Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I know I missed blogging yesterday, and I apologize.  The day was crazy.  I did have my knee drained, and it is feeling much better.  Stupid knee.  This better be the end of that.  Then I picked up some new desks for Cainan and Arlington's room-  thank you Timalyn!  Then I volunteered in Finley's classroom.  That was fun - I got to have Finley in my group.  I watched our next door neighbor while Finley was at Daisies, and then we went to puppy school, the transition meeting, and then some of the mommies and I went out after the meeting to chat and decompress.  It was 11pm by the time my head hit the pillow, so that is my very long excuse for not blogging.

Moving on.

Last night's meeting was very informative.  I am glad I went.  There were a lot of parents there, with a lot (a lot) of good questions.  The principal and the Transitional teacher ran the meeting, and I think they did a good job explaining what the program was.  He asked what we all knew about the transitional program, and across the board everyone said "Nothing".

That caused the meeting to run 2 1/2 hours.

So - I thought I would post the majority of the questions that were asked last night, and the answers we received.  I think if I write it down, it will be easier for us when we go to make the decision in May.

1) Who do they go out to lunch and recess with?
         A) They go to lunch and recess with the first grade classes.  On Mondays and Tuesdays they do a late afternoon recess with Kindergarten so they get to know those kids too (who will actually be their classmates come first grade).
                     1) sidebar:  I am sort of okay with this.  I like that they will see their friends that they had the year before, and will be able to support some of those friendships.  BUT - they are not going to be their classmates from here on out - the "now" Kindergarteners are.  So - I feel like they should make those bonds as well.  Most people seemed to like that they were with the kids "their own age" so I guess we will just wait and see how it works out.

2) How much more prepared are the kids for first grade who go through the program?
         A) because most of the kids go into this program because they are the youngest in their class and are socially/emotionally less prepared than their peers, it does help in that aspect.  They get another year to increase their readiness for the rigors of first grade (funny to say rigors and first grade, but it is becoming that way!).  Since they have a year to mature and "catch up" to their older peers, they are more prepared to sit and listen in first grade and usually do very, very well from here on out.
                 a) sidebar:  I am in agreement with this.  I could see how kids that are not emotionally/socially ready for first grade could benefit from that extra time to catch up to their older peers.  If you think about it - there are September birthdays where the kids turn 6 when entering Kindergarten.  the August birthdays (and June and July) have just turned 5.  Their are peers in their class that are almost a whole year older than they are.  6 months in a 5 year old's life is 1/10th of their life.  that is a long time, let alone a whole year.  (1/10th of a 50 year old's life is 5 years - think how much changes in that amount of time).  I could see - especially for Cainan - this being a benefit of the program.  I do feel he is behind his peers emotionally, and a little socially.

3) Self-esteem?
     A) there were several parents there who have been through the program before to speak:  they said that their self-esteem is amazing.  They stated it had built a lot of confidence in their kids.  They stated that their kids kept their friends in the year ahead of them, and made new friends in their current grade as well.  Some of the parents were parents of middle schoolers and said that their kids are grateful and doing well.
                  1) sidebar:  I can't imagine that this program would hurt anyone.

4) What if there is not enough room in the program for all the kids who need/want to go?
        A) right now - the school has budgeted for 25 kids in the class MAX, and 1 transitional classroom teacher.  there are 35 kids who have been targeted for the transitional program.  Sometimes the principal has to make tough decisions about who can/cannot go in the program.  He realizes there is a chance that all 35 kids will qualify, and in that case, they will make it work and have two classes (can move staff around).
                 1) sidebar:  I doubt this is going to be a problem.  Three of the ladies I went out with last night are sure their kids don't need the program.  A lot of people will be like that.  there were not 35 sets of parents at the meeting last night, so some of those people probably decided they weren't even going to consider it.  Personally, I am not too crazy about a classroom size of 25 especially when there is no teacher's aide.

5) Is it strictly summer birthday's that are targeted for this program?
        A) Most kids, yes.  Most are June, July, August birthdays that got letters.  there were a few March, April, May boys.  Being the youngest in the class, you are the youngest developmentally.  They have had a few winter birthdays, but not many.
            1) side bar:  This is Mat's biggest problem with this program.  This piece stands out in a lot of people's minds that their kids were targeted just because they are young.  But it cannot be denied that they are the youngest of their classmates and NOTHING can catch them up developmentally to a peer who is almost a year older than they are.  Some kids are just mature.  First borns, especially, and age doesn't matter with them.  But most kids with "late" birthdays - especially boys - tend to be "late" bloomers.  No amount of time will change that.

