Category Archives: Parent Voices

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.

 

 

Should Your 8th Grader Get to Pick Her High School? by Maren Stewart

Once upon a time there was an 8th grader who shadowed several high schools. After the first visit, her mother asked her what she thought about the school, to which the girl quickly replied, “it was great and I think it is my first choice!” A bit surprised, yet encouraged by her daughter’s enthusiastic and decisive answer, the mother inquired as to why. “I really liked the school colors,” the girl replied.

Just a few blocks away, another 8th grader was shadowing several high schools. After the first visit, his mother asked him what he thought about the school, to which the boy quickly replied, “it was great and I think it’s my first choice!” A bit surprised, yet encouraged by her son’s enthusiastic and decisive answer, the mother inquired as to why. “They had a really good lunch,” the boy replied.

should your 8th grader pick her high schoolBoth of the mothers experienced the same feelings of disappointment and frustration. They knew that deciding where to go to high school was an important decision. How, they wondered, could their children approach it with such a lack of maturity and sophistication? Didn’t they understand the importance of the decision and the ramifications it would have on their future?

Then they remembered an important fact: their children were just that – children.

Thirteen year-olds should not be expected to demonstrate the same level of critical thinking and good judgment as adults. And that is why 13 year-old shouldn’t be deciding where to go to high school.

Over the years, I’ve heard people talking about the high school selection process and how they were simply going to let their child decide. I remember being surprised that parents would give their children so much control over such an important decision but figured they had good, smart, responsible kids and that I simply didn’t understand how it all worked since my daughter was much younger.

Fast forward several years and now we are in the process of selecting a high school…and I can’t imagine letting my daughter decide. She is good and smart and responsible and she absolutely will be part of the decision. Our daughter is fully participating in the process. She has done research on school websites, talked to friends, and visited/shadowed several schools. She is getting information and forming opinions. We very much want to hear her thoughts and opinions and we will seriously consider her input and preferences. However, we will not abdicate the decision, and in so doing, abdicate our responsibility as parents.

Kids need parents to help them navigate through life and I believe that parents do know best when it comes to their kids. School colors and hot lunches certainly can be considered in the high school decision process but they shouldn’t be the driving factors.

 

 

 

 

Public Versus Private School — How to Choose? by Meg Freedman

public v privateWhen I talked with other parents during our school search last year, private vs. public school seemed to be the most personal and historically ingrained of any aspect of the school choice process. “I went to public school and I turned out ok.” Or “I went to private school. It’s what I know.” But like any parenting choice, we have an opportunity to do something different and maybe better for our kids than was done for us. So it makes sense to look with fresh eyes at your current private and public school options before deciding.

That said, some of the views I have heard from different parents may help you more productively mull the choice between public and private schools.

Some Pro-Public Perspectives

  • “Give the public school system a chance first. If it doesn’t work out, you can always switch to a private school.” – The second sentence is true. Luckily it’s true about any school decision you make. As hard as it is to switch schools, if you need to do it, you can. And we don’t have crystal balls to predict that in advance.
  • “You could take what you’d spend on private school tuition and get a mountain house instead.” – Ok. Some private schools cost so much money. If we sent all three of our kids to certain private schools nearby, that would be $70,000 per year.
  • “Don’t worry about it until high school – that’s when school really matters.” Huh? So many people (including my own husband) brought up this point during our school search. I guess you could say that college is the most important stage of education for your career and general success in life. So it makes sense that since high school performance most directly impacts what type of college you’ll get into, high school the most important stage of education. But you could also argue that the earlier the influence on a child, the more deeply it’s ingrained. Our brains calcify a little more every second once they’re formed, so it might be more important to foster good intellectual habits in first grade than 12th.

Some Pro-Private Perspectives

  • “What’s more important to spend your money on than your kids’ education?” -  I try to buy organic, whole-grain, local food. We bought a warm house in a pretty nice neighborhood. Shouldn’t I invest in my kids’ education too? The assumption there is that tuition-based education is better than public school. Which again, depends on where you live, and on your values and life experiences.
  • “Private schools have better physical security” – I had one friend who told me that she slept better at night because her kids’ private school has a wall around it. For a minute this made me feel terrible for sending my kids to a moat-less public school. The word “Newtown” makes my chest hurt like anyone else. But one of the hardest—and most necessary—things about parenthood for me is to let my kids out into the dangerous world and trust that they’ll be ok.
  • “There’s diversity because of the scholarship program” – Fair. Many if not all private schools I researched in Denver during our search had clear messaging about how hard they worked to make their schools inclusive for families who couldn’t afford the tuition. But it helps to look at the statistics. If 5% of the kids there were on scholarship, how much do they influence a school’s climate of cultural and socioeconomic diversity? On the other hand, the private Catholic college I attended had half its students on some aid or scholarship plan. At first blush, it seemed like a preppy rich kid school. But I met many working class friends there whose parents had to scrape by to get them there.

