Becasue nothing says “Mothers Day” like purple plastic flowers randomly stuck into pastry.

Well hello there! Yes, it’s been a very, very long time. So, you’re asking, why aren’t you posting anymore?  It’s hard to say, but I think, in a nutshell, things just got way better and the urge…the urgency… just isn’t there the same way it was. I don’t know… I write things in my head.  I see educational-related, gifted-related local and national stories that could be the basis for posts, but … but…

And then there is the issue of identifiability (is that even a word? Spell check says no).  Although both girls have done things in the past year that make me as proud as punch, writing about them at any length would just make it all too easy to connect the dots. And really, with them away and my role receding, it’s not my story to tell any more.

HOWEVER, I have been prodded out of hibernation by one-time reader, Perpetual Dissent.  For those who might remember (or care to do the Google) Perpetual was a fellow blogger, and a rather razor smart high school student who occasionally commented here and vice versa.  The other day, he wrote me the nicest email, which I will share with you shortly.

But first a quick update (I can’t resist).  C. is a high school senior, graduating in just three weeks or so.  What can I say?  The past two years have been really, really good.  She has worked incredibly hard at her school.  No, like, crazy hard. But it’s been good hard.  She’s been intellectually challenged. She’s had the independence she’s craved.  She’s found a great group of friends at her school who love her and who she loves back and with whom she has all kinds of crazy adventures.  She’s had a phenomenal advisor who has had her back and gone to bat for her a few times with the school administration, and, overall, super smart, talented and passionate teachers.  We’re so grateful that she’s had this opportunity to attend one of the amazing school.

And she’s still who she is.  Not suffering fools lightly.  Opinionated. Speaking out about injustices, advocating for women, immersed in politics and history (and Sherlock!).  One of the things that tickled us immensely was that she was voted “Most Likely to Rule the World” by her classmates.  Now how cool is that–after only being there 2 years?  It’s who she is. She’s awesome. And she (and I) would like nothing better than to write to that odious middle school magnet coordinator who made our lives hell and tell her, look at me. Look at me now. You were so wrong. Come fall, she’ll be attending university overseas, one of the top universities in the world, and again, we are so excited for her, as it is just the right fit for her on so many levels.

And M.?  She’s blossomed at her school. It was hard in the beginning, not only the academic transition from homeschooling to school, middle school to high school, but the whole roommate, regimentation part of boarding school.  It was tough. I describe her school as “Girl Scout camp meets boot camp.”  There was some self-doubt in those first weeks. But she quickly discovered that “hey, I can do this.” And what’s more, that she is a top student.  She’s being challenged, but there’s a lot of personal attention and support there as well. And because sports are required at boarding school, she’s become something of a runner, cross-country in the fall and track in the spring.  In fact, she was chosen for varsity and competed this weekend in the league championships.  I doubt it would ever have happened had she stayed local. Overall, we’ve seen so much positive growth. This summer she’s going to have an amazing internship opportunity with one of the Smithsonian museums. Again, we’re so grateful.

So, back to the very, very kind email that I received from Perpetual Dissent.  Thank you.  Thank you so much. It really touched me and it’s the perfect thing to share on Mother’s Day.

Hi there!

