Monthly Archives: February 2015

Gifted, Schmifted? by Megan Freedman

smart kid playing chessBefore I had kids, my entire experience with the term “gifted” was when I spent a couple weeks at a “G&T” summer camp during middle school. Everyone seemed to be carrying a clarinet on their way to a chess game. To be fair to my parents, I was a homebody who also hated tennis camp. But my perception of gifted people as brainiacs in a culture I didn’t belong to was cemented.

When I had kids and started becoming interested in where kids go to school, I met people in our neighborhood whose children attended a nearby public gifted school. And every time I met one of these parents I thought—ohhh, their kids are little Hawkings. That must be crazy up in there.

And then I had a friend whose daughter was a school year ahead of my oldest. She had her daughter IQ tested, and she tested off the charts. And this was a girl who I’d witnessed stomping around the playground, flinging wood chips with the best of them. Then my husband and I started to talk with more people about the topic of giftedness. And I don’t know if it’s the people we happen to know, or that the gifted bar isn’t as high I’d imagined since my summer at G&T camp. Almost everyone we talked to seemed to have at least one gifted child.

And different parents’ perspectives on giftedness and education were so bifurcated. On one end, there are people who said that giftedness is a type of special need. One dad said that if your child were autistic, you wouldn’t give them a mainstream education. Giftedness carries just an urgent of a need for a special kind of education.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are parents who are aware that their kids are intellectually advanced, but they may or may not get them tested. They firmly believe in going to the neighborhood public school where kids can experience a diversity of levels. One or two intimated that gifted schools “coddle” kids and artificially segregate them from the real world. Back to the other end, when I asked a mom of teenaged gifted children if she thought gifted elementary school had been necessary, she said “yes – it allowed my kids to have friends.”

To be fair to the parents that I’m quoting, there are gifted children with widely varying levels of giftedness and social styles. We all see the world through the lens of our own children’s personalities, abilities and needs. So it’s pretty moot to say gifted education is bunk, or mainstream education is neglect for gifted children. Whatever’s right for your child is the right thing.

So far, our neighborhood school is working just fine for our son. But he’s only in kindergarten. In the long run, is the best thing for him to be able to be comfortable and conversant with people who are different from him, even if he might be little bored sometimes in class (which so far, he hasn’t been)? Or is the best thing to give him intensive, attentive education specifically tailored to his preferences and abilities, even if he may end up somewhat out of sync with the mainstream?

Either way, am I setting my kids up to do the best (and be the happiest) that they can, in the school choice I’m making? Lots of people bring up the fact that school is secondary to family. If you do things like read with your kids, take them to museums, send them to interesting camps, ask them open-ended questions and listen to their answers, they’ll have the intellectual exposure and confidence they need.

One veteran mom I met said that she and her husband had believed in supporting the neighborhood school by sending their kids there, even though the school’s assessment scores were low. She said she took the private school tuition they saved and traveled all summer with her kids, taking them around the country to different educational camps and immersive experiences. Other parents I’ve talked with wouldn’t take back a dime of the tuition they paid to gifted private schools. It’s at least nice to know that there isn’t just one way to approach this.

 

Meg FreedmanMegan Freedman is a freelance writer and researcher, with a special focus on medical and wellness topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and three children. 

 

 

 

 

Many Reasons to Choose a School, Part 2

This is the second in a two-part series on suburban school choice, focusing on the challenges and benefits of school choice in Colorado.  Please click here to view part one. 

by Marya DeGrow

learning at homeParents of four and recent transplants to Colorado after nearly 16 years in the military, Amy and Eric S. refused to send their two oldest children back to their neighborhood school for a second year. Neither child was being challenged academically, their daughter missed learning about history, and she learned many curse words within the first six weeks that she had not previously known. This fall, their sixth grade daughter obtained a spot at Lincoln Academy charter school, where the two youngest children attend, but there have been no openings for their fourth grade son. After homeschooling for two months, it became clear that her son needed more structure and a place to go, so with some financial support they enrolled him in a private school.

Northwest Denver residents Rachel and John T. unsuccessfully applied to a charter school in Jeffco that had been their first choice. Their daughter did get in three weeks after school started and they switched to the charter. By then, however, their daughter had made friends at Prospect Valley Elementary, their second choice school in Jeffco, and she says, “We were where we were supposed to be after all!”