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.

10 Ways to Keep Kids Learning When They’re Not in School

By Carie Sherman

Extended breaks from school can lead to a loss in learning. So what can you do to help your children keep learning outside of school? Here are 10 ideas.

#1 Spend Time at Your Local Library1. Spend time at your local library. Every child has a topic or two that really get them excited. Whether its cars, castles, or dystopian society, you can find a book or video that can pique interest and deepen understanding. Many libraries also host events and classes for all ages and interests. I’m planning to sign up for the Denver Public Library’s newsletters so I get a reminder in my inbox about local event info, “book buzz,” film news, and more.

2. Think in terms of “teachable moments.” It’s actually pretty easy to get your kids reading, doing math, or learning geography without them realizing they’re learning. For example, make up an outdoor scavenger hunt that will boost their critical thinking skills. Pay attention to the questions your child asks – take a “Daddy, why is this leaf red?” question back home and do some investigating together. Grocery shopping can promote math and literacy; telling stories of your childhood can be a history lesson; even watching television and discussing plotlines or current events can be effective teaching tools.

3. Take advantage of Scientific and Cultural Facilities District free days. It can’t be any easier to expose your children to art, botany, theatre, cultural history, music, natural history, zoology, dance, and more.

#4 Use Computer Time Wisely4. Use computer time wisely. Check out the activities at Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment, add educational games to your PC, or sign up for ABCMouse. For teens, online gaming can offer educational opportunities. Download ebooks or check out the Idea Lab, a free digital media lab for teens ages 12 to 19 featuring tons of hardware (think 3D-printer, mixers—they even have sewing machines) and software (think Photoshop, web design tools, Linux machines).

5. Have a kid’s choice day. Whether it’s a long weekend or you’re headed on a family vacation, let your child pick an activity for the whole family. Older kids can do all the planning—give them an old-fashioned map and put some math skills to use. Kids of all ages can enjoy researching and looking at photos of places and events.

#6 Blast Away Boredom with Science Experiments6. Blast away boredom with some at-home science projects. Science projects don’t have to be complicated. My husband recent bundled up our daughter on a freezing cold night and threw boiling hot water into the air (be really careful if you try this at home!). This webpage gives you two project ideas per month—and all of them seem simple to implement and entertaining for all ages.

7. Incorporate math into fun challenges. For example, give your younger kids $5 and let them see how far the money goes during your next shopping trip. Form a “shapes” hunt when you’re out for a walk—whoever finds the most triangles wins! Give older kids a stopwatch and have them time themselves as they run or skateboard through the neighborhood. Keep track of their records, map their routes, and graph the results.

8. Start a family book club. This can involve choosing a book, setting up an “on-theme” meeting, and letting the kids lead the discussion. You can keep it to just your family, or invite neighborhood families to join in the fun.

9. Get them writing. Check out this awesome blog post on 5 sneaky ways to get your kids writing. Little ones can start creating journals or writing lists (even if they are just drawing pictures). But my favorite is for the more advanced writers: The “convince me” letter. If your child is repeatedly asking for something, tell them to put it in writing: “Make sure you consider all sides of the argument and address them in your letter.” Bonus: Argument writing is a big part of Common Core!

10. Seek out structured learning programs. For longer breaks, it might make sense to find a more structured program. This might be summer camps through the YMCA, enrichment programs through Summer Scholars, or seasonal programs through private schools such as Denver Academy (open to non-Academy students as well). There are computer camps, performance-based camps—even science and math camps in our area.

Learning doesn’t need to stop when school is out. Keep your kids learning long after the bell rings, and you’ll be setting them up for a strong future.

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.

 

School Tour Tips from a Mom, by Maren Stewart

checklist iconChoosing the right school for your child can be a daunting task. There are so many choices…and so little time.  Numerous resources exist to help with the decision making process from on-line databases and grading systems to sophisticated school websites and even professional coaches/advisors.  However, in my opinion, nothing is as beneficial as an old-fashioned visit.  Seeing it is believing it, and shadowing a potential school can be a really great opportunity for both you and your child.  Be sure to make the most of it by preparing with the following tips:

Be Intentional:  You and your child should have several things in mind as you visit a school.  Don’t simply let the experience wash over you but be thoughtful and deliberate about the things you want to see, hear, and experience.