As a long time reader of the blog, I’d noticed the rate of posts start to slow. Since it’s been just under a year since your last post, I guess it’s safe to say the blog has gone the way of the dodo. I’m curious as to how your kids have been getting on, though, since I’m only a few years older (I’m finishing up my freshman year of college) and could relate to a lot of what you wrote about them.Also, if either of them is still having a rough time in school these days, I’d like to say that as someone whose 13 years of undifferentiated public schooling went about as you’d expect (I was reading Lord of the Rings in 3rd grade, so you can probably imagine how English classes were…), I can promise that things will be so, so, so much better in college. I’m at a ~750 student liberal arts school that has only STEM majors (a STEM major and almost an entire humanities major? BLISS!), and not only am I surrounded by people who are as smart as me, I’m surrounded by people who are smarter! After years of trying to find friends to talk with about the political structure of a zombie-ruled Earth as predicted by a close reading of Oliver Twist, it truly is paradise.Having work that is hard enough, and sometimes even too hard has made me so much more stressed, but also so much happier. Until I got to a school that could truly push me, I didn’t realize just how sorely I needed to be pushed. Having people just as smart, as strange, and as frankly ridiculous as me has made my life so much better. In high school I really never had that feeling of being engaged in life, because everything I did I could coast through. Running into things that are hard, that force me to think, and sometimes that I simply cannot do has forced me to work harder and better than ever. In high school, I could hardly motivate myself to do two hours of homework a night. Now I’m doing 5 or more hours a day, every day, and I love it. I know it’s cliché to say everything gets better in college, but at least for one gifted kid whose so called “top 100” high school bored him half to death and who’s at a top-20 school and happier than he’s ever been, it’s proved so very true.I also wanted to say how lucky they are to have a mother who gets it. My mom is a wonderful woman, and she really did try to do what was best for me, but it took until midway through high school before she really got it. In elementary school, when I kept acting out (11th+ grade reading levels in elementary school will do that) she tried putting me in a group therapy thing for troubled kids for a few months before it became clear that wouldn’t help. The school recommended an IQ test, so when I was 8 I was given the WISC-III (if I remember right, I hit the verbal ceiling and scored in the mid 120s in processing). She didn’t really know what to do with it, though, so nothing ever came of it apart from giving me a bit of an ego.She never fought to get me differentiated instruction or get me put in advanced tracks because it took her so long to get that that had been my single biggest problem. I spent more time than was healthy on the internet from about 6th grade onward because it gave me the chance to teach myself and to escape bullying and loneliness. I finally started making real, good friends halfway through high school, but that was more because I mastered the art of the chameleon than any uptick in difficulty. I had 5 AP classes at once 2 years in a row (a total of 12) and those were no harder than an ordinary class as far as I was concerned.I know now that she really did her best for me, but there were many times when it felt like even my parents weren’t on my side, and that I was in it all alone, and it made things a lot harder for me.The fact that you get it and have fought for them has probably made more of a difference even than you realize, not just in the quality of the education they get but in the fact that there’s someone out there willing to fight for them. Knowing that makes a huge, huge difference. I certainly hope they’ve thanked you for it, but if not, I’ll do it for them: thank you. Keep fighting the good fight.-An older (and hopefully a little wiser) Perpetual Dissent

Perpetual, I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU! And again, thank you so much for you letter.  I too am a little, and hopefully a little wiser.

Decision Time

March 10th was D-Day in boarding school world. The day that acceptance, denial and waitlist letters went out.  We did our best not to think too much about it, but it was always there, in the background.

Two weeks earlier I got a call at work, from C.’s school.  As a courtesy they wanted to let us know personally that they would not be able to accept M.  I appreciated the gesture and although intellectually I knew that M’s acceptance would have the been a real long shot, and that deep down it really wasn’t the right place for her, it still stung a bit.

Early on the morning of the 10th M. checked her email.  And was greeted with a subject line that read “Congratulations! You’re a ____ Girl!” She was in at the small, New England girls school.  M. was flooded with relief.  It wasn’t her first choice, but…  Now she just had to wait the entire rest of the day for the two other decisions, which would be released at 7 and 8 p.m.  The final school decision would arrive by snailmail.

When the fateful hours arrived, M. held her breath and opened her email.  Waitlist.  Both schools.  Very disappointing.  However, it was a waitlist, not an outright rejection.  There was still a chance, albeit very slim.  We also reminded M. that these are very, very competitive schools in a time of  growing applicant pools.  That she was a  girl, applying with no geographic, athletic, or ethnic “hook,” needing financial aid and with an academic track record that some might say was a bit of a “wild card.”  So the fact that she even made it onto these waitlists was something she should feel good about.  A jump over to College Confidential confirmed this; there were many kids who were outright rejected or waitlisted everywhere this year. (BTW, not accepted at the snailmail school, which definitely surprised us, as that seemed a “match.”)

