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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Real response

Just so people don't think I'm totally insane, I didn't actually send the last post to anyone.  It was a nice outlet to release some of my anger though.  The version I actually sent is below.  I wonder how long it will be before I receive a response, since I did ask some specific questions.  At this point we are still waiting for a list of authors.  This was promised to us in October and Jon sent a follow-up email regarding it on Tuesday morning after the phone call.  He received a response Tuesday night that she would "look at her documents" and get back to us.  Is it that out of line to ask for a list of authors?!  As an elementary teacher I would think that would be a common question.  We did contact the director of the gifted program who took 36 hours to respond and say she's looking into it.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes to hear back from her again.  I didn't think fully before I hit send last night, in that today I will be in the classroom.  Things are going to be a little awkward, but I work with the kids anyway, I'm not there to see the teacher.

We recognize that God is in control in this situation and He will lead us in the right direction.  Through His grace I was able to come down from my anger and not say anything I regretted, this is why Jon does the phone conversations as well.  We continue to seek guidance for His will and know that we will be led to the right place.  Hopefully we will have more answers than questions shortly.

Dear Teacher,

Now that we’ve had time to talk as a family and reflect upon yesterday’s discussion, we wanted to follow-up with some additional questions.  One concern we have is the use of Razkids and that earlier in the year, Carolyn completed the initial level but then was reset.  This effectively showed her that her hard work of taking the time to answer all the questions correctly would not be rewarded with more difficult material but rather her level is being decided by you.  Jon asked about this in the conversation but felt he was not given a clear answer.  Last night I looked at Carolyn’s iPad to discover that she has currently been set to level L.  This is disturbing since [last year's teacher] had her reading at level N and O in kindergarten.  I know that the questions asked after the stories in this program become progressively more difficult, so it would make sense if she were allowed to progress at her own pace so long as she is able to answer the comprehension questions at the end of the story. 

We are also somewhat puzzled by the discussion around reading.  Carolyn does not feel that anything has been difficult for her, aside from taking a couple days to effectively implement new ideas set forth.  She does not feel that she is able to share her opinion when working in a large group.  We did discuss this morning how it’s not possible for everyone to answer every question, but she feels that she is not being asked often to offer her opinion.  She does appreciate working in smaller groups now so that she can be more involved.

We are concerned about what is taking place with math.  We realize that her fact fluency is very high and that her abilities are well above the first grade level in that she is able to understand the concepts of multiplication and division.  We also understand your philosophy that homework is not necessary at this age and respect that.  But we are receiving a mixed message regarding this when homework that is sent home is busy work and not something that furthers understanding.  As a parent, it is difficult to keep track of and plan for homework when it is sporadic.  We also feel that time would better spent focusing on further fact fluency or other areas rather than reviewing material Carolyn has already shown proficiency with.  We want to know what can be done at school to support Carolyn’s growth in math and critical thinking skills.  Can the students that have shown mastery work on logic puzzles or something similar that helps to improve critical thinking skills?

The district website states that “The needs of gifted children are as disparate from the norm as the needs of special education students. The needs of gifted children in District 34 can be met with a proportional allocation of resources and expertise. “   We have yet to see this philosophy enacted for our daughter.  She has shown both on nationally normed IQ tests via Northwestern and the school tests that her abilities are significantly above her grade level, scoring higher than the 95% in every subject.  What needs to be done for her to gain access to what is needed to further her potential?  We want to be sure that her spark for learning is not lost and have found it to be waning as this school year progresses.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Dear Teacher,
My husband and I spoke after your phone call this morning and I had a chance to speak with Carolyn after school.  This conversation seems to have created more questions than answers at this time.  You effectively side-stepped the question of why the level for Carolyn’s RazKids was reset in the fall when she came to school having completed the initial level.  I looked at it just now and not only was it reset, but the current level is in fact lower than where she started the year.  For a child that scored 14 points below the 3rd grade qualifying score for the gifted program as a 1st grader, I am dumbfounded as to why she would be held back from progressing.  Once her level was reset, she lost all interest in reading on there.  And I can’t disagree with her, what’s the point of doing the work if the teacher is going to arbitrarily set your level anyway?  Your solution of giving her an assignment to compare 3 digit numbers since she knows her doubles seems pointless.  She was able to compare such numbers in kindergarten.  Will she at any point this year get anything that is even slightly challenging for math?  Something has been misunderstood as well – I was informed this morning that we don’t use centimeters to measure for science in the US.  I am praying that was a misunderstanding since it as far from the truth as one could get. 

