Category Archives: Advanced Work

All about the program they call Advanced Work Class.

Re-Inventing Advanced Work Class: A Dozen (+2) Quick Thoughts

3 in AWCIt is the time of year when the AWC program is causing some parents of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in the boston Public Schools to wonder what to do next year. Do they leave their child in the place s/he knows and has friends, or do they opt for the “other track” of Advanced Work?

Thankfully, this is one discussion that Liz and the Parent Imperfect won’t need to have this year. We probably couldn’t survive another round of that. Recently, however, I fell into a very interesting e-mail conversation about AWC among some BPS parents active in their own kids’ schools. I can’t help but share some tidbits from it here, doing my best to obscure the names of parents and schools. My purpose here is not to promote one or another point of view, but to show that thoughtful people have quite different views (and interesting) about this program.

1. At [our school], parents have come together with teachers and the Principal to try to remake the awc/non-awc divide academically and culturally for next year, and we are cautiously optimistic.

So I wanted to have a sense of what schools are doing so we can learn some lessons…

2. We had an tour of our school for prospective AWC parents yesterday. Half of them were genuinely moved and pleased with the ideas we are considering for [changing] AWC. The other half took out their pens and crossed the school off their list… 

3. Your school is similar to one in my neighborhood in that AWC kids largely come from inside the school. Don’t be so hard on outsiders; many of us are turned off by the idea of sending our child into an environment where most of their classmates had been together for years. It’s not exactly welcoming to hear, “We’re full with our own….

4.  I would encourage you to consider the training of a literacy coach at the 3-5 level for your school.  Until teachers have deep and solid skills in a workshop approach to literacy instruction, it will be difficult for them to manage differentiation across the range of learners we’re talking about. The literacy coach provides in-house professional development for their cohort teachers (in this case 3-5, but it could possibly be expanded to 3-6; or train a second coach 6-8), as well as bi-weekly coaching visits – forever. The training happens through the Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University…

This should be a model the district leverages to address equity and differentiation…

5.  From what I can tell kids at our school are on a very broad spectrum of current capacity to handle [the the training on executive function], but they’re all doing it on some level and all learning skills to manage information, plan time, etc.  And yes there ARE kids with IEPs in the AWC classroom at the school…

Advanced Work II6. I wonder if it would be helpful to look at other schools where there is no AWC, very mixed classrooms in terms of academic skills, and where families choose to stay… as maybe we could assume that something is going right in those classrooms. It’d be easy to come of with a list anecdotally, but wonder if the info would also be accessible from BPS.

 It sounds like there are some interesting ideas about how to integrate the classrooms. Our experience at the school that our kids attended, is a bit different, as there are completely mixed classrooms, with a very small exodus for AWC, though a fair number of kids who get in. Thought maybe some of the lessons could apply though…
7. Hearing things like this make me feel better about even staying involved in this equity fight. The awc segregation is so disturbing and everyone tells me it is political suicide to be strongly against it. It is good to know some people are trying to mitigate this…
8.  …whatever AWC is or is not (and AWC classes vary and have their own inequities), it can’t be separated from the exam schools. BPS I think sees AWC at heart as about keeping middle class parents in BPS, and on the pathway to exam schools…
9. …I went to schools to see about transferring my daughter and was astounded at seeing what is basically tracking and racial segregation in several of the school I looked at. It seems to me that it is an unspoken bargain to keep middle class kids in BPS at the expense of poor kids and kids of color…
10. Interesting the interest and increased difficulty of getting into AWC coincided with the recession. Wonder if things will shift again now with housing prices being more fluid as Boston real estate continues to rebound and surpass…
11. The whole AWC thing creates different dynamics for those at schools that have AWC vs. those at a school without it. I have a appreciated the rigorous instruction that my son has received in an AWC classroom, but I have not understood why the curriculum and method of teaching…(teachers seem to have a lot more flexibility) shouldn’t be available for all kids? It seemed like everyone would benefit from the approach…
12. There can be lots of opportunities for all 4th/ 5th graders — regardless of AWC or reg ed or multi-lingual classrooms — to go on the same field trips (including to DC), be in the same chorus, school play or on the same sports team. This was true at the school my kids attended…
13. It is really great to hear about what is happening at the school where the parents are trying to change AWC. I look forward to learning more about this initiative...I don’t think there is a single white child in my son’s AWC class (though there may be one or two in the grades 5-6); his AWC class is under subscribed – only 17 students – and has historically been under subscribed. One child left to go to AWC at another school and I know others would have left if they could have gotten in. That said, there is probably more of distinction in economic levels – with the middle class kids clustered in AWC program.
There you have it, fragments of a back-and-forth among people who care. You can cut the ambivalence with a knife. But it’s great to see that some schools are trying to do something about AWC, rather than just send their kids there and wish it didn’t exist.
Will your child be going to AWC next year? How are you feeling about it?