6) what is the cirriculum?
            A) There is a different in Cirriculum from Kindergarten and first grade.  They have a Transitional cirriculum that is a little of both.  They work on the Kindergarten standards and enrich that.  They work on adding numbers 0-10 (5+3, 8+2, etc), which is a step up from Kindergarten.  The reading is differentiated, like it is in every grade.  Kids get the reading level they are ready for.  Some kids in the program are reading at a 2nd grade level, and some kids are still working on Kindergarten level reading skills.  The class builds on Kindergarten phonics.  They are working on writing word and writing more difficult sentences than in Kindergarten.  They do a lot of free writing.  They work on Ven diagrams.  They review the 35 sight words they learned in Kindergarten and then build on those. 
                        There is also a cirriculum for social/emotional.  They do the HEART program (something the whole school does).  they stop and talk about a situation that happens in class so that the whole class benefits from the learning experience.  They work on friendships and confidence building.  The day isn't as hurried as first grade, so they have time to work on these small areas.  for example-  if they are on the playground, the teacher may approach them and ask them how they are showing "effort" (the E in HEART).  She helps them figure out the skills to approach people in social situations that might not be their comfort zone.
              1) sidebar:  I think that the social/emotional program is perfect for Finley.  Finley is not a social butterfly.  She is quiet and reserved in school, and does not approach people to play on most occasions.  Does that have a lot to do with her vision?  Of course.  But it could be a good opportunity to give her a little more time to develop some better skills with her peers that she will need life long.  Cainan, also, can benefit from this.  He is very social - don't get me wrong - but he tends to get upset easily when things aren't going "perfect" according to the rules.  He doesn't cry, but he starts to get whiny.  And he is LOUD.  I think they both need social skills.
                   And ask for the academic piece, I don't think it is anything to worry about.  I do not worry about them getting bored.  Neither one of them are at Arlington's level, and that is okay.  I think they are challenged well with just the regular cirriculum.  And I heard opportunities for each child to go at their own speed for reading, math, writing, etc. just like they would in any other classroom.
              My only concern with this whole piece would be the kids who are  For a lack of a better term.  Kids who are socially/emotionally immature tend to be the kids who are climbing the walls and the tables.  Kids that are full speed ahead and don't stop and think before they act.  But - couldn't that be in any classroom?  Sure.....but I do feel like because of this programs design, there is a higher chance of it being MORE than a regular classroom of those types of kids.  I think me spending a few hours in the classroom in the near future will help me figure that out.

7) What is the Screening Process?
        A) In the Previous years, it was a test called the Gazelle.  They are unsure if they will use that test, or something else, but it will be something similar.  The test will take place sometime in April before April break.  After the break, the test results are given to the classroom teachers.  At our May conferences, the parents sit down with the child's teacher and go over the test results and discuss any questions.  The whole picture is looked at - not just academic.  They look at their fine/gross motor.  They have conversations with the kids to assess their conversation abilities.  They look at how they talk about things and what their interests are.  They talk about self-esteem with the parents and the teachers.  Teachers thoughts way heavily on the decision, but it is the parents decision in the end.  Decision by the parents needs to be made by the end of May.
             1) sidebar:  Test is a test is a test.  Those tests are all going to be similar, so I don't care what they use, but both Finley and Cainan will take it to see if they even qualify according to the test.  I wish we didn't have to wait so long after they take the test to find out the results.

8) Is Guidance on board with the teacher's decisions?
         A) (this question was asked because a lot of our kids are in friendship groups with the counselors).  Yes.  guidance and adjustment counselors, and special education - all taken into consideration.
                  1) side bar:  we are all happy about this.  This is also where a lot of people get conflicting information.  I am going to set up a time to talk with the guidance counselor and adjustment counselor (Finley sees both and Cainan sees guidance) to hear their thoughts.  We will also be asking Finley's 1:1 aide to weigh in her thoughts.

9) How does transitional affect their future years?
         A) They are only older than some of the kids once they start 1st grade instead of being almost a year younger than a lot of their peers.
                   1) sidebar:  I see this as a positive, but I don't think Mat does.  He thinks for Cainan this might not be such a good thing.  We do not agree on this one.  I think that Cainan, to me, doesn't act his chronological age, and I don't see that changing if he continues the regular course.  And he has other issues that no doubt are going to be tough in his teenage years, because kids can be cruel.  He is Asian.  He has a cleft lip and palate so he has a scar.  I don't think he also needs immaturity on his side.

10) Has there been any district wide research on kids who went through the program?
           A) Yes.  They have looked at their MCAS (the state standardized tests in Mass) and college choices/admissions over the last 10-15 years.  All are at or above the norm of their peers.  That last several years, the valedictorian and top kids in the class have all been transition kids.  They have gone on to Yale, Boston College, Harvard.  When high schoolers were asked how they felt about going to transitional instead of just going to first grade, they said they were grateful for the extra time.
                 1) sidebar: this was nice to hear.  If this is the truth, it sounds like most the kids did benefit from it - that it wasn't a "waste" of a year and made no difference.  I am sure there will always be those kids that no amount of time is going to fix what is "broken" per say. 

11) Are there any other surrounding districts that have this program?
          A) yes.  The principal knew of at least two.  He said a lot of schools used to have it, but transitional seems to be the first victim of budget cuts.
                     1) side bar:  If you search the internet - you will find a lot of positive and negative research about the transitional program, which is probably why it is often taken out of the schools as an option.  We didn't have it in our schools in Connecticut, but the teachers wished we did.  Especially since the cut off for Kindergarten was December 31st.  but I Digress.

