This is the end of my multiple posts about education and our family. The previous ones are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

On Awarding Mediocrity

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 1

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 2

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 3

Since this is so long, I will review and cover the rest of the story differently than usual. (Thanks Reluctant Farm Chik for your help on getting my complaint to the school onto one page.)

We were in TN over the New Year. The first part of our journey was ice-covered highway in NM... in the dark. It is interesting to note that NM does not really get worse snow than other places, but they apparently don't get enough to budget snow removal equipment/supplies. Interstates close a lot here when the weather is bad; we were lucky it was not closed when we went.

Historical Facts (as seen by me and elaborated on in the above posts):

  • We live in a region of the country in which education is not a top priority.
  • At Chic’s school, she was one of few scholars.
  • Chic attended a private, parochial school.
  • Chic was ahead of her class in most, if not all subjects.
  • Many in the class ridiculed Chic because she was “smart.”
  • There was little/no teacher intervention regarding the ridicule.
  • Chic has not been raised in a pop culture environment, thus she is “different” from most of the other students in her school, despite its parochial nature.
  • Chic’s social structure for second grade has been difficult because a 4-some of friends turned into a 3-some, and Chic, being different, was the one usually left out.
  • Chic’s teacher/s did not notice that her friend structure had changed.
  • Parent-teacher conferences were not a place to get real information. Teacher/s usually took the approach of keeping parents happy without divulging any real information. Real issues were avoided.
  • When real issues were addressed with teachers, the observations of the teachers changed. (From “she’s doing fine” to “she’s immature.”)
  • Teacher/s were not demanding, teaching, or modeling life skills such as kindness and getting along.
  • Teacher/s were allowing students to dictate classroom environment.
  • Teacher/s punished tattletales inappropriately unless tattletales were pet students, in which case the behavior was encouraged.
  • Teacher/s modeled disorganization and disrespect.
  • Classroom/playground supervision was inadequate.
  • Teacher/s were biased in analysis of students and their academic abilities.
  • Teacher/s flip-flopped on significant educational plans. (“Your student should be placed in advanced classes for certain subjects” to “Your child is too immature to handle advancement.”)
  • Teacher communication was ineffective and unprofessional.
  • Prince Charming and I, as parents, are not perfect. Neither is Chic. We approached this for three semesters with an open mind realizing that not everything could go our way.

When in TN, our friends had a flying squirrel in their house. It had been there a while--behind the fireplace--but they couldn't get it. It came out while we were there. Very cute. (The foggy picture is because it was SO COLD, and this was taken when releasing it.)

Things we did about the above:

  • Discussed concerns at length with teachers. (No results.)
  • Discussed concerns with trustworthy, knowledgeable friends not involved in these issues to better ground ourselves and assure our objectivity. (A very few were unsympathetic saying that schools will always have problems–we realized that already. Most were shocked it could be so bad and made us realize we had put up with a lot more than we should have.)
  • Discussed the issues with the school Principal. (This was ongoing. Many of the incidents did not seem “big enough” to report until more and more happened. The big picture was disturbing, so the Principal knew the whole story by the end of the semester and was extremely supportive.)

Things that could not change:

  • The teacher/s could not be removed. Apparently though I have heard various complaints about Chic’s primary teacher for several years, there was no documentation. (This was the current Principal’s first year and without documentation could do nothing, though she had wished to remove a teacher before I ever talked to her.)
  • The attitudes of the teacher/s. Apparently though counseled on specific behavior problems, issues addressed to them by parents, the Principal or School Board members resulted in: flat denials, blaming others and often subtle retaliation against students of specific parents.

Our Options:

  • Send Chic to another school.
  • Homeschool Chic.

We saw neither of these as viable options since removing Chic from school would be seen by other parents as a huge blow to the school. (Small environment.) We had no quarrel with the school or the Principal, but with specific teachers. The school is small and has financial difficulties, so any blow to it, large or small, could potentially end its life.

Although it was bitter cold for our visit, there were a lot of pretty skies. I was going to save many of these for SkyWatch Friday, but I thought they would go with this post.