Can you provide evidence of why you say Carolyn is struggling to ask and answer appropriate questions for reading group?  She explained exactly what “thick” and “thin” questions are to me in 1 minute, then provided an example.  She did complain that the room is very loud and that her group does not answer any of the questions they write.  But you have told her over and over again that it’s more important to listen to others, so she’s letting them decide what to do.  She has a very strong sense of right and wrong and I can tell that you have beat her down this year so she no longer wants to intervene in anything.  This deeply saddens me and makes me angry that your influence over my daughter has changed who she is.  We need you to stop trying to change her social abilities, your methods are not productive. 

It seems from the conversation that you don’t really know my daughter.  I don’t understand how you can spend 5 months in a classroom with her and yet know so little about her true abilities.  We sat just this weekend and discussed who the hero in Frozen is and why.  It was an amazing conversation where we came up with 3 different possibilities.  But apparently that type of interaction is not being had in the classroom – because you have emphasized so much that she no longer feels comfortable to share.

I have a hard time believing the “promises” that were offered to my husband, since very few things have so far been followed through on this school year.  In October at conferences we were told that a book list would be sent home shortly.  It’s nearly February and had I not spent my own time looking, Carolyn would have had no upper level picture books at home.  We reached out and were ignored.  Also at conferences we were promised that there would be opportunities for enrichment throughout the year.  When we look at the first 5 months, that has yet to happen once.  When my husband brought it up today he says you were confused by the discussion.  Instead of sending home work on math facts that she has already clearly shown proficiency in, send home something with facts she still needs to work on.  Since she already knows how to write how to books (they spent 6 months in kindergarten doing so), let her do something else, or make sure she’s spelling every word right. 

I cannot believe how disappointing of an experience this has been so far with district 34.  I grew up in Glenview and we moved here for the schools.  Yet we have had to fight every step of the way for Carolyn to receive anything.  We were promised last year that the gifted teacher would be working with the first grade during reading time.  Yet there is no evidence of this happening.  I have tried to work with the teachers, but we’re getting no response.  Every time we ask questions we’re told “this is how we do it.”  I am mad that I spent the money to move to this town and pay taxes when the school won’t provide a proper education for my child.  The district website states that gifted children need just as many resources as those struggling.  But not a single resource has been extended to a child that has scored in the 99.9% for reading on a nationally normed test and in the 96% for math.  I don’t know where we go from here.  But if we don’t start to get some sort of movement from the school with proof of how our child is properly being serviced, we will start to move up the ranks.  I know that other elementary schools in the district are providing for their students.  Do we have to petition to have her moved schools so she can get what she needs?  What is it she needs to show that you aren’t seeing?  Can I send information about dealing with gifted students?  They think differently, they act differently, they respond differently.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Feel like I missed something

Jon is going to meet with Carolyn's teacher via a phone call tomorrow to discuss what can be done for her at school.  I have been listening to a lot of comments about boredom and how she wishes things were different lately.  In preparation for the meeting, we wanted to be sure we're on the same page and know out options.  So I went looking around the district website tonight.  I found 2 things that are somewhat scary to me.  First, all discussion of any accelerated/gifted math is gone.  There is no discussion about any way to service kids that are above grade level for math.  All criteria to qualify for the gifted program is now IQ and reading/language related.  As the mother of a first grader that is grasping multiplication and division concepts, this is almost terrifying.  We have emailed the person in charge to find out what is going on with the math.  Second, I found the cut off scores for screening for the gifted program.  They don't want to spend the money to administer an IQ test to every kid, so they use some of the MAP scores and CogAt.  Well, they start taking the MAP in first grade.  Carolyn took it this September, after having lived in the hotel for at least 2 weeks.  And she scored 11 points shy of the cut-off.  They look at the scores kids receive during the fall of their 3rd grade year.  Her projected score for the end of first grade is in fact 3 points above the cut-off.  But she's receiving no special services at all and from what we can tell, no differentiation.  She scored 30pts above the district mean.

