Friday was the day when Connie had to hand in her Student Assignment Form for 2012-13. For once, the PI thought he and Liz had this pretty well figured out. The Washington Irving Middle School is two minutes from their house. Their neighbor across the street did sixth grade there just a couple of years ago and had a good experience. Through another neighbor, they know and like the ELA teacher for the Advanced Work Class at the Irving. It seemed like the classic no-brainer.
The PI had been traveling a lot and so had not done the usual visiting of schools and talking to people about the choices. This past week, he rushed to speak to the Principal at the Irving and the aforementioned ELA teacher. To his surprise, no SHOCK, the principal called him back and talked quite openly and intelligently about the challenges of the AWC program and the school, in general. Nothing like a little attention…
Then, on Thursday, Connie and the PI spent an hour observing the sixth-grade ELA class. Connie had heard some scary things about the school from her classmates at the Hennigan, and the PI felt that it might calm her fears to actually be in the class. When they entered the school, an adult was seated just inside the front door, doing some work. She greeted them in a very friendly way and pointed them toward the office, acting much more like a greeter than a guard. The woman who received them in the office was even nicer, calling up to the teacher on the intercom and going out in the hall to show them how to get to the classroom.
When Connie and the PI arrived at the class, the 22 students were revising an assignment and then watching a section of a film about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A young woman from City Year was also in the classroom, acting as a kind of aid to the teacher. Both Connie and the PI were surprised to see not a single child that they knew in the 6th-grade class, but they both came away suitably impressed with what they saw of the program. The talked with Liz about the experience and they all decided to put the Irving first on their list of priorities for the following year. Since the Irving has two AWC sections and they live in the schools “walk zone,” they felt that the chances were good that they’d get their first choice.
They still had to fill out the form and make sure Connie brought it with her to skill. Liz filled out the BPS form, which requires the family to mark its first preference with “01” and so on. When the PI looked over the form, he saw the text “7:30AM-1:30PM” next to the Irving. He hesitated ever so slightly as he wondered about Connie getting up and out at that hour, but then he remembered that having both Vince and Connie in an early school would make life easier in several ways. He sealed the envelope and put it in Connie’s backpack.
And that’s how it stood until the PI received an e-mail from a parent of a child in Connie class at the Hennigan. She had asked the PI to talk about the sixth grade choices the week before, but it had been very difficult to do it from Peru. Among other things, the message included the following mysterious statement: “Although I’ve heard wonderful things about the Irving, I would really be opposed to [my child] spending nine-hour days in school. What ever happened to childhood?”
The PI, who had been virtually dozing over the report he was writing, snapped to attention. “Nine-hour days?…What is she talking about??”
Had he missed something? Had his overconfidence about this gotten him once again? He quickly looked at his copy of the form he had filled out and, sure enough, there it was…”Irving Middle School, 7:30AM – 1:30PM.” He heaved a sigh of relief and went back to his dozing. He called the e-mail sender to try to find out the source of her confusion, but got no answer. Then, just to be sure, he made his way back to the Irving website (a nice, user-friendly one as these go) and there he found his way to a description of something called “Extended Learning Time.” She was right. As of September 2011, the school day at the Irving ran from 7:30AM to 4:30PM!
That set in motion a frenzy of activity from the PI. It’s good to see that he can still move when he has to. He and Liz quickly agreed that a nine-hour day wouldn’t work for Connie either. But what, then, would they put as the first priority?
He called the Hennigan School and, luckily, the Parent Coordinator answered. She was very close to sending off the forms collected at the school that day. That meant that he could rush in there and, thanks to the wonders of “Wite Out,” could change the priorities on his form. He got to the school in time to go change the form before seeing Connie, but opted to wait until she emerged from her class for the day.
He found her with her teacher in the managed chaos of dismissal and quickly explained to her the situation. Connie immediately burst into tears. She had already had a tough day at school and this was one more change than she could take. It turned out that she had been feeling quite good about the fact that several of her friends from the Hennigan had elected to prioritize the Irving for sixth grade, so she wouldn’t have to be the new kid all over again. Of course she didn’t want to go to school for nine hours, but the change was just too much. “I’m sure my friends didn’t know about that nine-hour thing. They’re going to be crazy when they find out.” Through her tears, she said over and over that she didn’t want to go to any school next year.
Suffice it to say that, with Connie still very upset, the PI made the change. He based the new first choice on two quick conversations with parents with children in other AWC classes. The Irving had to go through a very competitive process to get the funds to extend its school day. Extended Learning Time is probably great for many children in the school, and has probably even helped build a stronger school community.
It is not, however, what Liz and the PI want for Connie, nor what she wants for herself. Coming to them as it did, without warning, made it a real curve ball. How could the PI have spoken to the Principal on the phone, visited the school for an hour and never heard about this program? How could he have been so overconfident about the whole thing that he didn’t bother to read past the Student Assignment Form? In any case, this time the PI adjusted to the curve and seems to have hit it, but with very little idea where it will go. The way the AWC lottery works, they could still very easily end up with the Irving as their only Grade 6 choice for Connie. And then what?