Thursday, May 24, 2012

Do we overtest kids?

Recently our county mandated that the Guidance Counselor could no longer be in charge of testing.  So, as a Leadership Team, we began to talk about what the Testing Coordinator job for our very large school entailed and who in our school could pick up that responsibility.  Although I have known for some time that we are testing our children to death, I had no idea that 60 days of our Guidance Counselor's 180 school days involve TESTING - the county's three times a year benchmark testing in Reading, Math and Science to monitor our progress toward FCAT, the week and a half of actual FCAT testing, gifted screenings, annual testing of ELL students, annual testing for Music, Art, and PE, and the list goes on and on.  60 DAYS of testing! All mandated!

I certainly realize that Guidance Counselors should not shoulder this responsibility because they give up actual counselling and small groups to push paper, but I wonder just who in the school the county thinks has an extra 60 days to unpack, dispense, report, and pack up assessments!  Coaches are non-existent, at least at our school, which means we have already given up the professional development needed to make the testing and results really beneficial to instruction.  We gave them up with class size.  We don't have an Assistant Principal, even though we have over 1200 students, but even if we did, how could he spend 60 days with testing.  Should he just let the school's discipline wait while he packs and unpacks papers?  To think it could be a teacher, who this year added lunch supervision to her responsibilities and gave up all of her common planning and half her planning overall, is not even a consideration.  In a school this size, the testing for a single grade level can completely paper a small office.

Maybe the answer is to take a better look at the ridiculous amount of testing that we are doing in our state and in our county.  It is changing what teachers teach.  It is changing attitudes toward learning in our classrooms.  Children who once loved reading now dread it because we test everything that they read. They can't just read for the thrill of getting into the story of a good book.  Teachers are changing as they are forced to teach in a way that they don't believe is good for children. There are certainly teachers who are holding to their beliefs, but even they are getting beat down.  I do feel fortunate to be in a school where people still believe in the possibiities but as we are asked each year to do more with less, I begin to feel the edges get rough and in some cases begin to unravel, even in this Camelot...  We MUST make our thoughts known... before it is too late...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Parents' Celebration

It's that time of year when many classroom celebrate Mother's Day.  In Mrs. Ruark and Mrs. Timmons' kindergarten classroom they combine Mothers and Fathers and have a "Parents Day" Celebration.  They invite mothers and fathers in for a brunch between the two holidays.  This year they decorated the desks with placemats made by the chidren and with  "Happy Parents Day" cards.  They added fresh flowers to each table.   Each child practiced going to get his waiting parent in the hallway and invited them into the room.  The children were so proud to be walking their parents into the room and showing them their placemats and cards.

The agenda was posted on the board.
The parents and children started by eating!
They played a few games.  For one of the games, the parents sent in baby pictures and as the pictures flashed on the screen each child and parent tried to guess who it was.  The parent child combination with the most matches won a prize.  I don't know who enjoyed the game more - the parents or the children!

The highlight of the morning was the booklet that the children presented to their parents.  The children had worked on them all week in Writers' Workshop.  Below is one example.
Such a wonderful morning of celebration!

Blessings in a Backpack

One of the programs that our school supports is Blessings in a Backpack.  The program is really quite simple.  Its mission is to provide children who are in need with food over the weekend.  Teachers identify children in their classroom that are in need and then a small bag of groceries is slipped into their backpack on Friday so that the child will have food over the weekend.  PTA, teachers, families, etc can donate to the program or they can leave food at a giving area in the lobby.  In our school this project is the brainchild of a single teacher, Lauren Skipper, who saw a need and fills it every week.  Such a simple idea - such an awesome project!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kindergarten Round-up

Welcome to Kindergarten Round up.  You probably have that at your school too - a time when new kindergarten parents can come to the school, get a tour of the building and begin the registration process.  About two weeks ago we had such a night at Chets Creek.  Many parents came with their kindergartners, met the Principal and toured the building with one of our kindergarten teachers before they took the registration information home.

However, we have noticed over the years that our families from our neediest community do not come to Kindergarten Round-up.  Instead they wait until school starts and come with their students on the first day or first week of school.  We generally have 25-35 new kindergartners from this community each year and instead of having time to prepare for the new year they just walk in totally unprepared.  This year we decided to address the problem by having a second Kindergarten Round-up in their community.  Instead of them coming to the school, we went to the community, to the MARC.  Since many of the families are second language, the Principal made sure to have  an interpreter on hand to translate.  The Principal started by introducing herself, just like she does at the traditional Round-up.  She even brought her 8-month old daughter with her so the parents could see that she was a mom too.  She explained the registration information and then gave the families a visual tour of the school through a PowerPoint of slides.

The night was quite successful with about 16 new kindergartners represented.  The Principal gave the families other dates, one each for the next three months, that she would be at the Community Center to accept registration packets and answer questions.  This is just one of the many attempts that the school has made to build a bridge that will make it easier for all of our children to be successful.  Now we will be prepared for each of these new kindergartners.  They will walk into school on the first day with their names on the class list outside the door, with their names on their cubbies and school supplies on their desk ready to go.  They will know that they are expected and that they belong.  What a great way to start!