Our Solution:

This was not our idea. It was Reluctant Farm Chik‘s. She is my educational/parenting mentor. She is SO with it in those areas. Most people think I am with it (except that I shield my children from a lot of pop culture which many think is cruel), but those people have not met Reluctant Farm Chik.

When she first suggested it (on my voice mail), I thought she was joking. She knew our reasons for not sending Chic to another school or homeschooling her. She said her idea was different.

On December 30, 2009, the four in our family and a minivan packed pretty tightly headed on a tw0-day trip east. On New Year’s Eve we arrived in the-middle-of-nowhere-way-out-in-the-sticks Tennessee. (It was overcast and we missed the New Year’s Eve Blue Moon.)

We spent January 1 and 2 in Tennessee and three of us left on January 3. We left just-turned-8-year-old Chic there to go to school for a semester. This is what I meant when I said in an earlier post that many of you may think we are unfit parents by the time we get to the end of this story. (Who leaves their 8-year-old two days drive away for five months?)

Why we did this:

  • We did not think our options allowed for home school or a different local school. (That was not a permanent decision. We will not continue to let that stop us after this semester.) This option let us tell people that “Chic got this really great opportunity to live on a farm with a horse with great friends–something she’s always wanted to do. We couldn’t pass it up.” No damage to the school, although if we did not have thick skins, there would be a lot of damage to us from people who think we are absolute idiots.
  • We have complete faith and trust in Reluctant Farm Chik and her family. They are treating Chic like one of their own. She has a new “brother” and “sister” (both older–a dream for her). She has 8 new cousins (one who realized he could not have a crush on her because she was “his cousin.”) She has a new set of grandparents and several aunts and uncles. She is in a loving, family environment.
  • Although kids will have bad times in school and bad teachers (I had bad teachers from grades 4-8), the early years are too important in setting the stage for school satisfaction and learning. My first three years of school were perfect which is why I came out of 8th grade not completely despising education. Chic has had a horrible start which is crazy for someone who excels at school. She was starting to hate school AND hate learning. Something had to change.
  • Chic is balanced and mature enough to handle it. (Despite what her teachers said.)

I tried to take pictures of these several times on our trip to and from TN, but going down the highway at 75 mph meant that most of them were not that great. My kids (living in a desert) were amazed by these. They look just what I grew up with in MO.

How it is going:

  • Chic loves school. She is learning at her level in all subjects. She is a little intimidated that her math education here was so far behind that she’s only at the same level of her second grade class (and not doing as well as the 4th graders which is what she expects), but overall it is good.
  • Chic had instant friends.
  • Chic loves her teacher.
  • We hate Skype. (Not really, but it usually leaves us feeling unsatisfied.)
  • We miss her like crazy.  (We already have two visits under our belt.  Ahead are Spring Break and two more visits.)
  • Chic has only cried a couple of times–when we left her, and when I left from a visit. She was fine both times right away.

What the future holds:

  • We don’t know! I wish we knew! Chic will not return to her old school unless there are dramatic changes. (Probably two teachers would have to be gone for her to go back. It is a small school, so unless they are gone, she will have the same teachers next year. If they had major attitude changes, that would be OK, too, but so far they do not even acknowledge that there was a problem.)
  • We might home school.
  • We have even thought of moving. Someone asked if we were living in the right place. No, we are not. Well, I think we are in every way except social culture (which means little to me because I am too busy for much socializing, and we do have some very good friends here. I am referring to the society in general.) and education. We love it here otherwise. Also, Prince Charming’s job is here, and his job means I am a stay-at-home mom. That is why we moved here in the first place. But moving is not out-of-the-question, just not on the immediate horizon. (And giving up my skies would be a tough thing indeed!)

This was the favorite picture I took while on that trip. It includes the "Pondwatch" pond.

It boils down to we are responsible for our children. Our school is not. Our church is not. God forbid if society was! We will do what is best for them.

We are looking forward to May, but we do not regret a bit of what we did. It is changing all of us (mostly for the better) forever. All of us are growing. Experiences like this cannot be bought. And Chic is happy. (And I got the best hug she has ever given when I visited last month.)

So full of innocence and promise. We must take care of her, even if it means someone else is taking care of her right now.

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