Saturday, August 16, 2008

We are just gonna see....

Oh so much to say, such an incredible, difficult, long journey to get where we are today, but we have made a decision and this is for documentation purposes since this is my archive for our lives. Please note, since this is public, some of this may be quite shocking to some of you, but please know we have researched, thought, talked with friends, counseled those involved, and we are very confident that the decision we have made is the best for OUR family. I am open to comments and opinions (as I know there are quite a few out there on all levels of this spectrum), but clearly we have to do what we think is best for our family.

Earlier this week we received a call from the school district. They were inviting Max to be tested for a new program (this is the second year). We later would find out that that this program was only being offered to the incoming kindergartners of 3 elementary schools and if accepted, he would be going to a different elementary school then the one we are zoned. It is a bilingual academy. The program is a duel immersion curriculum with the goal of biliterate and bilingual students by 5th grade.

Side note here: When Mike and I were registering Max in the Spring, I read about this program. At the time, I thought... HOW COOL!! I was a little disappointed when I found out that it was not going to be offered at Max's school. This is one of my 3 genie wishes.... to be able to speak and communicate in any language. I took 10 years of Spanish and 3 years of Russian and other than very conversational Spanish and veeerrryyy little Russian, it is all gone. So the idea of Max getting language development this advanced this young was very exciting to me.

Okay... back to the phone call. I was very overwhelmed. I told the person calling to forgive me, but I was going to have to think about this and call her back. I was so taken aback that I couldn't even think of questions to ask.

I immediately started to research on the Internet. It was a little difficult because this is still a relatively new concept in America and there is not a lot out there. Everywhere else in the world, learning two languages at a young and very advanced pace is normal, but not here. Part of my problem was that I was researching bilingual classes, which led me to Spanish speaking children in English speaking classes or English as a second language (ESL) research. This is not what this program is about. It was not until I got to the term Dual Immersion, where I was finally able to get some solid answers to my questions. My biggest concern was how this was going to effect his overall development. Would so much effort be spent trying to teach the language that he would fall behind on the concepts? I mean, it is great that he would be able to translate the concept, but I want him to UNDERSTAND the concept and excel at it! If he can do it in 2 languages, he is ahead of the curve.

That night Mike and I talked and we left it with, we will allow him to get tested, and see what happens. He may not even be accepted into the program so no need to jump the gun.

I made an appointment to get him tested. I explained to Max that we were going to go and meet some teachers at the new school. I said they wanted to see what he already knows from his other school. He was very satisfied with that. When we parked the car, it was a different school than the one we have been driving past as "his new big boy school", but it was the same school we had to go to register him since the other school was being built, so he was familiar with the school. He asked me, "Mommy.... is this my new school or is the other school my school?" and I answered, "Well, we are not sure yet, that is why we are here." We went inside and the coordinator gave me some forms to read and fill out and turned to Max, "Are you ready to come talk with me?"

This was one of those moments - the first time I had ever had it with Max. He walked away hand in hand with the coordinator and I could do nothing to help him. I couldn't sit with him, I couldn't help him, I couldn't answer for him. I can't teach him this information, I can't make him think. All I can do is lead him to the tools and sit in the sidelines hoping, praying, loving, and supporting.....this was a very new feeling for me... and I got to feel it for an hour. Over an hour. And then he came around the corner again full of smiles and energy and right into my arms. I sat with the coordinator, while Max, bursting with nervous energy, fidgeted. It was clear we weren't going to get a lot of time to talk, and she needed to grade his scores before we met again, so we decided to go look at the classroom and meet the teachers. The classrooms were beautiful. There are 2 classes in this program 16 students in each class; 8 English speaking and 8 Spanish speaking students. They were very clear to advise me that this was not an ESL class or just another bilingual class. The goal here is for English speaking children to learn Spanish fluently and for Spanish speaking children to continue developing that language academically, not just conversationally at home - but reading, writing, etc.

We agreed to meet again that afternoon to go over his scores and talk some more with out Max present. We left the school and I walked Max over to the playground to allow him to get rid of some of his nervous energy and to talk. On the swings I started to lay the ground work. "Daddy and I think that it may be best if you go to this school for big kid school." All of a sudden my happy go lucky kid shifts 180 degrees..."NO!!! I don't wanna go to THIS school!! THIS school is LAME!! I want to go to a NORMAL kindergarten!!!" Oh my.... clearly he has understood waaayyy more than we have let on. We had purposely not spoken about any differences in the kindergartens and yet, he picked up immediately that this situation was special. We talked some more and the more we talked the more it became clear that he was worried about leaving Ben behind. This was where we had to have another big talk about how he was a big kid now and how Ben would be going to "daycare" school and he would be going to "BIG KID" school, no matter which school was decided. This seemed to turn a light bulb on for Max and calm the situation down.

So I called Mike, told him how it went, and even though we hadn't gotten the results yet, the tour and the talks made it pretty clear they were going to make an offer for him to attend the academy, so what did we want to do. I also talked with my mother and good friends and the last thoughts that kept settling in my brain were, he is already advanced for kindergarten. He has already learned the basic kindergarten curriculum at his previous school, so even if we decided this wasn't for him, we could always transfer him to a regular 1st grade and he wouldn't be behind. He would still have his basic reading, writing, and math skills developed.

Here is where my peacock feathers come out in pride and I toot my son's horn a little. This is my blog, and I do this for him to read later, so I want him to know how very proud we are of him. Mike met me at the school and the coordinator sat across from us and said, you truly have an exceptional child. She pulled out the test scores and proceeded to go through them. To qualify for this program, they are looking for children to score a minimum of 50....Max scored 98. She said the moment they walked into the room he was all over the place checking everything out, but the moment she asked him a question, he stopped, and gave her his complete attention, answered the questions correctly (and then some), and then would go back to investigating the area around him. She asked him to draw a car, he drew it then proceeded to tell her what the parts of the car were, how they worked, why they worked, " 'And this is where the human, you know the person?... this is where he drives the car.' All I asked him to do was draw the car." He was asked to say the alphabet, then write it, he wrote it all out, checked his work, realized he had missed a letter ("Oh, I missed the "S"), he corrected his work and then turned it in to her.

She continued to be very complimentary and Mike and I just sat there and got teary eyed. You always think your kid is great, but it sure is wonderful to hear a complete stranger tell you he is too.

It was wonderful that he is smart, but I wanted to make sure that we were heading into this with a stable head on our shoulders. I realized this was going to be a transition for him - and I know it will be hard emotionally at first to grasp this, but I wanted to make sure it was clear what was transitional emotion versus, I am just not getting this. The coordinator assured us that this is why they test. Children who score high on these tests tend to be better equipped to learn this way. Some children did not qualify.

So.... Max is going to learn Spanish... alot of it.... very quickly. Then his curriculum will be taught in Spanish. It is the exact same curriculum as all Texas kindergartners, his will just be in Spanish. Mike and I will be required to go to workshops as well, and there are guides for us. I am fully aware that this is going to be more work for us, but if that helps Max in the long run, bring it on. And if this works, Ben will attend here as well.

There really is so very much more, but this post is long enough as it is, so I will break it down into future posts.

Please feel free to leave questions here. I am forever grateful for all the questions I have bounced back and forth with my family and friends so far, they have helped to create more questions I need to ask and also have helped me to reasure ourselves in our decision. I am going to try to document this journey as best I can for our own sake, and maybe for others later down the line who may be thinking of making the same decision for their family.

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