teach her the numbers 1 to 10. Hell, Julia gets up to 17 before she starts going in circles. (Although she doesn't recognize them in writing.) (At least I don't think she does.)

Some time last year Robin came up to me and said, "You know what I think I need? I need to know what each letter sounds like. If I knew the sound each letter makes, I think I would be able to read."

And you know what I did? Absolutely nothing. I can't teach her to read. She was bored last year in her kindergarten/pre-K mixed classroom because she wasn't learning anything new. Now she's actually IN kindergarten, getting all the same stuff AGAIN. I mean, I'm not taking books away from her, and she knows how proud of her I am when she comes up and shows me that she's figured out a word, but if I sit down with her and help her over the hump so she's truly reading, then what's she going to do in first grade? And second?

Today when I was on my way in to the parents' meeting the principal called me over and said how sorry she was that Robin had to be in kindergarten instead of first grade. For those outside the immediate family, here's the short version of that one:

In the U.S. Robin narrowly misses the cutoff date and therefore couldn't go to kindergarten when we were living in Charlotte. Since schools here operate on a calendar year they start a semester later, so I was looking forward to putting her in kindergarten when we moved here last year. But it turns out that the cutoff date is almost the same. She misses it by a matter of weeks. Last year they moved the date for some reason...but not enough. She now misses it by two weeks.

Alex's mom was the one who turned in the paperwork to register Robin for this school year. When I took Robin in on the first day, the first grade teacher saw her in the kindergarten uniform and said she had been expecting Robin in her class. (Actually she's the first-slash-second grade's not exactly a one-room schoolhouse, but they do combine first with second, third with fourth, and fifth with sixth grades.) So we looked into it and the principal called her superior and was told "the date's the date, no exceptions." She advised me to go down and ask the supervisor myself and I did, but I got the same answer.

So she's in kindergarten. Learning to count to ten. Meanwhile at home she drew a picture of a flower, thought about it really hard (I wasn't even in the room) and wrote "FLHWRS" next to it. When I told her how cool she was she went back downstairs and drew a glue stick (GLO), a shoe (SHOO), a cat (okay, she already knew that one), a map (MAP), a bird (BRD) and a chair (CHAR). She'll be president someday. (Except that she's not eligible because she was not physically born in the United States. Topic for another day.)

Now I had mixed feelings about the whole moving-ahead business. I was told enough times by enough people (who are in a position to know) that as a rule it's favorable for the child in the long run to be more mature than her peers, rather than the youngest in the class, especially when they get up around puberty. So I wasn't entirely disappointed when she ended up in kindergarten. But if they're going to be completely inflexible about age & grade, wouldn't it be nice if they could at least teach the child at the level she's at?

But they really and truly can't. We're talking about a small school where, as I said, they don't even have a teacher for each grade, although this year kindergarten and pre-K are both big enough that they do have separate teachers and classrooms. There are 20 kids to one teacher in Robin's class. (And the teacher is happy because at her last school she had a big kindergarten class.)

So it's not like they even have the option. So you start to look at private schools and then the little rural school loses more kids and gets even littler...

Actually I'm interested in private schools for other reasons too. You know those four events coming up in the next two weeks? One is fruit & vegetable day (Robin's going as grapes). One is farmers' day (Boys to dress up as farmers. Why just boys? Not sure.) One is "helping professions" day (last year she went as a builder - haven't asked her about this year yet). And one is Rosary to the Virgin day. The teacher urged us to explain to the children that "we" adore the Virgin, but that "we" don't pray to help them understand the difference (if someone would care to explain it to me...) She also stressed that while she is personally Catholic--and of course the country, government and school system are all Catholic--she is very respectful of others' religious beliefs. For example, she wants non-Catholic parents to feel free to explain to their children that if the family doesn't cross themselves, that it's okay for the child not to cross him/herself when they pray at school. (Subtle irony coming off me in waves here...)

Hey (to explore a brief tangent) here's something I bet most of you don't know. But first a brief intro to my train of thought: Every language probably has words that are really inappropirate (or at least horribly un-PC) but which we blithely use because we're deaf to what they really say or sound like. For instance imagine a foreigner learning that in English we call someone with a disability "invalid." Or when someone learns that the Spanish words for "wife" and "handcuffs" are one and the same.

Well here's my favorite one in the school context (and by Favorite I mean the one that I absolutely can't stand and always point out to people as inappropriate...but which most Costa Ricans have never really stopped to think about.) Elementary school children, and their parents, other teachers and the principal, call female teachers "niña." Yep, that means "little girl." Male teachers are "profesor" or "maestro," but never "niño."

That is just wrong on so many levels it leaves me tongue tied (not that you could prove it by this post.) When pointed out, most Costa Ricans will admit that it's a little weird, although it doesn't seem to bother them. (HOW COULD IT NOT????) The sixth grade boy throwing chalk (once at me) when his teacher is out of the room is encouraged and expected to call her "little girl" when she (who by the way is also the principal) comes back in. Interestingly, he seems to have no respect for her.

Whew! Wonder how many people I lost on this one. I didn't set out to write a novel (or a diatribe) but on the other hand you don't get me started on public schools...I think I'll go watch Shrek.


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