Thursday, August 25, 2005

school happenings...

Last March I visited a K-6 Spanish immersion school in another school district. We were considering having Georgie attend there. I loved the smallness of the school--only about 100 or less students per grade. Everyone knew everyone. The classrooms I visited were full of excitement. I found that immersion teachers tend to be very animated, especially in the younger grades. Two other things that impressed me about the school were the high academic standards and the very active parents' organization. There appeared to be many parents taking an extremely active role in the school. I had a wonderful feeling come over me there.

We were also looking at a classical academy charter school, grades 6-12, in our own city. Georgie especially liked the charter school. According to Georgie's age she would be entering fifth grade this fall, but the charter school agreed to accept her into the sixth grade. She finished fifth grade math and language arts in the spring through her online school. They wear uniforms at the school and Georgie even loved that. This academy has a very rigorous curriculum and they study Latin every day. Of course that appealed to me right away. One of my most worthwhile classes in high school was Latin, and I think all smart kids should begin studying it by jr. high. (I'll spare you the joys of Latin in this post, but I'll have to write about it soon because I'm reading this wonderful book right now, Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin. Everyone should read this book. Now!)

Why don't we have Georgie go to the Spanish immersion school and then in seventh grade she can switch to the charter school, proposed J. I liked the idea, but for several complicated reasons I began to lean toward having her go ahead with the charter school, starting sixth grade this Fall. I wasn't sure the immersion school would work out very well. One reason was that the school didn't have room at that time in the first grade for Lidia. Lidia seemed very opposed to the idea of eventually attending the immersion school when an opening came up. Marcus is attending Spanish immersion Kindergarten in a new program starting this year in our city, and Bernie will attend there too, K through sixth. That would leave Lidia as the only non-immersion kid and I didn't feel good about that. Also, Georgie seemed to be advancing quite well in Spanish and I wasn't sure she needed the Spanish immersion experience.

Anyway. We decided to go ahead with the charter school and enrolled Georgie there. A few weeks after I did that I didn't feel good about it. I began to not like the idea of pushing my 56 lb. little girl a grade ahead. I suddenly switched gears and made the decision to homeschool Georgie one more year and then start her at the charter school with her proper grade. I felt really good about that.

Until. Until I began to remember the immersion school again and how much I loved it. I thought about what a blessing it would be for Georgie to strengthen her Spanish, to be able to write and read at a higher level. About a month ago I began to wonder if they might have room there for Lidia this fall (the principal had told me in March that I should check back in late August) and if I could convince Lidia it would be a good thing. I started to think she might like a change because she was saying she wanted to homeschool. I emailed the principal who told me to call her in a few weeks to set up an appointment for Georgie to take a proficiency test. There was room in the fifth grade. When the day finally came that I could call her (I thought it would never come) I asked if there was also room in the second grade. The principal said there was indeed an opening, but there were several other families on the waiting list she would have to call first. She said she would get back to me. She did not get back to me and I called a few days later, Monday the 22nd. She said I could bring both girls in for proficiency tests on Wednesday. My stomach did flips. Now I was worried about my daughters' ability to pass this "proficiency test." The principal told me they both had to be able to read and write in Spanish. I got very nervous remembering her words in March--"This is not a school where children go to learn Spanish. These children do all of their work in Spanish. The fifth graders write all of their reports in Spanish. We have high academic standards here." I was really worried that the girls would not pass, or that one would pass and the other wouldn't, which would be even worse!

When J and I talked with Lidia about the immersion school, she was initially very opposed. She said she wouldn't understand anything and she'd feel terrible. I thought to myself, "Well, there we go. Lidia will not be going to this school." Imagine my surprise when the next day she said in a prayer, "Please bless us to be able to go to the Spanish immersion school." She had decided she did want to go after all. Lidia can be a tough one to figure out sometimes.

