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Friday, June 10, 2011

Assessing Nicolas' Academic Journey

School's Out For Summer!

Yay!  The last day of school has arrived for my youngest son, Nicolas.  He is graduating from the eighth grade, saying goodbye to middle school, and saying hello to high school.  Boy, do I feel relieved.  And old!

Yes, he will have a summer respite in between before he ventures on to a new chapter in his life.  So far, we have a beach vacation planned around my birthday toward the end of June.  The great thing is that Nicolas and I share a common love for the beach.  The serenity, the sea creatures, and the waves have always brought us together.  We have a lot of good memories of our excursions to the Carolina beaches.  Spending time with his Nana, my mother, and on occasion his older brother, Justin, have made our times together extra special.  One summer, we even ventured to Florida to visit my Aunt Peggy.  We had a wonderful time visiting Fort Lauderdale Beach.  While gazing into the clear, turquoise water we were surrounded by a large school of fish who proceeded to nibble at our feet. We still talk about it.

Nicolas has always had a fond appreciation of nature.  I have cassette tapes of him reading science books when he was about two years old.  He devoured books on insects, amphibians, and dinosaurs.  We all noticed his penchant for nature and science and did everything we could to foster his interests over the years.  Throughout the year, but especially during the summer, we take trips to zoos and museums.  We've made return visits to a lot of venues and Nicolas seems to discover a new appreciation for nature all of the time.  Many a vacation has been spent in the hotel room at night watching the Discovery Channel or National Geographic!

When Nicolas started his formal education he was reading at a second-grade level.  By the end of kindergarten he had progressed past third-grade expectations.  The challenge for a parent and teacher of an academically gifted child is to continue providing material that will pique the child's interest and foster their knowledge and expand their growth.  I had to fight to get Nicolas permission from the school library to take out more than one book at a time and to be allowed to go into the non-fiction, science and nature section of the library.  I was dumbfounded that the school library had restrictions based on his age and grade level.

On one hand, it is understandable that our teachers are charged with the goal of making sure the majority of the class works up to the expectations for that grade level.  Time and money is spent for working with and tutoring those students who are under expectations.  For the handful of students who are beyond the concepts being taught to the class majority it is a struggle to keep their interest.  I know Nicolas experienced a lot of frustration and impatience when his peers were unable to grasp concepts that came easily to him.  I knew the resources were limited to be able to focus on bringing him to the next level since teachers seem to be teaching our kids with the goal of having them pass the end-of-grade exams.  An academically gifted kid can easily get lost or forgotten.  So, I knew by the second week in kindergarten, that I must fight for Nicolas to be placed with peers who are at or above his level.  If I didn't do this, he would easily lose interest in school and perhaps, fail.

Since third grade Nicolas has been identified as 'academically gifted' in language arts.  Through the magnet schools he's been placed with a group of his peers who speak his language and challenge him to succeed and bring up his game.  He is a happier kid.  And, even though he knows some of his peers think he's 'weird' he's okay with it.  I think he enjoys being unique and different.  He is himself.

I've always talked to my son like an adult.  We've had in depth conversations about a myriad of subjects.  I've asked his opinion and his advice.  I've learned so much from him.  At times I feel like I'm talking to an old soul.  He is patient with me and sensitive to my feelings.  He is a great listener.

There are a handful of teachers who recognized Nicolas' potential.  I recall Mrs. Jordan, Nicolas' kindergarten reading teacher and first-grade teacher, suggested we seek a magnet school program for Nicolas.  She recognized his love of nature and his verbal ability.  She even said he could be a famous doctor that discovers the cure for cancer.  Her support was like a warm hug that brought tears to my eyes.  Mrs. Kaszycki, Nicolas' third-grade language arts teacher, honed his love for poetry and ability to put together thoughts, feelings, and words.  Her encouragement resulted in Nicolas becoming a published poet.  While Nicolas has always struggled in math he reached a turning point this year.  Mr. Bryant is an African-American, math teacher who commands respect.  He puts in the extra time for our children.  He involves the parents from day one.  I recall on the first day of school he called me to explain his methodology and expectations.  He wanted to make sure we were all on the same page, parent-teacher-student.  He offered a Saturday seminar for students who needed the extra help and required that the parent participate.  Nicolas mentioned that Mr. Bryant is one of his favorite teachers.

So, as the summer begins and I reminisce about how far Nicolas has traveled over his educational journey I can only hope that the next four years, perhaps the most important in the scheme of his future, are just as challenging, meaningful, and rewarding.

And, in the mean time, we will enjoy the beach, go on auditions, and take on any other adventures that await us this summer!







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