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One mom’s defence of the Jeffco school protests and walkouts

I want to share my view of this past weeks student protests and why I allowed my daughter to participate. My daughter and I had a lot of discussion about what is going on in her school district.

I speak as a parent. The past two years I have been PTSA President of my daughters high school. The two years before that, I was the PTSA Vice President and the Accountability Chairperson of the same high school. I have spent a lot of time attending board meetings and budget meetings, and even in meetings with the former superintendent. I have met with parents and teachers. I have heard a lot of different view points. So, although I may not know everything, I think I have a basic understanding of some things.

I have issues with common core and AP US History (I have read the curriculum for it). I have issues with a new unproven superintendent getting massive compensation before he has even done anything. I have issues with the teachers union for allowing incompetent teachers to be moved around instead of being fired. Most teachers are awesome by the way. I have issues with a proposed curriculum review board, not because I am against reviewing curriculum, I think we should, but it should be done by a combination of educators and parents, and not for political reasons.

I was excited when a conservative board was voted in, as I am conservative. However, I have been very disappointed with this group. I am disappointed with the incivility and disregard that they have shown for their fellow board members, for the former superintendent, for parents, teachers and community members. Instead of trying to work with anyone, they are alienating everyone, including those of us who would have liked to support them.

The issues surrounding any school district are complicated, especially one as large and diverse as ours. We need to make sure that we address the needs of all children in our district and not just our own.

Which is why I am glad my daughter and her fellow students protested. It is their education at stake. Their protests have succeeded.

How do I know? Because, they have encouraged all of us to have this discussion and become better educated as to what is going on in our district.

Guest blogger Lisa is a mom of five and lives in Arvada. Photo: RJ Sangosti

Fourth day of walkouts with massive protest near Columbine High

While teachers and the Jefferson County school board are busy blaming each other for this week’s student walkouts and protests, the teens are happy to take credit.

“People think because we are teenagers, we don’t know things, but we are going home and looking things up,” said Savanna Barron, a senior at Lakewood High School, as she waved a sign on Kipling Street on Thursday morning. “If they don’t teach us civil disobedience, we will teach ourselves.”

By Thursday, the fourth straight day of protests, students had improved their organization, message and size, rallying a group of roughly 1,000 at a combined Columbine and Dakota Ridge high school walkout that saw kids crowd onto a pedestrian bridge over South Wadsworth Boulevard.

A movement that started with cardboard signs and random chants has moved to bullhorns and even a slogan: “It’s our history, don’t make it mystery.”

Facing criticism about skipped classes — including from passing motorists at Lakewood High who shouted at the demonstrators — some students opted to use their lunch or free periods to protest.

Others said they didn’t mind skipping class.

“It’s an unexcused absence, but I don’t care,” Tayler Lopez, a sophomore at Columbine and a protest organizer, said Thursday. “This is more important than truancy.”

 Hundreds of high schoolers across the county have hit the streets protesting a proposed curriculum committee that would call for promoting “positive aspects” of U.S. history and avoiding or condoning “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” They’re also upset about an evaluation-based system for awarding raises to educators.

Controversy has swirled around the Jefferson County school board after the election of a conservative majority to run the 85,000-student district. Action began last week when two schools closed because 50 teachers either called in sick or took a personal day.

The issue has become so heated that Thursday the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were investigating threats against school board members’ children. Sheriff’s officials declined to elaborate.

The school board CLICK TO KEEP READING

Hundreds of Jeffco students walk out in largest school board protest

In the largest protest this week, at least 700 Jefferson County students left classes Wednesday morning in protest of school board decisions and proposed changes to history curriculum.

The students gathered at the intersection of Ken Caryl Avenue and Chatfield Boulevard by mid-morning, most from rival high schools Chatfield and Dakota Ridge.

Some of the students waved American flags and held signs that said, “Don’t make history a mystery,” which has become a slogan of this week’s walk-outs. Others piled into cars and sped around the intersection honking their horns and screaming out open windows.

Tensions have been mounting in the school district as students, parents and teachers push back against district leadership. Wednesday’s protests meant that students at roughly half of all county high schools had walked-out of their classes in protest this week.

