Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I was in Jonathon's classroom for a couple hours this afternoon. I'm trying to make it a twice weekly thing to go in the afternoons and help with their reading centers/writing time. Today I worked with a few kids on reading a few paragraphs about monarch butterflies then answering questions and finding where those answers were in the story. Basic reading comprehension.

I have noticed that Jonathon appears to be the youngest and pretty close to the smallest in his class.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quick update on a couple points

Remember when I said: "...now Rebecca will be moved to Extended Math. She'll still have a full period every day, but I'm hoping the syllabus will prove to be more challenging." Her schedule did change, and along with being moved into Extended Math she is now in Extended LA as well. She has the same teacher for math, and unfortunately they aren't going to be moving quicker but according to Rebecca they'll be adding in some other stuff to each lesson. If nothing else hopefully this won't be as boring. They are still doing odds and evens though.... *insert hair pulling here* Becca said the teacher gave small groups 2 die and challenged them to figure out the proportion of odds to evens when adding the die amounts after each roll. While she was talking about the exercise, Becca wrote it out on paper and showed it to her teacher and then to the class (after the class worked on it) how it reached 12 even (roughly 2/3) and 9 (roughly 1/3) odd results.

And then I said: "There are two schools I'd prefer for Katherine to attend next year. Forest Park is our default school, but for a specialty program it's not the best match. ... So tonight we go and learn what it's all really about." And we learned what it was all about. Aside from the Tech programs and the Fine Arts program, entry is pretty much guaranteed for whichever school she applies to, which is wonderful, and pickups are done at elementary and middle schools. There's a chance she'd be picked up at Montclair, right around the corner.

I have to say that the Hylton International Studies program looked like a ton of fun and I know Katherine would really enjoy it. But looking at the big picture, she lives the International Studies life. She doesn't need more "Global Awareness," foreign student exchanges (oh funny story, she said being overseas didn't count because all the kids she met came from other international schools, they weren't foreign exchange students, nevermind that Americans were rare), or exposure to cultures. Right now, she's supposed to be immersing herself in American culture. So, we're considering applying to Gar-Field and the International Baccalaureate program which should prepare her for finishing up high school overseas.

Public Vs. Private school. Is there really a cost difference?

I want to say yes, I really do because deep down I know that it's true, but it sure doesn't feel like it. The nickel and diming at our public schools from supplies to fundraisers is excruciating.

Every project, every activity has a cost. School supplies: $25+. Join the PTSO: $10. Have to have (at least) one P.E. uniform: $20. Attend the monster mash: $10. Get into school play, need a rehearsal book: $10. A rehearsal CD too? $15. Support the library: $1. Buy from the Marketplace fundraiser: $10 and up (way way up). Yearbook: $30. Entertainment book fundraiser: $30. On and on, all on top of our taxes which I don't begrudge the county at all.

We've only been in school 6 weeks and many of these things are per child. It's a touch wearisome to be asked for money from both schools literally every week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life is good.

It can't be the cold weather, that would never make me feel good, right? My hands are just about always chilled so it really can't be the 38 degrees we woke up to today that's putting a bounce in my step. But there's something in the air, something about something that made the past couple weeks pretty darn good.

I wish I could pin it down, but will just take it for what it is: good.

**Watching football on TV makes me happy. Not the Redskins of course, they are simply painful to watch, but we also caught the Vikings/Ravens game, wow. And the Raiders/Eagles game where the Eagles lost and that's always a good thing.
**I got a call today in response to my e-mail to Rebecca's guidance counselor about her math placement. Currently in math class they are talking about odd and even numbers and she says kids in her class still don't get it. This is middle school. So I asked that she be placed in either 7th grade math or pre-Algebra with a feeling that they were a stretch but what I'm learning is that you ask for more than is reasonable and receive what fits. Rebecca will be moving to what's called Extended Math. Just as Katherine is now in Extended 8th grade English in order to accommodate French (usually LA is taught every day but if you take a language then the same time is split between LA and foreign language so LA is a condensed/advanced class), now Rebecca will be moved to Extended Math. She'll still have a full period every day, but I'm hoping the syllabus will prove to be more challenging. In her current class they should be moving into fractions and factoring and Becca did fractions since 3rd grade and factoring last year. Heck, Jonathon was beginning fractions last year in 2nd at AISC which I thought was pretty typical.
**I'm still looking for stuff. The charger for the portable Canon camera. The bathroom scale. You'd think the latter would be pretty easy to find.
**Tonight Katherine is missing Religious Education in order to go to Specialty Programs Information Fair at Hylton high school. In our county we have 11 high schools (and a new Catholic high school, John Paul the Great), nine of which have specialty programs and the kids who apply and are accepted to their chosen program are bussed to that school.
Forest Park High - Center for Information Technology, Network Design and Engineering
Gar-Field High - International Baccalaureate Programme, Integrated Engineering Systems Technology
Hylton High - Center for International Studies and Languages, Television Production, Auto Technology
Potomac Senior High - Cambridge Program, Collision Repair
Osbourn Park High - Bio Technology Center
Woodbridge Senior High - Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, Television Production, Project Lead-the-Way, Cosmetology
Freedom High - The Center for Environmental Sciences
Osbourn Park High - Health Services Specialty
Stonewall Jackson High - Network Design and Engineering, Cosmetology
There are two schools I'd prefer for Katherine to attend next year. Forest Park is our default school, but for a specialty program it's not the best match. Can you guess which two we'd like? And can you guess which one Katherine would choose if left to her own devices? So tonight we go and learn what it's all really about.
**The girls auditioned for the school musical (High School Musical Jr.) and Katherine got the part of Ms. Darbus. Rebecca will be in the cast as a "thespian" so a drama geek. Twice weekly rehearsals start next week.
**Ian and I are going low-carb in our diet efforts. How is this even possible during the cold months when all I want to do is have oatmeal for breakfast, suck down cream soups at lunch, make cheesie pasta for dinner and put peanut butter on toast all the other times? Maybe we should wait until spring? It's just not fair that all the comforting warming foods of winter are carb based. Tips?? Suggestions??
**Looking for a trip? How about this one for only $399 (minus airfare).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trying to add a little (American) culture

