April 27th is the deadline by which the Parent Imperfect, Liz and Connie must either confirm that Connie is going to Washington Irving Middle School for sixth grade, or give up Connie’s spot to someone on the waiting list. But does this have anything to do with exam schools?
Yes, the Advanced Work Class is part of the exam school system within the Boston Public Schools. Students are assigned to AWC based on their scores on the controversial Stanford 9 Test. That’s an exam, when last we checked. There are not separate schools for AWC, but, despite the best efforts of good principals to the contrary, the advanced classes function very much like “a school within a school.” The exam school system begins when children take the Stanford 9 test in 3th grade.
AWC is quite unabashedly designed to keep a certain demographic in the Boston Public Schools system by guaranteeing a special accommodation for a percentage of the students in grades 4-6 (those who score highest on the test). Does it do that? In my usual unscientific manner, over the past month I’ve asked 24 parents of AWC children if their children would be in the BPS if AWC did not exist and their child was still in a “mainstream” classroom at the school s/he attended for third grade. I only gave them three options: “probably”, “probably not” and “don’t know.” Three people didn’t have an answer or didn’t want to answer. Six people said probably, seven people said that they don’t know and eight people said probably not. Now, these are all people that I know, so it is a very slanted sample in every way, but it does seem to suggest that AWC is keeping some group of families in the public schools.
Another friend (not one of the 24) moved his family to a neighboring system this year in search of better special services for a child. That meant moving their other child from a BPS Advanced Work Class to the highly-respected public schools of the other place. After having one very good year in AWC, the child is, once again, not really engaged with school or challenged by it. It’s not bad, but they’ve seen what their child can do when he’s really engaged. They are thinking about moving back to Boston to get this student back into AWC for sixth grade.
And then there is Connie’s own experience. She attended AWC at the Hennigan School this year for the first time. True to form, we kept her at the Rafael Hernández School for fourth grade, when most AWC kids made the move, and then moved her for fifth grade, which almost no one does. The transition to a new school and a whole new group of kids has not been easy. Almost all of these children were together in fourth grade last year, so it was not easy for Connie to become part of the group. We probably underestimated just how hard the transition would be for a child who was already very self-conscious about being “different” in many ways. She still talks about missing the Hernández and occasionally demands to return, if not tomorrow, then soon.
A big reason we did this was out of this vague sense that she needed more “challenge” in school and would benefit from being with more children who were more fully engaged with school. In the beginning, Connie was very conscious that her AWC teacher spent much less time doing crowd control with the kids. This has changed somewhat as time has passed–with Connie becoming one of those requiring control–but the teacher still does much less re-directing than her fourth-grade teacher at the Hernández. This makes a huge difference in the way Connie experiences school.
At first, Connie was also very excited about the academics, but that, too, has shifted a bit with the passage of time. I asked her last night how she now compares the academics at the two schools. She said: (1) Math: More advanced for sure in AWC, but the teacher must go very slowly because some of the kids are having trouble. (2) Science: About the same level of difficulty, but the AWC Science is more interesting; (3) ELA: About the same level of difficulty (she had a great reading and writing teacher in fourth grade), but it moves a little quicker at the Hennigan. (4) Social Studies: About the same difficulty, but the Hennigan is more interesting. In Specialties, she gives the edge to the Hennigan, mostly because of her swimming class, which she loves. The BIG difference is Spanish. There is no Spanish instruction at the Hennigan (although almost half of the students are Latinos and there is much Spanish spoken). Having half of her academics in Spanish was a big part of her experience at the RHS, and learning to speak Spanish well was something that made her feel quite special. She has kept up her Spanish pretty well by speaking consistently to her father and by reading some books, but she really misses the dual language curriculum.
Vince stayed at the Hernández for eight years, through sixth grade. That decision had its good and less good aspects. In search of “challenge” we’ve taken Connie out of the RHS and put her in a situation where she may well be in a new school each year for fifth, sixth and seventh grades. That’s a lot of transition in a young girl’s life. Is the “challenge” worth it? We’ll be better able to answer that one later on…maybe.
Against that backdrop, we’ll soon decide what to do for sixth grade. Connie now knows that many of her classmates from the Hennigan will be in Grade 6 AWC at the Irving, and that’s a big plus. Friends whose kids have attended AWC at the Irving speak positively of the principal and just rave about one of the AWC teachers. But given that she’s often almost desperate to get out of school at the end of a six-hour day, Connie is nervous about the nine-hour extended day at the Irving. She’s also nervous about what happens with all of the things that she does after school. Those are at least as important to her as school is.
After several attempts, we’ve finally arranged a visit to the Irving’s extended day program for tomorrow (We can’t call it “after-school” or Connie will definitely dig in her heels because of her after-school experience at the Hernández, which was not pretty). She’ll at least get to see what the kids do in hours 8 and 9, and maybe get to ask a few questions. Then, very soon thereafter, we’ll decide. In truth, there aren’t a lot of options. She is on the waiting list for AWC at both the Curley and the Ohrenberger, but those lists don’t tend to move. We could probably also go crawling back to the Hernández with hat in hand, but that seems fraught with potential problems. Most likely, she’ll be going to school for nine hours a day next year at the Irving.