Community members are angry about an evaluation-based system for awarding raises to educators and a proposed curriculum committee that would call for promoting “positive aspects” of the United States and its heritage and avoiding material that would encourage or condone “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

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Also don’t miss: Jeffco school board curriculum committee idea latest divisive issue

Two Jeffco high schools close Friday after teachers call in “sick”

Discord over the direction of Jefferson County Public Schools spilled into classrooms and onto sidewalks Friday after an unusually large number of teachers either called in sick or claimed personal days at two high schools, prompting the district to cancel classes.

A total of 50 teachers from Standley Lake and Conifer high schools were absent, out of 117 teachers at both schools. Without enough substitutes, Superintendent Dan McMinimee made a “quick and difficult decision,” saying there wouldn’t be enough adults in the buildings to provide a safe and secure environment for students.

At a news conference in which he apologized for inconveniencing parents, the first-year superintendent called the teachers’ choice “unfortunate” while declining to speculate on their reasons.

“While I respect the opportunity for free speech and expression, I think there are other ways we can work through these differences without putting kids in the middle,” McMinimee said.

The Jefferson County Education Association, the teachers union, said it did not organize

any action but understands the frustrations of teachers and others about what it described as a pattern of secrecy, wasting taxpayer dollars and disrespecting community priorities.

More disruption could be coming. An organized “sick-out” may be planned for Monday, district leadership wrote in an e-mail to staff Thursday that warned that such actions are illegal under state law.

Tensions in Colorado’s second-largest school district have been high since the November 2012 election of a conservative slate of three school board candidates who became the majority.

Acrimonious board meetings from last spring have spilled into this fall with debates over

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How to survive the dreaded “Mommy Clique” (and share your own stories)

Now that my kids are in school, they are adjusting to an entirely new social hierarchy. Fortunately, they’re still young enough that friendship prerequisites center around if their peers are nice or if they have the same taste in clothes.

The latter was illustrated on the first day of school when my daughter Hadley met her new BFF: a girl who had the exact same pair of shoes.

In a few years, such trespasses will result in a cat fight.

But there is a murky side to the social hierarchy that is rarely discussed: the Mommy Clique. These are formed when moms are brought together while waiting for their children to emerge from school or in playgroups and at activities.

I’d like to think that moms are mutually-supportive and that is mostly the case. But often, there are deep-rooted undertones of judgment that, if not confronted, can result in a full-blown Mommy Clique.

And no one likes Mommy Mean Girls.

From my “extensive” 10 years as a mom, I have

The Five Ways School Kids Love to Ambush Their Parents

I suppose it’s only fair. When I was six years old, I invited all my neighborhood pals to a Goodbye Party at my house. We were moving across the state and I felt it was a great idea to say farewell with a bunch of cake and punch. The only trouble is I forgot to tell my mom. When another mom called to ask what time to send over her kids later in the day for the party, I was busted. Thankfully, my mom graciously went ahead with the party, even baking cupcakes to mark the occasion. She let me know I was never, ever, ever to do that again, but I’m still grateful she rolled with it.

It’s called the Parent Ambush and if you have school-aged children, you might have been a victim. There are several ways kids enjoy launching surprises on unsuspecting adults in their lives.

The Costume Ambush

This ambush strikes primarily in elementary school and never near Halloween. If it were near Halloween, you could easily go to a costume store or regular retail store and find what you need. Instead, the Costume Ambush hits in April and stores aren’t carrying capes and mustaches any more. This ambush is famous for happening at 9pm the night before it’s due. This is better than the morning it’s due, of course. It gives you time to reconnect with the Halloween costume bin in the corner of the basement.

Early one morning, my then-second grade son asked me if I could make a Frog Prince costume for school. I said sure, when do you need it? Today! Another time, he needed a costume that resembled a book character. No worries, mom. It will be easy. He needed a big black hat and a cow he could ride. In the first case, he had to settle for a green shirt and a paper crown. In the second, he borrowed a brown hat and took a stuffed cow. His teacher must have thought I was the world’s most untalented, uninspired costumer who ever lived. Instead, I had to work my magic with what was in his dresser and construction paper.

The Posterboard Ambush

“I need a posterboard for school tomorrow!” a child sleepily declares on her way to bed. “Can it wait?” you sigh loudly. “No, because I was supposed to bring one today.”

I’m convinced 90% of all posterboard sales in the United States are made between 8 and 10pm at night. Woe unto the mom on a posterboard hunt if it’s science fair season—especially if the kid needs a tri-fold board. If you see a child with a neon orange posterboard, don’t assume it’s because she loves neon orange. It’s because it was the only one left.