Be Inquisitive:  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – both factual and otherwise. You want basic information, but it is also good to get opinions from teachers and students. And don’t make assumptions; this is your chance to learn so much more than a website or marketing materials can convey.

Be Open:  Visit with an open mind, free of pre-conceived perceptions.  If you go expecting or looking for certain things, you likely will miss out on some valuable insights. And, sometimes you might even be pleasantly surprised to learn things weren’t at all what you thought.

Each visit is – and should be – unique but here are a few things to keep in mind:

boys in a gymnasiumPhysical facility:  is it a place you would want to spend the majority of your time?  Just like a work environment, our kids spend a great deal of their days at school.  It doesn’t need to be fancy but is it bright and welcoming?  Is it clean and well-maintained?  Is school spirit visible?

….and is there a gymnasium and does it look well-equipped?  A cafeteria that supports healthy food options? Are there outdoor areas for recreation or quiet studying?  Is the library updated and is technology incorporated?  A stage/theatre?  Dark room? Art room? Science Lab?  These may be important resources, depending on your child’s interests,

bored studentStudents:  what are the kids doing?  How are they interacting with each other?  Does there seem to be a sense of camaraderie among the students?  Are they laughing and smiling in the hallways and common spaces?  Do they generally look happy and engaged?

…and do they participate in class?  How?  Do they show respect for their teachers and each other?  Do they appear curious and interested or do they look bored to death? Hint: you can tell a lot simply from body language.

Teachers:  how do they interact with students?  Are they supportive and empowering?  Would you be afraid to ask questions or would you be encouraged to speak up and participate?  Is there a sense of mutual respect? Is there good rapport between them and the students?

…and are they articulate and knowledgeable? Do they seem passionate? Can you envision them igniting interest and curiosity in your child?  Are they people you want your child to look up to and emulate?  Are they good role models?

Curriculum: students learn in different ways so be sure to understand the model and how it is presented.  Is it a structured or more informal approach?  Is there a particular lens through which material is presented, i.e. a global or artistic perspective?  Regardless of your child’s particular interests, is it important to have PE every day?  How about art or foreign language?

high school bandExtra-curricular:  What types of clubs, sports and affinity groups are available?  Can students initiate efforts related to their own interests? Listen for examples of how widely accessible these opportunities are and whether students are taking advantage of them. Hint: you can find clues looking around the building for meeting notices, events and activity sign-ups.

Approaching your visit with some deliberative thought will prove beneficial for both you and your child.  However, while it is important to be prepared, you shouldn’t get too focused on specific things.  Be sure to experience the school during your visit – get its vibe – and try to picture your child being a part of it.

Using these easy tips and keeping in mind these few things will ensure that your shadow experience will be productive and meaningful. And, it will allow you and your child to make an informed decision that is right for both of you.

Tips to Calm Your Nerves After Filling Out the Choice Form, by Meg Freedman

researching a schoolThe time has come to fill out the Denver Public Schools choice form for 2015. If you submit your form by January 30, 2015, you have the best chance of getting a space for your child at your top-choice school. (If you need it, here’s the official word on how to enroll in a DPS school.)

If completing the choice form is a little fraught for you (like it was for me), pull up a seat. Let’s calm your nerves—or at least set your expectations.

1) Don’t get too attached.

Certain public schools have few spots for non-siblings or non-neighborhood kids, or they’re just small schools. And it can seem like hardly anyone gets into them. This includes neighborhood, charter, and innovation schools. Just know when you fill out your form, that some schools aren’t likely to have a spot for your son or daughter. But as I’ve said before—you can’t win if you don’t play. If you absolutely love a school, throw it on your form. Then try to forget about it so you’re not too disappointed if it doesn’t work out. On the other hand…

2) Be careful what you wish for.

My kids didn’t get spots at any of our “reach” DPS schools, nor did most of my friends’ kids. However, I did know someone whose daughter got a spot at a tiny and very highly-regarded charter school. When she got her choice result letter, my friend said “we only put x school on our form because we didn’t think we’d get in. Maybe we should have gone to the neighborhood school with everyone else.” Turns out her daughter’s thriving where she landed. Just know you could be the one to win the lottery.  And make sure you’d be truly happy to go to any of the schools you put on your list.

3) Don’t give up hope.

