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School Choice, Judgement, and Blame

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DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a blog about Vouchers. While I believe that parents should be able to choose the best school for their child, I do NOT believe that vouchers are the answer, and you will not find any discussion about vouchers in this article.

There’s a LOT of talk lately about our school district and who should be doing what. Recently, several students in our district petitioned to be transferred to another district to attend a new arts focused charter school. (It’s a long story that I won’t go into.) I will say that I’ve had to hold my tongue while reading post after post of angry parents upset with these parents for leaving our district.

My own daughter is going to this school next year. The difference between my daughter and the other kids is that my daughter is starting high school, and in grades 9-12 the school is solely charter, which isn’t part of another district. Grades 7-8, however, have to attend a middle school in another district before being bused to the new school for their arts conservatory.

Parents are upset because kids are leaving the district. Parents are upset because our middle school arts magnet is being maligned in comparison to an arts focused school. Parents and teachers are feeling defensive about our district and its programs and schools. People are upset because some parents don’t think the arts magnet in our district is “enough” for their kids. The thing is – the arts magnet is a great start for kids interested in the arts who haven’t been studying for years already. At the new school, they audition to be in their conservatory, which takes up the entire afternoon (2:30 – 5pm). It’s not really serving the same students at the same entry level.

Part of the problem is that in the 3 cities that make up our district, People are feeling upset because 46% of families in our district ALREADY send their kids to private or charter schools. Parents are upset that not everyone in our district chooses their homeschool, even though the Parent Education Network and the district itself promotes CHOOSING any school in the district for their children. Parents are upset because their children in the Dual Language Immersion programs aren’t getting the full immersion experience in middle school, so they want more periods in the day so their children can have an elective. Basically, parents are upset.

I have 3 children. All 3 of them have been attending schools in our district since kindergarten – that’s 11 years. They all went through 6 years of public elementary and 2 of them have completed 3 years of public middle school. My oldest is heading into his 3rd year of public high school, and my youngest still has 2 years of public middle school ahead of her. In addition, I teach in the district.

When my now 16-year-old was in pre-school, I attended informational meetings and went on 6 school tours. I weighed each school on a) what I saw happening IN the classroom b) the school environment and feel c) what the school’s priorities are d) did it seem like a place where my children would thrive? Things I didn’t look at were 1) race/ethnicity of the students 2) what “neighborhood” the schools were in (granted, other than one arts focused school, we stuck to schools within a certain distance from our home – solely based on how far we were willing to drive at the time).

Even though my children went to a school in the district, I’ve still gotten flak from other parents AND teachers about where I sent my kids. I heard it’s “almost like a private school” and “they get more money from the district” and it’s a “white school.” (That’s the tip of the iceberg, honestly. I’ve heard some pretty nasty things about this gem of a school in the district.) First, if it feels like a private school, it’s because there is literally an ARMY of parent volunteers who are ready to do whatever the school needs. True, many (though not all) families are upper middle class and have the time and money to be able to donate to the school. They do not get more money from the district. They aren’t a Title I school. They DO have a full enrollment, which I suppose gets them more money solely based on having more students, but that’s not getting special treatment. Finally, we have friends at the school who are Asian, Latino, African American, and Middle Eastern and yes, white. But as I said, I didn’t spend any time looking at the ethnicity of the students.

Here’s a thought.

How about we worry about our own kids and stop judging everyone else?

Some people choose to have their kids in private school. While in a perfect world, they would send their kids to the public schools and give their time, money, and energy to those public schools, that’s not the reality. I’ve heard several parents saying that sure- go ahead and send your kid to private school, but you ALSO have to be responsible for the public schools and do all you can for these public schools where your kids DO NOT attend.

Look. I understand the idea, but its not realistic to expect people to not only donate their time, money, and energy to their own kids’ schools, but on top of that to do the same for schools their kids do NOT attend. Do some people do it? Perhaps. SHOULD everyone? No.

