Friday, December 04, 2009

12/4/09 Report cards!

Ooh, a huge deal at school today -- report card day! Woo-hoo. Yahdah yahdah. Whatever.

But, it is interesting seeing what the teachers have to say about our boys.

The school seems to have standardized on a 1-6 scale for all grades, though the criteria for kindergarten is different than 2nd grade, thank goodness. 4 is "meets the standard," and 3 just means it's an area to focus on. Gabriel's teachers told us that a 6 means major extra effort and that not getting a 6 is not a big deal.

I gather from the way Gabriel's teacher pulled me aside to "warn" me about the S- he got in art that many parents are pretty concerned about 2nd-grade grades. Really, not a biggie, unless there really is a serious area of deficiency that needs addressing. Julian's teacher never said anything about the numbers and probably thinks that numbering kindergartners is silly. I agree.

Overall they're both doing great!

The real surprise is in Gabriel's teachers' assessment of his writing and written expression. They actually gave him a 6 for "Written and Oral Language Conventions," and even an "M" in a spelling category (the proficiency levels are M for Mastery, '+' for Exceeds the standard, 'check' for Meets the standard, '-' for Beginning to meet the standard). In their notes, they emphasize that he organizes his thoughts well and edits his writing well. He apparently is a natural speller like me, a skill I know well takes you nowhere.

Gabriel didn't excel in math, where Dave and I both would expect he would, but he's at grade level in proficiency and that's fine.

I'm amused at a summary section though, since it does sum him up quite well ("S" means Satisfactory in this context, modified by '+' or '-'):

Lifelong Learning Skills (Gabriel)
S Listens in class
S- Follows directions
S Works independently
S Works Neatly
S Completes work on time
S Accepts responsibility
S Respects classmates
S Respects authority
S Uses time wisely
S Uses conflict resolution techniques
S+ Communicates effectively
S Works collaboratively

That sounds like him....doesn't listen (S- in "follows directions"), and tells you what he thinks about his not listening (S+ in "communicates effectively").

Gabriel's first-grade teacher gave him 4s on just about everything, with an occasional + or -, and that didn't give us much information. We knew his handwriting and math in 1st grade were at drastic odds, yet she marked him the same. Not a big deal, just not a lot of information. This 2nd grade report tells us more about how he is in school. For instance, I'm really surprised about the writing. I'd never have known that he organizes his thoughts well; he doesn't write at home (beyond the occasional cartoon of a cat making bathroom jokes) or anything, and I'd have no way to put it into context for a 7-year-old anyway.

Julian too is thriving. His poor teacher has to temper that with positively-phrased statements like "With practice and reinforcement at home, I'm confident Julian will be able to consistently follow rules." Uh-huh. Good luck with that. He does putz around, he is easily distracted, but she says when he's focused he does an excellent job (as I learned with the Mexico poster). No surprises in her description of his strengths: he's an outstanding reader, and has a great understanding in science. I'm really glad to see that she can always count on Julian to volunteer to help in class, participate in discussion, and join in games and sports with other kids.

Once again, a summary section on Julian's report card tells the story:

Social and Emotional Growth (Julian)
S Works independently
S Works well in a group
S- Completes work on time
S Follows classroom procedures
S Listens and follows directions
S Respects self and others
S- Puts forth best effort

Unfortunately for us, Julian will be getting a sub for a few months starting March, since his teacher just announced she's expecting her own future kindergartner!

Despite my writing pages on report cards, I'm really not all that into the grades and all -- it's just very interesting to hear outside perspectives on the boys' strengths and weaknesses. I'm already so proud of them this week for their efforts on the drawing contest (Gabriel) and Mexico poster (Julian), that this just caps it off. I really couldn't ask for more.

And incidentally, Katrina has been asking NONSTOP for us to tell us what something spells. "Mommy, what does S-T-O-P say? What does E-X-I-T say? What does W-A-R-N-I-N-G say?" She can also read numbers up to 100, basically, like she knows that a 4 and an 8 is "forty-eight." Makes me feel like maybe we're doing something right!


Thursday, December 03, 2009

12/3/09 Tantrums

Argh! Katrina's tantrums have been fast and furious lately. For those who don't follow on Facebook, a few days ago she had a big tantrum in the car because she didn't want the sun to go to sleep. Then she was outraged because the moon was rising. I mean, really!

Major fit today picking Gabriel up from school today. Gabriel tried to comfort her and eventually got her out of it.

Attempt at photo session at home, on the premise of enticing a nearby cat to come back. Katrina wasn't buying it.

