College Prep

There’s outrage all over the Internet right now over the cancellation of a kindergarten student performance because it would take away instructional time needed for the kids to become “college- and career-ready.”

I’d like to join my voice to the disagreement with the school administration; I’m all about encouraging students to participate in the arts. But I take issue with what a lot of people are saying:

“KINDERGARTNERS ARE GETTING READY FOR COLLEGE?”

Well, yes. Yes, they are. That’s why the arts, and recess, and physical education are so important. College is not all about performance on the SAT or ACT. It’s about using your knowledge, skills, abilities and interests to learn even more.

I had a school principal tell me once that kindergarten students are not preparing for college. That was in response to my concern that my daughter and her classmates were not being taught at all for an entire month while the kindergarten teacher was caring for a terminally-ill parent and the school failed to provide substitute teachers. Instead, whatever grownup (or, in some cases, eighth-grade girl) was available for the next half-hour would babysit the kids. They watched movies and played all day for a month.

Because the principal would not take calls from kindergarten parents and the situation was never addressed, we removed our daughter from that school. Suddenly the principal had time for a meeting with me, in the form of an exit interview. She defended her decision not to provide the class with a substitute teacher by telling me, “It’s kindergarten. It’s not like we’re getting them ready for Harvard.”

wpid-0112141301b.jpgNot surprisingly, that school only lasted two more years before closing due to lack of enrollment. Here’s what the school looked like the last time I saw it.

Schools do need to find a good balance between instructional time, play time, physical activity and the arts–on every level of education. Emphasizing one of these at the expense of the others is disastrous for the students and does no service to society.

Yes; kindergarten students are preparing for college–maybe even Harvard. They do this by learning reading-readiness skills, counting and doing simple math, looking at the clouds in the sky, drawing pictures with sidewalk chalk on the playground, practicing music for a show, and perfecting their kickball skills. It’s all important, and good teachers and principals are needed to keep it all going and support that learning. Like the building blocks the kindergartners use to make towers and castles, the skills the children practice as five-year-olds lay the foundation of the work they’ll do later.

 

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Never Off Topic

I spent Monday as a substitute teacher in second grade at the parish school. As my training is in secondary education, I’m used to students trying to derail any discussion in order to avoid doing work. Seven-year-olds don’t generally display that level of guile, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t stray off the subject during our school day.

Children that young just want to share. As soon as you mention anything, they make a connection and need to tell you–and the whole rest of the class–about it. Every once in a while, that can be a good thing, if you can manage to capture the moment.

raised handWe were in the middle of a language-arts lesson based on the story of an injured child riding to the hospital in an ambulance. Up goes a hand. “My mommy says that when you see an ambulance you should say a Hail Mary.”

Me:  “Yes, a lot of families do that. It’s a really good thing to do. When you see an ambulance, you can pray for the person who is sick or hurt and for the people who are helping.”

Student:  “And police cars too.”

Me:  “Right. That’s another good time to say a prayer.”

Other student:  “But just for the police. Not for the bad people.”

Me:  “We should definitely say a prayer for the bad people. Do you remember that Jesus told us we should do that?”

Class:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Jesus said that we should pray for people who hurt us, not just for our friends and family. Maybe the people who hurt us need even more prayers.”

Moments like this are why I love Catholic school. Our faith isn’t confined to the schedule block reserved for religion. It can (and should) pop up at any point in the day. I love that the children in this class feel free enough and comfortable enough to bring up the subject of prayer when the thought enters their mind–even during a story about a fictional ambulance ride. I pray that these lessons will be put into practice during a real emergency.

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Bells Are Ringing

This morning I went to Mass at the school, because they were honoring the parents who volunteered during the school year. Usually I avoid this event (it’s a social-anxiety thing) but Little Brother was persistent in telling me he really wanted me to be there.

He’s 11. How much longer is he going to be happy to see his mom volunteering at school? I returned the form saying I’d attend the Mass and social afterward.

When I got there, dripping from the rain because TheDad had mistakenly taken both our umbrellas to work with him, a smiling student met me at the church door and told me that all the volunteers were supposed to sit up front. So I did, because Little Brother wanted me to be there.

Fortunately there was no naming of names, just a group “all volunteers please stand up so we can thank you” at the end of Mass. I could deal with that.

Afterwards, we went into the cafegymatorium for a nice little reception. There were two decorated tables with these cute gifts that the first and second grades had put together–with handwritten thank-you notes from the kids. There were smiling seventh-graders pouring our coffee and juice and inviting us to take fruit and pastries.

I sat next to a mom whose oldest son is in Little Brother’s class, and across the table from a mom whom I don’t know, but who had a beautiful one-year-old daughter with her. The little girl had made an impression on me during Mass; she was very quiet most of the time, but when the altar server rang the bell, she exclaimed, “Yay! Bells!” Both times.

That reminded me of Little Brother at the same age. Big Brother was an altar server then, and I was up front with the choir. TheDad would sit in the back with Little Brother, and when the servers rang the bells, Little Brother would yell, “Big Brother’s ringing the bells!” You could hear him throughout the whole church.

I was telling the other moms at my table about this, and the mom with a boy in Little Brother’s class said that her sons used to ask her why the servers rang the bells. Her answer was that they ring the bells to show that this is an important moment. Of course, the next week, when the bells would ring, one of her boys would (loudly) say, “It’s an important moment, right, Mom?”

I was dreading that reception, and even thought about ducking out on it, but I’m glad I went. I’m glad I sat with moms who bring their children to Mass. I’m glad my child attends this school where the kids are taken to church and can learn about Jesus and why it’s an important moment when the bells ring. I’m glad that the parents can share, through funny stories about what their own kids did in church, how we help our children understand those important moments.