Assuming our family stays in St. George, we're faced with a bit of a dilemma about where to send Brooklyn to school next year. I thought I'd toss our dilemma out on the web for a couple of reasons: 1) I appreciate your experiences, ideas, and insights; and 2) writing about an issue often clarifies my own thoughts and helps in the decision making process.
At the moment, Brooklyn and Talia are both enrolled in a dual immersion, Spanish-English program at Dixie Sun Elementary. One of the first elementary schools to adopt bilingual education in Utah, this school teaches core content material in both languages, spending half a day in each. The girls have different teachers for each target language, and love the program. Brooklyn has done remarkably well with Spanish. Her comprehension and ability to produce even fairly nuanced translations is great. Her grammar is pretty funky, but she's reading short chapter books. And of course, I'm jealous of her native-like pronunciation. Her current teacher, Mr. R. Garcia, likes to tease her about how she sounds more Latina than some Latinos.
As much as I believe in bilingual education, we are still considering a second option for Brooklyn. If we chose, Brooklyn could enroll in an Accelerated Learning Program at a small school called Diamond Valley, just north of Snow Canyon. This full-day program buses students from around the district who might benefit from more challenging curriculum. Last year was the pioneering year for the ALP strand, involving one class for third, fourth, and fifth grades. This coming year, the program will likely expand to two classes for each grade.
From a distance, pulling my daughter out of Dixie Sun to hang around other kids who have been labeled as GT (gifted and talented) seems rather snobby. What most people don't realize, however, is that parenting a GT child has proven to be exceptionally challenging. Listening to these teachers share the challenges of establishing an ALP classroom, I felt like someone finally understood how difficult it is to raise a child who is so bright that she thinks she already has all the answers. While these children are academically gifted, they often struggle socially and emotionally. They may lack the skills to appropriately deal with frustration since they are accustomed to solving everything easily. Working in groups is difficult--they would much rather orchestrate and take charge than participate in a conversation. While testing is a cinch, many have trouble getting organized and following through with assignments. They can fall into the trap of laziness, failing to apply themselves and reach their full potential. Instead, many prefer to rush through their work so they can grab a book and read for the rest of the day.
Hmm. Sounds familiar. Who ever would have guessed that a learner who falls on either of the far ends of the learning spectrum is at-risk with special needs? The teachers who pioneered the program last year described their job as intensely challenging, even exhausting, in trying to nurture these inquisitive minds that question everything. They quickly learned that while the kids could pick up the academic content in a moment, they needed to invest a lot of effort into developing the whole child, equipping them with the social skills and emotional support necessary for success in life, not just the classroom.
At the informational meeting about the program, I expected to encounter intense, helicoptering parents bragging about their children's test scores. While I'm sure there were a few in the crowd, for the most part the parents seemed as overwhelmed as I feel. One parent asked, "Will you really be able to handle a child as different as mine?" Another commented, "I've always known my son's either going to save the world or destroy it, and I need your help to guide him in the right direction."
While I don't believe that Brooklyn's going to destroy the world (although I'm sure she could if she put her mind to it), I do know that I need help. She's been struggling lately, and I'm completely worn out from constantly engaging in a battle of the wills. Like many GT children, Brooklyn feels this incredible need to make her voice heard--now if I could just help her understand the importance of listening as well. The ALP teachers have extensive training in how to work with gifted children--I wish I had the same training as a parent.
And so, now the dilemma. Do I keep Brooklyn at Dixie Sun or send her to Diamond Valley? I see advantages and disadvantages both ways. The biggest advantage of keeping Brooklyn at Dixie Sun, of course, is the bilingual environment. If she's made this much progress in three years, imagine where she could be with three more. She loves learning Spanish, and is concerned that she will lose it if she switches schools (a very valid concern.) As a Title 1 school, Dixie Sun has some extra resources not found at Diamond Valley, such as their own music teacher and violin in the fourth and fifth grades. I also really like how Brooklyn and Talia ride the bus together and look out for one another at school. While our family could probably work out the scheduling if they are at different schools, it definitely complicates things. In general, I try to select options that simplify and keep us unified as a family unit. (Okay, okay, you can scoff now as you think about how my hubby works in NY while the rest of us live in Utah. Sometimes simple doesn't work out...)
At Diamond Valley, Brooklyn would likely be challenged academically by a more rigorous curriculum. (That said, a dual immersion program does add its own level of rigor.) Because Diamond Valley is not cramped for time in getting through the core curriculum in both languages, there is room for science, social studies, and extra units that are being glossed over or skipped completely at Dixie Sun. In truth, Dixie Sun is so focused on helping its many at-risk students "catch up" that very little attention is given to challenging its advanced students. On the other hand, Diamond Valley is a small school with small class sizes and experience with accelerated learning. As a wealthier school, it has technological resources that are not found at Dixie Sun, such as iPad minis and Nooks. (Not really my thing, but there you go.) And then, of course, there is the location. Even though a bus is available, I might drive Brooklyn to school anyway, just because the drive is so beautiful.
As far as disadvantages go, when visiting Diamond Valley, the school seemed...bland. A good school, the test scores at Diamond Valley were in the 90th percentile even before adding the ALP strand. I suspect that that its range of socio-economic diversity matches the range of its test scores. Walking through the halls of Dixie Sun, on the other hand, feels rich. Not a richness born of material wealth--far to the contrary. There's a richness in the languages seen and heard, the diversity of students (at least 60% hispanic), and the wide backgrounds that draw students and teachers to the school. Even though students wear uniforms (another plus in my view), the school just feels more, well, colorful. Dixie Sun certainly has its challenges--lots of them--but it's never boring.
I guess the question is, will Brooklyn be helped most by putting her in a classroom of similar kids where her teachers understand her special needs, or will she better gain the skills she needs for success in life in an environment that more closely models the "real world"? Where will she be happiest? Where will she learn the most? And what lessons will she be learning?
Any input or suggestions? We have to make a decision soon. Even after writing about the dilemma, I still feel lost--and grateful that we are choosing between two strong options.
Other thoughts: Any great suggestions for keeping Brooklyn motivated with Spanish should we we switch her to Diamond Valley? The best way would be to speak it consistently at home, but we haven't managed thus far. I do believe the definition of insanity is to keep doing what you've been doing with the expectation of different results.