Today Nia took a folder with her read-a-thon money to school with her. At our last PTA meeting, the principal and head of the PTA had agreed that surely every child would be able to raise $10, which actually seems pretty unlikely to me. But if the class averages $10/child, they’ll get some sort of reading-related treat I no longer remember and if the whole school hits a high enough target, the PTA will be able to bring in a theater troupe to perform for the kids and any extra money will go toward buying books they can read at school.
So at any rate, Nia went off to school this morning with enough money to subsidize half her classrom’s expected minimum level. I hope that means her class will meet its target! I’d said something on facebook about the drive, thinking that some of my relatives who know her might be interested in contributing or that I could hit up our neighbors without having to have her walk across the street. Instead, I got donations from friends from all over, parents and foster parents and non-parents, teachers and unemployed folks and my coworkers. I am so overwhelmed with this kindness from people who care about Nia and her schoolmates, probably half of whom have never even met Nia.
Friday after school, both girls went to the dentist and then we had a celebratory dinner out afterward. I took the girls to the bookstore down the street from the restaurant. Partly I was being selfish (and seriously, had me obsessed and dreaming furiously all weekend!) but I also wanted to get some new books for Nia to try to read.
On Saturday night, Nia read Mara a bedtime story for the first time ever. We’d had to go to a special shelf to find “level 1″ learn-to-read books at the bookstore, but we brought some home and Nia had puzzled through one with me in the afternoon (with some special help from Mara, who was able to sound out “sad” when Nia couldn’t) and then read it with a pretty high degree of comfort again that evening. Lee was astonished to hear her fluency because normally Nia is not much of a reader, though she enjoys writing and doesn’t generally make a fuss about doing her homework.
At this point, we’re all taking it as pretty much a given that Nia is going to be in first grade again next year. If she’s still with us, which is the most likely outcome, she’ll have her same teacher again. Her teacher has been there long enough to have been my teacher if I’d gone to the school and next year is her last year before retirement, but she’s still active and involved and I really like her, as does Nia. She thinks that Nia’s problems are not learning disorders (and the fact that Nia managed to learn a whole year’s worth of math in 3 months suggests the same) but a combination of being young — just 6 and a half when half the class has already turned 7 — and having gaps from her kindergarten and early childhood experience. If she can come in next year already knowing what the rules are an in a position to be a role model for less-experienced kids, which we know is a situation she loves, we all think she’ll be able to find a niche for herself where she can really succeed, especially if she can remember that she really does need to stop talking sometimes!
Now, though, first grade is so academic in ways it never used to be. Kindergarten is, too, and Nia started kindergarten last year in another state, then sometime in the fall was withdrawn from that school when her mom moved to the city where Mara’s siblings live, at which point she was eventually enrolled in a new kindergarten there, though not at the same school Mara’s siblings attend. (I’m curious about that and don’t know whether all the city schools each get a share of the kids from the public housing area or whether it’s that some streets in the development go to one school and some to another and because Nia lived up by Mara’s Grandma Joyce and not down by the siblings and cousins that she got bussed somewhere else.) One of the problems that brought her mom to the state’s attention was an inability to get Nia to and from school appropriately, though her mom was also active with homework and cares very deeply about Nia’s academic success. So then almost a year ago, Nia was removed from her mom’s care and sent out to a rural McMansion suburb where she was the only black child and the only child who couldn’t read in her third kindergarten that year for the two months or so that school lasted, and her teacher seemed (going by what I see on the papers Nia saved and what Nia’s prior foster mom said) to be uncomfortable figuring out how to meet Nia at her level and so chose to ignore her rather than try to get her up to speed or get supports in place to help her.
In any event, we enrolled Nia at the high-poverty school with a go-getter principal near us. I know most of our neighbors pay to send their children to private schools rather than be part of our city’s public school system, but I’ve been so impressed with the education Val and now Nia have gotten there and look forward to having Mara join in next year. I also feel more and more strongly that if more of the parents from our neighborhood <em>did</em> send their children, that the school would be a whole lot better. But from our middle-class perspectives, it’s hard to think about having to fund-raise to get something that seems as simple as a theater performance, and yet that’s the situation this school is in and the reality for the other kids who live in our city, who aren’t making it to the zoo and the children’s museum and art museum as often as Nia and Mara are, who don’t have the home libraries that we and our neighbors do. Okay, I’ll stop before I take off on a rant, but the more time goes by the more I’m taking it personally when I can tell people feel some kind of way about “those kids” when those kids are MY kids.
And my kids are wonderful! The girls have been asking about getting more chores and so yesterday they scrubbed the bathroom and couldn’t wait to show off its shine to Lee, but also practiced dusting baseboards and bumping down the stairs on their bottoms while holding rags to the sides to dust the edges along the hideous carpet runner on the stairs. They played well all weekend while Lee and I were different strains of sick and pitiful and I know I’ll come home to big hugs and big smiles tonight. Then after dinner, Nia and I will sit down and maybe Mara will follow us and we’ll all read a story, or Nia will read to us. She’s grown up so much in the time that we know her and I’m so proud of that and excited about where it will take her next.