Let me start off with a simple statement; it’s just kindergarten. Let’s try to keep that in mind throughout this post and throughout life in general. Say it with me, it’s just kindergarten.
So with that little axiom in mind I offer, for your edification, a story of transition. It’s a story fraught with uncertainty, fear, and peril as we look over the precipice into the abyss, hypnotized by the eyes of the leviathan. (Or as Hupp would call it The Ohio Grassman)
I get that this experience is probably not the norm, but it’s our experience or at least our experience as I see it. This in no way is a debate or judgement about sending a child to kindergarten at 5 years of age or holding them back. It’s they story of our internal family debate over that issue; a slight but important distinction. The easily offended, the hypersensitive, and the correctors of all wrongs on the internet would do well to skip this one. Ok with all the public service warnings out of the way, here now the story of the Decision: To send or not to send 5 year old Frank to kindergarten.
19 May 2009
May 19th was a great day. Our first child was born, a son named Frank. Apart from a harrowing 10 minutes where they shifted from natural delivery to emergency egress through the sun roof (c-section), it was a perfect day. Little did I know 19 May 2009 was a date that would live in infamy. Had he been born on 19 July or 19 August this story never happenes. Had Frank been born on 19 January or even 19 February, this story never happens. But 19 May, that put us right in the cleavage of a growing trend/debate about preparedness for kindergarten.
May 19th put us in a jam. Like most people in Knoxville, I blame Mike Hamilton. On the 18th of May at a little gathering, we’re saying goodbyes and Mike yells out “Hope the baby comes tonight!” Sure enough 10pm that night, three plus weeks early, the birth sequence was initiated. What I did not know, what no one was thinking about, a very slow burning fuse was also lit that day. The end of the fuse was a powder keg called kindergarten.
Frank is now five years old, has been in pre-school since he was two and the decision about kindergarten comes up. Not five months earlier there was no question. Mrs Frank’s Place and I were sure he would be starting kindergarten in August of 2014. Something changed from that moment to May of 2014 and the debate was on.
Tracy’s issue was one of a parent protecting her child and not wanting to see him flounder. Noble to be sure. My position, struggle is good. Birds struggle to breakout of their eggs with no help from momma because it strengthens their wings so they can fly. If she cracks the eggs for them, they’re doomed to under-developed wings resulting in a very short life, ending with a frightening drop from the nest with a crescendo of a skull shattering landing on the forrest floor.
Hyperbole aside, there is no soft, smooth path here. The kid is going to struggle at some things no matter what age he starts school. I have associates degrees in Math and Physics and I could barely solve the equation 3 + x=5 when I got to high-school. Sometimes you put your shoulder against the mill stone and just keep pushing. Simple as that. Having said that, Tracy had a very good point. We don’t want him to needlessly struggle, so much so that he may begin to hate school or fall behind too far too fast, never being able to recover. The bird that can’t get out of the egg winds up just as dead as the bird with weak wings who was helped out of the egg.
So the question of the day was, how weak or strong were his wings. We batted around what we thought were his struggles and strengths but that amounted to nothing more than both of us supporting our already decided positions with our own facts. Time to talk to his teachers and once that info was harvested we would talk to the principal of the school he was heading to. Oh yeah it was getting real and really complex. Remember it’s just kindergarten.
The sit down with his current and final pre-schol teachers went fine. It was a bit of an exercise in teeth pulling, but we got what we came for, information. God love em, they don’t want to say a bad word about anyone. I get that. I also get that I move through this world in a blunt force trauma sort of way and expect others to be as brutally honest and emotionally detached when they deal with me. They weren’t. It was a process getting to the info we needed to make a decision. His teachers operate under the directive of “We don’t make decisions about moving on, we just tell you what we’ve seen.” It’s not as binding as the Prime Directive from Star Trek, but you know, it carries some weight.
Through no fault of their own, his pre-school teachers highlighted one of the myriad of things that turns going to kindergarten into such a massive decision when it really shouldn’t be. Worried they might be influencing our decision they were not as brutally honest as we needed them to be. I would have preferred them to say “Look he’s half a dope and needs to wait a year.” I get that no one is going to say that, but if they did this transition would be much easier and quicker. It’s just kindergarten.
