Newsletter, Olivia

Month 65

Dear Olivia,

Kindergarten registration is quickly approaching and I’ve been dreading this day since you were a wee little girl.  Not only is this an extremely painful reminder that you’re growing up way too fast, it also requires me and dad to make some really hard decisions regarding the future of your education.  We’re fortunate enough that we don’t have to solely depend on public education but on the flip side, we are not that fortunate that we have the ability or the means to send you to a top notch private institution.  Your education means everything to us and we don’t make any decision regarding your education lightly.  At this point, I am thoroughly exhausted with all of the school tours, online research, dissection of API test scores, school comparisons, online reviews, etc.  I have run the whole gamut on how to approach selecting a school.

Your dad and I both went through the public education system and we both turned out fine.  Your dad is a highly successful entrepreneur and I was able to continue my education straight through college.  Your father knew what he wanted to do with his professional career from an early age so finding direction came easy for him.  I struggled with the notion of what do I want to do when I grow up?  I strongly suspect many people have similar outcomes no matter the education path one takes.  I could be wrong though.  Your dad will tell you that the public education system in California was far more relaxed than the school he came from in Pennsylvania.  I remember not being very surprised as I heard that comment continuously from friends who had moved here to California from other states.  Perhaps it was a little too relaxed otherwise how does a straight A student still have to take remedial courses in college?

The information regarding the public school system is not great.  Most of us have heard of the infamous TED conference asking the ever important question: do our schools kill creativity?  Most of us have even seen the documentary, Waiting for Superman leaving all of us parents hoping we hit the lottery so we can send our children to reputable private schools.  In my determination to learn everything there is to know about your potential new school district, I attended a citywide parent meeting where parents were introduced to a new curriculum overhaul that is currently in it’s first year.  According to tests and statistics presented to parents, it doesn’t look like much has changed in the short time span since I left school.  Obviously or why else would a program be going through a complete overhaul?

We live in a very good school district and in fact, the best elementary school in town is directly up the road from us.  Despite the challenges of a public school system, why would we not just go to the “excellent” school up the road?  Well, we are also dealing with massive overcrowding in our schools.  Dublin is building houses much faster than their building schools and a repercussion of that is overcrowded schools.  One elementary school near us wasn’t even open a whole two years before six portables were brought in to support the growing student body.  I’ve been advised by our neighbors that due to the overcrowding, prepare to arrive at Kindergarten registration 2-3 hours before it begins to ensure that I get my spot in the school you are zoned for.

Since I can’t tour public schools like you do private schools, I have been asking our neighbors every second I see them about their experiences with the school.  Despite families having children in the exact same classes, we still get mixed reviews.  One neighbor of ours are lifelong California residents.  They grew up in California and went through the California public school system.  Both rave about the school.  She loves the fact that she can volunteer in the classroom one day a week and loves the teachers and their approach to subjects.  Her problem was the constant celebrations in the classroom–everything requiring some special treat to be shared with the class.  She even went as far as to say that she thought the school was a bit too academic.  On the flip side of this argument are our neighbors from Utah who don’t seem very impressed with the school.  Jeremy, Jensen’s dad, claims that for the best elementary school in the city, he expected a little bit more.  Per our discussion, he can’t determine if it’s just a matter of his children attending a very good preschool back in Utah or relaxed standards at our schools.  His biggest concern for his son was the relaxed approach towards subjects in the classroom.  He mentioned that his son’s Kindergarten class was only focusing on the first half of the alphabet to ensure that all of the kids understood their letters.  I’m with him on this one–shouldn’t all kids entering Kindergarten know the alphabet?  Since most of the kids are at varying degrees as far as skill sets, the teacher has opted to include an extra hour of school, one day a week where the kids are grouped by similar skills and each group works on the skill together that way one child who is already reading chapter books can focus on something greater as opposed to learning what the letter ‘K’ looks like.

I’m still not one hundred percent that the public school system is the best fit for you.  Yes, it’s free and yes, millions of kids go through the public school system and turn out fine but I can’t help but feel that there isn’t something more.  Isn’t that what all parents want for their children, more?  The best?  I told you that I did a great deal of research online in my attempt to understand what all of our options are and in my hunt, I came across a K-8 private Montessori school in Livermore.  I have very little knowledge regarding Montessori and it was never really an option due to the negative stigma that surrounds it.  Usually when you mention Montessori, most people roll their eyes and tell you the story of how such and such person had a negative experience with the teaching method.  I began to notice that none of these stories were ever personal accounts but rather second or even third hand accounts.  Most people who immediately had negative comments regarding Montessori, had no real evidence to support their arguments.  Montessori is different therefore it is wrong is the idea I’m gathering.  I decided to tour the school after receiving a very positive review from Erma’s sister, Nanette who currently has her son attending the school and loves it.  Her son went to public and private and wasn’t happy with the curriculum with either programs until she discovered Montessori.  Yes, it is different and yes, it is hippy but she loves it and it’s working for her son.