I spend time and energy and money on my children’s schools. I am also a teacher, and I do not expect to get help from sources outside the school community. Honestly, I don’t expect to get it at the school where I teach, because I know how hard it is for many parents to give ANYTHING extra. If they can help, great, but I don’t expect it. I spend my own money for the classroom and sometimes generous friends help me out. I can’t even imagine asking local parents whose kids go somewhere else to come give their time, energy, and money to a school they have no connection to.

Perhaps the point is that we should ALL be connected and invested. It is a nice thought, but not realistic. A great start would be parents from each school helping out in whatever way they can. Some schools have more volunteers and assistance than they can handle. Some schools have almost no volunteers or assistance. As much as I wish it were more equal, it’s not. We need to start at each school site and do what we can to get the parents to be invested in any and all ways possible. Beyond that, build partnerships within the community. Get friends of friends – people who have a genuine interest and investment in the students and teachers at each particular school.

And how about this… I won’t judge you for the choices you make for your children and you don’t judge me for mine.

Out of My Comfort Zone

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My family and I just got back from vacation, where my husband booked a few things that made some of us nervous…

First off, we went on a cave tour. Now, we’ve been in lots of caves before

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Last year we visited Wind Cave and Jewel Cave


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In 2013 we visited Carlsbad Caverns

We’ve been in lava tubes and other caves in different National Parks, so that’s not new. What was new this time was that my husband booked a candlelight tour for us. This sounded cool (albeit possibly spooky depending on whether there would be bats) to me, but my daughters were not too happy about it.

They had many questions. Were they really candles? Were they electric? What if they burned out? What if we were stuck in the dark?

Their fears didn’t disappear when it was time for the tour, and the sky got dark and started to rain and hail.

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the lanterns, before being lit


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heading into the dark cave


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The group heading up stairs with lanterns

Even though it was a little spooky at first, but everyone really enjoyed the experience of seeing the cave in a different light – literally.

The second thing that my husband scheduled that a few of us were worried about was whitewater rafting. I didn’t bring my phone, because I was worried about ruining the phone. It’s too bad, because the scenery was gorgeous. I do, however, have photos that were taken of us at one of the most exciting parts of the trip.

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This smile is me, trying to be excited about something I’m scared of.


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Waiting to get on the river

For the first part of the day, my husband and son kayaked while the girls and I went on the raft with Danny, our guide. We stopped halfway for lunch, then we all got back onto the raft and headed down. We had several grade I and II rapids, and then one big III (felt like 3.5 to me). Here’s us below, heading down the III called “Nugget.”

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All of us, rowing


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Danny told us to hang on


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Woohoo!!


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After rapids high-five

There was one more big one called “Powerhouse” (named partly for the old closed down Power mill nearby and partly because it’s a big one). Our youngest daughter was very nervous (as was I, honestly), so our guide took us on the side of Powerhouse to Mugger’s Alley – which honestly I think was more exciting than just going straight down, as we had to row most of the time to keep in the narrow run, and we ended up turning in circles as we went through it.

All in all, we had a great time. Some of us faced our fears and made it through the other side. My husband felt vindicated that we all enjoyed the activities he planned, despite our worries. I’m not ready to go bungee jumping or anything, but I’d probably go rafting again…

When you plan vacations, do you plan exciting activities, or just relax?

~Genevieve

 

Another School Year Over

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Another School Year Over

This past year brought a lot of events in our family. There were changes for some of us, challenges for some of us, and growth for all of us. Now that there are 3 of us who attend (well, okay, one of us teaches, but you get it) school daily, we measure things in years of 10 months at a time. Summer somehow seems like an entirely different entity.

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The 4 of us on our first day – August 2016

I came back to 5th grade this year. I got a new partner, and a new principal. We went on several field trips this year – more than last year.

