Thursday, April 14, 2011


Just got the email from our swim team coordinator reminding us that sign-up for the swim team/dive ‎team is around the corner. 6 weeks when you spend what feels like every waking moment at the ‎pool cheering your kid and the entire rest of the ‘hood kids on at weekend meets. ‎

When we lived in DC, I had no idea that there was this secret Bethesda world of neighborhood pools, ‎or that there were over 10 swim teams in Bethesda alone. We sadly shuffled our way over to the ‎public pool on Little Falls Pkwy or braved one of the bigger DC pools, somehow sensing we were ‎missing out on something but not being able to put our finger on it. We naively put our name on the ‎waitlist for Palisades pool and were fortunate to get off the list, five years later, just as we were ‎moving to Carderock Springs.‎

Lo and behold, when our kids joined the Carderock dive/swim team a few years back, I learned that ‎almost every neighborhood in Bethesda has a community pool, open only to residents of the ‎surrounding neighborhood, and almost every one of those pools has a swim team. Each weekend, a ‎hoard of cars rolls into our club’s parking lot, and big and little swimmers alike tumble out, their ‎swimsuits festooned with the enemy team’s logo. If your kid belongs to one of these swim teams, ‎you are required to slap one of the team’s circular magnets on your car. I am pretty sure it is a stated ‎requirement in the parent swim team handbook, if the compliance rate on all the cars is anything to go ‎by.‎

At our pool, we even have a little pre-team, the “mini-cudas”, made up of kids who can barely hold ‎their heads above the water, who are taught how to swim by the much bigger ‘Cudas. There is ‎something very sweet in watching the older teenagers teach the next generation of little swimmers ‎how to blow bubbles and maybe, in a few years, join the team and swim a lap of the pool to the ‎reward of a bright-colored ribbon. Go CUDAS!‎

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

The other day the school sent home a form we had to fill out for both kids as part of the Second Grade ‎MCPS “Gifted and Talented” Screening process. It was an odd collection of questions, and you had to ‎rate your child based on how often you had observed a particular behavior or trait (i.e. gets very ‎focused on one particular activity – frequently, often, never, etc.). It seemed hard to believe that this ‎form had much to do with anything so I stuck it in the mail basket of doom for a while and tried to ‎ignore it, but ultimately forced myself to fill it out the day before the deadline. Ranking your kids on ‎anything is NOT fun, but try ranking twins side by side on a bizarre set of questions and you’ll get some ‎real mother-guilt heartburn. I ended up filling it out at midnight, in a locked bathroom, while ‎obsessively checking that the kids were asleep. I know, I need some professional help.‎

Then there is the label for the program that is the reason for the form in the first place – “Gifted and ‎Talented.” Seriously, who came up with that one? I had to laugh out loud because it reflects a real ‎schizophrenia within the school system, and maybe educators in general, as to how and/or when kids ‎should be “labeled” and what to label them. On the one hand, MCPS conducts this stealth math (and ‎sometimes reading) tracking system, beginning as early as Kindergarten, where they start grouping ‎the kids by their supposed ability – first within the classroom and then ultimately by reshuffling the ‎kids for those particular subjects. But they don’t really want the parents to know that they are doing ‎this, and they REALLY don’t want the kids to figure it out. In fact, we were expressly instructed by the ‎teachers NOT to discuss it. So if your kid asks you why they go to “so and so” for math, and their friend ‎doesn’t (or vice-versa), you end up doing this whole dance and shuffle while attempting to avoid the ‎very question your kid is asking you. ‎

But come the end of second grade, and suddenly there is this test, and if your kid aces this test then ‎they are TA DAH, Gifted and Talented, Capital G, Capital T. And, of course, this is Montgomery County ‎so we all secretly or not so secretly think our kids are G&T, right?, and heaven forbid the test proves us ‎wrong. (Although of course, there is the fallback, well my kid is not a good test-taker). And what is ‎the grand prize for beings so fahbulous? Why, you get to go to a “special” school with all the other G&T ‎kids where you will be more “challenged” and you don’t have to keep slumming with the “regular” ‎kids. ‎

But how do you reconcile the G&T moniker with the bunches of studies that show that praising an ‎innate character -- such as smartness or goodness – in a kid, rather than effort, is self-defeating? ‎These studies concluded that children who are constantly praised as being “smart,” or I would imagine, ‎‎“gifted and talented,” have less self-esteem and, in fact, start to be afraid to take risks for fear that it ‎will prove that they are not as smart as everyone else thinks they are. Whereas encouraging hard ‎work and effort prompts more of the same. (Here is a link to a good article summarizing these studies =

The kids took the TerraNova standardized test a week or 2 ago. The first day, as I was ushering them ‎out the door and giving a kiss goodbye, I encouraged them to have fun and to "do your best." I ‎decided I didn't like that so the next day, I bid them goodbye with a "try your hardest" and both kids ‎responded much better to that, coming home excited to report how the test had gone. Words carry a ‎lot of power, especially coming from parents.‎

So for now at least, phrases that are banned in our house include "you are so smart" or "you are a ‎good kid." Phrases that are encouraged in our house - you worked really hard on that; you gave that ‎your best effort and you got to the right answer. But I also think that no matter how hard I try to ‎navigate a good path on one thing, I am just going to screw something else up with my kids. It is ‎always easy to blame parents for everything, right? Wait, never mind, don’t answer that. ‎

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Get Outraged

I’m off to the PTA meeting tonight where the principal of the school is going to discuss the County’s budget crisis, the upcoming budget cuts, and how this will affect class size and staffing for next year. I have been all in a tizzy about the MCPS budget cuts, spending more time than I would care to admit researching what the class size “guidelines” are (don’t make the mistake of calling them “limits” or “maximums” because they ain’t). For all the free flow of information on the internet, it took me hours (and several emails to the superintendent’s office) to actually get a link to an actual document, and the news was not great. Unlike other states where the class size is built into teacher contracts, in Montgomery County they are merely part of the budget, another number to play with to try and cut down on costs while not paying the teachers any more money for taking on these huge class sizes.

There has been a lot of email chatter on blogs and chat lists about the impending increase in class sizes and what effect that will have on Montgomery county’s public school system. On the one hand, we consider ourselves very lucky to be in such a fantastic school system with such talented and dedicated teachers, but you can only ride those coattails so long. Put 30+ nine-year olds in a single classroom, throw a bunch of boring worksheets at them, and you better step back because no matter how good the teacher is, you are asking for trouble. Not to mention you can say goodbye to any extra resources for music, arts, etc. Suddenly, that private school option, the one with the horrifying sticker-shock price, is looking like something you might want to reevaluate.

So I was getting ready to go to this meeting, guns ablazing with my list of questions about how this affects “me” and “my kids”, and then I went to a lunch presentation at work today about charter schools in DC. Representatives from a charter school in SE came to talk to us about an elementary school they have been trying to “turn around” this past year. Before they got involved, the kids’ reading levels were at 13% of the national standard, and the math levels were at 8%. This was a school everyone had given up on – certainly, no one was complaining about class sizes, and no one was acting like they believed the kids could or should do better. The executive director asked us, if we took one thing away from this lunch, that we be “outraged” that any child would be subjected to this pathetic excuse of a public school.

So I am distressed that class sizes in our school are likely going up, and very unthrilled that staffing is likely to go down. But I’m going to save my outrage for something more meaningful.