Saturday, September 16, 2006

All the fun that the law allows. All the fun but with half the meaning.

The past couple of days have been rather busy, and I haven't had time to blog. But I have been writing. I got the deluxe full-length edition of Barenaked Ladies Are Me, the new release from my favorite band and track by track I'm writing my thoughts and opinions. Why? Because you're dying to know what I think! I know you are. You're sitting at home going "OH! What does she think about Adrift! and how does she feel about Fun & Games!"

Soon enough, my pretties. You'll know. You'll know.

I should be done with that sometime this weekend. Getting to this computer to sit longer than five minutes is a literal impossibility. I wanted for us to always be a one-computer family. We may have to move to two now that Geoff and Jess are both doing so much with it. Grrr.

Anyway. Onward with a long awaited entry.

Speaking of Jess, I went to her school open house on Thursday night.

I felt like I was in high school. It was ... almost fun. I walked in the door and immediately ran into her friend C's mom and dad. We stood and chatted while figuring out where homeroom was. We ran into someone else and chatted in the hall. The bell rang, we went to our seats. I got Jess' schedule. They're on a seven day rotation (which confused me, but now I see how it goes...) and we were living through day one of the schedule.

First, English. I like her English teacher a lot. His syllabus looks like a college freshman intro to literature kind of class. He makes them write a lot. No more "book reports" but actual writing. Real, hard writing. Yes. Sweetness. Mwah ha ha. She shall excel in this class.

Second was geometry. Her only non-honors class. The teacher looks like he's about 19 but he's not. He's more like 20.

He was really nice and encouraging. I talked to him for a minute and he said Jess will get an easy A in his class, and that she's showing strengths at being a good peer leader with the other kids who are struggling. How she ended up in a non-honors math class is she missed by just a tiny bit. She was a B, B- math student last year. This is her year to make that up. So far, she is doing great.

Next was Theatre Arts. It is an elective, and she, of course, signed up for it immediately. And was accepted into it. Jess has a really good friend from middle school in this class with her. The two of them are totally "Drama IS Life!" and I love the mom and dad. We chatted for a bit, and I found out that out of 20 freshman who auditioned for the play, four got parts. Their daughter and my daughter among them. Cool!

At this point I noticed that I'd been with the same mom and dad for three classes. Casually I walked up to them and asked "what do we have next period?" The mom laughed and consulted the schedule.

Biology? Yup. Biology.

Four straight classes with the same girl... how funny is that? I hope she's nice and my daughter likes her. It would suck to spend half your day with someone who sucks. The parents seemed really nice. I introduced myself.

They wanted to know what Jess was into. Field hockey? Drama? Yes! Drama. Their daughter is also in drama, but didn't get a role in the fall play. Jess did, so they congratulated her through me... trying to figure out who she was.

I described her, and the mom said "oh! Grandma!" Yes. She played Grandma in the play last fall. Indeed. It will be her most remembered part, I'm afraid. They love her. They were very excited to meet me and talk about drama and the high school. And they can't wait to see what she does next for theatre. Talking to people, total strangers, about my kid in this way was really bizarre. I mean, they know her and like her acting, and they think she's great and funny...

Living vicariously through my daughter's skillset was interesting. Meeting new people and finding they were friendly and nice and ... I was having the time of my life. I can hope she only is doing the same.

Biology was really cool. Her teacher is awesome and smart and they do this huge portfolio of work almost like an art class. Which I think is awesome.

The lab is all filled with crazy science stuff and an emergency shower! Dude! an emergency shower! I wanted to take a picture of it. It has a huge pouring head thing, and a giant thing to pull on to make the water turn on.

At this point, my path diverged from the mom and dad I'd just met. No more classes together. Sadly. We walked down the hall together, chatting. The mom was talking about how it must be so weird to be in ninth grade... all the people walking around with their attitudes, fashion, boyfriends and girlfriends, shrieking cheerleaders, football players gearing up for Saturday's game... and our kids. Mixed in. The mom looked like she may have been a cheerleader, more so than a theatre geek. I can only imagine her daughter. And I doubt that if this mom and I were in the same grade in school in 1980 we'd be clicking it off like this. She was petite, sexy, fancy shoes and a beautiful sweater. I had on a golf shirt and jeans, and a bandana in my hair... with my guster sweatshirt dragging behind me because it was so damn hot in the building.