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No Single Brush

Once again, the Parent Imperfect has let work overwhelm the blogging life. Who’s setting these priorities?

Irving at FenwaySome readers, including Dear Connie, protested that the Hamlet story was too one-sided in its portrayal of the Irving. I thought the story spoke quite positively about some aspects of the school, but it is true that it is not a tale that is likely to make the parents of a fifth-grader want to claw their way onto the waiting list for next year’s sixth grade at the school.

There have been many bright spots for Connie at the Irving. She has been able to stay in contact with friends from the Hennigan who have moved with her for sixth grade. She has also made some new friends, including for the first time, a school friend who lives on our street in Roslindale. This has been very nice.

kids yogaWhen Connie and one of those friends got excited about, of all things, yoga and meditation (if you knew the father, you’d understand the “of all things” comment) they proposed to the school that they be allowed to teach a class to their mates on the topic. To our surprise, “Philosophidation” was born, students signed up, and the two have been teaching this class with little adult interference since January (I believe that they are now in the third cycle of the class). There have been many bumps in the road to enlightenment, but they have so far managed those bumps. Not every middle school principal would allow such a thing to happen in his/her school.

Connie has also had a very good year in English Language Arts, which is not her strongest suit. After getting Connie quite absorbed in China’s Cultural Revolution, the teacher helped re-kindle an interest in poetry that had been dormant since about third grade.

Connie has actually been quite ill with a stomach bug since her father returned from recent travels. This one found its way to paper as a sign that she is on the mend (in more ways than one)…

I AM SICK

I am sick.

No matter how you say it.

I feel like throwing up,

and my foods won’t even stay in.

I’ve been in bed all day

really, really weak.

I can’t go out to play,

and my hair is sure not sleek.

Drinkin’ Gatorade

and usin’ the computer.

I have no other way

except to hire a steward.

Although I’m feeling better,

I still can’t go to school.

I’m sad my stomach’s empty.

Being sick is SO NOT COOL!

No single brush can paint Connie’s experience at the Irving. The teacher who closed the door on Hamlet is a real person, but dealing with difficult people is, sadly, an important life skill. Ironically, something happened and it looks as though the show will go on, on June 1 at the Roslindale Community Center. Given the strange incentives of the BPS, Connie is likely to be “one and done” at the Irving, but she may well remember the experience much more positively than the peanut gallery does.

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Something is rotten in…Roslindale

HamletThe Parent Imperfect loves the springtime, despite the fact that it is his most frantic time of year. It is the time when I add spending a lot of time with a group of kids in the Regan Youth League to a life that is already barely doable. The RYL Opening Day was “postponed” this year, not because of the April showers that often do the trick, but because it was scheduled for the day after the city had been locked down as thousands of police combed Watertown for Suspect #2 in the Marathon Bombing. The games started on the following Monday and the parade happened on a gorgeous day a week later, so the season is now well underway. It seems that playing baseball is part of what has gotten life back to “normal” for many of the league’s children….and parents.

