The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Soulfish: Middle School (Part Two)

Posted in soulfish by Juliet on March 28, 2011

(If you missed Part One, click here.)

So yes, I hate flakiness.  I am as hard (if not harder) on myself than I am with others when it comes to reliability.  I like it when people do what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it.  End of story.

By the same token, I went ahead and enrolled Eva at the PossiblyFlakyMiddleSchool.  (Who am I kidding? PFMS is definitely a little flaky.)

I had a few reasons I didn’t want to let her deviate from the norm, but they seemed minor compared to Eva’s own reasons for wanting to make the switch.

For instance, next year, when Jane is in kindergarten and Eva is in fifth grade, will be the only possible year that both of our girls could share a school.  I could say that having both girls on the same campus would be more “convenient,” but honestly, with the half-day kindergarten we have here plus the extreme segregation of the kindergartners from the rest of the school population, nothing to do with kindergarten is “convenient” so it’s pretty immaterial.

It just kind of seems “fun” somehow, though in reality, they might see each other a handful of times a year, and only then to wave briefly at each other from a distance.  Eva’s lunch hour would be completely different from Jane’s snack time (kindergartners don’t eat lunch on campus) and anyway, the kindergartners have their own completely walled-off playground.

I also worried on Eva’s behalf about her missing out on special fifth grade activities and traditions, like Astro Camp and graduation (“promotion.”)  But Astro Camp was cancelled during 2010-2011 and likely will be cancelled next year too.  Our local economy is struggling and more and more families could not afford to send their kids to the week-long camp.  And Eva seems to have inherited the Pinson gene (from my maternal grandma’s side of the family) which doesn’t care much about graduation ceremonies.

And what about her friends?  Eva has always been very well-adjusted socially.  We moved a lot when I was little (at her age, I was at my third elementary school) and I wanted to provide her with the stability that comes from growing up together with a tight knit group of neighborhood kids.

Turns out, she enjoys the kids she knows from school, and I could see her continuing friendships with some of them throughout middle school.  But honestly, many kids drift into different friendships during the transition from elementary to middle school.  And Eva has always maintained friendships with kids from various spheres of life:  Sunday/Hebrew school, gymnastics, clubs, neighborhood kids who go  to different schools or are different ages, Girl Scout friends who go to other local elementary schools, or kids of people I know whom she sees when we all get together.  Now that she goes to sleepaway camp, she’ll add “camp friends” to the list.  She’s starting a new distance-learning program next month and she’ll probably have an international roster of virtual buddies too.

All this time, when I thought I was providing her with a safety net, I was actually giving her an internal comfort level strong enough that she feels safe stepping outside what the known.

In favor of switching to PFMS, Eva is very excited about a middle school instructional style, where the kids switch teachers for different subjects.  She’s the rare kid who is actually very interested in what the curriculum will be.  She also is very taken by the fact that PFMS students are on campus three days a week and work independently at home the other two days.  Yup:  homeschooling!  (Sort of.  They tell the kids exactly what to do and assignments are submitted online by the following day to the teachers.)

Eva wants to work on a laptop from Starbucks or the “teen zone” of the library.  When I was in high school, I did my homework at Cafe Pergolesi hoping someone would mistake me for a college student.  Eva has always been this way too, from the day we sat outside Sprouts and she did her reading homework for preschool (from the politically incorrect “I am a fat man” primer) and she said, “I hope those people walking by see that I have homework and think I’m in elementary school.”)

In a more macro sense, I am optimistic about the educational philosophy and style of PFMS.  Several parents have reassured me that there is zero “teaching to the test.”  I HATE teaching to the test.  Hate it!  At PFMS, all of the obligatory tests are done, but that’s it.  The entire curriculum for the entire school year isn’t planned around the tests like all of our district’s neighborhood schools seem to do.

Also, there is very little homework.  Whew!  I hate homework.  I feel that the majority of learning should happen during the school day, and after the kids get out, they should run around and play.  They should draw with sidewalk chalk or go on the monkey bars at the park or have a scavenger hunt throughout the neighborhood or ride bikes with their friends.

(I do like reading as homework, and I am a huge fan of flashcards for to build arithmetic speed.  I also like long-term projects like book reports or research projects.  But daily fill-in-the-blank busywork worksheets that look just like the worksheets the kids just spent seven hours doing?  Not so much.  I realize my dislike of standardized tests and homework makes me sound like a slacker, a misapprehension which will be hilarious to anyone who actually knows me in real life.  Honestly, I probably could use a little slacker-ing up for a happier, more relaxed life.)

Who knows what the coming year will bring.  Eva’s teacher pointed out that fifth grade is a good year to give PFMS a try, because if she doesn’t like it, she can always start our neighborhood middle school with the rest of her elementary school friends.

As for the “F” in PFMS’s name….that might be a lesson for me, too, in flexibility.  I may, by necessity, gradually unbend.  Become more slackerish, if you will.  I do a lot for my kids and if unbending is one of the things I need to do, so be it.

Up Next:  Middle School (Part Three) — Social Studies

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