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Not Your Momma's Kindergarten

Published in ChicagoNow, January 29, 2014

As I shared in an earlier post, I have been meeting for over 20 years with parents at Cherry Preschool the January before their children start kindergarten. While there was always some level of anxiety at these meetings, it was nothing compared with recent years. When did the “I will miss my baby so much” turn into “how will my child survive?”

This year’s meeting was an alphabet soup of concerns:

Will the RTTT-CCC be too much for my young child? (Race to the Top-Common Core Curriculum– and yes, it may be too much for children who are not developmentally ready.)

Should I apply for TWI or just do GEN-ED? (Two Way Immersion – kindergarten class taught in Spanish and English versusGeneral Education English-only track. It’s a personal choice but the program was designed to help native Spanish speakers learn English, so many English-speaking kids are wait listed.)

Should I get an IEP or a 504 for my child who has some special needs? (Individualized Education Plan for children with identified needs that require special services or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act for accommodations based on a medical diagnosis, including ADHD, hearing or visual impairment, etc. – so, yes it’s a good idea to avoid the RTI.)

What is RTI? (Response to Intervention – a yearlong series of behavioral plans designed to address behaviors that are outside the norm before making a referral for special services.)

When will my child take the ISEL? (Illinois Snapshot of Early Literacy test – It’s given at the start of the school year to determine a child’s skill level prior to starting school)

What about the DRA? (Developmental Reading Assessment, a standardized reading test used to determine a student’s instructional level in reading – and yes, children who can “read a little” take it mid-year and all kindergarteners take it at the end of the year to place them in a DRA level for first grade reading.)

What is an ODR? (Office Disciplinary Referral - AKA being sent to the principal’s office)?

Remember when kids learned their ABCs in kindergarten? Now parents have to figure out a new alphabet as part of their introduction to their child’s formal education.

In our community, kindergarten is full day and looks more like what first or second grade were for the parents. Yes, there may be activity stations, tables instead of individual desks, and a few puzzles and games. But make no mistake about it – this is not your momma’s kindergarten.

Thus, the really tough questions:

What will happen to my very shy child? How will separation be handled? What if she won’t give answers on these early tests because she is slow to warm up? Will she be underestimated all year because of that?

What about my son who is so full of energy? Do boys like him have a hard time with all of the sitting and worksheet tasks? Will he get enough breaks in his day to burn off some of that energy? Will he end up getting ODRs?

What should I do about my child whose birthday is in August (school cut-off age is September 1)? Do I want him to be the smallest boy? He won’t be as mature or academically ready as the children who start kindergarten a year or more older, so should I hold him back?

How much information should I share about my child at the start of school? I want to help the teacher to understand my child, but should I burden her with this or influence her view of my child? Given the teacher’s time constraints and the number of kids she has to manage, do I want to add to her load by telling her special things my child might need?

Will the academic bent of school add even more pressure for my child who is already too much of a perfectionist? She’s really hard on herself, so how do I protect her from becoming frustrated by any mistake she makes on her work?

What happens to children like mine who still nap? How do I prepare him for 6 ½ hours of school? Do children still get to rest in kindergarten?

If my local attendance school is rated as a failing school, will I be able to get into a different school? What about magnet schools? Is there a test? Can I write a letter to someone explaining why my family would prefer to go there?

Is there a school that does a better job than the others for children who have special needs? We would even be willing to move to a different community, but where should we look?

It’s hard to know how to answer these really good questions. I never want to frighten parents as they are already worried enough. But they are asking about their precious 5-year-olds who are still vulnerable little guys. So I try to answer each question with empathy for the very legitimate concern expressed.

My bottom line message is what my blog is all about – Still Advocating. Starting with kindergarten, parents need to advocate for their children respectfully, but they still must advocate. Rhonda Cohen, Cherry Preschool’s Inclusion Director, often tells parents who worry about being *that* parent, "But your child needs you to be *that* parent."


by Laurie Levy
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