So Wednesday morning I drove them over to the school. A second grade teacher and fifth grade teacher took them away to talk with them. Georgie had to do a writing sample, reading comprehension, and some math and she was really indignant when she found out all Lidia did was take a tour of the classroom and play a card game. Both girls "passed." We'll see how it goes! I'm a little nervous for Lidia. I hope she doesn't get too overwhelmed. Both teachers made a favorable impression on us. The fifth grade teacher is a nice man from Mexico City. I observed his classroom last spring and he strikes me as a thoughtful, patient man who has high standards for academic performance. I thought he would work well for Georgie who likes men. (I think she likes boys and men because they are less frequently 'silly' and they are more likely to enjoy the things she does--science, legos, sports, the Redwall series.) The second grade teacher is from Panama and she's very funny. You can tell she likes to make kids laugh. She also told Lidia that she had grown so attached to her she was really hoping to have her in her classroom. I was happy to find out today that both girls would have as teachers the ones they met Wednesday.

The school is about a 20 minute drive from our home. I will be driving them to and from school every day. Once the construction is finished it will be about 15 minutes, and eventually less once they remove the two remaining stoplights from 169, but that will take two years.

Wish us luck!

Friday, August 19, 2005

more K-5 thoughts...

I am anxious to continue my summary of grade school years. Just the bit that I've written has unleashed scores of memories from my childhood. When I'm out driving the kids around I miss turns and even got lost once as these funny, strange, horrible, sad, sweet stories come to mind. Perhaps if I write them down they will stop calling to me so insistently, interfering with my life's work.

Before I move on to Junior High I wanted to jot down a few more details of my elementary years, things perhaps unrelated to school yet pertinent to my education. The education of my soul. School was never where my soul took nourishment. Church may have had some influence on me in these years in that a few little seeds of faith were sewn, but I didn't feel at this point in my immature understanding of the gospel that I could "look to God and live." I mean that the gospel did not solve my problems when I was a child. My problems were not, I'm sure, different from what most children experience, yet I often felt overcome by sadness and dark, troubling thoughts. I was not a happy, carefree child. The pricks and stings of my young life, as well as those I experienced vicariously through others' hurts and griefs, seemed to pierce me with greater force and acuity than they should have. I was so vulnerable, so thin-skinned.

I had several balms of Gilead. One was the home of my maternal grandmother and her presence there or anywhere. Gram's house on Pine Street had an orange room, a green room, a cheerful kitchen, and some tiny, cozy bedrooms upstairs. It was immaculate and orderly. It was quiet. There were molasses cookies. More importantly, I could do no wrong in that house. When I walked through the door into that front hall, I ceased to be ugly and dull-witted. (Yes, I thought I was rather homely and not-so-bright as a child. I don't know why.) I became a new little girl in my grandmother's house, one of elfin beauty and infinite cleverness, one for whom the world held only delight, one upon whom fortune smiled. How I adored my grandmother, and how I loved to be in her presence!

I also found solace in my books once I learned to read. I didn't read chapter book until I was in third grade. I realize now that I often read to escape. My mother found many good books for me when I was a little older. My favorite Christmas gifts were books, and I always opened them Christmas Eve and read until 3 am or so. When I was in fourth and fifth grade I read the Little House on the Prairie series multiple times, and I was entranced by that little family. Somewhat obsessed. I longed to discover the mystery of how they could be so happy with so little money. Most of the books I read I stumbled upon in the library under the suspicious watch of the children's librarian. I still don't know why she was such a grump, and why she didn't help me find some good books. She only spoke to me tell me to stop eating snacks in the library or to stop eating hard candies in a sneaky way. Hard candy was permitted, I was snootily informed. She seemed to resent my presence. I rarely saw many other children at that library. I'm almost certain I must have been the most devoted patron of my age. One would think a children's librarian would take such a child in hand and give her a good list of books to work through. What an opportunity she lost! I suspect she had a rather small soul. Oh well. She was not "of the race of Joseph" as they say in Anne's House of Dreams.