I'm feeling like a terrible parent tonight as I look at all of this.  How could I have not realized what it meant when I saw these scores?  How could I have not been pushing earlier this year to get her what she needed?  Yes, we were living in the hotel, but I can only imagine how much higher those initial scores might have even been if we weren't at the time.  I don't know what to do at this point.

God, this is in Your hands.  We need Your guidance to show us what needs to be done for Carolyn to complete Your will in her life.  Give Jon the words to express our concerns tomorrow.  Show us what direction we need to move in next.  You have given Carolyn some amazing talents and we want to ensure that nothing is wasted.  Thank You for all of the wonderful blessings You have bestowed upon our family.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Week 1 complete!

Can you believe that today completes the first week of the year?!  It feels like just yesterday we were celebrating Christmas.  Of course, we did just take down the tree and decorations today.  The living room feels so spacious without the tree.  We haven't had the furniture in this configuration with the construction completed and no tree yet, so it's strange to have it gone.  At the moment a stack of bins is in the tree's place until the temperature gets a level which carrying them out and unlocking the shed won't require thawing out afterwards.  Even the fireplace seems barren without the garland, stockings, and nativity.  But it's very nice to feel the extra space and I will no longer have to worry about James knocking over the tree riding his tricycle or Carolyn doing a cartwheel into the tree.

School was canceled today due to the cold.  This is just crazy to me, I think we might have had 1 snow day in all my elementary/high school days combined.  We'll be home again tomorrow as well.  I anticipated having tomorrow off, so we spent the morning at the library and picked up craft sticks at Joann's this morning.  Tomorrow morning we'll work on Carolyn's log cabin and James' farm as we complete their KWL sheets.  They are enjoying learning about a topic chosen themselves and getting to make a project from it.

At the library I realized why Carolyn will always be ahead of grade level in math.  Her brain works like mine and she wants to know things.  The library has various puzzles set out to complete, mostly for toddlers.  She sat down in front of a 6 piece police car puzzle just before we left and took 3 pieces out, then declared it was half a car.  I asked her why she thought that.  This led to a 5-10 minute discussion of fractions, wherein she moved puzzle pieces around and thought about how 2 pieces in is 2/6 or 1/3, 3 pieces in is 1/2 and 4 pieces in is 4/6 or 2/3.  She did the division of 6/2 easily, really without realizing that is somewhat of an advanced concept.  This may not be a normal discussion for a parent to have with a child, but she craves these sorts of interactions and initiates them herself.  She would be an ideal candidate for unschooling.  The pile of books we brought home from the library is awesome - she wants to know about pioneers, presidents, and some random archduke because she was interested in the name.  Then she chose a pile of chapter books and picture books.  During quiet time today she read 2 of the chapter books and a few others throughout other parts of the day.  I'm looking forward to working with her tomorrow.

I have made 2 more new recipes this week.  Monday was our typical standby of homemade pizza which we've enjoyed as leftovers for lunch the last 2 days.  Tuesday we tried lemon chicken which does not seem to be a family favorite.  James stated it was too sour and didn't eat much.  So it likely won't be repeated for some time.  Today I made beef and pumpkin stew which was really good, but Jon did not appreciate the pumpkin taste.  I thought it was great, so I might try to tweak this by swapping the pumpkin with something else.  I'm not typically a fan of stews, but this kind of hit the spot.  Tomorrow we're doing an old favorite sweet potato hash.  My body seems to definitely by adjusting to no sugar.  I find that I have more energy and am sleeping a bit better.  I can't wait to see this weekend if it's also leading to some weight loss.  The pile of cookies on the counter does keep calling my name, but at this point I seem to be able to avoid them.  This weekend I think it's all going to be thrown out since it's old anyway.  Great to be getting good food in and starting to feel better!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Enjoying my kitchen!