Getting back into the rhythm of school has been another part of starting to live life again in Boston. Both Connie and Vince were unusually ready to get back to school after the week-long vacation that began with Patriot’s Day and the Marathon. They were in full complaint mode (and, in Vince’s case, nonviolent resistance to homework) by Wednesday of the first week back, but that, too, was part of beginning to put behind them the wild mix of feelings that had resulted from two explosions on one of their favorite streets in the city. Connie is still not sleeping well, plagued by dreams playing out horrible scenes that she’s not talking about in her waking hours. Today, she’s planning to go to a large gathering of people for the first time since Patriot’s Day. I know she’ll have some different emotions than what she had the last time she helped Wake up the Earth.

Spring is always a difficult time for her in school. Like most kids, she really wants to be outside at this time of year. Her declining patience for the routine and the boredom of school coincides with a natural increase in the stress level of the teachers who must somehow deal with 25-30 kids, most of whom are constantly contemplating a group jailbreak. Add to those tensions, the nine-hour day in force at the Irving, and you have a recipe for trouble…even for the children who carry the “teacher’s pet” label in the cafeteria.

Connie definitely enjoys some parts of her day at the Irving, and one of the things that makes life bearable this spring is a theater elective that she has two or three times in alternating weeks. Yes, there is a theater elective at the Washington Irving Middle School. She is frustrated by the fact that many of her classmates could care less about something that she really loves, but she has grown accustomed to that…matured, one might say. Her teacher has, however,  noticed her love and found some ways to feed it. One of those ways was to cast her as Hamlet in a production of a fragment of that famous play. The small group of theater enthusiasts in the class so rose to the occasion that the teacher arranged for them to do their scenes yesterday at an assembly of the students of a nearby school.

Connie was more excited leaving for school yesterday than any day this year. I was sorry that I wouldn’t be able to see her as Hamlet. It turns out that the neighbor who often goes to school with Connie was playing Claudius in the show, so their energy on the way to school was palpable.

When I got home too late last night, I was excited to ask Connie how it had gone, but she wasn’t home. Before I had a chance to ask Liz about it, she said, “Connie didn’t get to do Hamlet today, so she’s pretty upset.”

It turned out that a scheduling confusion at the other school meant that they had to cancel the production there. This was certainly a huge disappointment for Ms. Connie and her fellow thespians. Knowing how excited they were about this day, the teacher scrambled to organize a show for several classes at the Irving. Having succeeded at that Herculean task of organization, he gave each of the cast members a pass to get out of class to be in the show.

MCAS quoteUnfortunately, for Connie and the others, this meant presenting a pass to the teacher who has been very difficult for Connie and some of her fellow classmates since the beginning of the year. Predictably, when they presented the passes to the Teacher, she said something like, “He can’t do that…he had to tell me that at least a week ago…you can’t miss this class just before MCAS.” And she outright refused to honor the pass, telling the children that they’d better take their seats and be quiet.

Connie was crushed. Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that MCAS scores are definitely not Connie’s problem at the Irving,  she just couldn’t believe that someone could be so heartless. It got worse when they proceeded to spend the next 80 minutes practicing this ridiculous “clicking” mechanism that they use, quite inexplicably, to identify the right answers on the test.

Since the theater teacher had already organized the presentation, he had to scramble to find other kids to read the lines off a script. Those students were all excited about having done so and understandably shared their excitement in the halls during the short break between classes. This pushed Connie over the edge. When it came time to go to Science class, she just couldn’t do it. Quite thoughtfully, she asked if she could go see the Guidance Counselor, and seeing how upset Connie was, her Science teacher gave her the pass to do so.

The Guidance Counselor was very welcoming and comforting to Connie. Upon hearing the story, she immediately told Connie that “Ms. — was wrong. When a child comes to her with a pass from another teacher, she must honor that pass.” That made Connie right, but she’d much rather have been Hamlet than right. The counselor’s affirmation made her feel the injustice of what had happened even more strongly.

Anyone associated with the Irving in any way knows the characters in this tale, regardless of my feeble efforts to protect the innocent and the non-innocent. I’m sure the teacher in the story is a perfectly good person who could probably do many jobs in the BPS quite well, But, at this point in her life, the demanding task of teaching a living and breathing group of our sixth graders is not one of those jobs. In our system, however, she has just that responsibility and will probably continue to have it next September.