Gabriel set straight to work on his yearbook cover drawing. He worked on this nonstop for about 3 hours! My poor orange colored pencil is down to about 1" long now. I was hoping to do some scrapbooking this afternoon, but my project space got taken over (Julian was adding a photo to his Mexico poster, one I took myself on a trip to Copper Canyon in 1995.)

Gabriel's final drawing for the yearbook cover. I love the wry expression of the cougar.

The reason for all this art? Because it's a yearbook cover drawing contest. He wants to win. Dave and I have both warned him that there are many talented artists and that art is very subjective. Julian piped in, "But as long as you do your best, you win!!" I agree! Is our typical parent B.S. sinking in? I certainly believe that. I'm very proud of both their project efforts today, regardless of the outcome. And that's not B.S..


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

12/2/09 Dutch oven

I love my mother. I love that when I have the silliest idea in my head, I can call her to announce it. Today it was about a Le Creuset Dutch Oven. I've decided I need one. So what's the first step in this quest? What else: call my mother and talk about it. And this was actually a good reason to call her compared to usual. I really do need the dutch oven this time. But I always need to talk to my mother.

There aren't many people in this world I can just call for no reason. My mother is tops on the list, but I have my eye on the next generation for fair play turnaround. They might need advice on cookware someday too, though they'll never really need an excuse to call me.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

12/1/09 Mexico poster

Today was a rare good balance, overall. I put Katrina at Tonya's this morning so I could work at home before picking Julian up from kindergarten. This is the life I'd like to lead -- drop kids off at school, do my own thing at home, then pick them up from school and spend the afternoon with them. It'll be three years before the kids are ready for that life (when Katrina starts first grade). Will I be?

When we picked up Gabriel today, I talked to his teacher briefly. She sort of wanted to warn me about a "bad grade" on his upcoming report card (report card? I'd forgotten all about that) -- an "S-" because he refuses to participate in art class. Oh. Art. Not his thing anyway, though he does need to participate in classes. Whatever. It's once every two weeks, and I'm puzzled that there's a grade since it's completely sponsored by the PTA, not the school.

When we got home today, Gabriel announced that he wanted to enter a drawing contest, for the cover of this year's yearbook. The announcement flyer had a picture of last year's winner, which he modeled from and drew this.

Not that he's the next Monet or anything, but apparently drawing is not that hard for him! It's just funny that he did this hours after I heard that he wasn't into art class. He clarified that he doesn't like art class because they tell him what to draw, and he likes to draw his own things. Fair enough.

His teacher did tell me something else interesting and surprising though: she says his writing is a lot better. She meant both his handwriting and his actual writing style. She says he "writes with a voice," (something like that), and indicated that it's early for a second-grader. She's said things like that before, that what he writes is coherent and thoughtful for his age. Hmm, that's interesting. I wonder if he'll turn into a writer-type (like me) or just a good writer who's not a writer-type (like Dave). I'm a writer-type. I have no idea if I'm a good writer or not, it doesn't matter -- I write. I can't help it. My mind just does it and compels my fingers to follow. I don't see that same itch in Gabriel, yet.

This afternoon Julian was excited -- eager! -- to work on his Mexico poster. I'm still stunned at his enthusiasm and dedication to a project like this. This is our most putzy, draggy, lazy boy?! We almost finished it, but he was getting really tired and making mistakes, so I had to practically insist he take a break. After dinner, we did finish it. He's very proud of it and insisted on practicing presenting it once.

Hard to tell in the photo, but those yellow and blue shapes are what he wrote on and then glued to the posterboard. They say things like "Mexico has 31 states," and "Mexico's main language is Spanish." He was excited to see a map of California and that Mexico is right south of us. The map even had Mojave (where we stayed in October for the airshow) and Mexico in the same view, and I think that helped bring things into context for them. "Them" because Gabriel inserted himself in the last hour of work on the Mexico poster, oddly intrigued.

The working-mom guilt factory inside me fears this enthusiasm for schoolwork -- including Gabriel's for Julian's -- is because it's a handy way to capture Mom's attention, since Mom generally doesn't do a lot of table activities together. About the most captive I ever am doing things together is cooking or baking in the kitchen. (That's another thing Gabriel's teacher mentioned to me, that we must cook a lot together based on what he says.) And with full-time work looming (still no word though), that guilt factory will be running all shifts.

Work or not, somehow, I'm taking Julian and the rest of the family to Mexico someday. I'm delighted by his eagerness to learn and create, and he's earned it.