A few days later, the confirmatory fat envelope arrived from the Flower School, and we all laughed when green and gold sparkle stars spilled out into her hands.  Nice touch.  Better yet was the financial aid package, which equaled the one her sister had received and spoke of M.’s academic excellence and promise.  That meant the world to M. The saying goes “love the school that loves you” and here was a school saying very loudly and clearly: “We want you.  We think you can thrive here and be a credit to our school.”

C. came home for spring break the next day (love those long school vacations!) and she was excited for her sister, asking that when the time can she wanted a school sweatshirt. Even though C. is happy and thriving at her school, there is something about the Flower School’s quaint traditions that really speak to her.  Her sister’s enthusiasm certainly helped M. warm up to it.

A few weeks later Dear Husband, M. and I drove up to Rte 95 for the school’s revisit day.  It was cold and rainy–we had been hoping for some glorious spring weather, as the last time we visited the school it had been 17 degrees and snowing.  Oh well.  Perfect opportunity to wear those Hunter boots. When we entered the lobby to check in, I introduced my myself and M. was automatically greeted with “Hello M.!”  That felt nice.  M. was given a t-shirt and one of those rubber wrist bands with the school’s name on it.  There was mingling and then welcome speeches in the auditorium, then a chance to sit in on an English class where they were reading the Aeniad.  The teacher, herself an alum, was young and dynamic.  Typically there are 12 students in the class, and to break the ice with the visitors, she had the students suggest a bonus question for the introductions. They chose, “Name your favorite kitchen utensil,” lol.  The class was interesting and the students engaged, which definitely created a positive impression for M.  Then it was back into the rain.  Husband Dear and I headed to the “dance barn” for the adults’ lunch (excellent), while M. went with the kids to the actual dining hall (also excellent).  We sat at a table with the head of the math department and a few other parents and we got a very good feeling from the math guy.  Afterwards music and dance performances were planned, but we ditched the performances and snooped around campus a bit.  Things finished up with a reception in the sports building:  a cappella chorus serenade, house brand artisanal sodas, fancy flower-shaped lollipops.

And then the long drive home.

It had been an intense two days.  So much to consider.  A few things still niggled.  In the presentations there had been a lot of emphasis on relationships and traditions, but I would have liked to hear a bit more about the intellectual life of the school, the academics. I decided to follow up with the school librarian, who upon M.’s acceptance had sent me a congratulatory email and the offer to answer any questions we might have.  Not only is she the librarian (you can always count on a librarian ),  but she is married to a department chair and has two girls at the school–that she had homeschooled.  We had a good, frank chat, homeschool mom to homeschool mom.   Forty-five minutes later I got an unsolicited email from the Director Admissions, fully and convincingly addressing my questions.  Talk about responsive.

Love the school that loves you.  Love the school that loves your child.


M. said yes.

Premature empty nest here we come.

As you can probably guess, I have absolutely zero sadness at the departure of Jerry Weast. Words cannot adequately capture the smarmy arrogance of the man.  I had one final chance to catch him in action at the March 28 Board of Education meeting.  An overflow crowd of parents representing  various interests  — including GTA’s Challenge Every Child campaign (do be sure to check out the online petition and read the 850 comments) — had turned out that evening.  In the midst of public testimony, which people were trying to listen to, Jerry strolled in to tell the gathered crowd that they should be sure to show up at the County Council budget meetings to support his budget. Lame.  Condescending.  I short, you won’t find me at the Jerry Farewell Lovefest. (www.WeastLegacy.com.  Really? So modest.)

So it was with great interest that I awaited the announcement of the new MCPS superintendent.  This evening, with much drama, the announcement was made (pending Board Approval):  Joshua Starr, Superintendent from Stamford, Connecticut.