No MCASIronically, this sad tale transpired on the day after the inaugural meeting of the Quality Working Group of the Boston Public Schools. That group, which came out of the long debate about school assignment in Boston, will spend many hours trying to unlock the magical formula to “measure” educational quality. I don’t know how one would measure what happened to Connie yesterday. Incredibly, if Connie scores one point higher on the MCAS test (which won’t happen) because she was “clicking” instead of reciting Hamlet, the spirit-crushing arbitrariness of the teacher in question would count as a “quality intervention” in our current way of defining educational quality.  Even more incredibly, the extraordinary efforts of the theater teacher to nourish the special interest of a few kids in theater, and then, against all odds find an outlet for that interest, would have no place in our considerations of what makes a quality education. If, over the next weeks and months, the Quality Working Group can find no way to change that equation, its time would have been better spent savoring the lilacs in the Arboretum.  

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The Nine-Hour Day, Part I

You may remember the spectacle of the Parent Imperfect going into a panic when he realized that he had chosen for his daughter a school that would have her in school for nine hours a day. This child is much too busy and restless to be in school that long. I raced to the Hennigan School like a maniac and accosted the poor woman who took care of the school choice forms until she gave me back Connie’s form so that I could change the order of her middle school options.

It mattered not. The bizarre sorting hat that is the BPS assignment process gave us neither of the schools we chose over the Washington Irving Middle School, so we ended up in our walk-zone middle school. This is, of course, the gold standard of assignment nirvana, so we should feel very lucky.

During the weeks after we made our choice, Connie discovered that most of her closest friends from the Hennigan would be joining her at the Irving, so she started to feel better about it. Her best friend, who lives closer to the Irving than we do, had chosen another school because an older sibling had lived through a terrible three years at the Irving in an earlier time. Post-traumatic-BPS-stress goes away very slowly, if at all.

So Connie is now seven weeks into her Irving career. She has memorized the Warrior Creed and gotten used to wearing a uniform each day and keeping her shirt tucked in. She notices that there is very little fighting or bullying at the school…less than at either of her two previous BPs schools. This surprises her, given what she had heard about the Irving.

She loves changing classes like her brother has been doing for years, but she can’t get used to the fact that she can’t go to the bathroom for the last 15 minutes or the first 15 minutes of any class period. Because there is always a line after Prohibition, that can mean that she needs to wait 45 minutes to use the bathroom, which is not ideal at all for a girl of her age. What social deviance are we avoiding with this unique form of collective punishment?

Nine hours is a very long time to be in school each day. We are aware of all of the research extolling the virtues of extended confinement for young people, and I expect that the Extended Learning Time at the Irving will improve student performance at the school. As it’s now being done at the school, it is not great for Connie.

One presumed benefit of the longer day is more academic time. I don’t see it. Connie has three “academic” classes each day: Math, ELA and Social Studies. These are generally long periods of 80 minutes. She’s really excited about one of her teachers, OK with another, and very disappointed with the third. She has no Science course during this first half of the year. Science will be substituted for Social Studies in the second semester.

When we were choosing schools, the principal at the Irving (Arthur Unobsky) was quite accessible. I should say that I like him (from a distance, I don’t really know him) and have great respect for his commitment to the school and for the leadership he is providing. On one rainy day, I went to the school at dismissal to pick Connie up. There was Arthur, standing out in the rain in his suit in front of the dreaded Triple Eatery. He was holding a (wet) radio in his hand and talking to the kids as they hurried past him. I wasn’t sure if I should be in awe of the man’s commitment, or wondering if the guy knows enough to get in out of the rain. In twenty total years in the BPS, this is the first year that either of our children has been in a school led by a male principal.

On three separate occasions, Mr. Unobsky ASSURED me that there would be language options for sixth graders this year (specifically Spanish, but any would do). There are no language options, which is disappointing for both Connie and myself. I don’t know if it matters to anyone else.

