Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Math Doesn't Like Me"

Our youngest daughter has always been the easy-going one. She is quick to smile, even faster to hug, and meets "best friends" every day.

With a late July birthday, we considered waiting until she was age 6 to begin school. But she was 90th percentile in height and weight and scored so high on her pre-K screening that her tester asked us, "Is she bored in pre-school?"

Yet now, after completing 2nd grade and beginning 3rd, she is falling behind in math. And her lack of maturity in dealing with school work is making the matter difficult.

We noticed at the end of 2nd grade that math was getting harder for her. Homework assignments that should have only taken 10 minutes would drag into 30 minutes, then 40 minutes. There was much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes. Many times we sent the homework back to school with her half finished, with a request for the teacher to walk through it with her, because she clearly didn't want to work with her parents on it. It was emotionally exhausting when she brought home homework.

We decided that a little extra tutoring over the summer would help, and her 2nd grade teacher agreed. So she tutored for an hour a week with her teacher and did homework a couple of times a week to make sure she didn't have a "summer slide" in her math skills. By the end of the summer her 2nd grade teacher pronounced her ready for 3rd grade math.

But she wasn't.

In an assessment test this fall she got 1 out of 10 answers right. A week later, only 3 out of 30. Concepts that had been taught one-on-one over the summer had apparently been completely forgotten, like they were a foreign language.

We took her to Mathnasium, a learning center that specializes in math. In the initial assessment test they gave her she got a 60% on 1st grade math. We decided to have her tutor at Mathnasium twice a week.

We talked to the social worker at her school, her 2nd grade and 3rd grade teacher, and eventually called a meeting with both the teachers, the social worker and the principal.

Our concern: How is it that Marissa is so far behind in math and yet was given a "meets grade expectations" at the end of 2nd grade? But more importantly, how do we help her to catch up, so she doesn't struggle with math her entire school career?

While we love her 2nd grade teacher and so far are finding her 3rd grade teacher to be a very reasonable and caring person, the school's response was nothing less than frustrating.

Marissa is already in the most basic math group. When they have their math lesson she goes to another teacher's classroom to learn, and she seems to be getting those concepts well.

They have no math specialist at the school.

They have no additional tutoring available.

She's not so far behind that she qualifies for special education.

Basically, there's nothing more they can do.

The school has been trying to pull together something called Alternative Learning Center or ALC, which is additional tutoring for kids who qualify that would take place right after school. Marissa would qualify for this program, but they are asking teachers to volunteer their time to make this happen, and so far only one teacher in the school has volunteered for the program.

My initial thought: Why of COURSE you only have one teacher willing to volunteer! You are asking paid professionals to do FOR FREE something that they do all day long, when they already are being asked to do so much more every single day! That's time that the teachers end up having to use for record keeping, grading, organizing, and doing the job they are paid for. I wouldn't volunteer for that either.

Eventually we received an e-communication from the school that the ALC program has been canceled due to a lack of volunteers. Shocking.

But they encouraged us to keep spending our own money on the private tutoring she's receiving, they think that's great.

They reassured us that some times some kids just don't "get" math, it's okay. Yet her test scores indicate that once upon a time, she DID "get" math. She scored higher on her tests at the beginning of 2nd grade than she did at the beginning of 3rd.

Again, we love her teachers, they are doing everything they can. But the lack of resources at our Minneapolis Public School for Marissa is incredibly frustrating and problematic.

Yes, we are VERY fortunate that our family has the resources to pay for private tutoring for her. We don't have to worry about where we'll stay from one night to the next, or where our next meal will come from, unlike some families in the Minneapolis Public School system. I cannot imagine being a family who faces those challenges and having these discussions with the school on educating our children. No wonder the education gap in Minneapolis is widening. Resources to help children who just don't learn like the majority, or who need just a little extra help, should be available to all families who need it, regardless or whether you can or can't pay for it.