Monday, November 30, 2009

11/30/09 WASPs

In the harried 4 minutes I can spend scanning the WWII history section of the library, I have no time to think through what I'd like to read -- it's pure impulse, grab'n'go.

Last trip, I came across a book about women pilots during WWII, who'd been accepted into the WASP program, short for "Women Air [Force] Service Pilots." For a short while, there was a severe shortage of pilots, as all available men were sent overseas into combat. But someone still needed to ferry planes around the country, run transport flights, tow targets for gunnery training, and countless other domestic military flight tasks.

I have to wonder, would I have been one of them? Would I have had that sort of gumption and desire? Probably not; most women who applied to the program were very young (minimum age 18 but many had been flying before then) and had always wanted to fly. I didn't get adventurous until I was almost 30, and never had to overcome the sort of societal obstacles these girls did.

But I was stunned to see another requirement that might well have grounded me: a minimum height requirement of 64 inches. At first, it was just 60 inches, which I meet. Then it was raised to 62-1/2 inches, which I don't meet, though there's a story of a 5'1-3/4" (exactly my height) girl who wanted to fly so much that the doctor told her to stretch and then he passed her on the physical exam. Then the WASP program raised the height requirement yet again to 64", and there's no way I could have passed myself off as 5'4".

I have the unique perspective of having flown in a WWII-era military plane recently, and was struck by how I was among the few passengers who was physically well-suited to the craft. I was far smaller and more agile than most passengers and was able to easily move around the low passages in the plane. Being more than 5'8" would likely have been a liability, and that's in a roomy bomber. I'm not sure how I'd have done as a pilot, but did the Army have a height minimum of 5'4" for men too?

At one time in my life, I believed that being just under 5'2" meant I couldn't ride the kind of motorcycles I liked in the kinds of places I liked. But that turned out to be completely untrue. I learned how to compensate and do things differently so that I got pretty proficient on machines that most people assumed were too big (such as this borrowed BMW R90S that I rode at Laguna Seca, photo circa 1993). I don't know if that's true for airplanes though.

Ah well, it's nice to have a good book to give myself something new to think about.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

11/29/09 A day

Yesterday was yardwork day. Lots of leaves had dropped. Good thing the kids were on the job!

Today, however, it was time to catch up on schoolwork, believe it or not. Julian has a "Cultural Poster" due, same as Gabriel had had in kindergarten. Once again, I feel somewhat at a loss, since the intent is clearly to present your own culture and traditions. But Julian's parents were born here -- I'd bet $100 that we're the only parents in his class who both were -- and the most uniquely American traditions are so well-known (Halloween and Thanksgiving) that making a presentation on them is hardly informative. The instructions for the poster do suggest that a culture other than your own is welcome, since they encourage a "variety." Translation: "we're already going to get at least 15 on India, try another place too."

So I encouraged Julian to do Mexico, a neighboring country that I intend to visit with them, and from where many of our friends are. In other schools in San Jose, no doubt they have the same disparate representation of Mexico as our school does of India, yet at our school -- in California -- there is nary a Hispanic to be found.

This is due Friday, yet we'd only picked the country on Saturday and hadn't even started it. We needed to get going today.

And guess what -- we almost finished. I am positively floored. Julian tackled the job with dedication, finishing each task I gave him without any prompting or procrastination, and then asking for the next one. He worked on it on and off the whole day, with the biggest break being a trip to Michael's to get a posterboard. It was all I could do to get him to stop for dinner.

I remember doing this same project with Gabriel in kindergarten (he did Italy), and often having a hard time getting him to keep going. As regular readers all know, when Gabriel sets his mind to a task, his grip is vicelike, but he doesn't apply that to all things. This sort of project apparently ppeals to Julian, making it actually fun to do together. Really, I'm blown away by how focused and committed he was today. Come to think of it, he dives right into all his schoolwork and pretty much doesn't stop until he's done. I'd have thought the fun would have worn off by now, but it hasn't. This characteristic, if it keeps up, will take him far in the academic world.

Gabriel also had a "family tree" homework assignment. This completely cracks me up: the printed words ask where your family is from -- but then as an afterthought, someone wrote in by hand "or ancestors," realizing that there might actually be someone in the class whose family is from here.

Dave directed Gabriel on this one, using information in his father's detailed genealogy. Gabriel will be the only one in his class who can say his family came here in a different century, in 1750 from England, and whose ancestor came here because he was kidnapped to serve on a ship.

It certainly is interesting being a cultural minority!