My last balm of Gilead? Maine. Dear Maine. I recently posed myself the question if I would trade my childhood in a remote, small (an adjective that also describes the outlook and ambitions of many of the town's inhabitants) town in Maine for the more privileged upbringing of my own children in a (comparatively) wealthy suburb of Minneapolis. I had few opportunities for special lessons which my own children take in abundance and the schools I attended were very poor compared to the schools here. I know that as a child I longed to live in a big city of course, only because we all want what we don't have. But now I see with different eyes. I see the aesthetic, the appreciation for beauty I learned from the subtle, sweet beauty of Maine. How many hours did I spend playing by the little brook that ran beside our house or the pond in the field? How many times did I run to the high back field and climb the tree to survey the valley before me? I did this every time I thought the dark thoughts. The new perspective I gained from climbing the tree on elevated land opened me to whispers from the Spirit, soothing words that assured me I was loved. The summer between fourth and fifth grade I rode my fat, bay pony, Chico, every day. He was a cantankerous old beast, but became sweet and malleable after a few weeks of daily administrations. By the end of the summer I could ride him anywhere with no saddle or bridle--just a halter with a lead attached. That little guy was a fabulous jumper and he enjoyed it. We jumped fallen trees and ditches. We explored. My parents did not know exactly where I was most of the time--I had such freedom. In this day I get nervous letting my children ride their bikes around the block. I think my childhood was privileged in ways that my children's lives are not. I would not have traded a childhood in rural Maine for anything.

Like most Mainers in exile, I did not realize the beauty of my state until I left it. A couple of years ago a couple I knew from church told me they were going to Maine for their 25th anniversary. They would be staying at Bed and Breakfast places, and they were going in the Fall at the height of the color. I was anxious to hear their impressions when they returned. The lady said she had liked Maine well enough, but thought her neighbor's maple tree was as beautiful as any they had in Maine. She thought Maine was pretty much like Minnesota. I'm afraid my reaction was not very Christian, but I didn't have time to compose myself. I was too stunned--it was so unexpected. I stared at her for a minute and then it occurred to me that she must be joking. I laughed and said, "You almost got me there." But then there was an uncomfortable silence as she realized what I thought of her taste and I realized she hadn't been joking. I told my husband later (and he thought I was being a terrible snob and told me so) that I was so grateful I had been raised in Maine and appreciated beauty when I saw it.

death in the family

Just my computer. That's one reason I haven't posted lately, also I was finishing my Physical Science course. 53 classes down, 3 to go. (I don't know that 53 is the exact number--something like that. I have an unholy number of credits. Too bad it took me 7 years to decide on a major...)

How was it I got myself such a good man when dolts abound? I certainly don't deserve better than most women. J has been so supportive of me finishing college. He has watched the kids many times when I'm working on my classes, even though that leaves him with virtually no time for himself, for his own pursuits or interests. In fact, J supports me in everything I do. What does he do for himself? Pretty much nothing. He appears to find immeasurable joy in spending time with his wife and children. Since he was called to be a counselor in the bishopric he always has church work waiting for him, but he seems to enjoy that too. He puts in long and harried hours for his business. That is J's life. And we love him for it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Heaven help us--The truth of it!

"Mainiacs away from Maine are truly displaced persons, only half alive, only half aware of their immediate surroundings. Their inner attention is always preoccupied and pre-empted by the tiny pinpoint on the face of the globe called Down East. They try to live not in such a manner that they will eventually be welcomed into Paradise, but only so that someday they can go home to Maine."
-- Louise Dickinson Rich

Here is a link for all of you fellow exiled Mainers: http://www.exiles.com/

Grades 3, 4, and 5

I finally had a bearable teacher in third grade. She was the young, pretty, cool teacher who everyone wanted to get. All the boys had crushes on her. She seemed to have higher standards for learning and teaching than my other teachers had had, and was very energetic. I felt like I was finally learning something and I felt better about myself because of it. On the downside she was often sarcastic and liked to tease people. She thought she was very clever and made jokes at students' expense. But I have to admit she was fun. And funny. One day she came to school dressed as Laverne from Laverne and Shirley. She talked and acted like Laverne all day.