Though Rachel is content with her daughter’s learning environment, she has concerns about the future. “I worry about when we go to choose middle and high schools that we will get in where we want.” She would like to see changes in priority for the feeder system. “If your child gets into the elementary school that you want, you should be given the ability to get into the middle and high schools that are within the area of the elementary, if you want to.”

School choice benefits families with a wide range of educational needs. Homeschooling parents Louise and Ryan W. of Highlands Ranch are glad to be part of a community of families who share a similar educational philosophy for their children. Their boys enjoy the group activities. But those things can be found in many privately run homeschool support groups. Louise is grateful to the school district for providing the Cloverleaf homeschool enrichment option. “It has also been tremendously satisfying to receive curriculum from the program,” she said. “It’s nice that the district understands that homeschoolers are also a part of public education in the broadest sense.”

Rachel enjoys the atmosphere, the staff, and the focus on academic growth at her daughter’s school. “My child enjoys going there and we appreciate how involved the parents are, how much the school encourages involvement, the many volunteer opportunities offered, the many after school activities offered.”

Amy is happy with both the public charter and private school her children attend. Were money no object, she would send all four to the private school, but says she also would move her son to the charter school if a spot opened up, so all four children could be in the same school. They love Lincoln Academy’s Core Knowledge and Saxon math curriculum, the structured environment, and the communication between teachers and parents. Colorado School Grades assigned Lincoln’s elementary an A in 2013 and a B+ in 2014.

Expanded school choice options have benefited many Colorado students and their families. Their real stories should motivate local and state policy makers to keep the door open to provide more options as those opportunities arise.

 

Marya DeGrow is a research associate for the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center and the Website Manager for http://SchoolChoiceForKids.org and http://OpcionEscolarParaNinos.org. She and her husband navigated the open enrollment process to enroll their children in Arvada’s Lincoln Academy Charter School. She and her husband navigated the open enrollment process to enroll their children in Arvada’s Lincoln Academy charter school.

Many Reasons to Choose a School, Part 1

kids walking into schoolby Marya DeGrow

Public school choice is increasingly accepted and common. Choices range from charter, to magnet, to online, to homeschool support programs, to open enrollment in a traditional neighborhood school that is outside of your attendance zone. For a long time school choice was touted as a way for families to switch to a better school if they were not financially able to move into a more desirable school attendance zone. However, school choice has become much more than just escaping from a failing school. There are as many, and perhaps more, reasons for families to choose a school other than their neighborhood school as there are school choices.

Many families have chosen not to enroll in their neighborhood school and yet stay within the public school system. Rachel and John T. are residents of northwest Denver and carefully researched their school options when it was time to put their daughter in kindergarten in 2013. Rachel used services like ColoradoSchoolGrades.com and GreatSchools.org in the family’s search.

She wanted something different than what the neighborhood school was offering, “I didn’t like how my neighborhood school was being run nor the fact that it was going to reorganize with a different style of teaching [Expeditionary Learning].” Her neighborhood school received an F from ColoradoSchoolGrades.com in 2013. Rachel and John’s daughter ended up crossing school district boundaries into Jefferson County where her current school received an A from Colorado School Grades in 2013 and an A- in 2014.

In the suburbs south of Denver, Louise and Ryan W. live in a neighborhood with above average schools. But they decided to homeschool their twin boys beginning in kindergarten and began looking for support programs. Louise explains, “There were lots of private options, but we were excited about the program through the Douglas County school district because it also provided us with additional instructional materials that allowed us to try different curricular materials to find a good match for our family.” The boys are legally homeschooled, but the family is still able to benefit from the expanding public school options offered around the state and especially in Douglas County.

Though options are expanding, many students still are not being served as well as their parents would like.

Amy and Eric S. moved to Colorado in the summer of 2013 after Eric retired from nearly 16 years of service in the military. Amy could not find good school options in her research online before they moved. A contact in Colorado mentioned that she liked Core Knowledge curriculum and that it was used at Lincoln Academy, a K-8 Arvada charter school. After doing some research, Amy said she “loved what I was finding out about [Core Knowledge].” Though they started the open enrollment process in the summer, long after the first round choice window had closed, two of their four children got into the charter school.  That left her two oldest with little choice but to enroll in their neighborhood school.