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Soaking up local culture and Art

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Re-enacting the American Revolution at Riley’s Farm

This year had its challenges for me, but being in the classroom for the second year, teaching (mostly) the same content was much easier than last year. I had a much clearer picture and understanding of my expectations.

We raised money for another 3-day field trip to the Pali Institute this time. It was a great experience!

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Checking out wildlife in the pond at Pali

My son, the 16-year-old, was finally able to get his Comedy Troupe started. It was a struggle sometimes, and it took a LOT of strength for me to stay out and let him find his own wings and his own voice, but he did. He managed the team and ran the practices and at the end of the year was able to perform to a full house!

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the teams warming up before the show

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My son, with his winning “Karate Kid” move

He also managed to get himself into the “Top 10 of 2019” at his school, something he aimed for last year but JUST missed.

Our youngest daughter started middle school this year. Thought it seems like *just yesterday* that she started pre-school, now she is ready to take on 7th grade. She had a year of adjustments, but rose to the challenges that faced her. Last year, she was very involved in things like Math Field Day and her dance elective. This year, as she was adjusting to middle school, she decided to scale things back. Next year she’s hoping to be part of the performing arts elective. She did, however, attend all the dances.

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The youngest (right) ready for Mardi Gras

Our middle child had a full, busy year. She performed several times with her performing arts elective, and was in the Spring Musical. She also trained to be a Junior Docent for a historical building in town.  She auditioned for a new Arts high school and was accepted! And finally, she graduated 8th grade and is moving on to high school in the Fall.

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Heading into the audition

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My girl and I on her promotion day.

 

While I am glad to be back in the classroom, the worst part is that I don’t get to volunteer in the kids’ classrooms or go on field trips like I used to. (Though, admittedly, now that they’re older there are less opportunities to do this.) Luckily I was able to take a few personal days and chaperone the 8th grade field trip to Catalina. I did it for my son, and now my daughter. (Hopefully in 2 years I’ll get to go with my youngest.

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My daughter, ready to try snorkeling at Catalina

Somewhere in there, we also managed to go on a trip during Spring Break. (Now that one child will be on a different schedule next year, this may be our last Spring vacation in awhile…)

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Salt Creek in Death Valley

Next year will bring even more changes for us. Not only is my daughter starting high school in another district, I’m changing schools (and grades! I’m going from 5th to 1st grade). We’re back to having 3 kids at 3 schools for a few years. Luckily my husband’s schedule is flexible enough that we can tag-team with all the kids!

For now, we’re on Summer vacation. We began our summer by saying good-bye to my Granny. She was a fabulous, loving woman with a great laugh. She is missed.

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Granny and I, 2 years ago

Two kids are taking summer school classes, both Mom AND Dad are taking classes this summer, and everyone will be busy. In there somewhere, we’ll be headed on a trip, and attend Comic-Con. I worry this summer will go by in the blink of an eye, but we will make the very most of it.

Happy Summer, everyone!!

~Genevieve

A Tale of Two Theme Parks

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Here in Southern California, we’re lucky to have a few theme parks to visit. If you love speedy roller coasters that get the adrenaline pumping, you can go to Six Flags Magic Mountain. (There are lots of kid-friendly rides there, too.)

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Picture from sixflags.com Batman ride. (side note: everyone’s wearing Chucks)

Then there’s Knott’s Berry Farm, which also has a lot of thrill rides, along with an Old West area, a Snoopy kids’ area, and a water park.

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This kind of ride scares the daylight out of me!

There’s Sea World down in San Diego, and Legoland in Carlsbad. The two parks I’m going to talk about today are Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland.

Disneyland is probably my favorite of all-time. I don’t know what it is, but it reminds me of my childhood, and makes me happy. We recently took a trip there on a day when we thought it wouldn’t be too crowded…

It took forEVER to just get into the parking structure. We got there at Opening, and I honestly think they just weren’t quite ready.

 

So many people at the gates.

Something you do not see everyday… cast members just hanging out on the ride.