Today the girls and I went to a flute concert by the Woodbridge Flute Chorus.

Look at this:
Contrabass flute in the Woodbridge Flute Chorus
This was the contra-bass flute, large enough to require a tilted photo. Impressive.

Monday, October 12, 2009

911, where is your emergency?

Twice the past week Ian has called 9-1-1 -> neither time was for anyone in our family.

Last Sunday a women below us at church (we sit in the balcony) passed out into the aisle. Ian called 911, along with a dozen other people. Approved used of the cell phone in the church and a time we're all glad we don't really turn off the cells during Mass, just put them away or mute them.

Yesterday we were on our way home from a couple free games of bowling and one of the girls noticed black smoke pouring into the sky from a largely abandoned strip mall along Rt.1. We watched for a second as the smoke got thicker and Ian dialed 911. The kids wanted to see what happened next so we pulled into an adjacent parking lot and realized the smoke was actually coming from the rear of the building. As dark was falling we caught the reflection of the flames on the underside of the smoke as it billowed out. Police, roughly 6 firetrucks, 2 rescue, chiefs and deputy chiefs sirened their way behind the building and we watched the back smoke quickly turn to white as they put out the fire.

Let's see what happens next Sunday.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Northern and Western Hemispheres

There are so many things we think our kids know, and then realize with a shock they don't. This week Jonathon brought home geography homework. His new vocabulary words were "hemisphere" and "Prime Meridian."

Thank goodness we have a relatively current globe on hand because the line drawing of the globe on his homework sheet was barely recognizable as continents and oceans.
Most of the learning done each year in Virginia schools is geared towards the unfortunately acronymed SOLs (Standards of Learning) given each spring. Jonathon will study different forms of government from Ancient Greece, Ancient Italy and Ancient... Mali. I think they mention Socialism and Fascism too, so hello France and, no offense, Spain.
I applaud the attempt to expand the children's minds with the study of democracy in Mali, but am not impressed that the surrounding lessons only go that far. For example, when learning about hemispheres this week, the kids needed to find the 2 hemispheres for an assortment of places (I'd say countries, but I can't). On the list were the obvious: England, France, Spain, Greece, Rome, Mali and Jamestown, VA. If you're like me you're wondering who wrote these assignments. Jonathon was irritated that all the countries were in the northern hemisphere, and rightly so. Then of course aside from VA, they are all clumped in one small area. I mean, even Mali isn't that far away in the global scheme of things. Then we get to the fact that 5 are countries and 2 are listed as cities. I can somewhat forgive them for Jamestown if you're trying to get them to make a connection to where they are now (kind of, we're several hours from Jamestown), but Rome? Rome, is not a country.
If there's work on hemispheres before the more in-depth study of particular governments, then pick a widespread net of countries. We have a huge hispanic community at school. Why isn't Mexico or Panama or Honduras on the list? I'm sure the kids could find China... South Africa (that one gives itself away for location)... or how about Brazil? They couldn't put Australia on the list of hemisphere searches? The kids are learning all the continents, connect the dots.
Obviously I'm nitpicking. It's what I do. It makes me happy, to a degree. With Jonathon we compared how close Chennai was to the Equator (less than 15degrees) with how close Virginia is (closer to 40degrees). Then we found Venezuela where some friends have moved on to and saw its proximity to the Equator too. We talked about the Prime Meridians and it's sister, the International Date Line. I told him how there used to be several Prime Meridians because several countries wanted their favorite city to be point zero but finally it was agreed it would only be in Greenwich. We talked about how polar bears live in the Arctic and penguins in the Antarctic.
It's times like these I definitely see the attraction and feel the pull to homeschooling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Houston, we have a problem.

