It’s Elementary

This was the only year we’ll ever have two kids in elementary school at the same time and it’s been a good year for both kids.  June loved kindergarten from the beginning to the end.  She was serious about her work and she learned a lot, especially linguistically.  In August she didn’t know more than a few dozen words of Spanish and couldn’t read and now she speaks Spanish easily if not exactly grammatically, and she reads in English and Spanish. Noah’s teacher kept him engaged and busy, too, but the workload did not seem quite as overwhelming as it did when he entered the Highly Gifted Center in the fourth grade.  I’m sad for him to leave his school, which has been a perfect academic and social environment for him, but I’ve heard such wonderful things about the humanities magnet middle school he’ll attend next year that I can honestly say I’m excited for him to start sixth grade next year.

State Fair

In some ways it seems like the school year has been ending for weeks and weeks.  In late April the fifth grade had its annual State Fair event, which is the culmination of several months of research into states of each student’s choice.  Noah chose West Virginia and wrote an illustrated a booklet about the state and wrote and recorded a ten-minute audio tour of landmarks and tourist attractions.  He made a nearly life-size poster of a famous West Virginian (he chose Brad Paisley) and constructed a Monopoly board with all the properties being places in the state and the cards relating to West Virginia trivia. He and his partner from another class made a diorama of the Golden Delicious Apple Festival and painted t-shirts in WVU’s colors of gold and blue.

At the Fair, students displayed their work at tables in classrooms all over the school, grouped by geographic area. Noah and his partner served apples and cornbread (representative foods from the state) and ran games.  Noah supervised as visitors to the booth played a simplified version of the Monopoly game.  Sadly, Beth and I missed hearing the whole fifth grade sing “Fifty Nifty United States” and sampling a slice of the cake they made in the shape of the United States because we needed to go home and meet June’s bus.

Band Concert

Noah’s last band concert was about a month later.  I didn’t expect to be as moved by it as I was. In fact, early on I made a snarky comment to Beth about that being the most mournful version of “Ode to Joy” I’d ever heard and I was thinking somewhat cynically about how all the pieces got the same level of enthusiastic applause whether they were beautifully played or works-in-progress.  And then the nervous-looking fourth grade trombonist brought down the house with her solo and I was glad to be proven wrong.

Noah played the cymbals, triangle, snare drum and bass drum in different numbers and when the advanced band played “Rock Around the Clock” they sounded so good, so polished that I almost cried.  Noah wanted to go to the grocery store to get a cake to celebrate afterward and I agreed, despite the fact that it would keep him up past his bedtime, because you only have your last elementary school band concert once.

Philadelphia Trip

The last week of May, as a culmination of their American history unit, the fifth grade went to Philadelphia. They visited the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, The Betsy Ross House and Congress Hall before switching from history to science and visiting the Franklin Institute. I can’t tell you much more than that about it.  Noah did not provide a lot of detail, though I found out a lot about the rest stop dinner he ate.  He seemed quite pleased to be able to select and purchase his own meal—he got pasta, garlic knots, salad and Hi-C. He was put out they were not supposed to get dessert and even more put out that at least one of his classmates did anyway.

My stepfather was supposed to meet Noah’s class and help chaperone the trip but there was some mix-up in the meeting place and they never connected with each other.  Poor Jim even followed their itinerary for a couple hours trying to find them but he never did.

Poet’s Tea

On Thursday, Noah’s class held a “Poet’s Tea.”  Tea was served, along with cookies, fruit and other treats, but the big draw was the poetry. Each student recited a poem he or she had selected.  A few chose their own compositions.  Noah’s poem was Jack Prelutsky’s “THE DETESTED RADISHARK,” which comes from a book called Scranimals.  All the poems in it are about imaginary animal-vegetable hybrids. Noah has loved this book for years. The radishark is part radish, part shark. Rather than recite the poem, he sang it.  (He has a recording of the author singing the whole book, which is how he learned the tune.)  He sang without a copy of the text, which made me nervous because most kids had their poems in front of them, but he only stumbled for the lyrics once that I noticed (he says it was twice) and he really put his heart into it. Afterward I was swamped with parents telling me how marvelous he was, what a confident and animated performer.  I had to agree, demurely, of course.

After the individual performances came the group ones.  The class recited and acted out eight poems, sometime in unison and sometimes taking turns. They were dressed as honeybees and beetles for two of them; they acted out “Casey at the Bat” and its sequel poem “Casey’s Revenge” during which Casey hit a wiffle ball into the audience and one actor slew the Jabberwocky with an aluminum foil sword.  During “The Walrus and the Carpenter” Noah played one of the oysters that wouldn’t leave the ocean and after the others were eaten he held up a sign that said, “I told you so!” It was great fun.

On the playground afterwards parents exclaimed about how sad it was to leave this wonderful school, and we found out where each other’s children were going to middle school. Noah came over to show me how he and Richard had scooped out the middles of five double-stuff Oreos and inserted them in between two halves of one of the cookies to make an “Oreo times ten.” And then Noah ate it, because gifted or not, he’s still an eleven-year-old boy.

Kindergarten Class Party

Of course, June had end-of-school events as well but nothing quite so elaborate. Her class sang “Mi escuelita” and “De colores” at her school’s International Festival, which I missed because I couldn’t find out exactly when they were performing until it was too late.  Luckily, they sang “De colores” again at the class party, which was held on Friday.