Ready to take a trip through the jungle on a cruise

Waiting for “Small World”

Our artist, looking into an animator’s studio

The kids like this ride a lot better than the grown-ups

The ride that gives all kids a driver’s license – Autopia

 

Girls with Walt and Mickey

Obligatory Mickey picture with bonus climbing kid in background

 

Hanging out at the Cantina from Star Wars

There’s so much to do at Disneyland & California Adventure. It’s hard to get it all done in just one day. However, we managed to fit in 21 activities. On a good day, where there’s a smaller crowd, we’ve done probably 25. (maybe a few more) Let’s just say that for a day that was pretty crowded, we managed to squeeze a LOT into the day.

Now, once upon a time we did have annual passes to the Magic Kingdom, but living in the L.A. area, we don’t make it down to the O.C. as much as we’d like (and now that the AP is so much more expensive, we don’t make it down there enough to make it worth it). However, a theme park closer to us has much cheaper Annual Passes, so we got them for Universal Studios Hollywood.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I worked at Universal. First, as someone in the merch department, and then as a Studio Guide.

“Hello, my name is Genevieve and Ill be your Studio Guide today!”

After spending 5 days a week there for 3 summers and then working there full-time for a year in the VIP office, I stayed away for quite awhile. We took the kids when my son turned 10, but stayed away until they brought something magical – and one of our favorite series – to the park.

mmmmm… Butterbeer

We’d been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, and couldn’t wait to go to our local version.

Going down the Starway brings back a LOT of memories!

Transformers the Ride is in the very location I used to work…

I used to work at Backdraft and Cinemagic right in the same spot.

 

There are Minions now, and Simpsons, and Transformers.

There’s a mummy, and Walking Dead, and dinosaurs. All of them are fun or exciting rides, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Studio Backlot Tour. Even though it’s changed quite a bit – with it’s headset microphones and video screens and Jimmy Fallon – there’s still something special about going on a tram ride through real sets used in real movies and a few unexpected surprises along the ride.

After trying several times to connect, we finally got ahold of my old friend Paul and rode his tram!!

Those who knew me in my guide days know that this is my favorite part of the tour. 😉

Universal Studios doesn’t have as many rides and attractions as Disneyland – this is true. However, it does have a lot you can do in a visit. We’ve been there a handful of times since February and we’re not bored yet. One of the best new additions to the experience?

VooDoo Doughnuts!

Believe me when I tell you that they’re amazing, and worth waiting in line for.

Obligatory photo with the marquee

Overall, both are great, though different, theme parks. Both have their pluses and minuses. If you have the time, money, and patience, I say try going to both. Especially if you are an out-of-towner visiting Southern California for the first time!

Genetics Can Be Cruel

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When I was a teenager, I had acne. Not just one or two little zits. I mean, I had acne.

I took antibiotics. I used several different types of topical creams. I used light therapy in my doctor’s office (which, by the way, smells weird). I took birth control pills, which caused me to gain 10 pounds. I took Accutane.

I hated looking in the mirror. I felt ugly. My face hurt. I just wanted to be normal.

I still have oily skin. I still take various and sundry medications/creams to try to get it under control. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel 100% beautiful and “normal.” And now, I’ve passed it on to my kids.

Two of my three kids have acne. My son’s is the worst. It’s red and angry. The problem is that he also has inherited my husband’s sensitive skin, so finding something that works on his skin without causing other irritation is proving difficult.

I took both kids to the dermatologist a few days ago. He prescribed a cream for both of them to use in the morning. My son used his and his worst spots looked SO MUCH BETTER. The problem is that EVERYWHERE the medicine touched is now bright red.

If it’s not one thing it’s another. At least if he were a girl he could wear makeup without thinking twice about it. Being a boy, that’s not really an option these days. Not yet, at least.

I hope that his skin calms down. He’s such a wonderful, bright, fun, beautiful kid, it kills me that he might be thinking that he’s “less than” because of his skin, as I have done most of my life.

