Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Opposite ends of the spectrum

I have discovered that a great deal of the time spent parenting is spent being an advocate for one's children. While we fight for Cara's IEP to be honored, on one end of the spectrum, we push Caitlin's school and teachers to challenge her academically, on the other.

We've always known, since Caitlin uttered her first words and drew her first scribble, that she was academically advanced. This is the child who knew her ABC's and could count to 50 by the time she was 2. She asks to do math, workbooks and to read chapter books. The questions that she asks us lead us to a Google search in the quest for answers. Her knowledge base and vocabulary are just astounding. Just the other day, she was telling me how people get different skin colors and freckles.

It has been a challenge, faced by her teachers and ourselves, as parents, to keep up with her quest and hunger for knowledge. Her Kindergarten teacher recognized Caitlin's enthusiasm and met it by advancing her in both reading and math throughout the school year. By the end of the school year, Caitlin was doing 2nd semester 1st grade math with ease and reading chapter books fluently. Her standardized test scores showed that she was at the level of the average 3rd grader in most subject areas. We were blown away and so very proud!

Over the summer, instead of dreaming away her days, Caitlin was doing a Summer Bridge workbook and learning more and more interesting facts as we explored the area where we lived. We checked out about 100 books a month from the library and discovered more wonderful learning websites. Her quest for knowledge did not ebb over the summer. In fact, she went into 1st grade knowing more than she did at the end of Kindergarten, which according to her 1st grade teacher, is very rare.

So, imagine, if you will, how bored our poor child must have been when, at the start of first grade, she found herself reviewing the very basics of mathematics and reading. She was coming home from school every day saying how bored she was and even pretended to be sick on a few occasions to escape the boredom. Now, I want to say, that I know that Caitlin is just one of 28 students in the class and that her teacher has to figure out, after a summer away, where each student in the class was, academically. That said, I had a talk with her wonderful teacher (Mr. H, we'll call him) and we agreed to work together to keep Caitlin interested and challenged while he got her classmates up to par.

Mr. H has since divided the class into groups based on their academic ability and Caitlin is in a group with like-minded peers. Within the group, she is able to work at her own pace using the current math book and activities. She is soon to start the second half of the 1B math workbook that she started on in Kindergarten. At home, we are working on carrying and borrowing, addition and subtraction with money, basic multiplication and story problems.

I'm not going to lie, at one point, we were considering trying to find a school better equipped to handle Caitlin's educational needs. I went and toured 4 different schools only to learn that they are all full for this school year. Coming to terms with the fact that we needed to make the best out of the situation at her current school (and the fact that Caitlin genuinely liked her school, teacher and peers), I approached her principal, who was not very supportive, and asked me what exactly I wanted her to do. Did I want her to promote Caitlin to the 2nd grade? No, what I wanted the school to do was to teach my child at a level which best fits her needs, within her current classroom. My argument being that each child learns at their own pace.

Feeling a bit defeated, I went back to her teacher. I should have approached Mr. H right from the get-go as I found him to be a very wonderful and caring teacher. He had noticed, in just a few weeks of school and very little one-on-one time, that Caitlin soared above most of her peers. He pledged to help me keep her interested and together, we formulated a game plan. It was full steam ahead!

In the short bit of time that has passed since the changes have been made, Caitlin has come home mostly happy after school, enjoys and is even challenged by, her school work and is looking forward to starting a new math book soon as well as moving up to another reading level (she is currently on Level I--the levels start at A and go up. Mos of her peers are at around level D or E--but feels that it's too easy!). I guess I've fostered my love of books onto my children! It is so refreshing to know that a little bit of advocacy has paid off in big dividends.

I have learned that having a positive relationship with your child's teacher is the best tool you can have for making sure that your child is getting the most out of his/her education. It is so helpful when you have your child's teacher on your side, working to do what is in the best interest of your child. I am very blessed, thus far, that Caitlin has had teachers who really do want her to succeed and are willing to go "outside of the box" for that to happen. I have no doubt, that with Mr. H's support, Caitlin will have a great year in 1st grade and continue to learn new things.


Kendra Lynn said...

Very cool that he will work with her on that...Kelsey is also a bit ahead of her classmates...but I want her to stay in 1st grade because I want her to be with her peers...we will have our first parent/teacher conf. in October...and I suspect I will be learning a bit more of how she is doing with the rest of her class...

Mary said...

How good to have Mr. H for Caitie's teacher - as Caitie would of course be bored going over things she had already mastered - waiting until the school material catches up to her.

I always seem to write "Good work, Cara". Now I have to say - "Good work, Caitie" and of course to mom - who is on top of things.


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