Today, I did a 30-minute site visit at University Primary School at the University of Illinois. The building is located just behind the UI Credit Union off of First Street in the Research Park. UPS is a pre-school and K/1st grade program operated by the University. I know several folks who send their children there and love it, but hate that it only goes through first grade. The ideal for most of them being that once the kids are done at UPS they'll test into gifted in the public school district, or at least that's the gist I got from my tour guide.
The building is old. Many other university offices are in it, and the UPS is located on the lower floor with walkout from the two classrooms into a playground area. The teachers use project approach in the classroom and focus on individuality -- a lot. Inside K/1st classroom there are several Apple iMacs available for student useage. There are games, several shelves of baskets containing centers, a large, older carpet, and tables for collaborative learning. The student to teacher ratio is 25:2. One teacher is the head teacher the secondary is a graduate student. Usually there are two graduate students, one in the morning and one in the afternoon to accommodate their own student schedules.
The classroom is very racially diverse. I knew a few of the kids from Next Generation and from around the community. Next to the classroom is a reading room, where there are several couches and shelves and bins filled with books for literacy times. On the other side of that room are the coat hooks, more collaborative learning space and the head teacher's desk.
Being in early childhood, I'm used to the idea that children can learn using just about anything. That is, they don't necessarily need pimped out kidded areas, but from an environmental standpoint, the school was very boring. Lots of white walls and brown areas. There were a few pieces of art and a vase with fake flowers in the corner, but they were high above student eyesight. Plus, they weren't at all thoughtful art pieces. When I arrived the children were still doing individual learning. When it was over, they had popsicle sticks with their names on it, and they were able to choose items for their free choice. X-man would be happy to know they have plenty of board games, including Sorry.
I talked with Christine, my tour guide, about how the children interact in the classroom. One of X-man's main issues is that he doesn't get the social nuances on how to make friends. He wants to just dive in and grab someone's hand and run off with them happily -- but he doesn't understand that sometimes friends don't want to go where you want them to go. Sometimes, they don't feel safe running off so independently, sometimes they don't like to be touched so casually (or at all) and sometimes, sometimes, you can call someone your best friend, but that doesn't mean they think of you as theirs.
So, I had a chat regarding socialization. It's clear that the tour guide was very supportive of her program, but she didn't know much about the other educational opportunities in the district, which I found interesting. It reminded me of a low-key Next Gen, in that the kids came from highly educated parents for the most part, often from parents associated with the university.
On the other hand, there was comfort in the room, because these kids weren't little Einsteins outright. They were normal. One little girl was playing Sorry with a friend. I saw her pick her nose and eat it. Another little girl sat on the floor and turned around in a circle humming. Some of the children were excited about using the computer. A little boy ran over to the game and asked the three girls if he could play. They handed him a piece and he sat down. Boys chatted at the table as they worked on individual building projects. It was good. And none of them cared that I was in the room at all, even when I walked through to check out the other two rooms. They seemed so used to observers, that not even the teachers waved hello. But as I watched them with the students, they were all sunshine and observation and control and encouragement with their little people, which is good.
In the hall, there is a giant guinea pig cage with two inhabitants. I got to watch a little girl give them their afternoon snack of carrots.
The outside play area was small and bland, but the kids do get to go outside at least an hour a day between gross motor time and lunch/recess.
The school day starts at 8:20 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m. There is no after-school program, so you'd have to make arrangements somewhere else. The tuition is $625 a month for kindergarten. There are also some supply fees. This makes it cheaper than Next Generation by a couple hundred dollars a month, but without all the flash. Students don't have Spanish, but they do have music. They don't have a big gym to play in. But unlike Next Gen, this program is basically non-profit.
You have to really want your child to get in there, too. The application has many different requirements and the deadline to get the paperwork in is March 18th. Things that are required are a sample drawing done by the child of his or her family, several questionnaires for the parents to fill out regarding the intellectual curiosity and individuality of their children, and then other projects -- like a recording of your child telling a story....
I'm having a hard time determining if I want to do the work to put in the application. It's a completely serviceable program. It works in individuality, which I like, and should we not get a great choice with the public schools, it would be a wonderful back up choice, albeit a lot more expensive in comparison.
But at this point, I understand the practical application of having a plan B. But I just don't want to focus on it this second. Is that wrong?