Finally, I learned that when I find myself buying a posterboard, I should buy five instead. Having a stack at home, stored behind our piano, has saved happiness and sanity many times.

The Snack Ambush

This particular ambush is popular in upper elementary grades or middle school. Usually, the child is finishing up a geography unit and the teacher decides to have a feast with foods from the country or region. This is an insidious ambush because the chance you have exotic ingredients lying around in your pantry are slim when your kid informs you they need you to make lamb in plum sauce for lunch tomorrow. For sixty. Hey, she shrugs, it’s for all the classes combined. The most exotic thing I made on the fly for school was a North African pastry stuffed with meats and I had a full day’s notice. I won the geography feast lottery.

When my high school aged-daughter did this to me, I pointed to the kitchen and saluted. She made hors d’oeuvres for her French class party all by her lonesome and did a great job.

To avoid this unwelcome surprise, tell your kids they should always sign up to bring the napkins.

The Photo Ambush

“Mom, could you print out photos of our family, all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, pets going back three generations? Thanks! We are making a family tree tomorrow!”

The reason I always keep photo paper isn’t so I can indulge a scrap-booking habit or print photos to fill albums to beautifully line our shelves. It’s so random children can have random photos printed on demand. Do I look like a little shack in a parking lot with a ONE-HOUR PHOTO sign above my head? Yes, I do.

Related: Always have extra printer ink cartridges handy. There is nothing more annoying than printing off a giant school project deep into an evening and seeing the error box rudely pop up, demanding you feed the printer monster his delicious, delicious ink. Burp!

The Permission Slip Ambush

This one is particularly embarrassing. After a chat with a teacher, you discover your child should have brought home a permission slip to spend a day at a farm. It was sent home two weeks ago. They are leaving tomorrow. Is your kid going? When you see your child, they say “Oh, yeah!” and pull a canary yellow wad of paper out of the front pocket of their backpack. You smoothe it out and read. Not only was it due a few days ago, they need $37.89 cents, cash only.

You check your wallet. There’s an unwrapped piece of cinnamon gum, a Canadian penny, a coupon for 50 cents off eggs (expired shortly after Easter) and a button.

I hope the school year is kind to parents everywhere! I hope you make it to the end with zero ambushes, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be few surprises.

Preschool: A Transition from ABC to X+Y=Z

Preschool started for us a couple weeks ago. By “us,” I mean my kids started school—obviously I’m not in preschool. If I was, it wouldn’t be so bad. Because it’s preschool.

Right now, school is all about rules and boundaries and fine motor skills. But, soon it’ll be about geography and geometry, which have no place in our home except for the shape of things. Really, how often do you have to figure out the area of your dining room table mirror?

Choosing a charter school in Denver: Fantastic choices abound!

“Have you thought about any of the Charter Schools in our area?” the Preschool Director asked me, a helpful lilt in her voice. I’d told her we were trying to figure out where to send our daughter in the fall, and I knew the process started early. We still had more than enough time to figure it all out, but it was something that had been weighing on my mind. She could tell from the look on my face I had no idea where to start.

I looked down at the packet of information in my hands. The preschool had provided us with information they’d gathered over the years on all the different neighborhood schools around us, and for various reasons, we weren’t too keen on sending her to the school closest to our house. As it was, the way the boundaries were drawn, our official “neighborhood school” wasn’t the closest to our house anyway.

If I was going to be taking her to school every morning anyway, we may as well choose a school that felt like home to us.

Jefferson County allows every family to choice enroll into whichever school would best fit their needs. It was lottery-based, so applying wasn’t a guaranteed spot, but the odds of us getting into at least one school at the top of our list were pretty high.

But, which schools did we put on that list? The choices were daunting.

“Well,” I said, searching for the right words. “I just can’t justify the expense of tuition for a private school education, especially for something that’s not college-level,” I said. “I love supporting public schools.”

Her whole face broke into a smile, and she laughed. “Charter Schools ARE public schools; they’re not private,” she said. “They don’t have tuition! They’re free!”

I was stunned. What? I gasped out loud. “Well, let me rephrase my answer,” I said with a smile, the possibilities opening before my eyes. “Please tell me more about Charter Schools!”

That conversation was the beginning of MY education into the choices available for us in Jefferson County.

Why was a Charter School so appealing to me? It fit our needs perfectly in the following ways:

I love the curriculum.