Starr, 41, has three children and began his career in special education.

Since July 2005, Starr has been schools chief for the Stamford school district, which has around 15,000 students and 20 schools. He began his career as a special education teacher in Brooklyn and later helped guide reforms in early childhood education and gifted and talented education in the New York City school district, according to his career biography. Starr has a doctorate in Education Administration, Planning and Social Policy from the Harvard University.

Starr, 41, is married and has three children.

You can read the MCPS announcement here, and a story from the Stamford Times here. And more are being published by the minute.

By comparison to MCPS, Stamford is tiny. Its entire gifted and talented program takes one webpage, this.

Here’s a link to the Stamford School Profile from 2008.  20 public schools.  3.6% percent identified as Gifted and Talented!  That was all of … 529 students!  Dr. Starr, you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Connecticut News Teacher Talk blog ran a interesting series of stories about and interviews with Dr. Starr earlier this year.  You can see them here:

This comment does not bode well for those interested in GT (from Connecticut News Teacher Talk blog):

…what you hear here from Stamford parents and teachers is the frustration of a group of people that want all kids to excel and not only the lowest group. We are in the process of alienating and shutting out our highest performing students and their parents.

The whole heterogeneous grouping movement and forcing higher achieving students to become academic role models to inspire lower performing students to improve academically serves only one student group.

I, as most parents, are not against heterogeneous classrooms. They are appropriate for non-core subjects. But for math, science, reading and writing it is a recipe for disaster. Especially if you consider the diversity of the Stamford school population.

Here’s some more skinny on gifted education in Stamford (from StamfordParents.com). (StamfordParents.com, meet Parents’ Coalition):

Gifted and Talented Program: the program that never happened agai

The gifted and talented program called “Extraordinary Learners Program” was cut in 2003/04 after nearly 10% of 2nd and 20% of 5th graders participated. Board members said it failed to serve the truly gifted students because the selection process became watered down, and some students were staying in the program because of parental pressure.  So in early 2007 a new gifted and talented program was proposed. We have some kids who are very, very high achievers, and we want to make sure we have the right instructional environment for them,” Superintendent Joshua Starr said. “It’s a distinct educational need that a certain segment, albeit a small one, has.” The district will hire four teachers trained in gifted and talented instruction. The program would cost $575,000 next year and be geared towards 3rd and 4th graders.  Albeit it never happened. As far as I know, is was cut out of the budget and there is no program in place as of now, to help the kids that are truly gifted and challenge them at an appropriate level.

In 2008 a  9 week long Math/Science Enrichment program was offered for students in grades 5 and 8. Students had to score in the 95th percentile and above on the 2007 CMT  in math. Students would meet one day per week for two hours at Turn of River Middle School.

Uh oh, and here we really have it:  Stanford Residents for Excellence in Education:  http://stamfordree.org/.  Looks like Dr. Starr was engaged in quite a nasty fight over “detracking.”

