Catholic School...I Survived!

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Today is the 33rd annual Kickoff Parade at Lincoln Elementary.  Each year the school chooses a theme.  Usually something simple–something used as a tool to guide the course of the school year.  A postcard comes home in early August tipping us off as to what outfit we should put together for the parade.

Kids spend the first few days of school designing banners they’ll carry.  Each classroom’s creative poster contains kids’ design of the theme and how they’ll carry out its message in their room for the school year.  In third grade the theme was “Hats off to a Great Year”–the entire year was dedicated to a Rodeo theme.

A good deed got your name on the class cowboy hat hanging in the library (a hat with every child’s name earned that class an ice cream treat); bad behavior would get a kid a trip to the Sheriff’s office with a call home requesting bail.  

Fourth Grade brought the “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle: Lincoln goes Green” theme.  Teachers had matching shirts proclaiming the year’s theme; kids wore every shade of the color imaginable for the big walk around the school with parade banners made out of recyclable materials.

This year’s theme is Team Lincoln.  Kids were asked to wear something sports themed today.  Teachers greeted arriving cars clad in their Team Lincoln football jerseys complete with the number 76–the year this wonderful building was dedicated.  A van advertising Staley the Chicago Bear’s Mascot was parked in the first parking spot.  Staley would make a special appearance at the pep rally scheduled before the parade and of course would lead the children in his position as Grand Marshall.

I am constantly amazed at the dedication and delight evident in every staff member at Lincoln Elementary.  This is a welcome change from the school where Quincy spent his early years.  Today Quincy is a well-adjusted kid; his mother just happy she survived.

 This is our fourth year attending the neighborhood public school–our third at Lincoln.  His second grade year was spent at Tumbleweed Elementary.  That school housed K-2.  We came to the district after “exiting” our parish school, What Would Jesus Do Catholic Elementary Day School.   I like to keep things simple–so I’ll call it WWJD…oh, if only I liked to keep things complicated and wasn’t worried about my spot in line for heaven, you’d know how I really feel about the place.

The school was recently awarded the country’s highest honor for academics (I still scratch my head about that award and included a p.s. in my congratulatory note to Arnie Duncan following his promotion–“Arnie–WWJD recent award seriously needs a recount”–in the meantime I stuff parish suggestion box with a postcard after each mass asking for school to consider changing mission statement to read: “At WWJD it’s not what you know–it’s who you know; and a big bank account can only help matters”…or at the very least they might consider, “WWJD where we throw in the mystery at no extra cost”.)

Quincy attended WWJD for preschool, kindergarten, and first grade.  My older boy attended Sandlot Preschool, a local private preschool in town, prior to his enrollment at WWJD in Kindergarten.  I am convinced this is where Quincy’s schooling began to go south.  I should have enrolled him in the Senior Preschool at the Sandlot like I did with the older boy, but instead I chose convenience and dropped him off with his big brother at WWJD.
Unlucky for Quincy, 2003/2004 was in the inaugural preschool year at WWJD.  You might think Quincy’s mother would have learned her lesson after signing up Quincy’s brother in the 2000/2001 inaugural Kindergarten Class at WWJD, but she’s never been a quick learner.   Note to other mothers–never enroll your kid in anything that is touted as “inaugural”–let all the kinks get ironed out before signing on the dotted line.

His teacher, Mrs. Plain Jane, was not all that typical as far as preschool teachers go–oh, sure, she was an organized germ-a-phoebe with high energy, but-for lack of a better word-I can only describe her as very blah.  I know many a teacher and know they throw quite a bit of their own money toward classroom decorations and the extras to make the place look inviting

I can honestly say that not one cent came from Jane’s pockets to add warmth to the interior of this particular preschool classroom.  Thankfully, for the students in 1A, Mrs. Mc Irish was assigned as their very loving Pre-K aide her smile added the warmth the room so desperately needed.

Seems whoever was in charge of the WWJD school budget forgot to add the preschool class to the spreadsheet. The smell of glue, finger paint, construction paper and any type of creative ideas one might imagine in a preschool was completely missing in the basement of this school

In its place was the strong smell of Xerox copies, Lysol, and bleach…and this was only thanks to the preschool parents who paid attention and brought every item required on the preschool supply list.  When we received the PreK supply list that summer, I thought it might have been switched with the Janitor’s inventory list. 
Items included case of toilet paper, industrial sized pack of paper towels, gallon of Lysol, bottle of bleach, spray bottle, economy pack of baby wipes and a ream of paper (one for each quarter)–I was looking forward to the list that asks for a gallon of paint and glue and assorted odd crafty items I might have lying around the house.

Forty students were in the inaugural class–I could only imagine the PreK students were going to scrub the stairs to heaven with the forty gallons of Lysol and bleach.  Once Xeroxed papers came home in place of any type of “pre-k creativity” I understood what the ream of paper was for.

I made the mistake of requesting Mrs. Plain Jane foster Quincy’s love of reading at Meet Your Teacher/Supply Drop off Day.  Quincy’s first words were pages from the Dr. Seuss’ “Are You My Mother?” book verbatim.

