When Lora asked several of us moms who have recently gone through the transition to Kindergarten to write a blog post about our experience, I was glad to share our story in the hope that it might help other cityMamas in their process.
|Kieran insisted on wearing this muscle shirt for his first day; his teacher is Hawaiian, plus we had the heat wave!|
We live two houses from the boundary of Irvington School, and Boise-Elliot is our neighborhood school. We moved there three years ago (partly because our location would put us in Grant instead of Jefferson), but had heard mixed reports from neighbors about Boise-Elliot. Apparently about five years ago several families tried attending the school the hope of making positivie change, but they all transferred within a few years.
School Choice Process
Parents interested in participating in Portland's school choice process need to school themselves. Scoop on Schools is a fantastic resource developed by parents who wanted to help other parents navigate the system. I love the way that it is set up as a step by step process, which breaks it down very well. The PPS site is also good for dates, etc., Portland School Choice Process. Here's a great article about school choice in Portland that highlights Scoop on Schools...the site literally helps you through every step of...except crossing your fingers.
Finding a School
I attended an open house at MLC (Multnomah Learning Center) in NW, and was very impressed overall. However, it is very competitive to get in (many families from great school in SW and NW apply who don't "need" to transfer, plus the application process includes a self-portait by the child and a referral from childcare professional!). But in the end, we didn't apply because it would have been a hard commute by bus, and because it is a magnate school, we would have lost our chance at getting into Irvington.
We applied to attend Emerson Charter School in the Pearl, and I really loved their experiential learning approach and environmental focus. However, everyone elses wants to go there too. There are about 200 applications for less than 20 slots...we were something like number 147 (and the two other families from CityKids drew higher numbers). I wish every neighborhood school were modeled after Emerson...
I went the open house at Boise-Elliot trying to have an open mind, and initially had a good impression. I happened to meet two other parents I knew who lived out of the neighborhood who were hoping to lottery into the school, thinking it was better than others in North Portland (but easier to get into that Sabin/Irvington). As a Title 1 school, they receive extra funds. But in the end, my red flag issue was that they have NO recess help reduce the acheivement gap and give more "academic hours." I asked about when kids get outside, and they said "when it's nice"...this is Portland! I was sent home praying that we got into another school...
The next day I went to the Irvington (K-8) open house, and I was really impressed. They were very well organized, but more importantly, all the Kindergarten teachers spoke for 15-20 minutes about their academic approach to literacy, math, etc. They were obviously very passionate about their work and could articulate the details very well. The PTA was also very impressive.
(I also consider Buckman Arts magnet school, but I missed the mandatory open house.)
In the end, I anticipated the letter from PPS perhaps more than my own college admissions...and we were relieved and happy to successfully lottery into Irvington Elementary.
Overall, Kieran has been very enthusiastic about Kindergarten and is doing well. Since he'll turn 6 at the end of January, he was ready to move on from preschool (he attended CityKids). He wasn't very emotional about leaving preschool (he was very excited about our family vacation to Denmark in the month before Kindergarten). He was also fine starting Kindergarten, but his dad dropped him off for the first several days. At the end of the first full week I dropped him off, and he was a blubbering mess...I hadn't seem him like that since he was a toddler...thankfully, I held it together and he acted like nothing had happened when I picked him up that afternoon.
Like I've heard from other parents, Kieran was exhausted for the first month of school. He would fall asleep every night before his two year old sister, by around 7 (before it was dark at that time!). There are a lot of new routines for everyone to learn, like checking lockers and school lunch payments (it turns out that Kieran is part hobbit, and would routinely eat breakfast at school after having eaten at home...he's a growing boy...but it meant that he racked up a bill unbeknownst to us!) We make lunch 3-4 days a week, and thankfully, he's not very picky (although he gets bent out of shape if I don't cut his sandwich in two!).
After our first parent/teacher conference, we confirmed that he's ahead of his peers in math (already where most will be by the end of the year). So, we've begun positively challenging him at home through "family math" games his teacher recommended, and he loves the free computer game, Rock Hopper. We also plan to start him on the Khan Academy whenever the more basic kid game loose his interest. He also needs to boost his writing confidence, but we're happy to see him thriving in Kindergarten.
Get open houses on your calendar early...they all seem to happen within a two week span. Focus on the positive, connect with other parents, and only worry about what you can control. Savor the preschool age and good luck with the next adventure...
Lastly, feel free to get in touch if you have any more questions about our experience.