Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Since you asked ....

Every time anybody asks me about why we switched from public to private, or what we think about Lillie's new school, I yap their ears off forever about how wondrous our experience has been. So now I will blog it instead, and maybe I will get it out of my system. Or just have somewhere to tell them to "read all about it!"

First. Why did we switch??
1. Lillie was attending Mill Creek Elementary, the school that is widely considered to be the best public elementary school in Columbia. Relatively new building, media center, huge playground, the works. She even had to go DOWNSTAIRS to get to her class, which was exciting! However, her teacher had 25+ students and only a couple of years' experience. She seemed like a really nice girl and a good teacher, but when we spoke to her at 'meet the teacher' night, her eyes got huge when she learned that Lillie reads a good 3 years above her grade level.

2. In a class that huge with one teacher, you've got to either need tons of help or act up in order to get attention. Lillie is a smart, well behaved kiddo, so she was blending in with the walls. She was so bored... She can do addition, subtraction and basic multiplication. In her class, they were given a sheet with numbers on it and instructed to draw the correct number of dots for each number. Wouldn't you be bored?!

3. On the fourth day of school (the FOURTH day!) she asked, "Do I HAVE to go there again? Do I EVER get a day OFF??" She hated it.

4. The girls in her class were a bit clique-ish ... their parents know each other so they just play with each other. Lillie felt out of place, socially awkward, and generally not accepted. The school was huge, the class was huge, Lillie was shuffled around and lost in the crowd and miserable.

5. Every day when I picked her up, I would ask how her day went. And every day she grumbled. She would say things like, "Well, I had lunch ..." OR, "Um ... we had recess ..." OR something like, "So-and-so said she would meet me by the swings at recess but she never came, and when I went to play with her, she ran away from me." (That really happened, by the way.) She was never excited to tell me anything. And no matter how much I asked, she didn't want to tell me the things she had done in class. She just said, "We didn't do anything in class."

So, Wes was working for the months of July and August in the Ellis-Fischel Cancer Hospital, and on his last day there (8/31), he was telling one of the nurses about Lillie and our school woes. She said that he should call her sister, who is the principal of the lower grades at Columbia Independent School, and get Lillie an interview. We took a tour of this school a few months ago and were supremely impressed with what we observed, but it was WAY out of our price range. However, this nice lady told Wes that if we just called and said we knew her, that her sister could get us a good deal on the tuition. So I did. That day.

Lillie had her interview there on Thursday, 9/3. She and I had a tour (they moved into a new building since my last tour!), and we were both blown away by the separate science room, Spanish room, art room, etc, etc... While I spoke with Mrs. Savage (the sister of the nurse), Lillie had her interview with Mrs. Nowlin, one of the two first-grade teachers. She asked Lillie questions about what she is interested in, and she had Lillie read her a few books to get a good idea of her reading abilities. She brought Lillie into the office and stated that she thought Lillie would be a great fit at the school.

Lillie said: "I want to come back tomorrow!"

And so it was done. She got an awesome scholarship so we pay less than half of the cost of tuition. She came for her trial day on 9/4, and she started school officially on the day after labor day, 9/8. She has not stepped foot in Mill Creek since.

How do I know I did the right thing?
1. Because that Tuesday, when I went to pick up Lillie's things at Mill Creek, I got her Friday folder from the previous week with her weekly progress report. The teacher had written: "Lack of focus - not able to repeat directions." She was BORED. And the teacher wasn't doing anything interesting or challenging for her, so she was tuning her out. And school wasn't interesting. And this was only the beginning.

2. Because Mrs. Nowlin gives her the freedom to work through her workbooks at her own pace and introduces new, harder ones when Lillie is ready for them. And she knows each student's abilities and encourages them to push themselves to the next challenge. The second day of school was 'curriculum night,' when the parents went and learned from the teachers what the kids will be doing this year. That night, I went in to her classroom and found that Lillie had already -- on day two -- completed 19 full pages in her workbook. Mrs. Nowlin saw me looking at the book, and she said, "I know this is way too easy for Lillie, but I started all of the kids at this level, and I'm not going to make her complete this whole book ... once she gets in the habit of doing her pages, I'm going to give her the next level up."

3. Because she has Spanish twice a week with a teacher who is a native Spanish-speaker. And art twice a week with a woman with an art degree. And science twice a week with a man who has a background in science, in a room full of different animals and insects and spiders in tanks for her to observe. Because she can now tell me Spanish words for feelings (sentimientos!) as well as the Spanish words for the different parts of a butterfly. And she can tell me the different kinds of legs the insects in our backyard have ('true' legs bend, and 'bristle' legs do not. I didn't even know that).

4. Because she was elected by her classmates to represent them on the student council ... after only attending the school for one week. This school has already done wonders for her confidence. She approaches the teachers and the principal to ask questions and make suggestions, she asks friends to play with her, she speaks up so people can hear her ... we have had trouble with all of these things in the past. But she knows now that her opinion matters and that adults want to hear what she has to say, and they care if she has a question. Today she even signed up for the school talent show!!

5. Because when I pick her up from school, she is excited to tell me about her day! All about new things she learned, funny things her friends said, and fun things coming up.

Basically, I am thrilled about this change for Lillie. She is excited and she is thriving!