For her to kind of look at what the hallways might be filled with at 7:30am most days kind of sounded like what I would say... or what my daughter would think and feel.

I went to History, and totally loved her teacher. He was a riot -- and he talked about how they do a huge unit on Colonial Architecture. Score. Jess can roll out of bed and write about her own house. Boo-yah! So I chatted with him for a bit, and he was psyched to hear about the house and style.

Ha. Score.

I then headed to German, and found her teacher is out because Mrs. German Teacher is having a baby. He left documentation and a sign in sheet for email so he can send us stuff... and there was information on exchange programs that the school does. Jess wants to do it but you need two full years of German under your belt. She has two semesters. So between 10th and 11th grade she'll qualify. It is a six-week exchange during the summer. I didn't see anything about a full academic year exchange or a semester exchange, so I'll have to look into that at some point if she's still interested.

Last course of the day was Freshman Writing Lab. Yawn. I cannot believe they make the kids take this. It is all "this is how a comma works" and "watch out for subject verb agreement!" She had all that crap down pat in fourth grade. And every single stinking year they have to take a semester or full year worth of this. What the heck!

I asked the teacher why kids who don't NEED this class have to take this class (meaning my kid) when her first period class is academically designed to do what this class does, only better and more thoroughly. She said it is district policy that they don't test out of this class. They used to do that, and found kids tested well, but weren't... that good really. With keeping all the kids in a freshman writing lab, by 10th grade their MCAS tests are pretty great compared to the rest of the state, and that they'd make the kids take a semester every YEAR to reinforce these skills and keep them in the game. She has sophomores in the class, because they failed last year. She even had a junior last year who failed it twice.

So the district insists that everyone take and pass Freshman writing lab. End of conversation.

She also said that the class builds peer evaluation skills. She breaks them up into groups of four and each group has a great writer, a weak writer, and two in-the-middle writers. Experience shows that by the end of the year this process works best in getting the weaker ones stronger. The strong writers aren't going to get weaker -- but they build their skills as peer leaders, and learn a lot about helping others. She said that in the first two weeks of school Jess has already shown great skill in helping other students edit, revise, refine and polish their writing. It will be an easy A for her, even if it is academically unnecessary.

I got to read her three writing samples, and they were all A work, graded with comments and everything. The person in front of me was all C work, I noticed over the dad's shoulder.

Her next piece is a character study of someone who has "influenced her life" as the assignment reads. She chose her friend K, the one who had the brain bleed last summer. The one we go to concerts with. It made me cry and it was just bullet points. I was sitting there in her seat with her folder and her work reading the bullet points of K's relationship with Jess. "Will you go to college with me?" was one of her quotes.

I nearly lost it. K is at a different school this year and I know that in some ways Jess is missing her, and in other ways she's grown past her. But that she chose her to write about at this time really surprised me.

Heck, I thought it would be ME. I am that self centered. Or at least her theatre teacher from last year. Or Kinger. She could have written about Kinger. But she chose K, and it should be an interesting final product.

In some ways I am glad for her to have the opportunity of taking this class. In others, it bothers me that my child isn't getting another academic subject but is participating in a big social engineering experiment upon her back, her skills, and her time - the school as a whole benefits. Instead of upon the teacher's back, skills and time. I'd rather she have another subject, say... Archaeology, Creative Writing, Public Speaking... no.

It is important for her to build the skills of working on a team. But I feel that there is way WAY too much emphasis on groups and teams and not enough individual brain building. It bothers me. I remember in High School each subject had ONE group project a year pretty much. A presentation, poster board, that kind of thing. Now it seems like every week, every day, is group dynamics, group learning...

Eating up time she can be getting into another topic more deeply.

Anyway -- all told, I like our school district and so far have really liked what I've seen overall at the high school level. I hope it continues. My neighbor has an 11th grader who was just like Jess in 9th grade. At the end of last year she took an attitudinal dive, her As turned to Ds, and she's hating school and life and everyone.

Please, God. Don't let us go down that path.

Anyway. Gonzo wants to go play flickit and he's been whining at me for forty minutes now. Best go take him.

More later.

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