Connie also has a Visual Arts class that she loves. I believe she has it twice a week. The teacher really impressed both Liz and I when we went to the school’s well-attended Parent Open House in September. The girl is now drawing in her free time for the first time in many years, which is very nice to see.

Her fifth core class for this half-year is Phys. Ed., which she has three times per week. I believe that the gym period is shorter than the academic periods, but I’m not sure. This could be an extremely important part of the Extended Learning Time program, but Connie (who likes her Phys. Ed. teacher) complains that he has a penchant for long lectures in class, which is the last thing she needs during her only chance for physical activity. His female sidekick is less this way, but she is on family leave, apparently. When there is physical activity, it’s usually “student-directed activity.” As near as I can tell, that means throwing some equipment in the middle of the floor and letting the kids direct their own play. I see a place for this, for sure, but in combination with long lectures, this is a very big missed opportunity.

A recent public radio report examined an Extended Day program at a school in Lawrence, MA that has decided to place at the center of its approach a commitment to physical activity for the kids. Students apparently get over two hours of physical activity per day in two or three periods, and the Phys. Ed. is designed to provide both intentional skill/confidence building and leadership opportunities. No radio show can convince me, but this approach makes a world of sense. The Lawrence program claims that the physical activity is greatly improving academic results at the school, but talk is cheap. Even if this was a fib, I’d still be in favor of making intentional physical activity a cornerstone of any extended day program for elementary and middle schoolers.

Connie, who is an active child still participating in a demanding gymnastics program, is gaining weight at the Irving School. It is also harder for her to do her gymnastics because of the longer school day.

There is much more to say about the Nine-Hour Day, but that’s enough for now. Seven weeks in, it’s been a decidedly mixed bag for Connie. The Irving is moving in a positive direction, and the staff and parent leadership definitely want to make it a school that all students will opt to attend for all three years of middle school. Honestly, that’s not likely for Connie, given the way the incentives work in the BPS, but nor is it something that we are completely closed to. After all, we have our own traumatic-BPS-stress that’s not yet “post.”  For her to stay at the Irving, however, the Extended Learning Time program would have to receive some pretty significant tweaks.

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Just Rewards

English: Faneuil Hall Meeting Hall Boston Mass...

English: Faneuil Hall Meeting Hall Boston Massachusetts 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past ten days, the Irving Middle School has held two events for families that will be entering the school next September. Obvious failures, we haven’t made it to either event. On the evening of the first one, the youth baseball team coached by the Parent Imperfect played an exciting game under the mist at Daisy Field. He couldn’t miss that! And Event #2 took place on the same night that Mayor Menino presented Connie an award for academic achievement at the Hennigan School.

About two weeks before, Connie had been called to the Principal’s office in the middle of the morning. Not knowing the reason for the call, she was terrified that her teacher had asked the Principal to speak to Connie about her deteriorating conduct in class. But when she reached the office, she was greatly relieved to find out that the call had been about this award.

True to form, Liz and the PI were skeptical. All they received from the school was a sheet of paper with a time (6PM on May 30) and a place (the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall, downtown). What was the event and why was Connie, who had only spent a single year at the Hennigan, part of it? They smelled a rat. Connie’s teacher knew very little more about it than they did, but Connie was excited about having another opportunity to wear her graduation dress, so they went along. A few days before the event, an invitation arrived from the Mayor’s office with a few more details. After a reception in the fourth floor “museum” of Faneuil Hall, the awards would be presented in the historic Great Hall. This, alone, would be worth the trip.

The evening came and Liz, Connie and I headed out for a rare, school-night trip downtown. Vince has long since wearied of public presentations involving his sister, so he  opted for soccer practice. Knowing nothing about Faneuil Hall, we wandered around the first floor until we found an elevator to the fourth floor. The elevator opened into an empty hall, save a few people standing behind tables of sandwiches, cookies and punch to the lucky recipients and their families. We had no idea that everyone else was waiting in line at the main entrance to the Hall.

