Saturday, June 21, 2008

Folllowing My Child

My least interactive blog to date, but an update that is due

In 1950, Dr Maria Montessori wrote:

"It is not enough to be well intentioned and perceptive. Love is dynamic. If we love someone, we want to do something for him. If we love the child, we must realise that he has been neglected and forgotten in a world very rich in varied and beautiful things that are superfluous. We must therefore follow a new and
wider path. This will not only make the child happier but will be a source of
unimagined wealth and glory for our own lives.
I agree, and I love much of what Montessori offers. However, let it be known that I have purposefully denied Maria Montessori as a Saint or some Educational Prophet worthy of worship. Benny's first year of preschool was definitely a strange experience for Dustin and I, and somewhat of a preschool boot camp for Benny.

Choice in education for my children is extremely important to me - I, personally, did not have any options besides inner-city, S. California schools growing up and it was anything but a positive experience. With significant Cerebral Palsy, you can imagine how I was treated.

I surprise myself with my strong views on education. I think part of it comes from my personal educational experience, the indirect influence of my good friend’s very successful Integrated Thematic Instruction home school, and my natural soaring love for my kids. And, the older they get, the stronger my feelings become.

I have multiple fears about my children being in school. These fears range from the obvious – school violence, drugs and lack of learning – to the not-so-obvious - child labeling (i.e., bored and active interpreted as “Problem Child” or artistic as “inattentive and careless”) and overstimulation. Perhaps a very unique fear I have regarding my children being in school, is that other children's innocent ignorance of disability is going to be transferred to them. I don't get angry being called a "Retard", but the idea of my children getting "Your Mama's a Retard and so are you!" makes my blood boil.

I feel that it is my duty to place my kids in the most diverse and consciously aware educational environment, hoping that it protects them just a little bit. I also have strong feelings about learning as a natural progression that kids can initiate, if not stapled to a desk. I could go on but I'll spare you ;-)

For more than a year and a half before Benny would begin preschool, I did in-depth research on varying educational methods and schools. In the end it was the Montessori Method that meshed with the values we hope to instill in our kids and in our parenting approach. We agree with much of the Montessori approach and philosophy, such as the emphasis on independence and self-direction.

Community Montessori seemed like the perfect choice for Benny. A Montessori Pre-K – 5th grade elementary school, the only public Montessori school in Boulder Valley School District, high ratings and test scores, and if Benny could get in, it would be FREE for him through a BVSD scholarship.

Benny won the lottery for CM, and we were elated, to say the least. We wanted to see the class he would be in, meet his teacher, but it was a pretty closed off system. We attended every public CM orientation/tour and not once did we see his class or meet a Pre-K teacher. That bothered me especially. We finally met Benny's teacher at an open house shortly before the school year began. She seemed firm and we initially thought she'd be a good teacher for Benny. We thought she'd get to know me and all would be well.

We thought it was great that he would have the same teacher for three years in a row…Until his teacher turned out to be a Montessori Untouchable. Past retirement age, she was really set in her ways and seemed to have a prescribed mold for:
1) a Montessori preschooler/kindergartener,
2) a Montessori parent, and
3) a “Montessori family”

None of us fit the molds - we felt and were treated like misfits. Her approach did not fit with our understanding of what Montessori was about. Our diverse family scared her, I believe, and Benny is many things but he’s no conformist. His class was incredibly solemn and almost robotic. CM is touted as the only “literacy-based preschool” in Boulder County, as opposed to “play-based preschools”. Does that mean there should be no play? No socialization, even, from 7:50a.m. – 10:00a.m. when an incredibly reserved circle time begins? Come on people!

My first concern was lack of feedback and involvement. We never knew what he was working on, and I’m sure it was moreso for us because his teacher was so uncomfortable with me. That was incredibly frustrating! And parents were very discouraged from entering the classroom at drop-off and it wasn’t an option at pick-up. His teacher seemed to avoid me like the plague. So much for being involved! I must say I entered that darn classroom each and every morning at drop-off, and no one dared say a word to me about it! I’m not leaving my preschooler on the sidewalk!

