metro mama

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Skinny on School

Last week I attended a seminar at our drop-in about choosing a school (this stuff is all new to me, so I’m learning all I can and I’ll pass it along). We had parent council members from two of the local public schools and a member of the executive of a new alternative school that may be opening. Though this is still a couple of years away for Cakes, I’m keen to have a clear sense of what I want for her.

The parents from the school that serves our address spoke very highly of it and confirmed my belief it is the best choice for us. It’s nice and small (200), the students are diverse, they have a double gym and new playground equipment, a band, a good library, a science room, annual field trips and they take them to see plays (with a small subsidy from the parents). Folks speak very highly about the principal (I’m told the principal plays a big role in the direction of the school).

I also went to their open house and met some of the teachers. Overall, I’m impressed and relieved—this school is one block away (I can’t imagine having to drive the kids to an out-of-district school). At the open house, we ran into a few parents of kids that Cakes plays with now—I love the fact that the friends she’s making already may be the ones who see her through high school.

I also learned how important parent council is. I introduced myself to the chair of ours and am going to start sitting in on meetings already. It’s important to have a say in the direction the school takes--I’d like the International Languages program at our school, something that isn’t offered now.

The new alternative school opening in my area is also something to think about. The school would be public (I wouldn’t consider private school, even if it were an option) and derives its principles from Waldorf. A lot of aspects of the school appeal to me, but I’m not convinced about the Waldorf approach. Will these students be adequately prepared for high school? What are your thoughts on Waldorf?

One of my big questions is if they teach phonics. There are some younger students in my poetry class who obviously grew up in whole language classrooms. We often read out loud, and when they come to words they don’t recognize, they can’t sound them out. This boggles my mind. I say, give a kid the power to read on her own (instead of her vocabulary being limited to the words she’s memorized) and she will want to read. I sure did—I was reading stuff well beyond my years at a tender age.

What are your thoughts on phonics versus whole language? Any elementary school teachers reading?

Back to my original subject, for those with kids already in school, what type of school is it and how satisfied are you?

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19 Comments:

Blogger Denguy said...

Honestly, we picked the school that was closest to us (okay, that's not true--there's a Montessori school right on our street, but no thanks).
The school we chose was the second closest to us and it happened to be the one with the French Immersion options.
Besides, that's where I met Crazymumma.

9:23 PM  
Blogger kgirl said...

i am SO excited about the whole child school!

as parents who would probably remortgage the house to send bee to waldorf, (ok, not really, but if a rich relative offered to pay, we'd be on it) i'm glad that we won't have to send her out of the area to get the education and environment we want for her.

we have a few close friends (including my niece's dad) that went to waldorf. they, and their parents, only have amazing things to say. but, as a parent, you have to be willing to get involved - there is much expectation that lessons learned at school will continue to be 'taught' at home (like the no tv during the week thing).

9:44 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

We went with our school because it was there. simple. We had no other choice at the time. Or at least I did not know we had a choice. French Immersion has turned out well for our family as a whole, I do not like the disconnect I have with what bigirl is doing, (language wise), but I think that is part and parcel of who she is as well.
I like the idea of Waldorf as it is very artsy crafsty, but I think you have to look at your child, how they learn etc....
As to high school. shit man. its hell across the board. And I do not mean school board. Waldorf or public, they all muddle thru....

11:30 PM  
Blogger jen said...

dude, i have nothing valuable to offer but i just wanted you to know i was listening.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Mary-LUE said...

My son was taught to read with phonics and my daughter is learning to read with whole language.

My son took to reading very easily and does well figuring out words that can be sounded out. When he comes to a word that doesn't follow the phonics rules, he always makes an attempt but doesn't always get it right. He is an excellent reader overall.

My daughter is happier being read to than reading even though she is half-way through first grade. I have seen though, the progress she has made and am confident that she will blossom when she is ready. One of her teachers has as her specialty literacy, so that helps my confidence.

