Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review of Stratton Elementary School

I'm going to admit that this isn't just a blog entry about the information that was relayed to me and about the what I saw at Stratton Elementary. I'm starting to form my own opinions about education, mostly based from an early childhood perspective. I promise, I'm not trying to lengthen my son's early years, but there are some approaches to education that I really think early ed does a great job of forming individuals within a community that appear to be completely lost at an elementary school level.

I had a 9 a.m. appointment at Stratton to get a tour with Stephanie Eckels, the principal. Stratton's having a hard week. They're down one secretary and the assistant vice principal due to illness. The phones were ringing off the hook, there was some kind of computer cart meet employee sitting in chair drinking coffee situation and multiple kids were filing in late for class and getting slips from the office.

In the office, there are two separate posters that stress being on time as a priority for Stratton students.

9:10 a.m. The custodian arrives to clean the coffee.
9:20 a.m. The substitute secretary is madly going through chess game boxes trying to find a home for a lone bishop.
9:25 a.m. The regular secretary looks up at the clock apologizes to me, and rebuzzes the principal...
My tour begins at 9:27 a.m.
My tour ends at 9:35 a.m., so I can get to an appointment by 10 a.m.

So, keep in mind, I had 8 minutes.

The school day at Stratton runs from 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. There are over 400 students in the school. Right now they have five different grade 3 classes for some reason. They're also home to one of the three schools that has gifted program classes, so they have a lot of enrichment space. They also provide ESL and special education.

And this is where, I start to wonder if I'd ever send X-man to gifted if he qualified. I have a thing about words. And it bothers me when a program is called "self-contained gifted." I attended a "self-contained" gifted program myself. And as a child, I never thought about the ramifications of this kind of environment. Mostly, I remember calling the other kids "regular" which to me meant "less smart" or to a more cruel child "dumb." I was a kid, I didn't know any better. But then again, Middle School can be an absolute abrupt end to childhood innocence. And since that's the way the adults who devised Rockford Schools had named things -- I assumed it was correct and okay.

I have the same kind of revulsion now when I hear the words "enrichment" versus "reading recovery." Can't they all be enrichment, but people are at different levels so kids aren't labeled? In early childhood, we do a lot of conversation about how everyone learns differently. Some kids are aces at building other kids have a giant passion for art. Different fine motor, cognitive, social and gross motor skills come to students at different times in their growth. And where one person is challenged, the other is not. In my line of work, there are no regular kids or enriched kids. There are just little people, who want to be loved, cared for and have a never-ending curiosity about the world. I never want them to lose that curiosity, and I'm afraid, by the current environment of testing, that's exactly what's happening.

But I digress.

You should know that the building is lovely, and fairly new. They have their own gym, a different lunch room, two PE teachers, so you're likely to have an extra day of the week that you might not have at other schools. There's also 1.5 enrichment teachers to keep all the accelerated kids happy. The play equipment in front and next to the school is new, and the park district not only holds sporting events there, but also just started an after school theater program for kids 2nd-5th grade.

Music and art have their own classrooms, and the library is a decent size, with a nice reading corner. The building also has its own computer lab, so each student can use a computer during computer time. (The computers are PCs, if that's important to you.)

Something I didn't know about Stratton is that it has a school dress code. So, if you enjoy the idea of uniforms, it is one of two schools (Barkstall being the other) that keeps the sales of khakis in Champaign County going. :-) Myself, I'm not a fan of dress codes. Call me a free speech freak, but I don't get it. That, and after seeing how you can still tell the "haves" from the "have nots" at Barkstall I don't think they're an effective "equalizing" tool. More than that, I don't think a collared shirt should be required to understand that education is important.

The rooms were all about the same size, from my peeks into them. They were decorated and welcoming and middle sized. The building has two floors (big kids are upstairs), but it wasn't overwhelming like a Robeson or a Barkstall. It felt more like an elementary school.

At the end of our walk through, Stephanie invited me back and said that they'd be happy to have us. She also talked about how she used to work at Garden Hills. And we chatted a bit about the Magnet Schools. She said that in terms of academics she thought she could do a pretty good job at competing with what they had, except for the international focus. An alarm bell went off in my head at the word "compete."

She was a very nice woman, and I think Stratton is a decent environment, but I am not putting it on my list of five.


~rachel~ said...

So do Champaign schools not have PE everyday? I was pretty excited that Rowan had it daily, but that won't be the case next year...I really never expected to have an issue with the whole "school thing" but now....Why can't kids just be kids??
(I'm cutting myself off here, I could probably type a novel :) I do like your thoughts on how early child is so into children learning in their own ways and then that all just kind of stops!)

The Fearless Freak said...

I have the same issues with gifted education that you have. Just because someone isn't a math genius, doesn't mean that they aren't "gifted". So yeah, not impressed with the gifted education program. The other issue that I have is that the gifted classes were placed in under-performing schools to bring the school average up and make people chose those schools.

As for the 1.5 enrichments teachers, it isn't enough. We used to have 1.5 for 406 students and they were totally SWAMPED all the time. There were kids who were getting enrichment that were given worksheets and told to sit in the hallway and do them. Not really enriching. :(

@Rachel, the kids have "specials" on a 3 day rotating schedule. They have art, music and PE that they switch around.