The boy had been reading words since he was 18 months old; entire books fluently since he was two.  I couldn’t really explain it but the boy’s pediatrician was impressed and strongly suggested I suggest Quincy’s teachers challenge him or they’d be in for trouble they hadn’t counted on.  I explained this to Plain Jane along with a cute story that Quincy often had temper tantrums at the cash register of White Hen if I bought the Sun-Times in lieu of the Tribune.  He disliked the tabloid style paper, he preferred his newspaper contain separate sections.

Suggestion of his ability to read was met with an understandable eye roll and promise of “looking into it”.  When his aide, Mrs. McIrish, made a point later that fall to let me know that Quincy not only named the colors on his Thanksgiving turkey, he read their names off the letters printed on his crayons as well.  Then she let me know that while most preschoolers showed promise of reading readiness, she felt Quincy might have already mastered it, I knew Plain Jane must not have looked too far.

So, after Christmas break, when it was Quincy’s turn to bring a “guest reader of the week” to class, I wrote Quincy Questions’ name down on the blank line as the guest reader and sent his most wordy book along for him to read to his class.  Quincy’s classmates were impressed, their parents quite jealous, and while the “organized germ-a-phobe with high energy” was not amused, Mrs. McIrish’s eyes were smiling.  And if you’re wondering how Quincy’s mom felt, it can be described in one word: SATISFIED!!
Quincy’s Kindergarten experience was a little better than preschool.  His teacher was named one of “Jesus’ Rising Stars” the year before.  She had a plaque hanging above her desk, the memories of a bad luncheon downtown and a day off school to prove it.

Mrs. Dimples didn’t need a plaque–her smiling face, creative lessons, and sheer love for the children in her charge were all the proof an incoming parent needed to see that their kid’s teacher was a gem.  To this day, I wish Mrs. Dimples and her rising star would pack up and head to the public school system.  She’d be rewarded with a higher salary and surround herself with other dedicated, much happier teachers at the same time…not to mention access to decent curriculum.

Quincy mastered the Kindergarten class work, but often complained he was bored.  His handwriting resembled hieroglyphics from a prehistoric cave.  Mrs. Dimples assured me he’d grow out of it…after all he was a boy.

My fluent reader was taught to “read” all over again in Kindergarten.  “Lucky” for us he was attending Catholic school where all children learned the exact same way, even if they already knew the material or in many cases, struggled with it.  They were all God’s children and would learn at the same pace.

It seems all of the kids needed to read the series similar to the ones we did as kids: except Dick was no longer Dick–he was now Dan–See Dan Run.  Quincy hated it and soon became a “stomach-ache” expert.  He missed more days than he attended.
  It was our hope that the challenges of a full day of first grade might be just the thing Quincy needed.  I’m not sure how Quincy will remember the 2005-2006 school year, but there is no mistake on how I will:  the absolute worst year of my entire life.

First grade should bring happy thoughts and delightful memories; for me it brought chest pains and migraines.  Quincy was assigned to Room 4A in the first grade wing.  Mrs. Leftwinger was the lady in charge.  She reminded me of Shirley MacLaine.

Not the pretty Oscar winning Shirley from Terms of Endearment, but the nasty Shirley from Steel Magnolias…remember the spiky, butchy looking Shirley after her many personalities began arguing amongst themselves?  Yep, that’s the Shirley I’m talking about.

My older son had a different teacher in First Grade, and not surprisingly, she didn’t last long at WWJD and was not an option when Quincy arrived on the scene.  Miss I, (short for I-am-so-on-to-greener-pastures) had since sold out for the promise of a well-paying job in a very well-to-do public school district.  Too bad for Quincy, he’d have to settle for the 35+ year experience Mrs. Leftwinger brought to the table.

Good thing she brought the experience, because that’s about all she had to offer along with her 35 year old lesson plans.  She wasn’t hard to spot on the first day that fall.   Mrs. Leftwinger rocked a “Lucille Ball colored” red spiky hairdo, was wearing her famous “I’d Rather be at the Pound” sweatshirt, her elastic wasted blue jeans,  and SNOWMAN socks on her feet inside the famous duck shoes.  Around her neck glistened her whistle.  Seriously, what first grade teacher didn’t have a whistle?

The first day would be spent teaching the children their individual whistle call…ala Sound of Music.  In case you’re wondering what $3875 a year in tuition will buy you, look no further than the line leader of 4A…and we got all that and her miserable attitude thrown in as an extra bonus.

My first clue that this gal was not looking out for Quincy’s best interests occurred at the first parent/teacher conference.  I usually don’t bring the kids to parent/teacher/student night because quite frankly we only get ten minutes and I’ll be damned if the teacher is going to be spend that time talking to the kid. 
Seriously, the teacher can talk to the boy any day of the week.  I only get to formally meet the teacher for ten minutes once a year.  You’d better bet I’m taking full advantage.  Quincy insisted on attending–“Mrs. Leftwinger said we have to”.  Quincy was not looking forward to the consequence if he didn’t attend.  I brought the boy and a chapter book to WWJD Parent/Teacher/Student night.  He waited patiently and read his book while I met with the older boy’s teacher.  Then we headed down to Shirley’s room.