Charter schools provide a curriculum that differs from a typical neighborhood public school. (Despite having differing curricula, Charter Schools are still required to meet State Standards.) Some examples of the different types of curricula would be: Waldorf, Montessori, or Core Knowledge, to name a few. Our school does the Core Knowledge (it’s not Common Core, despite the similarity in names) with a mix of Saxon Math and Shurley Grammar, and I love it. It’s been the perfect fit for our child.

Because we were looking at starting the school in her Kindergarten year, the fact that Specials were being offered to the Kindergarten classes was also a big plus. As a Kindergartener, she would be exposed to Spanish, Technology, Music, Art, Physical Education. Many of the neighborhood schools I visited started offering the full-range of Specials to children in First Grade and beyond.

Charter School Pic2 MHMLevelized Learning

Along with a robust curricula, our charter school provides levelized learning. My daughter was “ready” for Kindergarten well before the time she reached the magical age dictated by the Jefferson County School Calendar. Because the Charter School accommodates different learners at different levels within the same grade, she’s always been challenged. The needs of those in her class that struggle are met, as well. The way the teachers get things to flow so nicely in class never ceases to amaze me.

Class Size

Speaking of teachers and how well they work with the kids, a typical class has 28 students with a Teacher and an Assistant. So, for a majority of the day, the student to teacher ratio is amazing. Many Charter Schools operate with Wait Lists. According to their charter agreements, they are only allowed a certain number of students. Enrollment is based solely on the luck-of-the draw. In Jefferson County, the Choice / Open Enrollment process starts in January.

A level of parental involvement that was not only tolerated but encouraged

Many Charter Schools request a certain number of volunteer hours per year, per family. Not only does this provide the schools with creative cost-saving measures, it builds a sense of community.

A budget overseen by a Board of Directors and available to the public at any time

Another draw toward the Charter School, for me, was how well they are able to maintain their budgets. Charter Schools have the ability to be fiscally conservative in certain areas in the face of looming budget cuts at the district level. Despite being a public school, the funding they receive is not equal to that of a neighborhood school when it comes to PPR (Per Pupil Revenue), so it can be tricky at times. The flexibility to be in charge of all that is refreshing. All of this is done with a transparency that has been required since Day 1, and I love that.

For us, Charter Schools are the best of both worlds.

They provide the feel of a specialized learning environment but do so in a public school setting. The minute I walked through the doors at our Charter School, I knew it was our home. As we start our fourth year there, I am so incredibly thankful for this option!

JoAnn as been writing at The Casual Perfectionist since 2007. On Twitter, she is @ThisJoAnn. Offline, she can be found writing, watercolor painting, cajoling hedgehogs, conducting covert missions, decoding secret messages, and pretending her life is more exciting than it may very well be.

Unschooling: A Denver mom shares a glimpse at this growing movement

A recent article in Outside magazine “We don’t need no education” touted the virtues of unschooling as a growing movement. These parents believe a steady diet of standardized testing and indoor inactivity is choking the creativity right out of our kids. The alternative: set ’em free.

Amy Gates and her husband Jody have two kids, Ava (10) and Julian (7). They didn’t start off as an unschooling family, but evolved into it over the course of a few years. Although homeschooling had always been in the back of her mind, her kids started out attending Waldorf preschool. Then her oldest, Ava, went to kindergarten at a public school but Amy knew in her heart that that wasn’t what she wanted for her, but didn’t feel she was in the best place mentally and emotionally to homeschool her at that point.
 
After Ava completed kindergarten, however, Amy felt ready to make the shift to homeschooling. They homeschooled for a short time before making the switch to unschooling. For the most part, unschooling works well for their family. The four of them have a range of interests, from computer games to woodworking, Legos to crafting, traveling to gardening, raising chickens to riding bikes, and more. Both of her kids love Minecraft. 
Don’t miss Amy’s fascinating Q&A!

What is it about unschooling that appealed to you and what is the difference between unschooling and homeschooling? 

Unschooling is based on children’s natural curiosity. I like that my kids are able to explore their interests in their own time. I like that they discover where they need to turn to find out the information they need — whether that’s asking a parent, looking things up on a computer, reading a book, etc. I like that through unschooling they learn how to teach and motivate themselves. If there is something they want to do or learn, we make it happen.  

The difference between unschooling and homeschooling is that there is usually no curriculum involved in unschooling. Other terms for unschooling are child-led learning or life learning. Children learn organically through their day-to-day lives with their parents there to support them as needed. Whereas with homeschooling, curriculum is usually involved and it’s more a case of sitting down and doing school at home.