After you submit your choice form, the next step in the school enrollment process is for you to get a letter back in early March with your allocated “round 1” spot. If your child doesn’t get a spot at your top choice school at that point, there’s still plenty of time for that to change. I heard of people’s kids getting spots at schools a few days after the March letters were sent out, a few weeks before the start of school, a few days after the start of school, and even a few months into the school year. In a school system as large as Denver’s, there’s constant and significant movement in and out of schools. People move out of their neighborhood or of out of the school district, or get late-breaking spots at private schools, and subsequently open spots for other kids. I’m not saying scurry to the mailbox every day. But don’t be too bummed out if the initial result wasn’t what you were hoping for.

4) Be open to a happy surprise.

I like shiny things. So we put another neighborhood’s well-regarded school and two sought-after charter schools above our neighborhood school on the choice list. And I was a little crushed when we didn’t get into any of those other schools. The good news is that now we love the one we’re with. The community aspect of our neighborhood school has been amazing. On any given day on the playground, I can hang out with one of my old playgroup friends, one of my yoga teachers, one of my husband’s co-workers, and the realtor who sold the house across the street from us. When other moms and I carpooled to a school field trip the other week, it took three minutes to pick everyone up. I can’t swing a cat on a walk through the neighborhood without hitting a friendly face. And our kids are thriving in school. Turns out our last-choice school has benefits we couldn’t have realized until we were enrolled there.

playground aerialSpeaking of yoga teachers, one of mine centered a class around the idea to “hold it lightly.” Embrace what you love but don’t contract carpal tunnel with your clutch on it. With school choice, you may get what you wish for, or you may not, but you may be just as glad either way.

 

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

Four Tips from a Denver Parent on Selecting a School, by Nabeehah Brown

Nabeehah Brown & FamilyThe best gift you can give your child as a parent is selecting a school that fits their needs and that will offer a quality education. As a mother of three children ages 6, 10, and 12, I have done more than my share of research to identify quality schools that fit their needs. My children currently attend a private school, a charter school, and an innovation public school.

So, one might ask what does the process to identify the right school for your children look like? Below are some tips based on my experience selecting the right schools for my children.

1. Make a list of priorities.

The first thing I do is write down a list of things that are important to me. For example, teaching style (project based learning, expeditionary, foreign language immersion, etc.), curriculum used (I have acquired knowledge of certain programs and I’m also a public school employee) and level of parental involvement.

2. Do your homework online.

I use my priorities list to narrow down schools that fit those needs. With my list I look at the schools SPF or School Performance Framework (available here), which gives me and indicator of how effective the school is at teaching their students. Another tool I use in this process is a parent based school rating website Great Schools to see how other parents have rated the school and their experiences. Colorado School Grades is another good resource to consider. I also can use this information to address areas of concern on my school visits.

3. Set up school visits.

Then, I set up school tours where I look for quality and content of student work being displayed in the hallways and well as visuals that display school culture. I also like to visit a classroom room where my child might be placed to get an idea of how students are instructed. School leadership is crucial for a school to thrive and succeed so when I visit schools I always make it a point to meet the school administrator to truly get a feel of the pulse of the school.

4. Consider a school visit with your child.

Now that I have given the school/s on my list my parental seal of approval, I like to take it a step further and have my child visit for half/full day if possible. Because they will be attending the school I want it to be a place where they feel safe, comfortable, and loved. Their experience most likely will be different from mine and this can add new perspective to your decision. If your child has and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or any other learning plan, this would be the time to meet with who will be supporting your child and understand the services available.

Finding a school that is the best fit for your child can be a lot of work but it is well worth it. Don’t be afraid to ask bold questions and advocate for your child’s needs. You want to be ready to make an informed decision for a school that best fits your child’s needs for a great education.

Nabeehah Brown is an early childhood educator in Colorado and is the mother of 3 children attending school in Denver.  She is also member of Stand for Children Colorado.

Tips to Take on the Tour, by Megan Freedman

School tourYou’ve made that list of schools to tour, so what should you look for on the tour?

I found it helpful to keep the tours sorted in a spreadsheet. Here’s mine including school names, addresses, websites, tour dates, admissions deadlines (if applicable) and other pertinent details. After you take the tour, add a few thoughts about your reaction to the school into the spreadsheet while it’s fresh on your mind. After a few tours, you may find it helpful to segment the schools you’ve toured into yeses, no’s, and maybes in terms of whether you’d like to apply/put on your choice form. That can help you select what information you need to retain and what bits you can mentally file in the dusty back of the drawer.

