Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Waiting for the other shoe to drop...

Two years ago I saw a paragraph in the local paper announcing an open house at our local charter school. Hmmm, I thought, wonder what that's all about? So, I went. I listened. I heard about project-based learning, about alternative assessments, about lots of terms that were new to me but that were used to describe philosophies and techniques that seemed to be just common sense. I thought how interesting it all was. But my son was doing battle in sixth grade and I was hoping to find some alternative for him. The charter school was grades 9-12, though, so not a good fit.

He progressed to seventh grade and continued his battle. I continued to think about what I'd heard at the charter school. I also heard comments about the charter school, about how it was a place for the kids who "couldn't make it" at the high school, about how marginal it was in terms of academics.

It's true the charter school doesn't give letter grades - they give proficiency ratings and narrative comments, instead. Seems like much more valuable information to me. I heard questions, such as how will the charter kids ever get into college without a GPA? But, home-schooled kids seem to do OK with college, I thought. Turns out the charter school actually requires every senior to apply to college. They can't make them go once they've graduated, but they make sure that every student understands that it's expected of them. Does the high school have the same policy? No. Also turns out that last year's charter school twelfth grade (the first graduating class) had every member accepted to a college of their choice. Can the high school say the same? I don't think so.

Other critics said the charter kids wouldn't be able to make the grade on the standardized tests since they weren't having standardized instruction...but, guess what? The charter kids did better!

This was all of great interest to me, but the fact remained that my son still had to make it through eighth grade. Then, wonder of wonders, last March we received a letter announcing that the charter school was expanding to include grade 8! We went to another open house, he went for a shadow day. It was sounding better and better. It turned out that five or six of his good friends were also applying.

There are now six weeks left in his eighth grade school year and I have never seen my son as happy and confident as he is this year. He's a bright kid with some learning differences - not severe and not anything that ever really should have been a big problem, except that he didn't fit the mold and the teachers weren't willing to adapt at all. Despite the fact that he's always gotten good grades he has asked me at least once a year, every year (until this year), in all seriousness, whether I thought he would be held back. It broke my heart to see this kid who used to be so curious and eager to learn about the world become so insecure and ill at ease in school.

It doesn't seem like it can get much better than this year at the charter school...I sometimes wondered if I was missing something, if it was too good to be true. I felt like I was waiting, as they say, for the other shoe to drop. But it hasn't. And you know what? I don't think it will. This is just about as good as it gets, for us at least!

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