So long, second grade

I worked for a few summers as a counselor at a camp for gifted kids. It’s a residential camp — kids stay in the University of Northern Colorado dorms full-time during the two week session. One of the many things I learned there was that some kids, especially younger kids, would feel very homesick during the first few days of camp. Then, two weeks later when the camp ends, they’d be crying because they have to leave.

That was Dante last week, as he said goodbye to the second grade. All year long, he’s griped about having to go to school, for three main reasons:

  1. The time taken away from him following his passion of the moment at home
  2. The drudgery of homework
  3. Having to get up early

I can hardly argue with these objections. I feel the exact same way about work and adult responsibilities. However, by the end he felt nostalgic about a few aspects of the year, so much so that he was sobbing about it on the night before his final day.

First, this was the year he finally made some friends, including one really close friend. Stargate uses a practice called “looping”, in which two grades are taught together, with content differentiated by ability rather than age. The first and second graders all share teachers and classes, as do 3rd/4th graders, and so on. So last year, Dante was noticeably younger than most of his classmates, since he’s on the young end of his grade group. This year, he got to enjoy a little seniority, and ended up making friends with several of the first graders.

In particular, he bonded with a girl I’ll call Kylie — I mentioned her last time. She’s still her own post, which I still need to write, but I bring her up here because this relationship gave Dante something to look forward to at school. One of the things he was saddest about is that he won’t see her as much now that second grade is over. We’ll certainly try for some play dates over the summer, but it won’t be the same, and of course next year she’ll stay in her loop while he goes to a new one. They’ll still get a recess to see each other, which is how he consoles himself.

Another consequence of looping is that kids keep the same teacher for two years in a row. Now, this can be good or bad, depending on the relationship. In Dante’s case, he had a great connection with his first grade teacher, so we were excited to keep her. Unfortunately, due to some really ridiculous and painful charter school drama, we lost her (along with an excellent Head Of School.) They had to hire her replacement at the last minute, and ended up getting somebody brand new, who’d never taught before, and had no experience or training for teaching gifted kids. It’s fair to say that we were very nervous about this transition. Of course, we supported it in the abstract, but the reality had us worried. We were sick about it, really.

When I was talking to a friend about this at the time, she said, “I hope things work out. They often do when you’re dealing with someone who’s genuinely kind, even if they’re lacking in experience.” Well, she nailed it. His teacher this year wasn’t perfect, of course, but she was genuinely kind, and forged a strong relationship with Dante. She also worked really well with us, giving us good feedback on his school experiences, and coming up with good accommodations for him where necessary.

He was so sad about not seeing her over the summer that he wanted me to email her to see if he could stay in contact with her. I told him he should tell her himself how he feels, and see what she thinks. He came on his last day and told me that she wants to have a playdate with him. 🙂 I got a sweet email from her confirming this, and explaining her availability for the summer. So yeah, I think that worked out okay.

Finally, as I wrote earlier in the year, Stargate created a pullout program to help meet Dante’s needs as a learner, and he loved it. He worked with Stargate’s gifted specialist, who gave him a long list of topics to choose from. He decided to learn about the middle ages, and worked for 5 months doing different projects, including building a catapult and a castle. He brought his castle home a few weeks ago, and it’s awesome.

Now, sadly, the teacher who worked with him (Kathryn Kyd) has had her position eliminated. Apparently all of Stargate’s technology was being supported by a part-time parent volunteer, and the situation had just become untenable. So they hired a technology support position at the expense of the gifted specialist. It’s a bit ludicrous for a gifted education school to lack a gifted education specialist, in my opinion, though it’s also ludicrous that a parent volunteer would be the sole technology support. Thanks, recession! (And U.S. education funding, and Colorado TABOR, and…)

However, we spoke with the Head Of School this month, and he’s extremely supportive of continuing the pullout program for Dante and other kids who need it. He pledged to ensure that it continues next year. Of course, nobody will replace Kathryn’s ability and experience, but the concept will remain in place, and I’m happy to advise on curriculum if it comes to that. We haven’t broken the news to Dante yet, though. I’m hoping that when the time comes, enough water will have flowed under the bridge that we can smoothly transition into whatever the next thing is.

Now he heads into a summer that will be different from any of the previous ones. Laura’s working part-time, so we’ve cobbled together care for him from various quarters — my parents, babysitters, and a Stargate summer camp. The camp is a lot of field trips, and he’s kind of dreading it, since he’s a homebody. (See anti-school item #1 above.) I can only hope that once it’s over, he’ll miss it just a little bit too.

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