Genetics can be really cruel.

The Uncertainty of Life

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

                                       Courage to change the things I can,

                                      And wisdom to know the difference.

My husband often tells me that worrying about things I have no control of isn’t going to help anything. He may have a point, but honestly? That’s precisely why I’m worried… because I HAVE NO CONTROL!!

Life is uncertain right now. I know I’m not the only one for whom it’s uncertain, but it’s no fun, and it’s weighing over me no matter how much I’m not “supposed” to worry about it.

We have a new administration that seems unpredictable. We have a new Education Secretary that has me really worried for the future of public education. People I love are dealing with medical issues that worry me. And last, but not least, I have no idea where I’ll be working next year.

What can I do about any of these things?

Well, for the first, I can join friends and family in activism. I can be more informed on issues and contact my representatives.

For the second thing? I can do my best at my job and fight back against crazy changes that might be coming up the pike. Those are things that might help me feel INVOLVED, although when push comes to shove, I just don’t know how much we can do.

For the third? Pray, I suppose. I don’t know that there’s much else I can do in that department.

And lastly? I honestly have no idea. Get my name “out there”? Cross my fingers that I land somewhere? I’ve been told that we currently have 10 teachers at my school, but we will only have room for 8 next year, unless our enrollment drastically changes. I find out my fate – at least whether or not I’ll get laid off or transferred – by March 15th. Supposedly. It seems an awfully long ways away from here.

Re-reading these things makes me feel a bit petty. I have a roof over my head. My children, husband, and I are healthy. We are well-fed. We are doing well. So many more things could be worrying us, that it makes my worries seem small. But still, they are my worries, and no matter what, it’s how I’m wired.

I think I need to take up Yoga.

 

The Worry Gene?

Last evening, my husband, three kids, and I went to see the new Star Wars movie – “Rogue One – A Star Wars Story.” It was good. It was exciting. It was entertaining. And yet, while I was sitting in the crowded theater, I couldn’t help but think about the newest member of our family…

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Kanga, the betta fish

You may go ahead and laugh.

Yesterday, my youngest brought home her new fish. We’ve never had a pet, and never had a betta before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. I will say that I assumed it would be a breeze to take care of a fish. (I mean, how hard can it be?)

My daughter first got her tank about a week ago from her two best friends (it was a Christmas gift). She set it all up herself, including conditioning the water. All we needed was the fish. We acclimated him to the water and let him go. Within the first hour he’d somehow got himself into the water filter. With a little assistance from me, she freed him and fixed it so he (hopefully) wouldn’t be able to do it again. Then we went to the movie and I worried about that little fish throughout the movie.

When we got home and fed him, he still seemed a little… lethargic? 3 hours later, when I went to bed, damned if I didn’t check in on that fish before going to sleep.

I have always been somewhat of a worrier. I assume that I get it from my mother, who worries about a lot of things – mostly my brothers, my children, and me. It seems to have manifested itself more strongly when I had children. I worry about them even when deep down I know they can handle whatever it is I’m worrying about. Still, it’s unavoidable.

First day of school? I worry. Will they make friends? Know how to find the bathroom? Will they get lost? At a birthday party – will they get along with all the kids? Say thank you? Wander off? (this last one actually happened, and not with a 6-year-old, but with a 14-year-old who didn’t want to play tackle football, so he walked around, meeting people. 3 phone calls to me later and we were able to talk him back into finding his party.)

I worry about far too many things; not just my kids. My husband when he flies. My parents and their health. Our political climate. Our future president. My family members. My students. My own health and future and ability to teach. Money. Traffic. Did I leave the lights on? And now fish.

Do you worry? Is there some sort of worry gene that is handed down from generation to generation? Is it a female thing? Is it a mom thing? Is it universal?

I’d love to get some insight, and to know that I’m not alone in my worries.

~Genevieve