Friday, June 18, 2010

Last Day of Kindergarten

Today, Zahra finished kindergarten! (The picture of the commencement ceremony was actually from Monday.) The ceremony was cute, but unfortunately, the pictures from it didn't come out very good. The lighting wasn't great so the pictures are kind of grainy. Zahra's class and the kids from Mrs. Powell's class had their ceremony at the same time. They sang a lot of patriotic songs for us, complete with American sign language. It was pretty cute to watch all of the kids sign as they sang. Perhaps it was because she was tired, but Zahra seemed completely bored by the whole singing thing. When it came time to give out the certificates, she seemed to perk up a little bit. Each child was called up while "Pomp and Circucumstance" played on repeat. It was pretty cute.
After the ceremony, parents and visitors were invited into the classroom to pick up the memory books and look around the room. We got a better picture of Zahra holding her "diploma" with Mrs. Conton. See how proud Zahra looks? We are very proud of our little girl, too. I can't believe a whole school year has gone by already!

We went around and took pictures with some of Zahra's friends. Here she is with Grace. These days, this seems to be her new best friend. I love how happy they look together.
Well, since today was the last day, Zahra's report card for the third trimester came home. She did pretty well. Of course, we'll be working on all those things I mentioned last time, but it was great to see that she's made quite a bit of progress.
After school, Zahra's friend Alysha came home with us. I wanted to surprise the girls, so I decided to take them out to lunch. School let out at 12:20, so we came home for a few minutes. Then Bessie met us and we took all the kids to Chili's. I think it was a fun way to celebrate the end of the school year.
Here comes summer!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Moving on to 1st Grade

Well, here is my 6 year old, somewhere in the line for Space Mountain at Disneyland. I can't believe we're one week away from her finishing kindergarten. She has made SO much progress this year, it's really remarkable. I mentioned some of this in a previous post after we'd had a parent-teacher conference with Mrs. Conton, so I won't go over those details again. Despite all this learning, I have recently been quite worried that it wasn't enough. I was afraid that she was going to be retained and have to repeat kindergarten. But, on Friday, when I picked Zahra up from school, I had a chance to talk to her teacher for about 20 minutes. She had met with a team of teachers and specialists to discuss the best possible choice for Zahra. The team decided that the best thing would be for Zahra to move on to 1st grade with her peers. I was elated.

However, I'm very realistic and understand that this move will not be an easy one. Things will remain difficult for Zahra. She made enough points to be a candidate for 1st grade, but just barely. If students score a total between a 1 and 7 on their assessments, they will be asked to repeat the grade level. Zahra's score was at 8.5, which is just bordering on the edge. Skills that are pretty easy for some of her classmates remain a challenge for her. Though she knows all her letter names and sounds, actually writing both upper and lower case letters, in order, for every single letter, is a difficult task. Lately, she's been intrigued by numbers, and has taken it upon herself to practice writing from 1-100. (The kindergarten goal was to be proficient in 1-30.) Although she is working on the numbers, she still requests a lot of help along the way.

Over the summer, we plan to continue working with Zahra. Her reading level is way below where a student should be entering 1st grade. She can read some short words that were on a list of 50 or so that were part of her kindergarten lessons. I had taken blank index cards and written a word on each card. I let Zahra decorate the back with a picture she felt was appropriate for whatever word was represented. I think including her in the development process was rewarding for her. It helped her take ownership in the flash cards. We practiced a few words nightly and she picked them up pretty quickly. We'll continue working on the list until she has all of those words memorized. We'll work on sounding out new words together. We'll practice reading books for very beginning readers. We'll work on her handwriting and sharpening her fine motor skills. We'll keep working on being able to quickly recognize numbers.

I'm finding worksheets online, making some of my own, and will look for some workbooks to help her practice. I'm thinking that if Willie, Bessie, and I all work with her a little every day, we can make significant progress during the months she's away from school. We are lucky to have a cheerful student who is eager to learn new things. I remember how I felt when I learned to read words out in the world, things like street signs were an exciting challenge for me. (I still remember arguing with my dad that the street "Poplar," as in the kind of tree, actually said "popular." At some point, I realized he was right, and I kept playfully arguing because I didn't want to admit I'd made a mistake. I don't remember how it actually ended. I think I kept calling it "Popular Street" just as a joke.)