I was just discussing with the teacher whole language literacy and she said that in the past it sometimes hasn't been well understood and so wasn't correctly applied. I do think some kids learn quite well with phonics and some quite well with whole language. I don't think I can give a "which-is-better" opinion for another year or so. I do have a flyer with the components of whole language if you are interested. I'm not familiar with the Waldorf school but it sounds like it might have some characteristics in common with a multiage class.

I agree with crazymumma that you have to look at your child, how they learn, etc. While my son learned reading through phonics easily, there were other aspects about his school which made things difficult for him: lots of homework, lots of redos taken home of classwork, too much pen/paper work, etc. Multiage education would have helped him soar, I believe but he detests school, especially writing. That is why I am trying this for my daughter. She is such a different child but she seems to be doing well overall, so for now, I'm happy.

(Okay... I think I've hijacked this post long enough. This is so funny that you wrote this today. I've been giving prospective parent tours of our class and have been talking about this for the last couple of days.)

One more thing (really), I think you will make a great decision because of your thoughtfulness, concern and research you are doing.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Multi-tasking Mommy said...

WOW! I have to give props to you for being very keen on your child's future education--good for you! :)
I am a former Kindergarten teacher (up until I had my daughter 23 months ago), so I do have opinions on a lot of -what you said. I will post some and will email you others!
The easiest question that I can give my opinion on is the phonics vs whole language (ironically enough, that was what hooked me when I met my hubby! Knowing I was a teacher, he asked me that question and he caught me!)...
I believe in a mix between the two. I am one for moderation in almost everything in life. In my K classroom, we had a phonics program (I adapted the Jolly Phonics program to my liking) that we did on a daily basis. I also had many components of whole language as part of my regular routine as well, sight words, etc. Again, I do believe in providing children with the tools that they need in order to succeed and I feel they need both. Having said that, it does sound like you are a very involved Mom and that if your daughter only received whole language instruction (which I would be surprised by, by the way) that you would be able to supplement that very easily. If you feel phonics are important, you can buy programs at Scholar Choice, or other educational stores. The Cd's are fabulous with songs for each letter and blend.
Good luck with your decisions and feel free to email me if you have an more questions (circle of life blog [at] gmail (dot) com.

7:59 AM  
Blogger NotSoSage said...

I, like you, wouldn't put Mme L in a private school, although if I was in different life circumstances, I would seriously consider homeschooling. I'm still not totally cool with what I see as conflicting values on that point.

I already know the school that I want her to go to (the French Immersion public school in our neighbourhood) and although it's over two years away, I'm freaking out at the pressure of trying to get her in.

My mom taught me to read very young (way younger than today's experts would say is appropriate) and she used whole language principles first and then encouraged me to sound things out. It worked for me, but I think that might be one of those things that is specific to each child.

Thanks for passing along the information!

9:10 AM  
Blogger Beck said...

I have two school options here - Catholic or public. We picked public solely because my mom teaches there and we are SO unhappy with pretty much every aspect of our children's education - with the big exception that we've loved 2/3 of their teachers (so that's 2 out of three). It's a small rural school with under 100 kids, PK to grade 8, but the problems are things that I think may be common in a lot of public schools. If I had the option of Waldorf school for MY kids - who are artsy little flakes - I would certainly put them in it. You have the best sense of who your child is and are best to decide where she'll thrive.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Beck said...

I forgot homeschooling, which was always our plan until we gave birth to THE MOST SOCIAL CHILD ON THE PLANET. But we're considering homeschooling again....

9:31 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Everyone keeps asking me if I've started looking at schools for her yet, if I've put her on a "list.." Now I'm getting worried, like I'm gonna screw up her future if I don't find a school!!!

11:01 AM  
Blogger Redneck Mommy said...

There is only one school in the vicinity of my area, and my children are on the bus for almost an hour, each way, just to get there. That is how we picked our school.

But I can tell you, they used phonics, with a touch of whole language (like group reading, and reading times) and it worked amazingly well.