After a little teeth pulling they finally spit it out. We think he should wait a year. Thank God. Now we can start asking serious questions, like why do you think that. Nothing they said changed my mind in the slightest: He didn’t like doing the evaluations. He wanted to play as soon as he was done with evals. He had trouble with letter sounds and sight words. The only issue that even caused my mind to stop turning for a milli-second was “He gets stuck in the bathroom.”
Yeah he gets in there to do his business and then can’t get out. He’s completely potty trained. He can handle his business, he just couldn’t get out when he was done. The door was too heavy and they would have to let him out. He is little but he’s not that little. I dismissed that out of hand for several reasons. One, that door is like the gate of King Richard’s castle and two, if I remember correctly, grade school bathrooms have no door, or they are kept propped open. Turns out the kindergarten Frank would be going to has doorless bathrooms, something akin to what you see in airports these days.
Needless to say I saw this information completely differently than Tracy and his teachers. They thought he should wait a year. To me this is exactly what the next step in school is for, aside from the crapper issue, to teach him these things. His skill with numbers on the golf course and in general would already have him ahead of his peers in that regard. So if comparison is the yard stick for this decision, should’t those other kids be held back until they catch up with him and can add and subtract in their head without use of fingers or sounding it out? No of course not, that would be rediculous. They would learn to do that just like Frank would have to learn and catch them in the area of letter sounds and reading. It’s just kindergarten.
School is for learning, not reciting what you already know to an adult. At least that’s the fallacy I was operating under. But let’s say he should wait. What then? Where does he go next year? Back to the same pre-school? That made no sense to me. Tracy felt very strongly with holding him back and I went along with her in that. But in no way was I gonna hold with putting him right back in the same place. That seemed just silly to me. If he’s not ready then another year in the same joint wasn’t going to help, let’s send him somewhere else for a year.
Let me say Miss Leigh Ann and Miss Beth were great and Frank loves them. Miss Beth taught Frank to swim, and Frank always went on and on about Miss Leigh Ann. We were lucky Miss Leigh Ann moved on with Frank from his second year to his third year at pre-school. Her temperament and style is exactly what you would hope for when your kid goes to school. I say that as a parent and a trained evaluator of educators, having done so for several years towards the end of my time in the Air Force. Frank, and his parents, miss that little school and his teachers. They were a tremendous blessing.
Quidam Romanus, semper Romanus – Once a Roman, always a Roman
Tracy had a great and terrible idea. Let’s check out Sacred Heart Catholic School. We can send him there as a trial run at kindergarten and then send him to the public school kindergarten the following year if he’s not ready to move on to first grade. The feeling being he wouldn’t get held back in the same school, thus being upset about not moving on with his friends. Hear that, that’s the very slight sound of the bird’s egg being cracked for him, wings being weakened.
It was a great idea in that it was the mother of all compromise. Truly this woman should be the Speaker of the House. John of Orange (Speaker Boehner) could learn a lot from Tracy in the art of negotiation and compromise.
However it was a terrible idea because that would require me to step foot in a place I had shunned when I was 13. My eight years in catholic school were the worst years of my life. I hated that place and hated school because of it. In 7th grade I sat in the pew with my father during Confirmation practice vowing, silently to myself of course, that my children would never go through this, ever.
As Tracy will gleefully tell you I can’t even see corduroy pants without having paralyzing flashbacks to the days of getting slapped in the face, punched in the mouth, denied my lunch, being locked in a dark closet, being made to eat on the floor, having my hair pulled till I sang properly, and being forced to copy a book by hand for two weeks straight at lunch time because they felt I was being lazy. I was denied my lunch and yard time for those two weeks. Yard time people, it was a prison from which there was no escape and no parole. Much like boot camp the only escape was graduation. I never had those issues in grades where the teacher was a civilian, in fact those were the grades I performed the best. All those things you see there, and more, only occurred in grades where my teacher was a Nun, the Sisters of St. Joseph to be exact. It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to trace where my blunt force trauma style comes from.