We have been home with a fully functioning kitchen for about a month now.  With the holidays officially over, I am excited to get back into my kitchen and try some new recipes.  We seem to get caught in eating the same 7-10 things over and over since I'm too tired on Friday nights when to find new ideas and make a list.  So a few days ago I sat down and figured out meals for the next several weeks, tricky only due to gymnastics Tues/Thurs and art class on Mondays.  Since we eat so early I have to do quick to cook or crockpot meals on these days.  But Sunday and Wednesday I can cook whatever I want.  If things get too stressful I might even switch our leftover night to Thursday and cook on Fridays.

I pulled recipes from a list of Whole 30 approved meals.  I'm not doing a Whole 30 as that is really restrictive and our budget won't allow for it.  But it's great to have these guaranteed gluten free meals.  So tonight's main course is Crispy Buffalo Chicken Fingers.  The kids enjoyed helping to crush up the pork rinds and this took about 20 minutes to get into the oven.  I did simply cut up chicken breasts instead of buying chicken strips.  Looking forward to a new taste.  To accompany tonight I made potato fries - baked in the oven for 30 minutes at the same time as the chicken and frozen broccoli. Looking forward to a yummy new taste made from known ingredients.  Hopefully the kids will be a fan.

I also made Energy Balls last night.  I plan to send these in Carolyn's lunch as a "dessert" and use them as a quick breakfast when needed.  Both kids tried and approved them today.  Next time I think I might swap out the flax seed for gelatin.  I wonder if that would work?  It would certainly up the amount of protein in these, something I always seem to be looking to get more of with the kids.

I'm looking forward to trying some snack recipes for the kids as we go into this year.  If I can find a combination of things that need to be baked and that don't we'll have some good things throughout the year, regardless of the weather.

Off to try dinner!

Update:  Two thumbs up by me and Jon.  The kids think it's a bit spicy.  Hopefully with some more exposure to spicier foods they'll not be quite so impacted.  They did eat it by dipping in ketchup though, which they seem to do with most meat.  Which reminds me that I should really get around to making my own ketchup to get the sugar out.  We also discovered that we like the fries cooked at 400 much more than the usual 350.  This produced a nice, crispy outside and soft inside.  Hopefully this good meal will help this nausea and dizziness to go away.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

So begins 2015.  So many promising possibilities as we head into a new year.  Everything with the house is nearly done and it is becoming evident how we have been strangely blessed through the whole situation.  We met some amazing people while living in the hotel and became aware of how wonderfully resilient our children are.  We have also been blessed financially, paying off our equity loan and at the moment not having to take anything back out.  This is truly amazing to me, since there was over $8k on the loan in September.  God has truly blessed our family, even if life was tough for 3 months.  By trusting in Him and working hard we have truly come out on the other side stronger than before.

Most set new years resolutions as they enter the new year.  I have a few things I'm setting my sights on and I think are attainable.

1.  Read the Bible every day.  I have been requesting some books about praying for my children and started making progress on this last week.  I have been reading daily devotionals for a couple months now.  Today I signed up through to send me some themed passages to read each day.  The goal is to read through the entire Bible in 1 year.  I'm going to try and do this in the morning, but will commit to read before bed each night when the morning doesn't work.

2.  Get healthy.  With all the junk food we were forced to eat this Fall and sugar I've had since baking for Christmas, I feel sick.  I have a lot of pain in seemingly random parts of my body.  The good news is that my daily headaches have subsided since being home,  This month I am going to avoid added sugars to detox and see if I can shed some weight and feel better.  I'm thinking I might even make an appointment this summer to start a relationship with a doctor.

Here we go, ready for the new year!  Trusting in God to guide us down the right paths in this new year.