Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Not "Goodbye," but "See You Later"

We switched Aliza to a new school last week.

While it came out of the blue for her, Dubbadad and I had in fact been weighing options and fretting for a while.  

Although Alexander glided through the same school in a golden bubble of Dewey-inspired awesomeness, Aliza's journey has been...bumpier.  Class sizes have increased, and there are two more classes per grade since Ander was a third grader.  There are also many, many more boys than girls in all four classes.  But most challenging of all for inquisitive, sensitive, social Aliza is the open (literally wall-free) space which all four third grade classes share. 

As I wrote in the e-mail I sent to friends and faculty, We have been asking her to 'focus' and to 'tune out the noise' for three years.  But perhaps what we really have been doing is trying to make a (lovely, incredible) square peg fit into a (lovely, incredible) round hole for three years.

Hoping to avoid a drama vortex, we took a 'ripping the Band-Aid off' approach: we made the decision to move Aliza on a Sunday morning, told her the plan that afternoon, and started her at her new school Monday morning.

And she has been ay-may-zing.

While she admitted to having butterflies as I walked her around the campus on her first day, she said she was mostly excited about meeting new friends.  She was a bit more anxious by the time she lined up behind her new classmates:  as she walked away across the blacktop to her classroom, I could see that her arms were crossed tightly across her chest.

But two days later she got into the car saying, "Yesterday I thought I wanted to go back to my old school.  Now I don't."

The new school is housed in pristine 'portable' classrooms (with actual walls and doors) on the campus of an under-enrolled LAUSD grade school.  'Za spent kindergarten in a portable, so she finds the 'bungalow-style' classrooms cozy and familiar.  Also, the new school employs a very similar project-based curriculum -- but with homework, and a stronger math program.  The ratio of boys to girls is very balanced, there are only two third grade classes, only 22 children in a class, and every teacher has their own full-time aide.  

Aliza's favorite parts: desks with built-in cubbies, being allowed to have her backpack hanging from the back of her chair, and having a drinking fountain built into the classroom sink.  She says her teacher is a combination of me, and her beloved second grade teacher.

And of course it has helped ease the transition that one of her best friends had moved to another school district this year, and that another will be moving away in a few weeks.

But as I'm all about closure, I couldn't stand the fact that for Aliza's old schoolmates, she was there on a Friday, and then gone on Monday.  

Thus I took full advantage of a 'minimum day' at her new school, and whisked her off to visit her old buddies during her old school's lunch and recess.

From the moment she walked out into the lunch area with a hot pink Visitor sticker on her chest and began slyly tapping friends on the shoulder, until the end-of-recess cowbell rang, she was surrounded by a veritable scrum of girls.  If they could have carried her on their shoulders they would have.  They jockeyed for left and right-hand positions, fighting to drape arms over her shoulders, hold her hands, fetch her project folder, find her sketchbook.  They moved indoors and out in an unwieldy, giggly swarm, clutching the phone/e-mail/contact cards I had made for Aliza to pass out (Miss. F has one stuck into her headband in the picture below).  

They showed her how the paper Aliza had been kept up on the wall amongst the other students' "so we will remember you." 

(drawn and written -- based on in-class interview -- by Aliza's friend Miss A.)

And then recess was over, and she hugged her favorite teachers and staffers, and we peeled the Visitor stickers off our shirts and climbed into the car.  

Every time I peeked at her in the rear view mirror she was smiling a post-Disneyland smile.  I asked her if she had enjoyed being a rock star, and she nodded and sparkled and said:

"Best.  Day.  Ever." 

1 comment:

  1. Aw, I'm glad that went well. It can be a tough transition but it sounds like you guys (and she) did a great job! It's so hard being a parent sometimes and having to make these big decisions for them about school and such. We've gone through that time and time again. (Complicated by the fact that both of our kiddos have special issues when it comes to school.)

    A classroom with no walls sounds like it would be my son's version of hell. (And my daughter would just wander off, lol.)

    I hope the transition continues to go smoothly!