  • Detracking in the Stamford, CT Public School System – Pablo Corcel Relincha blog 12/11/09
  • Another View Regarding Middle School Reform – Stamford Advocate 1/14/10
  • Forum sparks dialogue over middle school reform – Stamford Advocate 1/22/10
  • Middle School Reform:  Superintendent’s Response – Stamford Advocate 10/28/10
  • Nasty tactic regarding mid-school reform unnecessary – Stamford Advocate 11/3/10
  • Response to Stamford Residents for Educational Excellence – longer response by Dr. Starr
  • 1/21/10 Forum on Middle School Reform at Rogers – the good, the bad and the ugly.  Quote: “During the Q&A came some good news.  In response to an SREE member’s question, Dr. Starr FINALLY went on record in front of a crowd saying that tracking and grouping are different, and that, for instance, Westover’s model of flexible ability grouping in math and reading is not tracking and gets good results.  Pretty big breakthrough.
    THE BAD: But then, as if catching himself for giving away too much, he continued down an unfortunate path, switching gears mid-answer to address tracking again.  He said that many people in the community would like to keep the practice of tracking in place for the benefit of their own kids in the top tracks, with the side effect of denying kids in the low tracks (many of who are minorities) the opportunity to grow.  This is a disturbing tactic — to make up a non-existent “other side” that is pro-tracking and then position their beliefs, agenda and goals in order to try to manipulate support. Unfortunately, given control of the microphone, Dr. Starr was left mostly unchallenged on this. And left unchallenged, it seemed plausible to some who have not been closely following the conversation..
    THE UGLY: When many SREE members in the audience raised hands to comment that no one supports tracking, and remind him that he even just said 5 minutes earlier that tracking and grouping are not the same and that grouping works, Dr. Starr abruptly cut off Q&A.  Some of this dialog was covered in the Advocate’s article.  One SREE member commented, “if this is how he treats the public, no wonder the teachers and administrators won’t come forward to voice dissent.”
  • Dr. Starr quoted in Should Your School Detrack to Close the Achievement Gap?  In the April Education Update feature, “Should Your School Detrack to Close the Achievement Gap?,” Stamford School District (Conn.) Superintendent Josh Starr discussed one of the barriers to community support for detracking: language. Being able to explain things clearly and simply—parsing for parents terms like differentiated instruction, tracking versus ability grouping, professional learning communities, and how tests will be used—is a vital, ongoing part of Starr’s work. “Without being too technical, parents need to understand what’s going to change and need to see evidence of their kids doing solid academic work,” he says.

Oh dear.  So much for hoping to start off with a reasonable person on a positive note.  Looks like GTAMC is going to have its work cut out for it.  Challenge Every Child couldn’t have come at a better time.

On what was a positive note, Gifted and Talented Association President Fred Stichnoth was invited to take part in off the record interview of the Superintendent candidates.  Fred has always been very forthcoming in his reporting of GT issues, and I look forward to his take on the new Superintendent.

UPDATE:  There have been many more stories published, plus information gathered.  GTAMC has rounded it up in an announcement here.

Under a Bushel

Congratulations to Montgomery Blair High School!  Blair was honored on February 16 with the Maryland Excellence in Gifted and Talented Education (EGATE) award. It is one of just five schools statewide—and the only high school—to receive the prestigious award, which recognizes outstanding gifted and talented education.  MCPS actually issued a press release!  For those readers outside of MCPS, Blair’s Math Science and Computer Science program is a perennial of rival of Fairfax’s Thomas Jefferson High School for most Intel wins.  The school also houses a highly regarded communications arts program.

Here are the application requirements for an award to the school.  ALL criteria must be met to qualify:

  • Administrator shows leadership in expanding/improving programs and services for gifted and talented students in the school or school system.
  • Administrator allocates resources (time, people, money) to expand and improve gifted and talented education programs and services.
  • Administrator leads the expansion or improvement of parent, community, and/or business partnerships that directly support the education of gifted and talented students.

But wait!  There hasn’t been any mention of this on the school’s own website.  No announcement on the school listserv.  Nor in the school’s award winning paper.  What gives?  Isn’t the school justifiably proud of the award?

Hmmm.  Well there is this story in Silver Chips.

…Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB) Alan Xie spoke with members of Blair’s Students for Global Responsibility (SGR) about the Gifted and Talented (GT) label Today. SGR is working with the countywide organization Montgomery County Education Forum (MCEF) to remove the GT label in elementary schools across the county.

Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB) Alan Xie met with Blair’s SGR after school today.
According to SGR sponsor George Vlasits, the club is currently working to inform Blazers about how the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system begins separating students in second grade. After seven-year-olds take a test, they are sorted into the GT track or the non-GT track. “The [non-GT] kids get very little opportunities,” Vlasits said. “They would like to try more challenging material but those things won’t fly.” According to Vlasits, due to a discrepancy in teacher expectations, it is hard for students not on the GT track to get into magnet middle schools or magnet high schools. “If [non-GT] are constantly told they cannot perform as well as GT kids, they will eventually believe it,” he said. “It gets back to what we do early on….”
Ah, it’s our good friends the MCEF, they of the “no labels, no limits” campaign!  (I’ve written about them in the past, such as here.) I don’t know about you, but it strikes me as rather…icky…to have a club adviser pushing a personal agenda through a student group.   Particularly one that essentially is about sowing divisiveness in the school’s community.
Worse, Mr. Vlasits’ comments are patently wrong.  “They would like to try more challenging materials but those things won’t fly.”  Fly by whom?  Please!  Last time I checked there is no gatekeeping for accelerated and enriched instruction in MCPS (some would argue that’s the problem).  Any student or parent of a student showing the willingness and interest for more advanced instruction ask for it and get it.  Not there is a lot to ask for–we’re essentially talking accelerated math instruction, and in future that is going to be ratcheted back now that MCPS has decided that it over-accelerated in the past.  Plus a smattering of William and Mary.  So please show me this “GT Track” because I and other GT parents haven’t been able to find it in the 10+ years I’ve been around MCPS.  Instead we hear over and over and over again that GT identification is completely meaningless.  (40%+ identified as GT.  Thanks MCPS!)  Is he talking the Centers for the Highly Gifted perhaps?  Well, that program is there to meet the legitimate needs of outlier students whose needs can’t be met in a regular classroom.  Kids who would otherwise be bored and alienated in school. Is that what he’s advocating?   Denying the right of every student to learn something new every day?  Because it seems like the total elimination of all honors, magnet, Center, accelerated etc. etc. classes and programs is the only thing that will satisfy.

Update Part Two

And now the Update Part Two.

M. you’ll recall is homeschooling and back in September I posted a line up of what we were planning.  Like all good homeschoolers, we did some adjusting along the way. The critical thinking class?  Gone.  It just did not appeal.  Aleks.com?  As much as I am a huge fan of Aleks, and despite my begging, imploring, demanding, and pleading I just have not been able to get M. to even log on.  Clearly I am a fail Tiger Mother.  We’ve instead relied on the tutor and extra work she assigns.  M. is making good progress and is on track to finish Algebra this year.  Latin has kind of faded out.  On the plus side, M. is rocking her EPGY English classes. There have been some struggles, mainly the logistics of keeping the schedule straight and turning in assignments.  But I’ve been pleased to see how she’s stepped up and I’ve been able to step out, as it should be.  I continue to be impressed with EPGY classes.  I think the level of work she’s being asked to do, and the amount and type of writing, is far beyond what she would have gotten in MCPS.  She’s got an excellent foundation for middle school.

With those two pillars, math and English, in place, I’ve been happy to let her give free rein to her other passions. In addition to four Lukeion classes this fall, she’s watched countless history and social studies-ish documentaries.  She’s plowed through thick history books.  She’s been reading archeology blogs and magazines and the New York Times.  She spent two weeks glued to Al Jazeera, watching the Egyptian revolution unfold.  And she’s baked.  Boy has she baked!  Baking has turned out to be a tremendous gift.  A few months ago we bought a freestanding cabinet to store her growing stock of pans, sprinkles, specialty ingredients and gadgets, and on top proudly stands her holiday present, a cherry red KitchenAid mixer.  She’s turned out amazing tarts, tortes, pie, breads, rolls, cookies, and cupcakes to great acclaim.  Let’s just say that I will never buy commercial pita bread again.  Most interestingly she says that it has really helped her both relax and improve her ability to focus and organize.  I can really see it.  I consider it a great gift that she’s had this time to simply explore her interests and passions, something I doubt would have happened to the same extent has she remained in school.