As for our sweet girl, we're going to assess how she's doing at the end of the first semester and possibly ask for a change in teacher. She doesn't seem comfortable having a male teacher and won't ask him questions, something she's never had issues with in prior years. I think she used to bother her 1st grade teacher ad nauseum with questions. Her current teacher noticed that Marissa won't ask him questions and said he  wouldn't take it personally if we asked for a change. We will continue Mathnasium, and will keep encouraging her and giving her positive feedback for the "wins" she's getting in school in reading, writing and other work.

And as much as we hate to do it, we're going to keep our school options open. I am a big believer in public schools, but if we cannot get the resources needed to educate our daughter, we have no choice but to seek them elsewhere. There is nothing more important that we can do for her.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's Hard to be a Vegetarian When You Don't Eat Vegetables

I like to say that my kids eat a balanced diet...between the two of them. One eats all the fruits and vegetables, the other eats all the meat and starch. So when our meat and potatoes girl announced in July that she wanted to be a vegetarian, we were a little skeptical, but supportive.

Her reason was sound -- she didn't like the idea of animals losing their lives so she could eat. There are so many vegetarian options nowadays, we decided to support her 100% in her effort to be animal-free in her eating.

Only problem was, she didn't really change her diet, except for not eating meat.

We bought "chicken" patties made of vegetable product. We tried tofu. Tempeh. "Beyond Meat" brand chicken products (which I highly recommend, by the way). All of which Wayne and I embraced and ate. Our youngest kept to her same diet of vegetables, fruit and the occasional meat, pasta or rice.

And the vegetarian?

Well, she would say it was good, but at the end of each meal the items left on her plate were the proteins and vegetabled-based products that we had bought and prepared specifically for her chosen diet. This left her with a meal of starches only, because, of course, any vegetables we prepared weren't eaten, just as they weren't eaten before this diet change.

She was excited to prepare quinoa, but wouldn't eat it. She picked the black beans out of vegetarian enchiladas and only ate the rice and tortilla. She never liked peanut butter before and never developed a taste for it for her school lunches. She couldn't wait for the vegetable medley from fresh-from-the-farmer's-market vegetables, but come meal time, wouldn't touch them.

And Lindsey began to feel the way anyone would when they only ever ate white starches. Lethargic. Low on energy. Bloated. Irregular. And constant, constant stomach aches.

Finally, one night Wayne had a conversation with her about her diet, and it started like this, "Your mom and I have been talking, and we're concerned about your nutrition and health." This after a Saturday of energy ups and down, mostly downs, and stomach aches throughout the day.

Because it's hard to be a vegetarian when you won't eat vegetables and you won't get protein from other sources.

So she agreed to mix meat back into her meals, but not a lot of meat. We celebrated the following morning by taking the family out to breakfast at Perkins. Lindsey ordered scrambled eggs with toast and a sausage patty on the side, most of which she ate. And she had good energy that day and no stomach aches.

Since then she's been mixing up her diet more, usually with  meat as a side dish and not the main dish, which, honestly, is how Americans should be eating our meat anyways. She has taken to eating turkey and ham sandwiches, and on a recent trip to Tracy insisted on packing her own lunch of a ham sandwich with carrots and sliced apples on the side, so she could eat healthy on the road.

She is still getting an occasional stomach ache, but they aren't as frequent, and her energy is more even.

In the meantime, we've got a freezer full of vegetarian options that I'm sure we'll be mixing in here and there. I'm really, really glad this experiment is over.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Girls on the Run 5k Winner!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my post earlier to enter the drawing for the Girls on the Run 5k bib. I loved reading everyone's comments about fitness and the value of this program. And it was great to feel the support of the community via social media from more than just the contest entrants. I was amazed by the depth of women's feelings about the messaging of Girls on the Run, with many lamenting that it wasn't around 30 or more years ago. The years of therapy we could have saved ourselves!

And with no further ado, here is the winner of the bib!

Congratulations Greta, I will be in touch with you to get the bib to you. I look forward to seeing you on race day at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis on November 16th!