Anyway, we approached the
Death Star Sacred Heart Catholic School. Palpitations were limited but growing in intensity. I could not feel the presence of my old masters yet, but like Obi Wan, I was ready and willing to drill one in the snot locker should the need arise.
Well what a let down, a build up with no payoff. Turns out my vow at 13 would not be broken. Other than the uniforms this place in no way resembled the Shawshank I endured. In fact we left there thinking the place and people were so awesome I could actually see Frank and his sister going the entire distance, K-8, at Sacred Heart Catholic School. It was odd. It felt safe, secure, dare I say loving. The Church has changed in the last 34 years.
Ok then, other than a sit down with the principal from the public school, looks like the prodigal son is sending his offspring to Catholic School.
Expecting to get the same analysis from the head shed that we got from the pre-school peeps, I again was knocked off my pins. That dude was all like, “Oh send him. It’s just kindergarten. We get kids who don’t know the difference between a number or a letter and Frank can add and subtract? Send him. He’ll be fine.”
Whoa man that can’t be. How is that possible? He says, “We’re a pubic school, people send their kids, we take em.” No, no I mean how is it possible that a kid can come to kindergarten not knowing letters or numbers? What we’ve been told from teachers and other people, friends, etc… is if your kid can’t read Chaucer you better hold them back.
He says in almost a casual unimportant manner, “Yeah, that’s a big fad, holding kids back. No real merit to it. I mean would we all benefit from starting school at 6 instead of 5, of course, but is it necessary, nope. It’s just kindergarten. We don’t even make decisions on holding back until the end of first grade anyway. Plus we have one of the best kindergarten programs around. He’ll know what he needs to know by year’s end.”
He said it was Just kindergarten, the principal of the school said that. I could not believe what I was hearing.
I agreed with him about the new fad of holding kids back. It’s even crept into societies vocabulary. A very educated and common sensical person said “It won’t kill him if he goes early.” Did you catch that? Goes early she said. At 5 years old he would not be going early, he would be on time. “Well I meant in relation to the other kids in the class.” No Frank still won’t be early. He’s five, he’ll be on time. Those other kids will be late in starting school. Hey that’s not an opinion, that’s just fact. Kindergarten starts at 5. If a kid starts kindergarten at 6, then that child started a year later than anyone who started at 5. There really is no subjection there, it’s just a simple linear timeline.
I must admit my neighbor has said roughly the same thing the principal did about sending Frank long before this. She’s a elementary school teacher and she interacts with Frank in the street daily. Her position was if he can sit quietly for long periods of time she’d take that over a kid who’s disruptive but can read. Or something to that effect. Her thought process was the fact that Frank can already tie his shoes, dress himself, loves going to school, and is polite to a fault when dealing with the adults in our hood puts him on par or ahead of a lot of his peers, so send him he’ll be fine. Amen sister.
But for Tracy, she needed to hear it from someone official and I understand that. Well can’t get more official than the prinicpal. But to add on to that, Frank and I went to the Kindergarten Round Up. Like an open house for the kindergarten program. He met all six teachers and got to tour three of the six classrooms. They were of the same mind. Send him, he’ll be fine.
The teachers, to a person, were very impressed with Frank and his manners. When he said “May I please go in the play area…” in the back of the classroom, I thought one of them was going to cry. The PTO gave him a car magnet with the school logo on it that he stared at the entire ride home. Walking out of the place he says to me, “I’m a Rocky Hill Ram!” Yeah he’s ready. It’s just kindergarten.
So we changed course. No Catholic school for Frank, although I would have been absolutely fine with it. Some personal demons were slain during that visit so it was fruitful no matter if he goes there or not. The plan is set. He starts school on the 14th of August. We’re ready to go, or are we?
There was still a matter of his kindergarten pre-evaluation on the 5th of August. The debate, it seems, was about to be re-ignited.
Check back in a few days for Kindergarten: There will be blood – Part 2 The Eval.