Playing against this fall’s homeschooling backdrop has been high school applications. The testing.  The school visits and interviews.  The essays (oh the essays), for both her and for me.  Lining up the recommendations and crafting the transcript.  I think in my posts of a year ago I may have mentioned that it was during a school interview for C. that I looked out the window and had an epiphany:  “M. would love boarding school.”  Small classes with individual attention, amazing resources (archaeology museum anyone? famous speakers, etc. etc. ) and something always going on.   Hence the decision to apply to boarding schools as well.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  She would also apply for a local high school magnet and submit her preferences in the Down County Consortium lottery, again hoping for the best.  Worst case, we could always move.

It started in October with the first sitting of the SSAT.  We did some rudimentary review and familiarization, but she never actually sat down and did a whole practice test.  I think she just couldn’t bear facing the possibility that she wasn’t ready—even though she was—because in her mind so much was riding on the outcome.   On the morning of the test she was anxious to the point of physically shaking—the child hadn’t taken a standardized test in over 2 years.  When she came out she felt huge relief.  It really hadn’t been as awful as she imagined.

Next came the first school visits and interviews. All three of us drove up to New England to visit C. for Parent’s Weekend and en route did the first school visit for C.  Driving up north, the leaves turning made me realize all over again how much I love that part of the country.  It’s home.  M. was nervous about her first interview, but it went wonderfully well.  The woman was warm and “seemed like a mom.”  Not intimidating at all.  M. is an easy conversationalist and relates well to adults so she came out feeling very positive.  Husband Dear and I also had a positive chat and liked the school a lot.  The following day we visited a different school, the smallest and most traditional of the schools M. is applying to.  We got a warm welcome from admissions person whom we had met at the Norwood Independent Schools fair.  Again, the campus was New England perfect, with carved pumpkins lining the campus circle.

Next came the application and testing for the MCPS high school magnets.  Thankfully the application wasn’t too involved but worryingly, M. felt she did poorly on the test. The following week was a second try on the SSAT and this time she was much more relaxed and felt even more positive of the outcome.

And then the essay writing began in earnest.  X School is a challenging environment, intellectually and physically. What in your son’s or daughter’s academic and personal life leads you to consider him or her likely to respond well to the challenges X School presents? What do you feel your son or daughter will contribute to the X School community? What qualities of character and mind in your daughter or son most delight you? Please tell us briefly why you think X School and your child would be a good match. And so on, and so on.  Meanwhile M. had to think of her favorite books, describe her family, explain why she’s homeschooling and what that looks like, tell how she had made a difference in the community, talk about her strengths and weaknesses, describe a research project she might want to undertake.  And so on and so on and so on.  It’s quite a process and regardless of outcome, I think it’s been a really good experience.  The college application process will be nothing new to her.

So now she waits.  One piece of good news did arrive late last month. Earlier in the month I had received the results of the consortium lottery, and while she wouldn’t have to attend our base school, she didn’t get her first choice either.  Ugh!  “Can’t this kid just catch a break once?”  I fumed.  But then a few weeks later we got a letter from a magnet. She was in!  Huge relief.  So, no matter what she will have a good option for the fall.


Pull up a chair, time for an update!

So when last we we had an up close and personal, C. was off to boarding school in New England.  So how has that gone? (Today we’ll do C.  M. will be the next post.)

All told, great!  Academically, there were a few kinks to work out in her schedule at the beginning, namely math and foreign language placement.  If she had remained at her MCPS high school, she would have been taking B/C Calculus.  Her new school essentially wanted her to  repeat pre-Calculus (a class she got A’s in in MCPS) for two terms  and then start B/C in the spring.  Daughter Dear would have none of it.  She *hates* to repeat stuff.  She wanted to proceed straight into B/C Calc.  Despite her diligent self-advocacy — and the promise that she would take full responsibility for her possible failure — the department head wouldn’t budge.  The compromise was  A/B Calculus, but only after she had successfully taken the first test in pre-Calc, which meant she would be starting A/B Calc already behind.  She proved her mettle,  joined the A/B Calculus class (the only junior in a class of seniors) and is doing great.  Similar situation in French.  They wanted her to repeat, and she replied “non!’  She was able to move.  Her other classes are Physics (one of two juniors in a class of seniors), Middle Eastern History (the only junior), and a special English class just for the new juniors.  (BTW, at this school 11th graders are called something else and “juniors” are actually what we know as freshmen/9th graders — but I’ll stick with the more familiar public school designation, “junior.”)  Academically, I think it is really what she was looking for.  The class sizes are ridiculously small: 7 in French, 10 in Physics — Middle East, at 16, is at the outermost edge of acceptable — as opposed to 35+ in her former classes.  There is discussion.  The teachers are engaged and really know each student.   She’s working very hard… but still has time to be involved in a slew of extracurricular activities.

