Sunday, April 10, 2011

Whiz Kid

This school year has been one of challenges for Caitlin, as well as Cara. For Caitlin (and I), the challenge has revolved around making sure that she is not bored in the classroom. When she started 1st Grade at Global Village Academy, I had a talk with her teacher and the principal about where Caitlin was academically and worked with them to develop a curriculum that would keep Caitlin interested and challenged throughout the year. Thankfully, the way that her teacher, at the time, had the classroom set up, Caitlin was able to work at a table with our peers who were at, or close to, her level. For example, she & a few other students would be working on math pages in the 2nd grade textbook while the rest of the class was working from the 1st grade book. Her teacher and his aide would walk around and make sure that everyone was on track and understanding what was being taught. It was a win-win situation for everyone and Caitlin really enjoyed and learned a lot that year.

Fast forward to last fall (start of 2nd grade) when we moved from Aurora to the Western Slope. I had all of Caitlin's records forwarded to her new public elementary school and talked with the secretary at registration to attempt to find the best fit for Caitlin at her school. She was placed into Mrs. W's class as the office staff felt that she would be a good fit.

Within the first week of school, Caitlin was coming home with simplistic homework, similar to what she had done in Kindergarten and was already telling me that she was bored. So, I decided that I needed to go and have a talk with her teacher. I came prepared with copies of Caitlin's portfolio from 1st grade as well as testing results done at the end of the last year school which showed Caitlin consistently in the 99% on most subjects or at the 4th grade level. Her teacher admitted to feeling a bit perplexed about how to deal with Caitlin as she was obviously more advanced than most of her classmates. Already, her teacher had observed Caitlin completing assignments (correctly & neatly) way before her peers and that she was helping them understand their work after she had finished her own. She was the teacher assistant in the class, basically.

So, knowing that the classroom work was too simple for her, I asked her teacher what could be done so that she doesn't lose interest in school and start acting out. Mrs. W explained that they have a co-teaching environment and that she was talking with this other teacher and trying to come up with a plan for Caitlin that would include special assignments and projects. This sounded good, at first, but I quickly realized that this wasn't going to work.

The problem with the plan that Mrs. W designed is that Caitlin only gets more advanced work or special projects when her teacher feels that the material being taught is something that Caitlin already knows. Most days, however, Mrs. W feels that Caitlin would benefit from participating in what the rest of the class is doing, which is, in most cases, something Caitlin already knows and has been taught once, if not, numerous times before.

Now, I'm not saying that repetition isn't a good thing and that there aren't some skills that Caitlin could use practice on (i.e. writing & grammar) but when I see the work that comes home, it saddens me because I can go into her portfolios from previous years and pull out identical worksheets. I just don't feel that Caitlin needs to relearn a skill, especially in math, that she's known for a couple of years now.

It is so hard to hear Caitlin say that she's bored or to see the obvious signs that she is not being challenged in the classroom like I hoped she would be. Her teacher seemed to understand that my oldest needs some special attention, some extra effort, in order to really succeed, and yet, I do not see much effort being made. I have talked to Mrs. W more times that I care to count and while she assures me that they are trying to adapt to Caitlin's needs, I see almost no evidence.

That being said, I've kind of given up on her teacher and the school for rest of this year. School lets out near the end of May, so Caitlin only has to get through another 6 weeks or so of school. I've just decided to supplement what she's not learning in the classroom with workbooks, websites and activities here at home. My little brainiac loves her BrainQuest workbooks and is also eager to learn new math skills or try new practical learning projects (i.e. following a recipe, planning a imaginary trip) or explore the world around her. National Geographic movies and books on historic events are currently a favorite. I am just letting her interests lead the way and am providing whatever resources I can to enlighten her.

Before school does let out for the summer, I plan on going in and talking to her principal as well as the Gift & Talented coordinator for her school. The Gifted & Talented program starts in 3rd grade by testing every student to see if they meet the requirements (the requirements usually are testing a grade level or above in a set number of subject areas) for the program. I want to be sure that Caitlin will be tested and accepted into the program. I also want to talk to her principal about possibly promoting Caitlin into 4th grade instead of 3rd for the fall as I feel that is where she is academically and while I sometimes wonder how she will fair socially, I have noticed lately that most of Caitlin's friends are also among the more advanced learners or are a year or two older than she is. So, I think she won't have any problems fitting in and making friends. It is my hope that the principal will agree that Caitlin needs to be promoted and work with me to make sure that the transition is smooth for everyone.

**I'm going to get on my soapbox for a moment, so please, bear with me.**

As most of my readers know, this struggle with Caitlin is nothing new. I am beginning to feel that if one happens to have a child who is an advanced learner, you are kind of thrown to the wolves and left to supplement your child's education on your own because the public schools can't be bothered because all of their money and resources are being spent on those that are not at grade level. Don't get me wrong, I have a child who is on an IEP and receives services to help her, so I'm not knocking special education or the legislation designed to help those students, I'm simply saying that there should be more resources on BOTH side of the spectrum. If your child needs special education services to help him/her make the most of his/her education, those services should be there...whether they are below, at or above their assigned grade level.

I find it frustrating that their are no services for students who are advanced until they are in the grade. So, if your child is working above her current grade level, you really only have two choices--to advance your child to the next grade or to put up with it. Teachers are overwhelmed, I know, trying to teach to a classroom of students at various levels, with various barriers to learning. This is why I believe that more services, for all students, should be available. No child should be left behind or not given the chance to shine & advance. Potential should not be missed or cast aside nor should a cry for help go unanswered.

Test results show that the United States is way behind our Eastern neighbors in many of the fundamental subject areas and it's no wonder--if all of our resources and energy are going towards the mainstream and neglecting the rest. I truly believe that, in most cases, we are not nudging our children enough, that the curriculum is not challenging them to think in different ways or adapting to the ever-changing knowledge base of the world. If we don't equip our children with the skills that they need to succeed, we are letting them down as they are our future!


That being said, I am not going to stop fighting to get Caitlin the level of instruction that she needs so that she is enjoying school and wanting to go every day. Just like I will not stop fighting for Cara to get the services and support she needs to reach her potential in the classroom. I continue to fight a two front war but it's a war that is worth fighting.

1 comment:

Judy said...

Two things - don't EVER think that giftedness is NOT special education...IT IS! Too many people, educators most definitely included, consider children who are gifted to NOT be a special education niche. However, Giftedness IS! Gifted children think differently, learn differently, act differently, and need those special modifications and interventions.

Secondly - YOU are your child's best advocate. Get in there and fight for what is right for Caitlyn. You are the only one who can speak fluently and conclusively for her at this point. Don't ever let the school or administration let you think differently. If something is happening that you think needs to be changed or done a different way, then let them know.

(((HUGS))) I know this battle you fight. It is a long hard fight, but you can do it.


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