Now that we have a full month of school under our belts, I'm ready to post a few pictures and thoughts. Things are going really well! Of course there are good things and not-so-good things about every school, but we are generally pleased with the schools and how the boys are settling in. They like their teachers, and I have confidence in all of their teachers. We have made some friends. They don't feel unprepared for the academic expectations here. Getting back to the school routine was exactly what all of us needed to finally get past the stress of the move.
The first day of school was the Tuesday after Labor Day. Both boys rode the bus to school. There are so many kids and parents at the bus stop every day! It's amazing how many families live in a single block here. We had gone to the back-to-school events the week before, so they at least had a general idea about where they would be going. The first few days were hard. I'm not going to sugar-coat that. But we all kept it together and figured it out.
Tommy had the steepest learning curve. He had to figure out how to get to seven different classes in a giant 1200 student middle school. Half of his classes are in brand new portable buildings they just added this summer. I was so proud of how he easily he figured it all out. Charlie had to face a completely new environment with all new people, and focus enough on what everyone does and tells him so he can do the same. I had the easiest job, because I could finally breathe and sit in silence and think by myself for a few hours every day while they were at school. I REALLY needed that. David just puttered along with work during the day and family in the evenings as usual. He's our solid, dependable, cool and calm rock.
Unfortunately, the boys both had to stay home sick one day during the first week of school. They encountered too many new germs, and I suspect there was an added layer of stress reaction at play as well. Poor boys. They didn't have too much trouble catching up.
They did both manage to miss the day that their schools passed out iPads to new students though. Charlie finally got his this past week, and Tommy still hasn't gotten his. It's really interesting that every student gets an iPad here for school work. I really like it. It feels like it levels the playing field for students. All students can do the math-fact practice apps or type up papers and projects without needing to rely on home computers.
Tommy's found his way back into his comfortable niches at his new middle school. He auditioned for the band director before the first day, and was placed in the band he wanted. He also auditioned and made it into the Jazz Band, which practices one day a week after school and goes to lots of competitions. He's hoping to make some band friends eventually, although they seem to be a very tight-knit group. He chose French as his second elective, and has been having fun with that. He also has PE, which is a full year class here.
For math, we chose to place him in Accelerated Algebra for high school credit after a lot of hand-wringing and worrying. We shouldn't have worried! Tommy told us he was ready. His Albuquerque math teacher told us he was ready. The Arlington school people kept saying he should re-do pre-algebra, because they didn't believe that NM schools could possibly prepare him well enough for East coast schools. (Yes, multiple people said this.) I had to get quite pushy to get him into this class, which of course made me doubt myself and worry. He's had NO problem at all, is finding it fun and easy, and still has 100% on everything after four weeks. I should always listen to Tommy when it comes to math. He also joined the MathCounts math team, which meets once a week after school. It's a very small team, so it will be interesting to see how they do things.
As for English, History and Science, they don't have separate gifted classes, so it has been an adjustment for him to not have that core group of peers in all his classes. They do "differentiation" in the regular classes, so hopefully he'll get some more challenging books to read and projects to do as the year progresses. The quality of the standard classes is quite high though, so I'm sure he's going to learn a lot. At this point, he's happy not to have very much homework and feels like everything is easy-peasy. That's probably good. I wouldn't want him to be too stressed.
Interestingly, they did American history from colonial times to the Civil War last year, and are continuing American history this year. Tommy's school did ancient/classical cultures and world history last year. I suspect he's going to miss a big chunk of American history because of the different curriculum paths. We might have to do some homeschooling in the summer so he doesn't end up going to high school with big gaps.
Tommy and I made friends with a mom and son who were sitting next to us at the middle school orientation thing before the first day of school. He and Tommy have a lot in common, and they are in a couple of classes together (including math!) so the two of them have become good friends and always eat lunch together. I've had lunch with her a couple of times, and it's nice to have someone with whom I can share all the "sure is different here" stories. They only live a couple of blocks away from us. I'm quite proud of myself and of Tommy too. We are pretty good at being friendly and making friends.