First they introduced themselves individually and said what they liked best about school. “Me gusta dibujar” and “Me gusta leer” (“I like to draw” and “I like to read”) were popular answers.  A few children said they liked “mi maestra” (“my teacher”).  June said she liked “hacer mi trabajo” (“to do my work”). That is what she likes about school, I think, the sense that she’s doing work, something serious and purposeful.

After refreshments, they sang “De colores” and a song about the days of the week, and one that seemed to be about vowel sounds and “El barquito chiquitito” (a special favorite of mine—see “Y Aquel barquito navegó” 10/7/11, if you want to know why). They did a dance, too, that featured a lot of twirling.  It was all predictably cute.  Afterwards June said, “What a great celebration” in the tone she uses when she’s highly satisfied with something. When class let out, I let her stay on the playground to play with her friends, many of whom were wearing the paper crowns they’d made that day in art class.

Odds and Ends

In between all this, both kids’ schools had a field day. Noah’s school had a carnival and June’s would have but it was cancelled by thunderstorms.  Noah almost qualified for the fifth-grade spelling bee. Each class sent two contestants and he came in third in his homeroom competition. Noah had his last percussion lesson of the year and June had her last after-school science class.  And then, the year was over, all except the last little stub of a week, Monday and a half-day Tuesday.

Promotion

Fifth-grade promotion was Monday evening. The ceremony was held in the local high school auditorium.  I’ve never been to a fifth-grade promotion, as my last elementary school didn’t have one, or at least if it did, I don’t remember it. Nonetheless, it was like any other graduation you’ve attended.  There were speeches and awards and a long line of graduates crossing the stage.  People were asked to hold their applause until the end and didn’t.

There were some nice, original touches however.  One student from each of the six classes was chosen to read an essay about a memorable moment at school.  All the essays were good, but even if I hadn’t known which class was which, it would have been obvious which two students were representing the gifted classes.  Their essays—one about the last band concert and one about listening to Ms. W (Noah’s teacher) read a chapter or two of a novel aloud every school day—were skillfully written and full of rich, evocative detail.  The entire fifth grade sang a song called “Child of Tomorrow” and the teachers recited a poem called “Ode to Fifth-Graders.” It was very sweet.

The students all received their certificates and a red or white carnation.  They were dismissed before the parents and sent to wait for us in the lobby.  When we found Noah he told us he’d already lost his certificate before we’d even had a chance to see it. He looked around for it but couldn’t find it until we stopped to take his picture with Ms. W and she had it.  It was a bit worse for the wear, crumpled and torn on one side.  His carnation stem was broken, too.  But nevertheless he was a sixth-grader.  As his certificate says, he “merits promotion.”

Goodbye, School

The last day of school was a half-day.  It was a cool, rainy day and I was sorely tempted to spend my morning curled up in the sky chair on the porch reading Pym, which I got for my birthday last month and have just started. But I worked on a revision of a marketing piece about an arthritis supplement instead. June came home around 12:40 with a perfect report card.  She’s “proficient” in all seventy categories the teacher had to consider.  On her last report card back in January she’d had a handful of “in progress” marks, all for things relating to speaking up in class.  The last time I volunteered in her class, back in May, the teacher told me how June seemed to have gotten over her shyness and was participating much more than she did earlier in the year, so I wasn’t surprised to see improvement there. The teacher also noted June’s reading well above the kindergarten benchmark in Spanish and has been doing enrichment materials in math.

But advanced or no, June was in the mood for nostalgia today. When I gave her a choice of several television shows, she went for Sesame Street, which she has barely watched since she was in preschool. Nostalgia sounded good to me, too, so I watched with her instead of trying to squeeze in some more work.

Noah came home toward the end of the show, bearing the comments portion of his own report card. (Grades will come in the mail.)  Ms. W’s comments were detailed and affectionate, and she concluded, “Overall, Noah is an industrious, good-natured, insightful, quick-witted student and person.”

Noah stayed just long enough to change into his bathing suit and head to Sasha’s house for his annual end-of-school pool party.  (Sasha seems to have cold, rainy weather for his pool parties more often than not, but according to his mom, the guests did not seem to care.)

While Noah was at the party, June listened to a CD and wrote in her diary about the last day of school. Then we took a walk, and she rode her bike in the driveway and we played concentration and she had an early bath so we could go out for celebratory ice cream after dinner.

This was our bookends year, with one child embarking on the adventure of elementary school and the other on the verge of the even bigger adventures of middle school.  I’m proud as I could be of both of them.

I will give June the last word on the school year. Here’s her diary entry (read with her permission):

Tuesday:

Today was a big day it was the last day of school and it was a hafe day. First we read a book then we did some activis then we had lunch then we did some more activis then we went home. Good bye school.

  • The Other Sara

    When Sasha crossed the stage, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather, whose education ended at 11 – much too young. He worked hard all of his life. And despite having cancer for the last years, signed off of welfare every time he felt well enough to work (my grandmother kept his book). All of 4 of his children finished high school, and 3 of the 4 not only went to university, but earned MA degrees as well.

  • Whoa. It’s amazing how much we do in a short period of time!