If your child’s learning is led by them, how do you ensure they will learn important subjects? I.e. I can tell you that if one of my children had to direct their own education/learning, they’d opt for no education and just to play all the time.
 
Because my children’s learning is led by them and their interests, I trust that they will learn what they personally need to know. I don’t worry about the things they might not learn, because I don’t feel that ALL children need to learn X, Y, and Z. If something comes up that they don’t know and they want to know, they ask me or their dad or look to the almighty Google or YouTube for answers. There is so much information available at their fingertips. 
 
You bring up an interesting point by saying that if your child had to direct his/her own learning, they’d opt for no education and just play all of the time. I believe kids can learn a tremendous amount through playing alone. It often amazes me that my daughter basically taught herself to read and that both of my children can do math in their heads, without ever being formally taught how to do so. They also have expressed the desire to take various enrichment programs or workshops over the years. Between the two of them they’ve been involved in local community theater, 4-H, a farm program, nature and science programs, Lego classes, art classes, soccer, parkour, horseback riding, piano lessons and more.

Do you sometimes worry an untraditional education would limit your children’s chances of getting into colleges? How do college registrars feel about kids who are unschooled?

The thought has crossed my mind, but I feel pretty secure that whatever my children desire to do, they will make happen. If they want to go to college, we will find a way to make that happen. I also don’t feel that college is necessarily the answer for all kids. Many older unschooled kids tend to lean towards entrepreneurial pursuits. 

I honestly don’t know how college registrars feel about kids who are unschooled because I’m not a college registrar. My guess is that unschooled kids have to complete the same entrance requirements as traditionally-schooled kids. Leo Babauta (creator of http://zenhabits.net/ and http://mnmlist.com/) started a blog called Unschoolery a while back and has written his thoughts about college and unschoolers here – http://unschoolery.com/college. Leo and his wife unschool four of their six kids, one of which is preparing to go to college.

Are you open to your children returning to a traditional school when they get older if that is what they want?

Yes, if that is what they desire, then I would support them in it. I’d first examine the reasons they are choosing that route and make sure there isn’t another way to meet those needs that they hadn’t yet explored. However, if traditional school was the answer, then yes, I would support them. I know unschooling families whose kids have moved in and out of school over the years. Some go a day, some go for years. It just depends on the child and his/her motivation. 

What do you love most about unschooling?
I love the freedom we have with unschooling. My kids and I tend to be night owls and pretty much always have been. We have no set bedtimes or wake-up times. We have no deadlines (other than self-imposed). I enjoy that we can do things any time of the day (or night), we can travel any time of the year, and that the world is our classroom. 
 
Follow Amy’s journey on her blog, Crunchy Domestic Goddess.

Not Back-to-School Week for this Homeschooling Mom!

In honor of back-to-school, Mile High Mamas will be highlighting a few non-traditional schooling methods. We kick off our mini-series with homeschooling, tomorrow will be “unschooling” and on Thursday, JoAnn talks about charter schools.

For the past three years, the annual buy-a-thon known as Back-to-School month has been met with cheers and applause by my older kids. For them, it means that all the school kids return to class while they get back their free reign at the Zoo, Science Museum, and outdoor parks again. You see, we are homeschoolers. We grudgingly share our territory outside of school with the masses in the few months during summer but can’t wait to claim it back again in September.

It wasn’t always this way for us. My now 11-year-old daughter had Back to School from K-3rd. Not a long span in terms of a total K-12 education, but for her it was an eternity. Back to School wasn’t accompanied by the normal jitters and fears most kids get. It became an exercise in full blown anxiety. It became a tortuous descent into tears and pleadings not to make her go back to ‘that place’.

I watched her go from a vibrant, curious, busy, talkative, humorous, excitable girl during the summer into a withdrawn, quiet, bored, anxious, combative girl by the time school started. I made sure to introduce her to her new teacher well ahead of time in case it was a stranger anxiety issue. I started the “school schedule” in the morning two weeks prior in case it was a timing issue. I let her pick out all her own fun school gear in case it was an aesthetic issue. I prepared all her favorite foods for her bagged lunch in case it was a gastronomical issue.

If she was a newborn, this phenomenon would be called “Failure to Thrive,” and I was baffled, and then angry, and then sad, and then I started looking for answers…but it took me until the end of 3rd grade to find any.