Charlie is also starting to settle into his new school. It think it's going to be a great environment for him. It took him longer to warm up to the people, but he's getting there. He's much happier now than he was the first week. By the third week, he was getting more and more anxious about everything, so I asked his teacher to have a little chat with him to try to help relieve some of his worries. She was amazing! She invited him to have lunch alone with her in their room instead of the cafeteria, and they talked about all sorts of stuff. That same day, he asked a group of kids if he could play with them at recess and they said yes. He's been much happier since that day. In wonderful Charlie-style, he had hung back and carefully observed the kids and dynamics on the playground before doing this. He finally decided that this was the group of kids who would be the most compatible companions for him, so it was a big deal for him when he finally asked if they would play with him. It's a good thing they said yes.
As for the academics, I think it's a great elementary school. They do the differentiation thing too, so it seems like we'll need to be patient to see how they challenge and focus Charlie's quirky brain. He really misses the math, literacy, creativity and critical thinking gifted pull-outs he had in NM. I really respect his teacher's skill and teaching style though, so I'm sure he's going to learn a lot this year. He doesn't feel lost or behind in math, even though their not-common-core curriculum seems to follow a very different path for math. His literacy teacher is aware of what he's reading for fun, and nobody has told him he shouldn't read grown-up books, so we are cautiously optimistic. It seems like they have a good system for figuring out where the kids are and what they need.
It also seems like his teacher does a lot of great science and social studies lessons every week. I'm very happy about the science part. Interestingly, this is the big year for Virginia studies in social studies, so he's going to be learning all about the Blue Ridge Mountains and Chesapeake Bay instead of memorizing the 50 states and learning about the Constitution and the branches of government. I might have to do a bit of home schooling on those basics for him too. I guess social studies is the only subject where the curriculum paths are quite different at all grade levels.
They have multiple PE, music and art teachers, and two librarians, and he's really enjoying everything they do in those specials, as they call them. He's loving art, which was never something he enjoyed at home. I'm sure this is because of the art teacher here. Every student takes basic Spanish once a week, and it REALLY bothers him that all the other kids have 4 years of Spanish stuff in a giant binder and he's just starting. He does not like feeling behind. PE has never been his favorite, so we will have to see if he's putting in good effort with a good attitude at his first conference.
They have options for music during the day, and he signed up for Eagle Ensemble instead of Choir - recorder, percussion instruments and creative composition instead of singing. He also decided to try a band instrument. Band is a part of the regular school day, with an optional extra practice before school once a day. He chose to try the alto saxophone. I don't think he likes it even a fraction as much as he loves guitar, so we will see if he sticks with it.
I'm a bit overwhelmed by how well funded the schools here must be. It's not that much larger than his NM elementary school, but they have a lot more specialist teachers who interact with the kids just as often as the regular classroom teacher. I do wonder how they have enough time to really focus on the basics, but at least they're doing interesting things every day. On a related note, they have a no-homework policy for the whole school, so all he has to do after school is practice instruments and do our traditional nightly reading time. He's really flourishing with the extra free time. He goes outside to play with the neighborhood kids most days. Charlie seems to need a larger group of friends than Tommy does, so it's great that we moved somewhere with a built-in Pack Of Kids.
Now we're starting to enjoy our evenings and to look ahead towards fun activities on the weekends. We all have friends at this point, so if any of us is feeling social, we have people we can call. We don't feel social all that often, but it's nice to have friends. In fact, we went down to Fredericksburg, VA to visit our friends Amy & Chip one weekend.
The boys have started cooking dinner with Dad on the weekends again, and I'm finding time during the week to do all the things that make our life run more smoothly. It's all starting to feel more normal, after a long, long summer and spring of absolutely NOT normal. That's good, because David has a lot of travel planned in October. It's a relief to know what we need to do and how to do it.
So there you have it. We're all pretty happy at this point. Starting new schools in a new place was HARD. It was stressful, and some days were better than others. We've successfully come out on the other side of the stress, so it's easier to have perspective now. The three of us all had some rough patches during the process, and I especially learned that it's not good for me to talk to people about stressful things that I'm going through while I'm in the middle of them. I am better at saying the right things and having the right attitude once I can see the path forward towards a stable, positive situation. I think we all believe this will be a good year at this point. Not too shabby after only four weeks!