Thursday, Sept. 19 was a full night in the education world here in the town of Brattleboro.
For our family, I started our after-school frenzy with pick up of our third-grader from the Brattleboro Music Center/Brattleboro school’s "Playing With Strings" program. We hurried our way through Price Chopper to buy grapes as our donation for the next stop, and finally settled into the Brattleboro Area Middle School’s boys’ soccer game by about 4:30 p.m.
We saw much of the exciting, evenly matched game (where we cheered happily for all the kids we knew, not caring the team-the best thing about scrimmages!). But needing to be at Academy School at 5 p.m., we left one child in the capable hands of a friend’s family, and our daughter and I rushed back across town to make sure we didn’t miss "Welcome Back Night."
For Academy, this is now a tradition, begun only few years ago. It’s become an annual event that the kids clamor to attend -- and parents make sure to plan around. With tables set up in the drop-off lanes outside and a grill at the front door capably run by the vice principal and usually some dads, the slight change from the familiar thrills the kids.
The meal itself is always varied. This year, it included grilled chicken, veggie burgers, a few hot dogs, combined with a virtual smorgasbord of whatever comes from families as potluck donations and usually some tasty veggies from the local "veggie of the month" offering. The line is always long, but patience is as well, as kids happily cavort in and out while parents catch up and chat with each other.
At 6 p.m., we were all invited into the school. In our case, our third-grader proudly took me down to her room and to her specific seat. She had done a special project that day in preparation, and answered such gems of questions as "In book group, I am reading a book about..." (For the record, she’s reading "Stink" -- which is actually pretty dang funny in spite of its name.) The teacher walked us through their highly organized day: desk work, quick meeting, math, snack, literacy, lunch, recess, skills groups, writing, social studies/science time. There are also "weekly specials" -- library, art, music, Spanish.
All Academy third-graders this year have iPads -- which thrills our child to no end. Screens have an undeniable power over all of our family’s children and continue to be both a blessing and a bane that we struggle with daily in our house. I was delighted to see that they are used for math drills -- third grade is the year for multiplication, fractions, measurement, geometry and data. But I was even more impressed when she showed last year’s movies that the kids had done: these are real skills that a lot of adults are still working on!
We rounded out our time in our little seats around our pint-sized table with looking at her journal. After going through this already with two other children, I still continue to be amazed at how this revealing this daily journal writing is. It is meant, I know, to be a practice of needed skills: spelling, punctuation, grammar. But it is "the window on her world" aspect that pulls me in. The inevitable family squabbles and other daily dramas reign huge in their young lives. The most mundane things that we do together are described in detail-shopping for clothes, going to the grocery store, walking up after the bus lets her off. I left the room feeling both thankful for the opportunity to mother this little girl ... and wondering if I can ever live up to all her expectations.
In any case, we leave the school with the firm conviction that third grade is going to be a great year. As I listened to their units of study, I thought to myself that I would like to go back to third grade again. It just seemed fun.
This is our first time being parents of a high schooler, our first time to a high school open house. As I scan the area for my husband -- who has been called away from the soccer game to go back to a work-related matter, I find myself a bit nervous. I wonder if it is because I am, one, late and two, always feeling a bit lost in the high school.
However, inside the front doors, I am met by capable, calm women who lead me through the process of where we are in the day’s schedule. They kindly remind me that "two periods make a block," so that I know how the lengths are. An infinitely friendly student greets me with clear directions to the first classroom -- and continues to help me each time she sees me all night long. (Perhaps I really did have a panicked look about me?)
I half-heartedly joke with other parents that the administration wisely makes us parents traipse through our child’s day in an attempt to have us be more compassionate for what they are going through. In all honesty, for much of the night I was a bit in awe of my freshman son. To me, the school layout was confusing and overwhelming -- and I did not have to be on time or worry about looking dumb to my friends ... or having to struggle with a new locker combination.
Although various conflicts for the teachers meant that we were actually only able to meet with three of our son’s six teachers, the information that they each provided was helpful. Freshmen are required to do some classes -- health education, English, introduction to physical science happen to be on our son’s schedule this semester. But we also saw electricity and trades training, culinary arts classrooms (and goodies for sale!), various languages, computer rooms, sewing machines and much more. There is obviously a lot more to high school today than what I had to choose from in my little town’s!
Interestingly, both our third grader and our freshman students are learning about electricity this year. I sat listening to my husband (an electrician) and the high school level electricity teacher discuss various topics that were clearly flying over my comprehension level. (Admittedly, all I prefer to understand about electricity is that 1) when I flip a light switch, it goes on and 2) if there is a problem, call husband.) But remarkably, our son was also engaging in this conversation -- and clearly relishing the intellectual value of it. (I decided to just be a proud wife and mother.)
We went on to the "introduction of physical sciences" class where the teacher energetically and very enthusiastically explained his passion -- and his class goals in teaching about matter. Clearly there is a different expectation here than the third grade science goals I heard about a few hours earlier ...and yet, the similarity struck me that both children are being taught by people engaged and excited about their topics.
While we are just starting through this realm of high school -- and I am sure that there is much more to come -- I walked away from the high school rather impressed.
Here’s to open houses and all they stand for! And here’s to a new year starting off well!
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.