I’m entering my third week of elementary school. So far I’ve spent:
3.5 days in one kindergarten class, beginning with the first day of school
5 days rotating through five first grade rooms, spending the morning in one class and switching to another in the afternoon
I’ll spend this Tuesday through Thursday in second grade, and Friday through next Tuesday in third. (Yes, I’m moving quickly! The teachers think I may be a prodigy.) There are a couple of major changes I want to make:
1. Participate in the kids’ activities more than teaching them as a volunteer. So far, I’ve been experiencing my return to the classroom from an adult perspective, whereas the point is to reconnect with the joy, wonder, and intuition I had as a child. I can go volunteer anytime, anywhere, but this is my chance to learn to be a kid again. I plan to roll Play-Doh, read kids’ books, run around at recess, and build with Legos.
Will middle school students hit the books, show up on time and be on their best behavior if they’re getting paid?
As Washington, D.C. students start back to school this week, that’s the thinking behind a new program just launched in the district. As early as October at 14 of 28 D.C. middle schools, students will get paid to perform as part of a pilot program that rewards kids for good grades, attendance, and behavior.
Kids could rake in up to $100 per month, getting paid every two weeks through the program.
Behind the program is D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who’s getting a lot of press for her new approaches to old problems. I’m all for new approaches, if they happen to be better than the old ones. Here’s the comment I posted on ABCnews:
Turns out that my hand is twice the size of a first grader's.
It’s been one week since I kicked off the classroom phase of Reschool Yourself, and I have so much to share. The challenge lies, as always, in time. I’ve been busy adding features to the site and will post more writing this weekend.
As I mentioned in the video log, I finished up in the kindergarten on Monday morning and began rotating through the five first grade classrooms. I prefer staying in one class, to build relationships with the kids, but the first grade teachers each needed my help. There are a few benefits of rotating, such as observing different teaching styles for the same age group, getting to know all the teachers — they’re a cool bunch of women — and meeting a variety of kids.
I do miss my kindergarteners! Since I was part of their very first school experience, they seemed to get as attached to me as I did to them. On Friday, due to another meeting, I came late to school (no, I didn’t need a pink tardy slip). When I walked into the kindergarten, several kids bombarded me with hugs around my waist and exclamations like “Where were you?” and “You’re heeere!” With those long eyelashes and baby-toothed grins, those kids turn me into putty in their hands.
Here’s an update on what I’m up to in the classroom this week. Fingerpaintin’, here I come!
(FYI, this was recorded Monday afternoon, 8.25.08)
In the second video, I read from my journal at age 5, to remember who I was at that age. Having spent a lot of time with 5- and 6-year-olds this week, I’ve been trying to piece together what I was like myself. I bet you’ll never guess my answer to “If I could be any famous person, I would be…” (answer at 2:12)
Class photo, 1985-1986
This week I’ll post about:
My 6-year-old admirer and other amusing pint-sized characters
Kids’ creative answers to “What’s the name of this letter of the alphabet?”
Recess, the cafeteria, P.E., and other elementary school memories
Wise words from a kindergarten teacher
If you have journal entries or keepsakes from your school days, share them here or on the new forum.
I’ve decided that video blogging is a great way to keep you updated about Reschool Yourself. It’ll save me hours of writing, as well.
Those of you who know me can tell that I haven’t slept much lately. Those who do not may think that I normally look like this, but I’d like to think I’m slightly less haggard when rested. I hope that as I learn to manage my time and take care of myself, you’ll see me looking healthier and more balanced.
Here’s an update filmed the morning of Day 3:
Here’s a preview of the keepsake-mining and classmate search that I’ll begin this weekend:
And I’m not just talking about Tom Cruise moving to Crazytown, USA.
In returning to my elementary school, I never expected to “step into the same river twice.” I knew that the school had changed quite a bit since I attended it from 1985-1991. Over the years, I’d taken occasional walks around the campus and seen new jungle gyms (or “big-toys” as we used to call them) installed and the paint accents go from red to green. I’d seen the library and office move locations, and new portables installed.
So far, I’ve observed these other major changes:
Demographic shift. My 1985-1986 kindergarten class of 29 kids was composed of 27 white kids, one Latino kid, and me (I alone composed a good chunk the school’s Asian population — and I’m only half). Barbara’s 2008-2009 kindergarten class of 20 kids has 5 white kids and 15 Latino kids. This reflects the overall demographic shift in Sonoma County. Between 2000 and 2007, the county’s Latino population grew 30 percent, and the white population declined by 7.2 percent. The trend continues, making it challenging for the school to raise its test scores when many of the kids are English Language Learners.
Uniforms. The majority of kids in the kindergarten class wear tiny khaki or blue bottoms and solid colored shirts. Apparently, a few years ago the school adopted a policy where students would wear uniforms by default, but parents can sign a waiver opting out. That way kids can still choose their clothing if they wish, but the standard of uniforms evens the playing field for low-income kids. That way, there’s no pressure to wear the latest Hannah Montana watch or Gap Kids hoodie, and gang-related clothing is a non-issue.
Extended kindergarten day. Kindergarten used to be divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Now, with the exception of early release days, it keeps the same hours as the older grades, from 8:30 to 2:30. I’ve heard that the kindergarteners, even at age 5, now follow a curriculum based on state standards.
Lunchroom practices. Hot lunch used to be served on washable trays, but today it’s unfortunately packaged in disposable styrofoam containers. I’m curious about the reasons for this, and the difference in cost. On the upside, chocolate milk used to be available only on Wednesdays, but now it’s a delicious permanent fixture.