Socially, it is very hard to jump into a new school during junior year.  It just is.  Add to that C.’s, ah, “choosy nature,” and that makes it a bit tougher.  initial impression was that students — especially the girls — are unfailingly nice and pleasant…but not as comfortable having a passionate debate about, say, politics. Which is what she loves.  There is a bit of “sameness” (Uggs? Check.  Long blonde side ponytail?  Check.) that anthropologically A. finds interesting…and disconcerting (“Mom, I just don’t know how to ‘do’ teenage girl.”).  Boarding school has thrown into relief what an unusually spirited, diverse, and liberal corner of the universe we inhabit here in Silver Spring.  (By boarding school standards she’s practically a hippy.)  She’s responded by throwing herself into campus clubs and activities, including Mock Trial, which she loves, a campus women’s group and weekly tutoring of middle schoolers from a neighboring town.  Last week she called to let me know that she found another junior girl who is as obsessive about politics as she is–oh happy day!  She’s also befriended a sophomore in her dorm and last week, after the latest tremendous snow, she walked into town with a new friend to visit a thrift store.  Overall, I think she’s happy.  She sounds happy.   And for that I’m deeply, deeply grateful.

A quick word about C.’s advisor.  She’s phenomenal. We went up for Parents’ Weekend and had a chance to meet for the first time and talk.  She so gets C. and appreciates some of the very qualities that were not appreciated by other teachers in the past.  Again, words cannot express how much that means to this mom .  In fact, we were impressed with all of C.’s teachers.

“What about you, SwitchedOnMom?” I hear you ask.  “How are you dealing with the separation?”  Honestly?  It’s not bad.  Sure I miss her, but those feelings are far outweighed by my happiness for her, that she has the opportunity to be part of this ideal learning community.  What must it be like to walk down wide, tree-lined paths in the fall, white spires against a blue sky? It’s flat out gorgeous.  To be surrounded by the energy of hundreds of talented, bright, energetic, athletic, musical young people.  And to live in that place and to feel “this is my place, my school“…that’s got to be amazing.  Naturally technology helps a great deal too.  I just got off the phone with her — she was excited to tell me about an email she got from a faculty member about a research project she’s working on, and about a very successful club meeting.  I text her.  She texts me.  She’ll call in the middle of the day.  We Skype.  I talk to her at least every other day.

I also love to see the growth, the maturity.  I have to say, at the end of winter break it gave me a thrill to pull up to the curb at BWI, lift her bag out of the trunk, give her a hug — and get back into the car and wave goodbye, knowing that she was fully capable of checking herself in, getting through security, getting on the plane and traveling back to school on the other side. Finally, it’s been nice to spend more time with M.  She says, and I agree that we’ve gotten much closer in the past few months.  The two sisters have also gotten closer to each other.  Now that is really nice to see.

Hello Readers! Thank you for the recent kind comments. So where have I been? Well, here. Between work whose demands are picking up (but not salary–everyone took a 10% pay cut in early December :-(), homeschooling and momming, and shepherding M. through the application process this fall to 5 boarding schools and a local application program…well things got kind of busy. More on that later. But for now, I offer you Sir Ken Robinson on homeschooling. You probably know Sir Ken for his *wildly* popular TED talk on creativity. Here’s his very complimentary view on homeschooling.


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