Friday, January 27, 2012

No "work" today

That's right - no jacket or shoes for a January hike
So today was a catch-up day for me:

  • Sleep in to 7:30 - not really a task, but I can't remember the last time I did this
  • Catch up on some work tasks, telecommuting at home
  • Pay bills
  • Call b-d who's been sick lately and verify plans for the next time he'll work with msk
  • Call summer camp manager and see if it's a good fit for msk to spend his first time away from home and family
  • Call Autism Waiver service coordinator to touch base & talk about high school placement plans
  • 45min hike in the park for msk to blow off steam and me and my dog to burn calories (shoes were worn except for during tree climbing)
  • MVA for learner's permit test - first time since eldest did not want to learn to drive
  • Possible dinner out, if hubster's in the mood
  • Tickets to the BSO - taking advantage of older sibling babysitting

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Another checkmark

what's under that kilt?
So this weekend marked the final college tour for HSS. I know a better order would have been to do this before submitting all the applications, but Pittsburgh is the furthest location for HSS's school choices.

This was also the only visit that involved a significant amount of time away from parents and in the company of actual students. It certainly leads to a different perspective. "College students are crazy," was the opinion after spending a night as a "bagger" with them (the event was a "Sleeping Bag Weekend"). Nothing new there if I can remember back 30 years or so.

With this weekend every school has a first hand image in HSS's mind and additionally, they all know that the application is pretty serious. I'm not sure it's universal, but more than a few of the schools have mentioned that a visit and an interview help tip the balance in your favor when they're comparing applications. I guess that makes sense, but I didn't visit any of the schools I applied to. Times change.

So now we wait for the big :-) or not so big :-( envelopes to finish coming in. Sigh.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Who should choose?

This post follows and depends on Thursday's post, so you should probably read it first. I came across an online article in Time about allowing parents to choose teachers for their kids. While I'm all for school choice, I've got to say that this sounds like a bad idea to me. I will admit to wishing my kids didn't have some of the teachers that they did, but was I supposed to research all of their teachers ahead of time? In reality, I think class schedules are done days before the start of the school year, so there's no way that would work. Plus, isn't assigning teachers and making schedules a management task?

Let's look at it a different way - if I've chosen a school, doesn't that mean I've chosen the school's leadership? If a school is riddled with bad teachers, doesn't that say something about that leadership? If there are a few weak teachers, how will they improve without support and a chance to practice? My experience with first year teachers has been, so-so at best, but if no parent chose to let their kid attend a first year teacher's class... It seems like a disaster to me. If you're in a total disaster of a school, cherry-picking the few remaining great teachers in that school is not going to work for long. If you can figure out who those great teachers are, don't you think all the other parents can? And then what - a race to register first and get those teachers?

Beyond the incendiary headline, I guess what Mr. Rotherham is really advocating is for parents to be the squeaky wheel that demands a specific teacher and complains and whines enough to get their way. Obviously, this only works if a very small minority takes his advice. The rest are just bad parents in his book, I guess. My choice is pick a school with excellent leadership and let them do their job. I will support a school that I think needs my support, with energy spent on improving it, rather than whining to benefit of my kid and the detriment of everyone else's. If that makes me bad, so be it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The principal should be your pal."

Yesterday, to my mind, was a starting point in figuring out msk's next school. We had a meeting with a professional who's helping us. In the midst of trying to plan for msk's educational future, I said how happy we were with the principal at his current school. I went on to say how crucial that's turned out to be in schools where msk has done well. She vigorously agreed and we moved on. It made me think about doing a post on the concept.

Having an excellent principal makes so much difference on the day to day educational experiences msk has, and to the contrary in schools that he's had problems... but let's keep on the positive side. A great principal energizes and motivates teachers. You can feel it every time you talk to them - how lucky they feel to be at this specific school. With a miserable principal, teachers can still be excellent and motivated towards their students, but they continually fight (either openly or more often covertly) to do what they know they need to do to have an excellent classroom experience for their students. And not every teacher is that excellent. For them, the quality of the principal makes all the difference. A poor principal has them focusing on the wrong things - things that have no positive impact on students. I've seen incredible cruelty and disinterest by teachers when they spend all their time and energy trying to figure out how to make points with a despotic principal. And you shouldn't undervalue the general school atmosphere - joy leads to learning, while misery leads to yelling, in my experience.

Joy just flows flow in some classrooms
I have no idea how you could objectively rate principals any more than how you could objectively rate teachers. I do know that it will be one of the big things we will be looking at as we try to find msk's next school.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Plant cell

So, although we made the cookie last week, msk's cell project wasn't due until this week. Guess I need to do a better job reading assignments, but typically these things seem to come in at the last minute. We did the decorating tonight.