Today, for the first time in 23 years, I went back to kindergarten.
I slept 20 minutes through alarm and woke up with that blasted Billy Madison song stuck in my head (my own fault) and hurriedly got dressed and ate breakfast. With my backpack, notebook, and brown bag lunch, I walked the few blocks to my elementary school. I passed a few kids holding their mothers’ hands. I was surprised to arrive at school in just a few minutes. Apparently my legs are a lot longer now than they were between the ages of 5 and 10.
Everything at the school seemed to have shrunk. I almost have to kneel to get a drink of water at the fountains, and the classrooms and cafeteria seem half the size that I remember them. When I arrived on campus, I watched the principal greet parents and kids as they pulled up at the bus circle and observed a group of girls looking at the class lists posted in the hallway. My mom and I used to walk to the school a few weeks before classes started to look at these lists. One of my strongest memories is the apprehension I felt as I searched for my name, since my experience in the upcoming year would largely depend on my teacher and the kids in my class. I remember feeling relief when I spotted my friends’ names alongside mine, or anxiety when they’d been assigned to a different teacher. Though we’d see each other at recess, our friendship wasn’t quite the same as when we were in the same class.
At around 7:45 am, I headed to the kindergarten room where I’ll be volunteering through next Monday. My original kindergarten room now houses a first-grade class where I’ll volunteer next week, and the kindergarten is now in a portable next to the play yard. Barbara, the teacher and a family friend, is honestly one of the kindest people I know. Someone recently said, “People can’t mention Barbara without adding, ‘She’s so nice!'” Barbara asked me to help greet the families as they came in and get the kids settled, helping them hang their backpacks in cubbies and showing them puzzles that would occupy them as their parents left.
To my surprise, not one of the kids cried, and neither did any of the parents. One mom looked back at her son a few times as she walked down the ramp of the portable. Another mom ended up staying the whole day as a volunteer because her son didn’t want her to leave. While Barbara very much appreciated her help on the first day, she expects that if the mother continues in the classroom, the son will have a fit when she finally leaves him.
I’ve had the little ditty from Billy Madison stuck in my head all day. (If you don’t know it yet, don’t worry — you will.) Tomorrow is the day I’ve been waiting for: my return to kindergarten at my elementary school.
I’ve got my lunch packed up: veggie & cheese fritatta, an organic peach, and half a piece of tomato bread. (Darren: “No one’s gonna trade you for that!”) It’s in a brown bag with my name on it. My mom offered to put a little note inside like in the old days.
I’ve had a lot of memory triggers today that gave me a taste of what’s to come over the next few months. I had to drive into Petaluma today on my old route to high school, and I popped in a random mix tape, circa 1996. It included:
“Lovefool” – The Cardigans
“Just a Girl” – No Doubt
“‘Til I Hear It From You” – Gin Blossoms
“Alone” – Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
“Female of the Species” – Space (Are they really saying “more deadlier than the male”?)
It’s crazy how the lyrics have taken up permanent residence in a corner of my brain, which I probably could be using to remember what 12 x 9 equals. But then I’d miss out on belting out the Blues Traveler while cruising down Adobe Road, feeling like a 16-year-old.
Another blast from the past today was catching up by phone with an old classmate from high school who works for the Sonoma Index-Tribune. We hadn’t spoken since graduation but talked as easily as if we saw each other every day. Our 10-year reunion is approaching in a few weeks, and we’re both looking forward to sharing the evolutions of our teenage selves that are light on the zits, heavy on the sass. I’m hoping to track down classmates from all my old schools and see how we relate to each other as grown-ups. (more…)
Imagine a school where you could choose what you learn and how you learn it. Imagine having an equal vote, whether you’re age 5 or 17, on decisions like which teachers are hired, or what rules students and staff will follow. Imagine a school day where you could write a letter to the local newspaper, curl up and read your favorite novel, explore the woods, or create a computer program.
It wasn’t until my last year of college that I found out that schools like this exist. I came across the book Summerhill, now revised and published as Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood, about an English school that had been around since 1921. I mentioned the book in a class that I shared with Andrew Chen, and we began a friendship that drew us both — through a chain of events that now seems almost fated — into the world of democratic education.
If you’re not familiar with democratic education, it’s a philosophy and practice whose essence is “People of all ages have input into the decisions that affect them.” It seems like a common-sense idea, but most schools and families don’t operate this way. The adults make most of the decisions, and the kids have more input as they grow older. On the other hand, adults and kids at democratic schools (also called “non-coercive” or “free” schools) decide together how their schools operate, meeting regularly as a community and normally having a democratic system for decision making and conflict resolution. Students are in charge of how they use their time and direct their own education from a young age. If schools exist to prepare kids to participate in a democracy, this kind of education is crucial.
I’m spending the week in Jackson, Mississippi, visiting my boyfriend. Darren is a graphic designer and one of my sister’s best friends from Loyola University, New Orleans. If you’re wondering how we met, we hit it off in February at Mardi Gras. Nothing spells romance like applying eyeliner to a pirate in a pink bandana while he whines, “Agggh! It feels like you’re drawing on my eyeball!”
One of my priorities for this visit — besides consuming all the buttery delicacies that the south has to offer — is for Darren to help me revamp the Reschool Yourself site. Lucky for me, he can understand language like, “The objective of the WP-SuperCache is to make the site static and not run any PHP” — yet has never memorized pi to the 100th digit, or attended a Star Wars-themed wedding.