Moments later, someone opened the door and the museum filled quickly with the remarkable variety of people who make up the Boston Public Schools. We knew only the people from Connie’s school and the group from the Hernández School, Connie’s school until this year. The teacher accompanying the Hernández students greeted us with, “What are you doing here?” as if the smell of sandwiches had brought us in. She, too, was surprised to hear that Connie was being honored by a school that she had only attended for a single year.

The reception ended quickly and school and city officials herded everyone down to the Great Hall. I had been there for events before, but didn’t remember feeling the sense of history in the place the way I did this time. We all took our seats on the floor and BPS Superintendent Johnson and the Mayor’s Education aide sat down under the huge mural above the stage. Then we all sat for 35 minutes waiting for the Mayor.

He eventually sauntered in, and Liz said under her breath, “he must have taken a school bus to the event.” Never one to think twice about stealing a good line, to Liz’s horror I repeated it loud enough to get a good laugh from everyone around us who got the reference to the bus delays that have plagued the system all year.

Without a hint of remorse, the Mayor stepped to the microphone and welcomed everyone to the event. He had the audacity to instruct the principals who would present the awards to be BRIEF, at all costs. After a few more words from the Superintendent and the Mayor’s aide, the show was on.

Over the next 100 minutes, about 25 school principals took the mike to briefly introduce two students from each of their schools. One was receiving an award for academic excellence and the other was being recognized for “school spirit.” Each award recipient received a trophy, had picture taken with the Mayor and the Super and then stood there while their Principal told their story.

I was perfectly well-prepared to pooh-pooh the whole thing as a publicity stunt for the Mayor, but it turned out to be quite a memorable event. The Mayor busied himself fumbling with the personalized trophies while Boston’s future moved across the stage in a parade that gave the Higginson/Lewis K-8 School just as much attention as Boston Latin Academy. The leader of Dorchester Academy got to tell the story of a young woman who is headed to Princeton and the Headmaster of Tech Boston Academy took the time to introduce two beaming young immigrants who will be attending college (Syracuse and Wentworth) on full scholarships. To hear a version of Ms. Connie’s story among these was something that we won’t soon forget.

As we descended the stairs from the Great Hall to Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the 7PM group was lined up waiting their turn to tell stories just as compelling as those we had just heard. It was a time for even the skeptic to take a night off and be proud about being a small part of the life of public schools in Boston. Don’t worry…the skeptic has not taken leave of his senses.

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Is that your final answer?

The die is cast. The Parent Imperfect has sent in the card responding to Connie’s school assignment for next year. The deadline for sending in the confirmation was April 27, so I’ll be following up to be sure that the BPS Assignment Office received the card and processed what it says. Last year, her assignment confirmation was never processed, which turned into another event in the Parent Olympics that BPS parents must go through each year.

What made the decision hard was the mandatory nine-hour day at the Irving Middle School, the school to which Connie has been assigned. Several parents of Irving children have assured me that the Irving had worked out some of the bugs in the extended day and that it had turned into a pretty good program. “There’s a lot of good enrichment stuff going on there after school,” was the overall consensus. But what parents said to Liz and I mean little to Ms. Connie. She wanted to see this “extended day” for herself.

It took four phone calls to set up a visit at the school. In each of the first three calls, a very courteous woman assured me that the principal would get back to me to set up the appointment. After the third call, Mr. Unobsky called me back, apologizing profusely for the delay. I have to say that it makes me a little nervous that setting up family visits to the school can’t be delegated to someone.

In any case, the principal spent time with me on the phone talking about some of the challenges of the extended day program and what they’ve done to address them. He also assured me that next year’s program will include a Spanish elective for all sixth graders, either during the academic day, or after school. We then set up a time for Connie and her “empowered” father to visit the school during the extended day on this past Thursday. I was nervous about waiting until the very last day before the deadline, but he asked that we give them time to “be prepared” for us.

I went to the Hennigan to pick C. up from school an hour early, and we maneuvered through the after school traffic to get to the Irving by 3. A very energetic and attentive young woman greeted us and asked what she could do for us. Her jaw dropped slightly as we told her that we were there for a visit to the extended day program.