We sat down and she spent the first eight minutes talking to Quincy about how terrible his handwriting was and if it didn’t improve there would be consequences.   “How will I know if you know what you know if I can’t read it?” she asked.  She spent the next minute asking Quincy about the book he held in his hands–“Can you actually read the words or are you just like looking at the pictures?”  I spent the next fifteen ripping her apart.

By the time I finished her next two appointments had wandered off and she was exhausted.  I’m not sure she ever had a parent call her on the carpet for her absolute ignorance, but I was pissed.  I let her know that my next stop was going to be in the main office, and then at the dean of private schools.  I was curious about a teacher with 35+ years of experience not knowing there was at least one kid in her class that did not require reading instruction.

Furthermore, I was wondering what she was going to do to challenge my child while the other 32 kids mastered her 35-year-old-sight-word-list.  Her blank stare told me the answer–absolutely nothing.

Long story short, the next three months were miserable.  Quincy’s stomach ache returned, when he did go to school the boy usually brought home a cryptic note from Mrs. Leftwinger telling me that Quincy wasn’t behaving/listening/following direction.  Or he brought a stack of lined paper home to write I WILL PRINT NEATER/I WILL BE A BETTER FRIEND/I WON’T ASK SO MANY QUESTIONS….one hundred times each.

One day he came home with a picture he drew of “what Jesus would do”.  I guess Quincy threw a fit when Mrs. Leftwinger threw his packet of lines in the garbage, called it junk and told him to write them all over again so she could read them.
This continued through the remainder of the spring.  After the eighth cryptic note and tenth picture of what Jesus would do (not suitable for framing) came home, I made an appointment with Principal Mary Bright Sunshine.

Seems Quincy served a lunch detention from Vice Principal, Charlotte N. Reilly (she’d sent a note requesting my pasta salad recipe–Quincy had shared a bite with her), and I wanted to know what we could do to ensure second grade was going to be a little less aggravating.

I wasn’t as concerned about the faculty as I was about myself.  I seriously was not going to survive another year like the one I just had experienced.   In all honesty, Quincy was a pain-in-the-ass on a good day, I’ll admit, but this woman was making a bad situation a hundred times worse.

I felt it my fault for the tongue lashing I had given her last November.  We had already grounded Quincy from video games, he was not allowed any extra fun outside after school, and most recently we had called his baseball coach to tell him he could no longer participate

We met with Principal Sunshine and got absolutely no where.  Mrs. Sunshine tried her best to make good of a completely bad situation.  Mrs. Leftwinger let Mrs. Sunshine know that Quincy asked too many questions, seemed he always was in her face asking about things.  She had other children in the class besides Quincy…didn’t I realize that.

And then we found out that Quincy often spent 20 minutes at a time hanging out in the bathroom after Leftwinger surrendered the boy’s bathroom pass to him.  How often did this happen?  About four to five times a day.  Even Mrs. Sunshine shifted in her seat after hearing that tidbit.

I let Mrs. Leftwinger know exactly what I thought of her and based on the hives that appeared following her ferocious scratching fit, I’d guessed I had hit a nerve or two.  We got up and left an hour into the meeting realizing we were on a train to nowhere.  The next day, I set up an appointment with the Superintendent at the public school district in our town.  We signed necessary paper work to have Quincy tested and transferred.

I was a bit uneasy about my decision until Quincy’s final report card arrived.  For three quarters he was a straight A student.  His quarterly report also contained praise and complimentary remarks from his teacher.  Not surprisingly, Mrs. Leftwinger gave Quincy and me the send off that only she could.  The fourth quarter grades and remarks were a direct payback for the delightful meeting we had sat through a week earlier.  Definitely What Jesus Would Do…

Following his transfer and testing we found that Quincy’s reading level was off the charts and his math scores were not far behind.  The following spring, Tumbleweed retested and found Quincy had improved.  With just seven months of meaningful instruction, his scores jumped twenty three points–average in the district for a kid this age is nine.

Over the years Quincy has leveled out.  He remains a questioner and is still a pain-in-the-ass.  But we love him and he loves his school.  Not surprisingly, we have never received a call from the public school principal regarding behavior, we are no longer on vice-principal’s speed dial for recipes following lunch detentions, and Quincy doesn’t have many of the health problems he seemed to have while attending WWJD. 

I don’t think Quincy would be the confident kid he is today had we not experienced Mrs. Leftwinger in first grade.  For that reason alone, I’m thankful for the experience.  As far as Mrs. Leftwinger goes–I keep thinking the good thoughts for Karma biting her like a pit bull in her rear end…she deserves it.  The parade is almost ready for kick-off; meanwhile the circus across town at WWJD rings its bell and raises its freak flag for a new school year.  God Bless Us Everyone!!



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