11.25.2009

The table is set, now make your choices...

Happy Thanksgiving to all. This is the time when we often fill our plate with food and the choices are often plentiful. Do you want mashed potatoes or yams, or yams with or without marshmellows, better yet, slightly carmelized marshmellow or not? How to decide? And better yet, what if you feel unsure about your choice? How do you know if it is the right one for you?

Sometimes all the planning and anticipation in advance of the meal is more work than the meal itself. We are inundated with television programs touting the best recipies and the best table presentations, we are told what kind of cranberries to purchase and how to prepare them in order to be the hit of the dinner party. Sometimes, like my very pregnant sister in law, we have cravings for the perfect blend of grapefruit juice with just a splash of cranberry in it, and woe be her husband if he gets the wrong one.

I write all this as a lead up to the issue that seems to concern the parents of JCPS: School Choice. Parents have attended the Showcase. Parents have visited open houses. Parents have called schools and talked with other parents. Parents are making inquiries on websites, asking for other parents to talk about their choices and experiences. Yet, when does the parent ask the student what they want? I'm not saying to give all the power to your child, especially a five year old going to kindergarten for the first time, but perhaps our children should have more of a say in the process than what we give them. After all, they are the one's in the classroom for 6 1/2 hours a day, not us.

My children do not care about school rankings or test results. They care about the following, and not necessarily in this particular order: friends, making friends, keeping friends, math, recess, lunch, field trips, and friends. My sons are interested in many of the same academic subjects, especially math, but because they are different ages (11 and 8) they approach math in different ways. Seth (11) is very theoritical, very into math as it applies to science and robotics, a future engineer perhaps? Whereas Jonah (8) is mathematical as it applies to art and music...and robots too. My daughter, Finn (4) is very performing arts inclined...sure she likes math and reading, but at 4 she'd much rather be dancing, so maybe she'll connect math to choreography in the future.

What this means is that my children should not attend the same schools. Why? Because they are different people. So why is it that when our kids graduate and go to college or enter the workforce we don't expect them to all follow the same college/career/job path, but we expect them to explore their own interests, yet we limit our children at the elementary, middle, and high school levels? A traditional program here in JCPS may work for one child, but another, even in the same family, may need a Waldorf or Montessori inspired program (like at Byck, Coleridge Taylor and Kennedy). Maybe your child reminds you to "reduce, reuse, recycle" and should go to one of the environmental studies magnets. Maybe languages, maybe arts, maybe fitness are what they gravitate towards. Those choices, or options exist here in JCPS.

Many will say that we need to focus on core curriculum. Absolutely. Without the foundation of the fundamentals then all the options will be meaningless. Without a strong basis in math, there can be no environmental studies, because how can you calculate the savings to your electric bill by using LED lights in your home without knowing the basics? We need students who are ready for a 22nd century world, a world that is founded in math, science, language arts, reading, and ready to take all that to the next level. We need a world with artists and athletes, with scientists and showmen. We need a world that celebrates the child that creates the volcano as much as the child that can shoot the three point shot with 2 seconds on the clock. We need a culture that packs the auditorium during academic team matches as much as it fills stadiums during a Friday night football match.

This is the best time ever to have our voices heard. My son, Seth, often accompanies me at PTA meetings or offers his opinion on issues, because, as he says "it is about me and my future, right?" Most definitely. We don't criticize the family member who passes up the dressing at the Thanksgiving meal, or options for Trout instead of Turkey as a main course, or even doesn't like sweet potatoes. We instead make room on our plate for the food they've passed by. So now, speak up about what you believe your child needs when it comes to a quality education. Let your PTA leaders know what your concerns are so we can pass that along at JCPS BOE meetings, to Frankfort and to DC. Help us speak up about Race for the Top initiatives.

So enjoy the uniqueness of Thanksgiving, of all the choices that are spread on the table before you. Be thankful for all the bounty you have and the family you are blessed with. Happy Holiday from PTAPEEP.

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