My fourth grade teacher was in many ways opposite from the third grade teacher. It was suspected she was a former nun because she wore black skirts every day, had never married, and was very strict in manner and appearance. She seldom smiled in the classroom but at recess she always had a little cluster of needy girls (of which there were many at my school) around her, holding her hands. With a quiet, serene smile she would walk her very stately, dignified walk around the playground amidst the cluster of girls. One sensed, though she was strict and sober, that she really loved children. I admired her excrutiatingly neat penmenship and orderly ways.

That year, as well as my fifth grade year, there were some really mouthy boys in my class. They always made fun of me because my father was a dairy farmer. My social standing was quite low for this reason, not helped by my often serious and self-important demeanor. It wasn't until later that I learned to use humor and wit to deflect teasing. I wanted desperately to be accepted, to rise above my "smelly farm girl" status. It may have been around this time that I started to loathe the farm instead of loving it as I always had.

My fifth grade teacher was a former hippie who every Friday passed out graphic photos of animals used in laboratory experiments. Aside from that oddity, she was a nice enough lady. By the time I was in fifth grade I'm pretty sure I did most of my learning outside of school. I read enormous numbers of books of every sort. My mother kept a fairly well-stocked home library, and I was a regular at the town library.

It makes me smile to remember the day toward the end of 5th grade I found out what division I would be in for 6th grade. The Junior High grades were divided into groups by ability. I believe there were 4 groups. Our teacher called our names one at a time and we would go up to her desk. She gave each student a little slip of paper with our division number on it. I assumed I would be in 6-2. I had always been in the second reading group and second math group (and I'd always resented it and wondered why I wasn't in the top groups.) I was shocked to read 6-1 on my little paper. It's amazing to me when I look back on it that it wasn't until that moment I thought I was "smart."

Sunday, August 07, 2005

summary of school years

Reading Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Gatto has really made me think a lot about my grade school years. These memories keep cycling through my brain, preventing me from sleeping or thinking constructively. I want to capture these thoughts by writing a summary of my grade school years. This could very well prove uninteresting to my readers--feel free to skip it! I warn you that it won't be uplifting.

K-2:

My first three elementary school teachers were ghouls. All three yelled excessively and were prone to daily crankiness. My 2nd grade teacher may have been the worst, as she had a high-pitched, nasally voice that was difficult to withstand day after day, hour after hour. Her facial expression was always the same--like she smelled something really bad. She was always rolling her eyes and shrugging one shoulder insolently. She also possessed a nasty sarcastic streak. And she was stupid. Or perhaps evil. Once I was having a fierce debate with the dumb kid sitting next to me. He started crying because I told him that bats were mammals, not birds. This teacher called me over to her desk and whined loudly, "Lindsay, everyone knows that bats are not mammals. They're birds." The next day I triumphantly showed her the page of my bat book which clearly stated that bats were mammals. She put on a face like she was smelling something riper than usual and told me to go back to me seat.

I did not learn quickly in these classrooms and constantly longed to be somewhere else, anywhere. It seemed like all I ever did for school work was color 5 fish blue and 4 fish green. Circle the apple that's on top of the book. Stuff like that. What I dreamed about was learning to read. I wanted so much to learn to read, but it seemed no one would teach me.