It was a marvel to watch my children learn how to read, and how to sound out words. If I had to choose a school based on phonics, or whole language, I would definetly go the route of phonics.

But that's just me and my nine and ten year olds. Who by the way, are reading the Lord of The Rings trilogy currently and comprehending it....

(Probably not age appropriate, but hey, I'm just thrilled they can read!!!)

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

We hadn't rushed to get Mimi to read before this year, since she was just 4 and hadn't shown tremendous interest (loved books, but wanted us to read to her.) However, this year she told us she wanted to try the Hooked on Phonics classes offered through her day care. That approach has worked marvelously for her, I must say -- she LOVES to read, and has made huge strides since September.

I don't know much about whole language for point of comparison, unfortunately. And we're in a day care that we're very satisfied with, but we didn't choose it based on the curriculum or educational approaches. (We originally moved to it because we were having some major concerns about Mimi's old day care, and stayed because the teachers are loving and caring.... of course the girls are learning things too, but I can't say it's based on any one approach.)

Next year Mimi starts kindergarten, in one of the top school districts in the country. Hopefully then I'll find out that the foundations she's developed at day care (and home) have served her well.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

My son is in private school. He is four and currently reading 3-4 letter words on his own. They use phonics and what can I say? Its working!! They are also learning important sight words as well. I think it is a nice balance and he is excelling with it.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I've just started thinking about this because I think that WB needs to be in pre-school at the first opp. But we're thinking Montessori.

This would be a good series for MBT, fyi...

7:43 PM  
Blogger Lisa b said...

I am scared to start commenting because I am not sure if I can stop. I used to work in a public school and recently I've been teaching in a private school.
I am totally stressed out about choosing the right school for my daughter. Its great to have all these options in TO but a little overwhelming. I am not sure how you figure out what the best school for your child is at the elementary level. By high school they would want to choose but at this point I think the choice is much more about the parents than the child.
I think there is much to be said about sending J to your local school. I have always thought that was most important for me that my children go to school with the neighbours kids and they all grow up together.
My only experience of Waldorf were the couple of teachers in my MA program who totally blew my mind.

8:34 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Lisa B,

Take all the comment space you want...by blow your mind, how do you mean?

10:45 PM  
Blogger nomotherearth said...

I have a lot of unformed thoughts on the subject, but a huge interest (especially as I'm seriously considering becoming a K or elementary teacher). I believe that ideally teaching should use a combination of both approachs. Knowing how to sound out words is great, but kind of useless if you don't know what they mean. That being said, every child learns differently, and the thing that I would want to ensure is that the teacher is willing to adjust his/her teaching methods with different learners. I realize this may be asking for the moon - but maybe if I aim high enough, I'll land among the stars.

Also, on a side note, French Immersion will play a huge part in my decision about schools. I think it is vital to learn it at an early age and the best, possibly only, way to become fluent.

I would be interested in more info on the seminar you attended. How did you hear about it? Are there more??

11:11 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

As to school, I'm just going with our local public school - it's know to be a good one, and I went there for a while as a kid, too.

Whole lang vs. phonics? From what I understand, it's been a trend/pendulum swing of one or the other in the past, but it's now thought that good readers employ a variety of strategies, including aspects of both of these. (Isn't it always the way?) Good readers sound out, look for clues in context, anticipate what's coming in the story and makes sense, draw on illustrations, when they don't know a word. But they also have a large bank of sight words. Essentially, this combination allows them to both sound out the word and draw its meaning, since sounding alone doesn't buy them comprehension. It's a good skill for them to be able to anticipate what the word could be so that they can match that with sounding out or afix a likely meaning. In a nutshell. (Sorry to hijack comments!)

12:50 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

I actually have a whole lot to say about this since I have gone through this not so long ago. I'll likely do a whole post myself soon.

I wanted Little Shot to go to our local school but have decided that another direction is a better fit for him. That was REALLY hard to decide but every kid is different and I need to go with my gut on what will be best for his special kind of different.

8:30 PM  

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