-OK…that’s interesting. That doesn’t happen a lot and the Principal is out at a meeting right now.

She was hoping that we would say that we’d just come back another time, but another time would be too late, so we asked if Connie could see the program without the intro from the Principal. I am quite certain that he had several things to do that were more important than spending a half hour with a parent so anal that he wanted to visit the after school program.

-Sure. Right now they are doing homework, so there’s not much to see. Does she want to see a Tenacity group or a Citizen’s Schools group?

Tenacity and Citizen’s Schools are two of the organizations that are collaborating with the Irving on the extended day program. I also saw a lot of City Year volunteers around, so I assume that organization is involved, as well. Connie was clear that she wanted to see the Tenacity program.

-OK…let me just find out exactly where they are right now…

This launched a ten-minute process of intercom consultations and wanderings up and down hallways. We got an unexpected tour of much of the school. There were at least three times where our guide really wanted to just say that she couldn’t find the Tenacity group, but she realized that we really wanted to do this. To her credit, she persisted. It should be possible to find any given group of students in the school at any time, no?

We did finally come upon a group of uniformed sixth graders talking in a couple of groups in a classroom at the back of the school. This was not the exact group that we were looking for, but it was a Tenacity group. A young woman was with them (I never did discover who this was), and our guide told this woman of our interest and asked if Connie could join the group for awhile.

-Sure. We’re not really doing anything right now, but she’s welcome to come in.

Before I had a chance to see what she wanted to do, Connie gave me that “Please get lost!” look, so I returned to the office as she went into the room. I sat in the office for an hour (an interesting observation opportunity) until Connie texted:

-No han salido a jugar…solo estamos hablando.

She wanted to stay longer to see what happened when the tennis part of the program started, but had to leave for yet another commitment (gymnastics training) at another school (the Ohrenberger). On the way out Washington Street, Connie shared that the girls in the group had been happy to give her all kinds of advice about what not to do at the Irving. She ate the advice up, but when I asked her what she thought of the program, she had very little to say.

-I guess it’s OK, pero llegamos cuando no estaban haciendo nada.

Nada. Nothing. That’s about what we had learned after four phone calls and two hours of driving and visiting. We did learn that the school has chosen very good people to interact with parents and the public, and, by sitting in the office, we learned that the Irving keeps very close tabs on who is entering and leaving the school during the extended day. Connie couldn’t really say if she could stand it to spend three additional hours in the school each day, but at least she had been there.

And then, very quickly, it was time to fill out the self-mailer and send it back to the BPS. We had one more conversation, made the decision and sent in the card. We’ve found that, while the BPS is often really slow getting information to parents, it can be very strict about its own deadlines. Missing a deadline can mean weeks of trying to fix a problem…and then giving up.

We have tried to find out about the options (few) available to our daughter. We recognize that our options are much better than the options available to the majority of BPS families, but they are not great options. If we are among the “empowered” families for whom the system is set up…

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The Exam School Choice III, AWC

Soon after the rash of fires at Boston Latin, the Parent Imperfect began a series of work trips that had him outside of Boston for what seemed like weeks. He had every intention of continuing to post during that time, but it seems difficult for him to find the voice of the PI as he travels. It must be the guilt of knowing that Liz is the one doing all of the parenting doing those times.

He returned to a firm deadline related to the Advanced Work Class of the Boston Public Schools. By tomorrow, in fact, the PI, Liz and Ms. Connie must come to agreement on their Grade 6 choices for the AWC lottery. AWC is a program designed to keep the families of “high-achieving” children in the BPS system by bringing together such children in classrooms using a different curriculum than “mainstream” classes. AWC begins in fourth grade and continues through fifth and sixth. Readers of the PI recently reminded him that, while AWC classes are not exam schools, the AWC system has everything to do with tracking children into the exam schools. He or she who goes to Advanced Work has a dramatically better chance to enter, and then succeed in, the exam schools than their classmates who do not do AWC. This is not as it should be.