Many of Benny’s fellow students did conform – some were in their second and third year in her class – but Benny and a handful of others were constantly in trouble. Benny’s first progress report last fall read, among other things: "Benny is well advanced in major areas of practical life and enjoys looking at different curriculum. Benny is impulsive, and tries to manipulate curriculum that he has not yet been instructed on." That is a negative to his teacher. He's three, oh my gosh! He is required to go find focused work to do, so why shouldn't he try to teach himself?! His last progress report centered on Benny being too social.

To make it worse, since Benny’s slot was funded by BVSD, they required special forms and evaluations to be completed by the teacher periodically. These included both student and parent goal-making and very intrusive questions. Okay, WHY, if a parent is low-income, is it automatically assumed they are abusive, neglectful, and incompetent as parents? During parent/teacher conference, I had 20 minutes to find out how and what Benny was doing, try to build a relationship with a supreme being that had long-before set her prejudices in stone about us and couldn’t understand me, and complete these district evals with her. Uttttttttter disaster! We didn’t even meet the last time.

I regretted putting him in (SURPRISE!) by early December, but if we took him out, he'd never get in as a 1st grader. Kids that don't enroll at 3, usually lose the lottery for several consecutive years before they get into CM..... We were hostages of the district, and of his teacher because Benny would be in her class for three years.

Late fall ‘07, there was a parent education night. Instead of educating us on what our kids were working on, it was more like a Dr. Maria Montessori memorial service. It creped Dustin and I out....seemed kinda cultish to us. The teachers worship her. I understand respect; I understand gratitude, but not devotion to that extreme. It crepes me out just remembering the experience. Uck!

Our relationship with his teacher further deteriorated this spring. Benny began saying things like, “(teacher's name) didn’t make me reset today”, “I had to reset 3 times because I couldn’t find work”, etc. What the hell is ‘reset’, and why didn’t we know about it? If she had communicated her new disciplinary tool to us, that would’ve been one thing. There was no communication! None! Zilch! One day after school, Benny was particularly stressed. Turned out she screamed at him “RESET” and was very mad at him for approaching her while she worked with another student.

The next day I insisted on observing the class. "Reset" is similar to timeout, I learned, and basically calls for silence or order. I saw a mix of recognition and nervousness in children’s eyes as she called their name to work with her. She was actually respectfully affectionate with some children; my child not being a chosen, I guess. Benny came to me to ask what work he could do multiple times, and was clearly fearful of his teacher. I wanted to cry! I watched two kindergartener boys hopping in a circle hand-in-hand, singing ABC’s, and I saw the teacher hammer/humiliate them in front of everyone because that was a task they had mastered. (I had been enjoying the sign of life!)

Thus began my official quest for a new preschool!


I never thought I’d be saying this, but here goes it: Benny’s going to private school.

His new school is called Sunflower Preschool and it’s located right in our neighborhood (just .42 miles away). The founder/director decided to take the basic Montessori approach and combine it with a hands-on science-based curriculum. Kids are encouraged to learn through dramatic play, and the classrooms are just stunning! And the outdoor classroom is unbelievable. We’ve dropped in unexpectedly several times to find happy children supported by 3 – 5 teachers. The children socialize with each other and with the teachers – a welcoming sight and sound from a preschool! We’ve seen parents read books with their kids when dropping them off, push swings, etc.

Five good signs:
1) The teachers, children and parents that we have met haven’t been phased by us
2) The director asked me to attend a staff mtg “to educate us about yourself and keep open communication”
3) We get to go hang out at the preschool in July to make it a comfortable transition
4) Attendance at Back 2 School Night is required
5) Check out the Ramp

LOLOL Can you tell I’m ‘coop mom’ material? (We have a cooperative K – 8 lined up!)

The most amazing part…I found a way to pay for it! Freeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwww!

We’ll see how Benny’s second year of preschool goes!


Dustin said...

A few things Tammy didn't mention in this blog, just in case you haven't heard enough already:

1.During the solemn graduation/commencement ceremony, Benny was seperated along with two other "troublemakers" from the rest of his class - we still have no idea what earned Benny this strange seating arrangement.

2.Students were discouraged from wearing clothing with any sort of cartoon or other character on them to school, but we sent Benny to school with his Dino T-shirts anyway. He also proudly wore his ADAPT shirts, even though extra-curricular activities were discouraged too.

