The Working Mom by Kay Luna

What every parent needs to know

Monday, May 21st, 2012 3:58 pm

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I just got back from the Education Writers Association national conference in Philadelphia.

And if I could share  just one thing I learned during that trip, I know exactly what I’d tell you, because it’s something any parent can use to gauge the quality of a child’s school.

Kelly Hunter of the Children’s Literacy Initiative said parents need to start asking their children’s teachers and school administrators these crucial questions:

1) How do you know where my child is academically? She said this shows how much the school differentiates instruction from one student to another, and how the teacher keeps track of your child’s current academic level at any given time.

2) How do you know when my child is advancing academically? When your child is ready to move ahead, or struggling in an area, does the teacher know about it and take action?

3) How does my child work independently? What tools are in place in the classroom to foster that? A trait of a good school is an environment that allows students to apply lessons they learn in the classroom on their own. When kids learn independent, critical thinking skills, that can benefit their personal and professional lives forever, she said.

4) What professional development do teachers get in your school? What kind of teacher collaboration and mentoring happens? When teachers are learning best practices in the classroom, and working together on goals for their students, they feel energized and passionate and excited about teaching — and that’s exactly the environment you want your child in every day at school, she said.

Hunter’s tips couldn’t have come at a better time for my family. Miss Babycakes will start kindergarten in the fall, and we want to make sure her school is the best fit for her.

For many parents, that’s tough to figure out. That’s true for me, too, even though I feel like I’ve got a leg up on some parents because of my job as a reporter covering schools for the newspaper. Visiting classrooms all over the Quad-Cities and learning about national issues and trends in education, I’m aware of some of the indicators to check and red flags to watch for in schools.

In fact, I joked with some other education reporters at the conference last week that this job has made me go overboard in analyzing schools for Babycakes. OVERBOARD, I say. I have lists. Many folders and lists …

But I feel more empowered after talking to Hunter, and witnessing with my own two eyes what her organization, CLI, is doing to propel reading and writing skills among kindergarten through third-grade children at inner-city Powel Elementary School in Philadelphia. Incredible stuff.

Research shows that when young kids get really good at reading comprehension and writing, the rest of their work in all other subjects gets better, too. So, when I heard these tiny little people — many from low-income families – reading big words ahead of their grade level, like “wondrous” and “devise” and “strategy,” I got really excited.

Hunter explained that her organization sends mentors into schools like Powel to help teachers learn how to teach these skills, and they emphasize the importance of stretching kids onto the next level like rubber bands (without pushing them so hard, they snap).

That’s what I want for Babycakes! I want to feel that kind of excitement in my daughter’s classroom in the fall. And I want her to know anything is possible for her, if she just pushes and stretches herself.

We have many excellent schools in our area. But we, as parents, need to gauge that for ourselves. And we should not settle. We cannot settle.

We can’t just blindly send our kids to school, trusting they are learning what they need to learn, without actively getting involved in the process. Our kids’ educations start with us.

So, guess what I’ll be doing this week? Asking Hunter’s suggested questions. I’ll let you know what I find out.

And speaking of education, I learned a few other things (much more light-hearted things, too, I might add) during my Philly trip:

* It’s awesome to run up the steps of the Philadelphia art museum and do the Rocky Balboa fist pump (pictured above with other reporter-friends from around the U.S., including our very own Des Moines bureau reporter Mike Wiser).

* Betsy Ross was called “Saucy Rossy” among the people of Philly during her time, because she married three times and bore seven children, according to our double-decker tour bus guide. Her house was so neat to see.

* The Liberty Bell is huge.

* The Philly Cheesesteak sandwich is … eh. I don’t know. It’s OK.

* I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE hanging out with all my reporter friends I’ve met through the Education Writers Association!!! I learn so much from them, and just truly enjoy their company.

That’s all for now. :)

How are you?

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