I think that Zahra's emerging literacy is wonderfully exciting. To see her make such a progression from entering kindergarten with only the most rudimentary skills, to a place where she has earned enough points to move on to the next grade, is amazing. I remember when she was still in the intensive care nursery and we would be talking about "the future" with the neonatologist of the day. The doctor would tell us that her prematurity might lead to learning disabilities or other problems that wouldn't manifest for five or six years. I remember thinking at the time that seemed so far away. And here we are today. I wonder if the way that she is in school has to do with the circumstances surrounding her time in the womb, her months spent in an isolette, hooked up to IVs and leads. I wonder if she would have been exactly the same way if she was born around her due date at the end of April, instead of in early February. We will never know. In the beginning, this bothered me incessantly. And now, several years later, I have come to accept the ambiguity.

I think Zahra's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Conton, was an exceptional fit. There are many good teachers at Golden View, but I am thankful for where Zahra was placed. This was Mrs. Conton's first year teaching kindergarten after years of teaching 1st grade. Because of this experience, Mrs. Conton has an extensive knowledge of where her students need to be by the end of the year. We were lucky that Mrs. Conton is a skilled professional who was able to recognize the unique needs of individual students. At Zahra's IEP meeting in January, I learned that Mrs. Conton had been taking specific actions to help maximize her potential. (IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. Zahra has been getting these every year since she started receiving therapy with the school district when she turned 3.) Because Zahra has a hard time sitting still, Mrs. Conton would ask her to get up and get something or bring something to another teacher or person in the classroom. This would help Zahra focus when she returned to her seat. Talking with Mrs. Conton and volunteering 2 hours a week in the classroom this year have helped give me a greater understanding for just what a range of academic achievement levels exist in an average classroom. There are kids who are proficient readers and those who are struggling with phonetics just like Zahra. Some are able to focus for long periods of time and those who find even a minute or two as a huge challenge. Overall, I think that Mrs. Conton is a very good teacher who not only understands the individuality of her students, but is also compassionate and truly caring. She is able to tailor the material to different levels of understanding to make the most out of the lesson for every student. While of course I am happy to see Zahra move on, I will be a little sad to say goodbye to her teacher and all the kids in Room 4.
[Although he was in Stockton when I took this picture, I can hear my dad saying, "Look at how she conked out." At the end of a long Memorial Day at Disneyland, Zahra fell asleep in this very-uncomfortable-looking position in her car seat on the ride home. She must have been so tired, because this picture was taken around 4:30 in the afternoon. When we came home, she kept sleeping on the couch. Then slept some more when we carried her up to her bed when we went up at 10 o'clock. Then, the next morning, I thought she would surely venture into my room when she woke up too early. Nope. I still had to force her to wake up for school at 7:00.]


This is one of Max's newest expressions. The other night, Zahra started running around the living room and kitchen, holding her "cape" with her hands. When she would refer to Max, she would say, "This is my sidekick." (I don't know where she came up with that term, but it was pretty cute.) So I asked her if she wanted me to use a safety pin to fasten the ends of her cape together so she wouldn't have to hold it while she ran around. She thought that was a brilliant idea in almost every respect, except for the possibility of getting stuck with the sharp end of the pin. I managed to pin her cape together painlessly. Then she said, "My sidekick needs a cape, too." I thought a dish towel would be the appropriate size for her sidekick. Then I got them to pose for the picture above. I think it's funny that the two of them happened to be wearing shirts that had the following phrases on them: (Max) "I STILL LIVE WITH MY PARENTS" and (Zahra) "MAKING MISCHIEF" (with a picture of the character Max from the children's book "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak).
Beware of the Ghost of Zahra

Max in action

Fast Zahra

... and even Superhero kids get tired sometimes.