No, nothing like imminent death in the outreaches of space. Just a little blog weariness showing its ugly head. We're now in the land of plenty and ease, I don't feel I can complain about the price of anything (yes, I'm willing to pay for every variety of cheese, meat or condiment readily available), or remark on how someone was rude (have you dealt with the "customer service" in India?), or how I got cut off while driving (um, I'm DRIVING). None of that feels right, so I'm letting it all roll right off. Which leaves me with what? What can I write about? It's been two weeks since the last entry, let's see what I can pull up.

OK, let's start with school. School seems to be going fine.
Katherine has really buckled down this year, she's trying really hard to stay on top of things, get her work done AND turned in, making sure she has enough flute practice minutes each week for an A, etc. She's doing a great job. Mornings are still a little rushed for her because if she gets up to take a shower she's primping until it's time to get shoes on and head outside, and if she doesn't shower she delays getting up until the last minute. It's OK though. She hasn't missed the bus yet and has been generally cheerful in the mornings. Classwise, she enjoys band, French 1 is a high school credit course and teaches what she learned several years ago, pre-Algebra again (thanks to her grades last year, though for Katherine grades rarely reflect knowledge level and instead show late assignments or those never turned in, like I said she's doing well this year), language arts is never a problem, science is easy, civics is fun, P.E. is annoying.
Rebecca has proclaimed herself the teacher's aide in her math class. They're covering different sorts of graphs and now moving into fractions and how to reduce them. Stuff she learned last year at AISC. This is the kid who "doesn't like math" and "is no good at math" and she's bored because now the math is all repetitive and easy. This concerns us a bit, because the boys are seeing the same things: the math they are doing here is what they've done in the past few years at AISC. Nicholas is one of the top math kids in his class. Jonathon is adding double digits. In 2nd grade he was doing fractions. Sure it's an easy year (or two) for all of them, but then what?
If this is where we are now, how far behind in math will the kids be when we go back overseas?
Oh well, nothing I can do about all that, is there? Well, of course that's a bald-faced lie, there's a lot I can do to keep the kids up on their learning, it's just going to take some gumption from me to get it going. Here's me... gettin' my gumption goin' :)
Anyhow, life is not all about school. There is After School!
The girls both tried out for the drama program at Saunders. This year they are performing High School Musical Jr. Junior, you say? I did the same thing, a big "say what?" It seems to be a 60 minute condensed story, but I'm not certain. The girls auditioned with a couple songs and a shared skit, the same "Man in Black" skit that was used for Madras Kids last year. Shhh, no one needs to know but us. Today Katherine received a call back sheet for one of the leads. Rebecca didn't get a call back, but we're not sure what to make of that yet. When the whole cast list comes out, then we can cry or cheer. I have high hopes she got a part, and she's fine with a supporting role as a random kid in school. I just really want her to get something.
Katherine and the band played at a pep rally last week. I didn't know about it until after the fact, she says they sounded good and I'll have to take her word for it. Next Friday is 8th grade band night at the local high schools. It's a way for the kids to see what band in high school is all about. Marching band is tough to get into and Katherine had no interest anyway, until we told her it's not just marching around. Then she got a spark of interest. Thankfully she's still enjoying her new flute, though her practice methods leave much to be desired. I'm still looking for a flute teacher who can go one-on-one with her and correct her bad habits. Is there anything like a flute clinic? So she's opted to go to the Forest Park band night with her friend from around the corner, both flautists. I'm thinking the whole family may go to watch a live football game, even if it's high school.
Outside of school related things, we visited with Ian's mom and uncle a couple weekends ago, and my parents took the boys to see Cavalia this past Saturday. The boys had a CD of snippets of the show and it really did look spectacular. They had a great time with their grandparents and said they're excited about their next outing with them. We liked having some time with just the girls too. After lunch out, just the 4 of us, the girls saw a movie while Ian and I wandered the mall and chitchatted. We tried to all go to the indoor mini-golf but it looked devoid of actual mini-golf stuff, and then we tried laser tag but being a Saturday it was crazy busy with over and hour wait. We came home and relaxed.
This week has been a very quiet one. Nicholas has been home the past couple days. Monday he didn't feel well but I sent him to school anyway. Tuesday he woke with a litany of problems: 102.6 fever, muscle aches, stomachache, chills, sore throat, cough, earache, dizziness. I assumed the flu, but this morning most of the symptoms were gone. He still had a stomacheache, sore throat and clogged ears, so he stayed home, but tomorrow he's back to school. It's too bad it hit Tuesday, he missed his first class field trip, but I'm very glad it wasn't any version of flu, bird or swine or regular old type A. He's back to his chipper self, so tomorrow I can be productive again. Since Ian was working from home today and Nicholas was resting, I read Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and my personal opinion is it's just as good as the first one and definitely a bridge to the third. If you liked Hunger Games, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy the second installment.
Now I've really got to finish Return of the King, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and The Amber Spyglass.