Friday, May 17, 2013

Momentous, part two

So the other things we did on Mo Willems Friday was go look at a school for Katherine.

I feel like I should back up here and talk a bit about Katherine's reading issues. I've been on record in the past as saying that I felt that she could read better than she claimed - not that hard, since she claimed she couldn't read at all. And to a certain extent, I think that's still true. But while she ended kindergarten reading simple phonics stories, and made it up to the last level of Reading Eggs in first grade which theoretically would have her at a first grade reading level, this year she's been having trouble going past the basic phonics stage. I found us having to go back to Progressive Phonics and work our way through the intermediate level. I also found that 1) she's still having trouble with letter reversals at an age where she really should be growing out of that and 2), she guesses at words based on whatever letter in the word she sees first and 3) seems to have a lot of trouble with visual discrimination. She has a lot of trouble picking an individual object out of a crowded scene, and was complaining a lot about having trouble reading small print. She made dramatic improvements when I started blowing up the font on the computer when reading and starting planning assignments based on the idea that I couldn't expect her to handle recognizing small things (for example, her math assignments often represent numbers visually by using bars for the tens and teeny tiny weeny little dots for the ones. Life got a lot easier when I stopped asking her to count them).

I did get her eyes checked since her glasses didn't seem to be helping at all, this time at an optometrist who uses the spiffy machine that measures your prescription through space-age sourcery. She does in fact have a large degree of astigmatism in her left eye that the last eye doctor didn't pick up at all (in all fairness, she's not terribly cooperative, which is a big reason I wanted the machine). While the new glasses have helped, she hasn't had any great breakthroughs in reading. Now that we've eliminated eye problems, that leaves neurological issues. And here's where I get out of my depth when it comes to reading instruction.

Enter the school, which I found online through a series of links I can't begin to remember. It's like an online charter in that it's a charter licensed through the state but not affiliated with a school district (and in fact has an online option) but it has physical locations with real teachers. It has a focus on dyslexia and dysgraphia, but isn't only for students with learning disabilities, so Katherine will be able to go there whether she has a learning disability or not, and will have a teacher with training in dealing with reading difficulties. They will also evaluate her, something I had been trying to figure out how to get without having to go through our (urban, cash-strapped, somewhat corrupt) school district. In addition:

- It has multiage classes with a student-teacher ratio of 13:1
- They provide individualized instruction that allow students to move at their own pace
- They have multiple breaks in schoolwork throughout the day and spend a lot of time outside. The branch we visited had a garden and was talking about chickens in the fall.
- Their science and social studies curricula are heavily project based
- The school day is structured with the academic block in the morning and electives like art, music and clubs in the afternoon. One of my biggest worries about sending Katherine to school is what a strong introvert she is, and with this schedule, we could potentially bring her home early a couple afternoons a week if it seems like she's getting too stressed out with a seven hour school day.
- The founder's children are homeschooled (although they're going to the school next year) and in fact go to the same day program for homeschoolers Katherine attends, so we don't have to worry about prejudice against homeschooled chidren. Talking to him, he seemed to have many of the same educational philosophies we do.

Really, I think the only way I could make this is a better school is if it were Quaker, but if it were, it wouldn't be a public school, so I'm willing to accept the tradeoff (especially since they have a strong emphasis on teaching conflict resolution).

I admit, there are parts of homeschooling I will definitely miss. When it's going well, it's a lot of fun. I really love how free our days are, and I will miss being able to give Katherine hours of free time to do her own projects. She does the most wonderful, creative things (one of my favorites: when building a hotel out of blocks, she figured out how to make a functioning revolving door), and I hate the thought of her losing the time and energy to do as many of them. I worry that being around people all day will be hard on our little introvert, and how hard it will be for our shy girl to meet a school full of strangers.

But she's also expressing unhappiness with her reading abilities, so it's time to get help. And while homeschooling is great when it's going well, when Katherine is being rebellious and Alec is screeching for help with a computer problem and James is insisting on climbing all over us and the laptop, it makes me want to put my head through a wall, and that's what homeschooling looks like here more often than not. So I'm excited for a good affordable school to send Katherine to so we can get at least one kid out of the house. I'm really looking forward to see how she'll develop when she can finally read well.

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