As regular PI-readers know, Connie took an unusual path into AWC. She declined her invitation for Grade 4, but accepted the invitation to join AWC in Grade 5, and has spent this year (Grade 5) in the AWC class at the Hennigan School. This was not an easy decision for Connie or her family. The idea of AWC conflicts with just about everything that Liz and the PI believe about education. Connie’s older brother, Vince, stayed at the Rafael Hernández School from K-1 through the end of sixth grade.

There were many good things about this decision, for Vince and his family. They remained part of a strong community at RHS. Vince was able to continue with Spanish-English immersion and both Vince and Connie were in the same school for three additional years (no small thing). But, since Vince has arrived at the nation’s oldest public school the PI has wondered many times if it wouldn’t have been better to have given Vince at least one year of the AWC experience. Since many RHS students have done quite well at BLS, the question is not whether or not Vince would have been “better prepared” for BLS. Attending at least sixth grade in the AWC system might have given the whole family a better idea of what the BLS experience might be like for Vince.

He did fine, academically, at RHS with very limited self-organization or serious attention to his school work. This allowed his possibly clueless father to believe that being in the BLS environment might well lead Vince to “rise to the occasion” and meet the rigorous and often bizarre requirements of life at the nation’s oldest public school. Vince has definitely risen to some occasions at BLS, but most of those occasions have not been academic in nature. Perhaps the best argument for AWC, at least in Vince’s case, is that it can give parents and students a more concrete idea of what is coming, should they opt to go the exam school route.

But the decision that must be made for tomorrow is not about what Vince did three years ago, it is about what Connie will do next year. She has missed the Hernández terribly all year, not only her friends, but also the bilingual immersion curriculum, which has given her the gift of bilingualism. The tragic occurrences of November have only intensified her nostalgia. Being the “new kid” at the Hennigan who continues to be different in many ways has been very difficult for her socially, as all of her classmates knew each other from last year. At the same time, being in a class of fifteen (unusually small for AWC) with a great teacher has been a positive experience for her…one that the PI would wish for all BPS fifth graders.

Connie complained all during fourth grade that she couldn’t stand doing “the same homework” assignment every single night. This year, she has never complained seriously about the amount of homework (which is much greater), but she has sometimes struggled with doing work that pushes her beyond what she has done in class. This has been the cause of more than a couple of meltdowns, but, in her better moments, she really likes the feeling of having met that challenge.

The Hennigan does quite a good job at integrating the AWC program with the rest of the school. The fact that the demographics of the class are not that different from the rest of the school probably helps with this complex challenge. Connie has been part of the “Junior Coach” program sponsored by Playworks at the Hennigan and many other Boston schools. The program puts a number of students in the role of helping the young woman (“Coach”) who is at the Hennigan to help staff organize student recreational time in more creative ways that emphasize conflict resolution and cooperation over violence and competition. Most of the Junior Coaches are not part of the AWC classes and the program puts offers Connie an interesting entry point into the larger school community. She would love to participate in some of the other extra-curricular activities at the school, but her already over-scheduled life doesn’t allow that.

And so, while Connie has sometimes waxed euphoric about returning to the Hernández for sixth grade, she will continue in AWC even though it means changing schools again (the Hennigan is a K-5 school). The PI’s travel schedule has not allowed the PI to visit the options (Curley, Ohrenberger, Timilty, King, etc.) this year, but he and Connie will spend a little time at the Washington Irving Middle School this very morning.

The Irving was a clear front-runner for Connie’s Grade 6 year until some of the kids at the Hennigan began to tell her that the Irving is a “gang school.” Since Connie sees these as saavy girls who live in the neighborhood and know kids at the Irving, she gives these comments credence, as she probably should. With this in mind, she and the PI will get a look for themselves. Then, at about 9AM tomorrow, Connie will walk into the Hennigan holding a paper that says where she hopes to spend sixth grade. The PI only hopes that the system doesn’t proceed to lose that paper as it did last year. Hope springs eternal…

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