Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Looking Back: One Family's Kindergarten Experience

Looking Back: One Family's Kindergarten Experience

McKenzie and Todd recently wrote about their family’s experience attempting to register their son for kindergarten only to find out that open enrollment is almost anything but open.

As I read her post, I began to reflect on my own son’s kindergarten experience. It was a bit of tumultuous time for us as we were only two years out of a domestic abuse situation, living with my mom, and I was working night shift.

As McKenzie experienced, my son did not get into our first choice or second choice or third choice kindergarten through open enrollment. I didn’t have the mental energy at the time to look beyond those three choices and enrolled him at our neighborhood school. Although most schools in the local school district had favorable reputations, this particular school did not--in fact, this school’s reputation was quite poor and, unfortunately, many students attending this school only did so because their parents had little other choice. They didn’t have money to pay for a private school, a car to drive them to another school, or other circumstances that made any other school attendance quite difficult.

I could drive my son to another school and even had family able to help facilitate this, but I couldn’t muster the brain power and energy to fight the system or to keep up with working nights, juggling being both daughter and parent in one household, and everything else in life!

I enrolled my son in the neighborhood school.

It was apparent from the first day this was not a great choice... 
  • The teacher tended to treat all boys as trouble makers.
  • The administration refused to agree to administer my son’s epi-pen should he have a severe food allergy. The school would keep it in the nurse’s office, but if he was having a severe allergic reaction, I would have to drive to the school to administer the epi-pen. Need I add that children in the United States have DIED because of such policies?
  • His teacher refused to keep a bag (provided by me) of allergy-friendly snacks for him to eat on days when other kids brought cupcakes for birthdays or other treats. She said he’d just have to do without and have a treat when he got home.
This was all on the first day.

Then, a few weeks in, my son was incredibly bored. He was finishing his work faster than the other kids and expected to sit still until the others were done. He wasn’t allowed to take out a blank piece of paper and draw or write or to get a book to read silently. He just had to sit there.

Within a month, my son was regularly getting in trouble because he would finish his work early (and it would be done correctly…), and since he was not allowed to do anything but sit and wait, he had begun to put his head down on the desk. Occasionally, he fell asleep while waiting for others to be done and the teacher to move on to the next lesson.

I tried talking to the teacher many times, and she steadfastly refused to allow him to read or to draw or to write while waiting for other kids. She insisted that he sit upright, quietly and still, and just wait.

She refused to give him additional work to fill the time. She refused to meet me halfway and branded my son as a troublemaker even though his only crime was laying his head on his desk and occasionally falling asleep due to boredom.

I began calling the district office once per week and our top three choice schools every other week. No spaces were available. He was far down the waiting list at all of these schools. Even having my own mom as a teacher at one of these schools was of no help.

Finally, I received a call that there was an opening at our first choice! I had 24 hours to accept or they’d offer it to the next child on the list.

I accepted on the spot!

Fall rolled around, I met with the administration and teacher at my son’s new school and was so excited! This was a public school with a reputation for being progressive, encouraging parent participation (boasting better than 90% parent participation!), and individual differentiation to meet the needs of ALL students with extensive science AND art programs. I was so excited! 

My son was excited! 

I was excited!

The first day of the school year and I knew something was wrong. Suddenly all those things promised by the administration and the teacher were gone. Progressive? Forget it. Parent participation? You also had the “privilege” of paying “participation” fees every single month and if you didn’t volunteer in the classroom, you were essentially shamed at monthly meetings (apparently having a 40 hour per week day job, as many parents did, was not an acceptable excuse), and differentiation? Only if the teacher liked your child.

Once again, my son was bored and boys were treated like little devils while girls were treated like angels in my son’s classroom—even when the teacher and parents witnessed female students misbehaving!

It was pretty much a repeat of our kindergarten experience, and once again, we were stuck. We were on wait lists—long ones.

Then, the bullying began, but that’s a post for another day.

Fast forward to the following year, second grade and two weeks in and we received the call!

My son was IN at the next top school on our list—a school I had visited many times as my niece already attended there. I had already talked to staff and teachers and new it would be a good fit for us. We accepted immediately and the next day my son had a new school!

It was the best decision (at the time—a few years later we jumped into homeschooling) and my son thrived!

McKenzie and Todd have a lot of concerns about their children’s kindergarten experience, and I totally get it. I hope their experience will be much better than ours and that the school will surprise them and be wonderful for their son, but if it’s not, I get it! I totally and completely get it!

As a been-there-done-that parent, I can honestly look back and say to McKenzie and Todd that in time they will find the right place, the right method, the right environment for their kids.

What about you? Do you have older kids? What was your experience with kindergarten and the first few years of formal education? Did you change schools or switch to a different approach like homeschooling? Or did you start out homeschooling and switch to a traditional school? Share in the comments!

Check out all of our kindergarten posts HERE!

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