And don’t get too attached to any one school right away. I figured that out long after the fact. It’s natural to have strong feelings about a particular school. The campus, the teachers, or the culture may really appeal to you on a deep level. But our priorities evolved throughout our tour de choice. I fell hard for one school immediately, and spent the rest of the following week trying to convince my husband that we needed to give our kids “the best” and who needs to go to Disneyland when you can go to school X and so on. And then we had our son tested and the testing consultant steered us in a completely different direction, and school X plunked right off the table.

At the end of the day, if I could go back to 2013 and talk to myself before touring schools, I would say—think carefully but open-mindedly about the schools you’d like to tour. Go into each one ready to see what there is to see and feel your feelings about the place. Capture the logistical details (and your reactions) in one place that you can refer back to you later. And then let that information marinate for a bit. You’ll have time to make a rational choice later on about which schools you want to try to get a spot in.

 

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

Learning about G & T, by Carie Sherman

G&TMy daughter starts kindergarten next fall, so I’m working to select the right school for her.

I recently attended an “open house” at our neighborhood school (we’re part of Denver Public Schools). It was fine, but I felt silly: I didn’t get the memo that kids weren’t expected to attend or that “open house” was code for “be on time or you’ll miss being assigned to the right tour group.”

Alas, our tardiness gave us an excuse to hop into a few different parent groups. In each group we invaded, a parent invariably asked:

“Is there a G & T program?”

Up until then, I thought G & T was a beverage served over ice with a lime. Which I began to crave after realizing the other parents knew the lingo. I was behind the curve and wanted to get more background on what this is all about.

So what does G & T (i.e. Gifted and Talented) really mean?

The National Association of Gifted Children define G & T as kids who, “when compared to others his or her age or grade, have an advanced capacity to learn and apply what is learned in one or more subject areas, or in the performing or fine arts.” This advanced capacity requires curriculum modifications to make sure the kids are challenged and learn new material.

Do all public schools have a G & T program? Why are they important?

In Colorado, gifted programs are mandated and partially funded by the state.

It might seem like a G & T kid would do okay in any classroom setting. But G & T kids aren’t stimulated by regular curriculum. A national study conducted by the Fordham Institute found that 73% of teachers agreed that “Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school – we’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive.”

How does DPS identify G & T kids?

DPS begins assessing children for G & T in 1st grade. However, they also offer Advanced Kindergarten (AK), a curriculum for kids deemed academically advanced. Kids are accepted by application-only, and the program is only offered at select schools.

So do you have to be in AK to get into G & T? I missed the deadline, and because of that I already felt I was failing my daughter, who just began her education. Thank goodness for my friend Jonny, who made me feel much better.

Jonny’s daughter enters kindergarten next year, and he decided not to pursue AK. Why? He’d hoped the AK program would guarantee her a spot at the AK school (which receives higher grades than his neighborhood–or home–school), and that it would have some bearing on her future G & T acceptance. Neither are true. Once she entered 1st grade, she’d need to return to her home school or go through the school choice program. And then be reassessed by G & T.

It was a good enough reason for me to let go of my Bad Mama guilt.

Is Your Child G & T?

I reviewed the literature, and I’ll admit that I suspect my own darling exhibits G & T characteristics. But there’s a huge range of traits. Here are resources I found helpful:

Yet, the only way to know for sure is getting her tested.

It’s DPS policy to screen all students for G & T beginning in 1st grade. The process seems to vary by the school, so DPS suggests contacting the gifted education teacher at your own school. And for anyone who can’t wait that long, there’s an option of getting tested independently.

What happens beyond kindergarten?

There are two programs at DPS — Gifted and Talented and Highly Gifted and Talented. DPS provides a handy-dandy chart outlining the pertinent info.

The website is helpful, but I was curious about how this really works. So I contacted my friend Jeanine, whose daughter is G & T at DPS. She explained that once your school district deems your child G & T eligible, the state mandates that your child receive an Advanced Learning Plan. The plan sets goals and makes accommodations. Jeanine has seen some issues related to consistency of receiving a plan … some years they receive one … some years they do not.

So what’s your best bet as a parent?

Jeanine says, bottom-line: Develop a good relationship with your school’s principal and your child’s teacher. Discuss your concerns about your child’s education, and be prepared to help them identify any special needs your G & T child may have in the classroom.

Last but not least, do all parents think their child is G & T?

Maybe. On some level, it’s likely most parents believe their kids are G & T. I’m no different. Yet the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented says the G & T kids actually represent only 7.6% of the total K-12 public school population.

 

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.