We toured the school in hopes to finally understand what exactly Montessori is without everyone’s criticism.  We even brought along GG as she was one of those people who had a very strong stance against Montessori.  After we spent a solid hour and a half speaking with the director and observing a classroom, I can say that it is extremely different than public school in the sense that kids are all over the classroom doing various activities.  Children have choices of how they want to spend their day.  This may seem stressful to an outsider looking in but as we observed the class in motion, it was an extremely peaceful setting.  As there was a group of children pulling out various projects to work on, we looked across the room to see a boy making his own orange juice.  Despite the children having the freedom to select their work, rarely did we see children running around with nothing to do.

As we left the tour, we were all surprised, even GG, by how much we really liked it.  The problem at hand is Montessori is expensive.  Not quite expensive as some of the private schools out there but expensive nonetheless.  It’s still a vastly different approach that I’m familiar with and as great as it looked during the tour, what if it’s not the right fit for you?  What if you do perfectly fine in a free public system?  This is where the dilemma begins and you will soon learn if you haven’t already, that I’m a terrible decision maker.  I can’t commit to a decision and would rather argue the pros and cons until my head exploded.  Your education means everything to me.  This decision will potentially effect your outlook on school and learning for the rest of your life.  If I make the wrong decision, am I not allowing you to discover your full potential or will those wonderful attributes be stifled in a system that is not equipped to fill your needs thoroughly?  Is there a right answer or am I just one of those parents who is expecting the world out of their offspring?

On a completely separate note because I’m starting to get another headache thinking about education, we have had the pleasure of hosting your class pet, Gary the gorilla for the past week.  No, it’s not a real gorilla but rather a stuffed friend that you are required to carry with you for the duration of the week.  When our week is over, we report back to your class about all the activities we shared with Gary.  So far this week, you have taken him to the dentist, we played a couple games of monopoly, we brought him to swim class and yesterday we even took him for a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge.  We would have walked across the entire span had it not been for the person who decided that yesterday was the day they were going to jump off the bridge.  Sadly, since jumpers are such a common occurrence on the bridge, the police don’t close the pedestrian path so there are people casually strolling by and others jogging as a poor lady is trying to decide whether to jump or not.  We determined that watching a person commit suicide was not an experience that you should share with your class so we turned around at the first tower.

Watching someone hang off the bridge is a horrible image.  Watching life continue on around that person as they determine whether they are going to end their life or not is a strange experience to see unfold.  People have all sorts of trials and tribulations in their lives and I can’t begin to explain how a person reaches a point in their life that is so lonely that they find themselves looking at the open Bay below as an option to their shitty life.  I looked down at you and your brother and you both don’t have a clue as to what is unfolding ahead of us but I see two bright-eyed hopeful children who so greatly depend on me and your dad to make good decisions for the two of you.  You don’t understand that yet but it’s true.  Most nightmares of parents are failing their children.  I don’t know that lady or what her story is but I would be a complete and total failure if you found yourself in such a lonely place that you felt there was no hope.  I stress about the littlest decisions for you because I want you to find happiness.  Failure cannot be an option for me and your dad when it comes to you and Miles.  I don’t know what school you will attend or in the grand scheme of things, if it will even matter.  What matters most to me is that you never find yourself in that horrible place.  We are always here for you and we will always listen to your criticism over our bad decisions.  I anticipate no matter the decisions we make going forward, they may never be the right decisions.  I suspect that you will find fault in most everything but that’s ok.  Just know that our decisions came from a good place and no decisions were ever made lightly. Also, please save the criticism for when I’m senile and I no longer remember who you are.  That will help lessen the blow and I won’t take it as personally.

Love,

Momma

 

Some highlights from our week with Gary:

 

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3 Comments

  • Reply Dee Williams March 10, 2014 at 4:34 am

    Another awesome blog….where ever you send your little ones to school they will do fine as they have such caring and nurturing parents to guide them. Even the best schools don't help if there is no follow through at home. Olivia is so bright and inquisitive I'm sure she'll be an amazing student where ever she goes.

  • Reply Katie Linderme March 15, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    The right school is always a process to consider, and one that really shouldn’t be taken lightly. I’m struggling just trying to figure out what type of education I would like to teach, let alone what is the right solution for students! So take your time; while Eric and I both got great support and a very rigorous public elementary school education, overcrowding in schools can take away from a very decent education. The only other thing I would say is that my friends who went through a Montessori education loved it in middle school, but ended up struggling immensely in high school because there is no Montessori high school they could have attended, and college is not done in the same structure either, so it caused problems with learning a new system and how to operate within there. They also said that the projects, and basically everything is done through projects in Montessori , sometimes hindered their ability to learn to write out their ideas in a critical thinking processing which you can learn, but it was just more difficult than had they gone with a more traditional education route. They said sometimes it was easier to learn certain skills in other methods and to know that we don’t always get choices when becoming adults…but that they did love it in elementary school; just not middle school or high school. Olivia is a smart child though, and she will learn resilience and a comprehensive education anywhere as long as she works hard and does her own personal best. Miss you guys, hope you are all well :)

  • Reply Jen March 22, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you so much Dee and Katie! Katie, your feedback is incredibly helpful. I was very curious as to how students transitioned from a Montessori education in to a standard high school. Everyone you speak to at Montessori says how seamless the transition can be but it seems hard to believe given how drastic the two methods are. I appreciate all the feedback I can get. Miss you guys as well!!

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