The second part of this series will examine more of the challenges and benefits of school choice as it currently operates.

Marya DeGrow is a research associate for the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center and the Website Manager for http://SchoolChoiceForKids.org and http://OpcionEscolarParaNinos.org. She and her husband navigated the open enrollment process to enroll their children in Arvada’s Lincoln Academy Charter School. She and her husband navigated the open enrollment process to enroll their children in Arvada’s Lincoln Academy charter school.

 

Healthy Homemade Lunches: A Quick Guide for Busy Parents

by Carie Sherman

In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture revised its standards for the lunches kids receive at school. The aim was to increase fruits and veggies, whole grain foods, and low fat dairy while decreasing calories, fat, and sodium.

school lunchYet 41 percent of kids bring their own lunch to school. And a recent report from Tufts University took a hard look at those sack lunches. Of the 600+ they analyzed, ZERO met the criteria schools now abide by. The researchers said kids who bring their lunch eat more calories and less fruits and veggies.

My 4-year-old is a pretty good eater. But she and I both have our days where sugar and salt take the place of the major food groups. So I’m not too surprised. Parents are busy. Our kids can be picky. I’m totally the mom who says “at least chocolate milk has calcium,” which this article points out as a problem.

How does your lunch stack up?

Here is what your child’s lunch should look like plated:

my plate

Are you close to hitting the mark?

Ideally, I’d like to give myself at least a B+ on my efforts. But realistically…I’d probably get a C. But I’m up for improving. Who’s with me?

5 Tips for Packing School Lunches

I’m busy lazy. But I’m also concerned about my daughter’s nutrition. Pinterest knows what’s up when it comes to packing good lunches. There are hundreds of cheat sheets, printables, recipes ideas, freezer plans…seriously, every tool you can imagine. Parent bloggers, you’re my heroes.

1.     Master the Basics

Blogger Kristin from Rage Against the Mini Van (HA!) created this visual aid. It serves two purposes: 1) To help her children take responsibility for packing their lunches, and 2) To help her visualize a balanced lunch as well. I’m not sure how to pack seaweed, but everything else looks legit and seems to coincide with the My Plate above.

2.     Make It Fun

PB & JKids like convenience foods, and we know they’ll eat them (see the “at least” comments above). This blogger says that, with this tip that takes less than 30 seconds, we can make a healthy lunch more fun, and kids are more likely to eat what we’ve packed.  And this blogger really knows how to kick a plain ‘ol PB & J up a notch!

3.     Use Your Freezer

fruit cupsBlogger Lisa gives some great tips on sack lunch prep, including cooking when you can and freezing ‘em. I want to be the person who cooks once, then freezes. I’m not. But maybe you are. So here are a few lunch ideas:

4.     Dedicate space

Make it easier by clearing space in your fridge and pantry to store easy, healthy “grab and go” items like string cheese, yogurts, and snacks. You can even be an overachiever and set up a School Lunch Station.

5.     Make use of free printables.

Here’s a printable for lunchbox ideas. It includes 10+ ideas for each food group. Keep it handy when you make your grocery list.

And another printable for cute notes to include in your child’s lunchbox, ranging from “you are my sunshine” to “I’m bananas for you!” I never even got a boring old handwritten note in my lunch. So I’m pretty sure this will make you parent of the year.

There are literally hundreds of blogs dedicated to creating healthy, fun school lunches. Your child’s lunchbox is one Google search away from being the-bomb-dot-com.  

 

carie-shermanCarie Sherman chose freelancing for two reasons: more time at home with her daughter and a passion for stretchy pants. As a copywriter for the health care and education industries, Carie writes content for businesses, agencies, and nonprofits in Colorado and beyond. She blogs for Lupus Colorado and is a contributor to Colorado Parent magazine. She’s also on the copyediting team for the New York Common Core implementation. Carie is currently writing her first fiction novel. In her free time, she enjoys reading, yoga, collecting recipes, and implementing organizational systems that she’ll never follow.