My kindergarten and first grade years were also painful because of a long, hideous bus ride. There were children ages 5-18 on the bus. The older kids were completely depraved. I wouldn't be surprised if many were in prison right now. In kindergarten I had stomach cramps every morning, probably in dread of that long bus ride of an hour or so. I heard the filthiest of language and witnessed both horrible cruelty and occasional sexual acts. By the time I got to second grade the bus ride did not bother me as much, partly because I was desensitized to all that went on around me, and partly because I found some friends, two boys who looked out for me. They were both in sixth grade, four years older than I was. They liked me because I laughed at their jokes and stories. And when I say I laughed, I mean I busted a gut. I literally laughed until I cried. (I still do that sometimes--like when Harpo Marx does that thing where he places his thigh in someone's hand.) One of the boys was expecially funny, or so I thought at the time. He told stories about haunted houses that for some reason made me laugh until I begged him to stop because my stomach hurt. Sometimes the two boys would fight over who got to sit by me. And then they would start mock fighting, pro-wrestler style. And of course that was very funny. One of the boys lived just down the street from me and he told his father (who told my mother) that when he got ready to get married he thought he'd marry me. So he'd always have an appreciative audience, I suppose?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Deer Island thoughts

I just realized I haven't mentioned anything about my big girls being gone away. Georgie and Lidia went to Maine last Tuesday to spend a couple weeks with their grandparents. They are having such a good time, they rarely think of home! They have enjoyed fishing, catching stuff with a net in the mill pond, playing with minnows in the stream, kayaking, building sand communities and saving them from waves produced by passing motorboats, sketching with their mega-haul of art supplies from Nana and Great-Grammie G, driving the gator, going to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, cousin L's birthday, babysitting cousins L and C, and other stuff I don't recall. Georgie asked Nana if being a doctor would be a good job for someone who wanted to live in Maine. Looks like she's picked out both profession and state of residence--good for you, Georgie!

This morning they took off to Canada, Deer Island to be exact. They're determined to go clam digging like I used to when I was a kid. How I loved the little grey-shingled, red-shuttered cottage on Deer Island. Everything seemed to be in miniature. I loved dipping the steamed clams in melted butter in the coziness and warmth of the tiny, yellowy kitchen. I passed happy hours examining the little treasures lining the shelves of the bay window seat. What was there that so fascinated me? I wish I could remember all of those magical trinkets. There was a little German-style clock I think, with a little wooden boy who came out when it chimed or something? There was an old scale. A horseshoe crab. What else, darn it? Brothers and sister, do you guys remember? I loved picking and eating the juicy blackberries and raspberries on the trail down to the beach. There was the requisite old barn filled with stuff of course, because this property was owned by my grandfather. To be fair, there were also mosquitos who could fly off with you.

Bringing back these happy memories is making me momentarily forget the close, oppressive heat of this day (power was out for over 4 hours last night--no air conditioning and no fan--hellish) as well as the the dull time I've had studying for my Physical Science exam which I will take in about 1/2 an hour.

Buttermilk Yeast Biscuit(s)

See Ml's post about biscuit(s). Have I posted this recipe before? Anyway, people always like it.

1 pkg. dry yeast (about 2 ¼) tsp.
½ cup warm water
4 ¾ cups flour
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ cup chilled butter, cut into pieces
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
Cooking spray

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Combine flour, sugar, salt, soda, and powder in a large bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yeast mixture and buttermilk; stir until just moist. Cover; chill dough at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 450F.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 5 or 6 times. Roll dough to a ½-inch thickness; cut with a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter into 32 biscuits. Place on 2 ungreased baking sheets. Coat tops of dough with cooking spray. Let stand 20-30 minutes. Bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes.

sister's Manhattan Clam Chowder

In large saucepan add
1 yellow onion chopped
several stalk of celery chopped
carrot chopped
1 can chicken broth

Simmer about 15 minutes then add
pinch of basil
1 large potato chopped
2 regular sized cans of diced tomato
juice from 2 cans of minced clams

Simmer until potato is tender, I cover it so the juices don't reduce too much.
Stir in minced clams

I made this last night and it was a big hit! J like it, I loved it. I didn't feel bad eating an extra helping as it seems pretty healthy. Bernie and Marcus weren't raving about, but ate all I served them when told they could have dessert as soon as they finished. (Most days that's the only way I can get my kids to eat healthy stuff.) I'll have to make it when the big girls get home and see if they like it. I used petite-diced tomates because my kids don't like big tomato chunks. I used a lot of fresh basil, maybe 2-3 T.