Cell Wall (protects the cell) – Dark green cookie on edge
Cell Membrane (regulates what enters and leaves the cell) – Green frosting
Cytoplasm (fluid inside cell) – Light green cookie 
Endoplasmic Reticulum (Network of passageways) – Gummy worms
Nucleus (Cell control center) – Red gel frosting
Nucleolus (center of nucleus) – Red and green cookie
Mitochondria (produces cell’s energy) – Pink twizzlers
Chloroplasts (captures energy from sun for food) – Green twizzlers
Golgi Bodies & Vesicles (Receives & sends materials) – Orange twizzlers & skittles
Ribosomes (produces proteins) – Rainbow sprinkles
Vacuole (stores food, water and other materials) – White frosting patch

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weighing options
Now that I've filled in the financial aid applications, I'm back to worrying about financing college. It seems to be an equation with way too many variables and decisions:
  • How should I balance debt for the student vs. debt for the parents?
  • Should I take all the loans they offer or refinance the house?
  • Or maybe cash out a pre-tax retirement account?
  • Should I hold back spending so I can have the same money available when child #2 enters college 2 year from now?
  • Should I keep all my finances so that I can set up some sort of trust for msk?
  • Will msk ever need his college savings, and if not, can I roll them into some sort of support trust?
  • Should I reach out to relatives who have the resources (and no kids) to help out?
  • What are these financial aid packages going to look like?
  • Is a more expensive college a better investment if it has more support and a co-op program, or is University of Maryland too good a deal (since it's 100% paid for with the pre-paid college saving account we've been paying in for 13 years) to walk away from?
Not much sense worrying at this point. Come March/April, once all the responses and packages are in hand, it'll be time to worry.

Sunday, January 15, 2012



One great thing about having a blog is that I can respond to a comment train here. That means I don't have to bite my tongue, but I don't have to worry about feeding the trolls.

If you want to see the comment that ticked me off feel free to go here. It was the snarky response to my rather straight forward comment that ticked me off.

I think it's fine that people feel that since it's "public" education they have a right to chime in, even if you have no first hand information. I'd go as far as guessing you've got no second hand information and haven't even read anything significant on City Schools - sorry, North Baltimore Patch ain't significant in terms of school reporting. Go ahead and express your idea of what's wrong with City Schools, even if you have no clue. My issue is you slamming me for expressing an actual first hand opinion. The proper response would be gratitude for sharing my experience rather than a snarky put down about my parenting decisions. I am getting close to being done with this school system and I have many, many issues with its weaknesses. Even so, I am sick to death of the clueless masses writing off City Schools based on some sort of racist/classist gut feeling.

* - ventage, what's produced when you vent

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Some explanations

Image borrowed from

Yesterday's post was a little terse, probably to do with it being a long day and me posting after midnight, so here are some details for anyone who's interested.

FAFSA? - that's the "Free Application for Federal Student Aid". Every college that you're going to ask for financial aid (and is there anyone who is so rich that they aren't going to at least ask?) is going to want you to fill this out. You fill in information about your family situation, college plans and any savings you have. Then copy some data from your Federal tax forms (1040 and W2). By some magical formula they tell you how much you can afford to spend to send your kid to school. It seemed like a crazy number to me, but I suppose there are loans as well as how much you can spare from your budget. It'll be interesting to see how this number translates to financial aid packets, but we've got some months to wait there.

CSS? - "College Scholarship Service". This is a longer and more complicated form than the FAFSA, but I think it serves a similar purpose. This application is administered by College Board, the same people who administer the SAT and AP tests. It also costs $9 to fill out and $16 per college that you send it to, while the FAFSA is free. For HSS, every school that she's applying to except the two University of Maryland system schools and Drexel required this form. There was a fair amount of detailed information that they're looking for about other kids in the family and other expenses, as well as investments and savings. I guess it should provide a better understanding of our full economic situation. On the other hand, it didn't spit out a single "you can afford this per year" number like the FAFSA did, so I really don't know if we fared better or worse.

The additional data that some school require is mainly copies of 1040s and W2s, either through some sort of  secure document handling service that College Board provides (IDOC) or directly to the college. One college (Bucknell) seems to have their own application for financial aid as well as needing the FAFSA and the CSS. Honestly, I don't know how much more information I can provide, but since I'm the one asking for money, I guess they can ask whatever they want.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Another "off" Friday

TurboTax Deluxe
Today I did my taxes, pretty much three times over. I filled out my taxes with Turbo Tax. Then I filled out and submitted our FAFSA form to all eight schools HSS is applying to. Then I filled out and submitted the CSS form to the five schools that needed that. I am not all that thrilled by bookkeeping, so this was a pretty intense amount of filling in, figuring out and double checking for me. But at least it's done.

Except for the four schools who still want more from me for financial information.

Yay me...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Model making

A giant green tinted sugar cookie plant cell with some sort of disk shaped organelle
So, a long time ago, I was a new working mother with a toddler, and we were all about the artsy-crafty stuff. We made play dough and finger painted and did all sorts of projects. It continued as kid #2 grew to toddlerhood. I really enjoyed making stuff with them, getting a chance to paint and model again.

When msk hit preschool it was clear that things were different for him. Our preschool did lots of arts and craft activities, and they were oh-so-tough for msk. Sitting, following directions, answering questions - these were beyond him and frustrating as well. I tried a little at home thinking he'd join in with his sisters and have a blast. He didn't engage and wandered off, and I got bummed. Structured projects at home with msk were dropped.

This week msk has his first hands-on homework project for school - build an edible model of a cell. I decided to simplify versus the other two times we've done this project (a cookie this time instead of a cut-away 3D cake) and spread it across several nights to minimize frustration. Night one was making the dough - worst case, I was fine with doing most of it myself since it really doesn't relate to knowing the parts of cells and what they look like.

It turns out that msk as a 13 year old is willing to do projects and follow instructions - at least if it has to do with homework. The beaters were kind of loud and he talked nervously about not touching the blades, but he did it. Measuring, mixing and rolling - he stayed involved through to baking. I know that if it had been cooking for home he wouldn't have done it, but the magic of homework for an OCD kid meant he could, and even was kind of into it. What a shock and what a joy.

Change comes, like a lot of things, when you stop looking for it.