12) Can parents come in and see the class first hand?
          A) yes.  We can make arrangements to visit the classroom.
                  1) side bar:  I have already been asked to do this, especially in Finley's case.  We want to see how the program is set up for her and how the classroom is visually.  the classroom is nice and big, and now that we have had this meeting, I am going to set up a time to go in and spend a few hours observing.  And then I am going to do the same thing in a first grade classroom, which was also recommended.

13) What is the student profile that causes the teachers to peg them for transitional (besides birthday)?
          A) students who would rather play than work, especially in the 2nd half of the year.  Kids who have trouble with transitions.  Kids who are socially young.  Kids who have a lot of different interest than their peers.  If you don't see you child in the classroom among their "older" peers, sometimes you don't realize what they are doing is not school appropriate.
                1) side bar:  this fits Cainan to a "T". Mat does not agree, but Cainan would MUCH rather play than work.  All.the.time.  that boy talks about nothing but toys.  Every conversation revolves around them.  He constantly has a toy in his hand.  He is so easily distracted at school, and at home, when he is working on something.  Finley, well, this fits Finley some too.  She doesn't want to play all the time, but she doesn't want to work either.  Finley has her own agenda.  If she doesn't want to do it.....she isn't going to do it.  Will transitional help her break that?  I am not sure.  Maybe/maybe not.  If her personality is such, I don't think it will change much.

14) what is the work load for first grade?
          A) reading and writing independently.  Work stations - independent.  1 1/2 hours of literacy block.  Rotations every 20 minutes through work stations - 2 of those 4 work stations are independent work.  75 minutes of active work time.  Reading level increases from a lever 4 (beginning of the year) to a level 18 (end of year).
               1) side bar:  No way can Cainan do this.  I know Mat doesn't agree, and I don't mean to sound hard on him, but I know him.  I watch him at home.  He will hear one little sound and spend 3 minutes looking around for it.  Then he will space out and just veg.  If he is required to do independent work, he is going to fail.  At least at this point in his life.  will it change?  Of course!  But right now-  he can't focus enough to get his work done at school.  He is keeping up because we took him to Kumon.  But the gap is starting to widen, and when things get hard for Cainan, he just quits.  Or he stares straight ahead and doesn't do anything.  This so isn't going to fly in first grade.   And Finley?  Again-  she does what she wants to do.  If she is left independently, I am not sure she will do the work.  And I don't want the aide hovering over her saying "keep going".  Finley needs to learn to manage herself.  The sooner the better.  Finley can also get distracted, and decide she is done, etc.  So I think independent work would be a big problem.

15) Teachers aides in the class?
          A) no regular ed. aide.  There are a couple of students that require special education aides, and they are in there for those students.
               1) side bar: I know that many people had a problem with this.  25 kids is a lot of kids for one teacher, let alone a room full of "young" kids.  But in Finey's case, there will be her aide in the classroom.

16) Are there kids with learning disabilities in the classroom?
          1) yes there are.  There are kids on IEPs and kids with learning disabilities, but they aren't the majority of the class.  Kids with severe learning disabilities or learning disabilities ONLY move on to first grade.
                      a) side bar: this could be any class.  There are probably going to be no more in the transitional classroom then there would be in any other.

So there you have it.  After the meeting was over, 6 of us mommies went out for a drink (and food) to talk and decompress.  It was a great time.  We all had different things to say about the program.  3 people in the group - including me (yes including me) were for the transitional program and thought their kids would be going.  They strongly felt that they couldn't go wrong, and their kids need the program.  One mommy is still on the fence - said her son just doesn't like school, and she doesn't think Transitional will change that fact.  the other 2 were pretty set against it.  Felt that the teacher has not presented enough strong evidence to warrant not going on to first grade.  And I agree in their cases.  Their daughters are in my daughter's class, and I know them from working with them each week.  I don't think they would be bored in transition, and it wouldn't hurt them, but I don't think in their case they will struggle if they move on.

We spent about 1 1/2 hours talking and rehashing what the class makeup might look out, and if that had any of us concerned.  In the end, I think we all felt better having gone to this meeting, and discussed among ourselves what it meant for each of our kids.

So now we wait.  Again.  April the kids will take a test.   And in May we discuss the results.  Who knows - the results of the test may come back that they don't qualify for the program.  We just won't know.  But if they do, I think we will send them both.  Will I regret it?  No, I don't think so.  Will I worry forever if I don't send them?  You bet.  Because it is on the table now, and in the forefront of our minds, I would worry that if they were recommended and we said no, we would always second guess our decision.


Just Me said...

I'm an August birthday and my brother is a September birthday (the cutoff for Maine is Halloween). Just because of a kid's birthday is not a reason to target them for transitional. My mom told us both when we were older that she got flack from other mothers for starting us in Kindergarten since we were both 5 by the deadline. It ended up working out for us both and we each graduated at 17 years old.
But, you know your kids. My mom knew us, her "friends" knew their kids. Do what you believe will work for your family.

Frank and Teen said...

I think it's great that you were able to get to this meeting and learn more about the transitional program. No program is perfect, but it sounds like your school is fairly well equipped (except for the lack of aide). And it's great that you have others you can talk with about this . . . So glad you were able to go!! I know you'll make the right choice!! :)