3.Toward the end of the school year and as as part of an Art Show that followed the Graduation/Commencement Ceremony, each student was to display their artwork. One piece of art was supposed to be a Family Portrait as drawn by the student. When Benny draws Mommy - He does not draw a wheelchair - He does not see the Wheelchair as part of Mommy. When he's drawn pictures of Mommy at home, he has never drawn her sitting in a wheelchair, but for the assignment the teacher insisted and helped include a wheelchair in the picture.

4.One time Tammy sent Benny's teacher an E-mail showing off Benny's artwork we have on the wall next to the dining room table. Some of this art was done at school and brought home, others he did at home. The teacher replied that we shouldn't have artwork next to where we eat ... even though the table is where Benny does most of his artwork at home. We were supposed to seperate all activities and do things a certain way. Basically, the message was "If you don't do things a certain way - it's wrong". For our family that is just not the message we want to support.

I'm glad Benny will be going to Sunflower Preschool. Tammy and I are excited and Benny's excited too! Students at Sunflower spend a lot of time learning through experience including teaching about Bugs & Dinosaurs. Sunflower even has a real Dinosaur Egg Fossil which Benny has already been able to touch and look at. It will be Fun! Benny will be able to learn a lot & still be a kid!

Destiny Ann said...

Reply to #1: You're nice! The graduation was similar to a funeral. See

Destiny Ann said...

I continually tried to show the women what a great fam we really are ;-) by sending albums, etc. It was futile

Unknown said...

Tammy and Dustin,

You are so involved with your children and how education is so very important in their lives and also the importance of play and exploring and questioning the world,

Way to GO!


Anonymous said...

You and Dustin are such great parents. You are the kind of mom I always wanted to be with my kids...but somehow always fell short of being. I am so proud to call you my friend!!! I hope you are still thinking about coming to MT this summer. We would LOVE to see all of you and have you meet Mark as well.



Destiny Ann said...

T I miss you soooooooo much!
Thank you, T!!! Parenting is incredibly hard - no one knows until they are a parent how hard it really is. But it's all of the good things I've ever dreamed too! Every parent feels they fall short, and 90% of the time, they did better than they think. I have no doubt you did far better than you give yourself credit for, T! We do many cool things, and we do our best, but LOLOL, my best when I'm exhausted and fried, or studying even, is certainly nothing to brag about!

T - WE SOOOOOOOOOOOO WANT TO COME SEE U, D, Mark and Uga, and we were planning to as our summer fam vacation...But now that we're paying Benny's tuition, I don't think we can afford it ;-(
BUT! Maybe magic will happen, and if it does, We will certainly come!


Niffer said...

Wow! I think I may be speechless but I feel like I need to respond!

I can not imagine how difficult it must have been to watch Benny go through that. My heart would break every time something like that happened. It's amazing (in a bad way) that teachers like this can still exist, and in a Preschool, for crying out loud!

It's infuriating, really! UGH! It shows me that there are many challenges as a parent that I don't think I'm ready for. I guess you never are. You just deal with the things as they come.

My daughter just moved up to a new room at her daycare and we're having a hard time with her adjusting. We loved her old teacher so much that I tried hard to convince her to move up with my daughter. LOL. All I really wanted was for her to follow Ellie around until she graduates and goes to college! I know it's going to be so hard to leave the teachers we love, but I never really thought about the other end of the spectrum.

Sigh. Give Benny a hug for me. I'm so glad you found a better, happier, kid-safe place. The other place did not sound like it was a safe environment for children.

Niffer said...

And the fact that she forced him to draw in the wheelchair just makes me want to cringe. It makes me want to search out this teacher, walk up to her and flick her on the forehead and walk away. I am weird like that. One flick is all I want, but can you imagine the look on her if a complete stranger did that to her?

Mari said...

I'm with you on the forehead "flick" - in fact, I'll be right behind you and we'll double flick the twit!

Dearest Tammy, you and Dustin are remarkable parents who are fostering tomorrows leaders. No narrow minded, small living, lousy excuse for a teacher will ever change that.

I LOVE that Benny held his own and continued to be everything you two have encouraged him to be -- a magnificent expression of who HE is. Montesorri Schmontessori.

You guys ROCK!

Sunflower is blessed to have your entire family. Obviously, THEY get it.

Go gettem Benny!!!

Arms around!