Monthly Archives: August 2013

Countdown to middle school – school supplies



Middle school hasn’t officially started yet, but it isn’t too early for new experiences. This weekend we’re going shopping for school supplies.. M’s elementary school supplied the basics – the only things parents were asked to contribute were tennis balls (for the chairs, to protect the floors) and kleenex. So we’ve never had a mother-child bonding moment over purchasing pens and notebooks.

As I parent, I liked the way M’s  elementary school approached the issue of school supplies.,  Each child was asked to bring in $20.00, which was pooled and used to buy supplies for all the classes.  The students all had access to the necessary supplies, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.  By purchasing in bulk, the school got a better price than an individual parent. Sharing was a given, as there was no sense of ownership over the crayons, etc. Plus, there was much less waste. Instead of sending the leftover supplies home with each child at the end of the year,and possibly having them thrown out, the surplus is stored until the next year. I can recall friends complaining about much they spent on new supplies ever year, as many of the teachers discouraged the students from recycling supplies from year to year.  So what if Joey has a red duotang for Math, instead of green? Would it be so terrible to re-use one from the previous year and slap a new label on it? Admittedly, M’s notebooks start looking pretty beat up after a few weeks, so there isn’t too much left of them by the end of the school year. But unless they’re totally ripped, wouldn’t it make sense to use a notebook or a binder for a couple to years?

A few years ago, the school board came up with a standardized list of basic supplies. The idea is a good one – parents and students know from Day 1 what they need. Since the list is voluntary, parents don’t need to feel compelled to purchase any or all of the items on the list. However, I expect that unless the school explicitly tells parents that they don’t need to provide school supplies , most will do their utmost to ensure that their child has the basics.

While the  list may be voluntary, M’s school’s website indicated that the students are expected to supply their own pencils and notebooks. Since M always does better with advance preparation and I like to be organized, I checked out the list to figure out what he needed.

I admit to being a bit intimidated by the list at first. For one thing, it’s long – 16 items and in many cases, students need several of the same item. When I first looked at the list, I saw dollar signs in my head. We can certainly afford to buy everything on the list, but I’m inherently frugal. I have no problem buying M a good pair of shoes to wear to school, but spending $50 to $75 on stuff that is by its very nature disposable, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Plus, knowing M, he’ll lose stuff. I guess that’s why they have Dollar Stores.

As I looked at the list more closely, I found it quite confusing. For example, students in grades 4-8 need “12 pencils.” Why 12? Surely M doesn’t need that many pencils for the first day? He can only use one at a time. Do they have to be the same? What happens if he only has 11?

Another item that stumped me was “2 erasers (preferably white).” Don’t each of the pencils have an eraser on top? And what makes a white eraser superior to a pink one? Was there a study that I missed? Maybe specifying white erasers is an attempt to discourage the kids from bringing in fancy erasers, in different colours and shapes, since they rarely ever work properly.

I get that M needs a ruler, coloured pencils and coloured markers. But “1 pair of blunt scissors”? Everyone knows you can’t even cut properly with those puppies. It’s like trying to cut an ice cube with a butter knife. I get that it’s a list for grade 4 to 8, but surely by grade 7, the kids have enough hand-to-eye coordination to manage “real” scissors? Plus, the blunt ones are tiny and at all not comfortable for bigger hands.

Apparently M also needs “2 packages of 3-hole lined refill paper”, “6 duotangs”, “6 lined notebooks”, and “3 binders” (plus dividers). Presumably he needs one for every subject. Does he really have 13 different learning activities? Maybe if you included gym and lunch? And isn’t 13 an unlucky number? M’s Learning Plan specifies that he should use a computer as much as possible for his written work, so how much of this big mound of paper will he actually use during the year? Plus, the more stuff M has, the more likely he is to lose it at the bottom of his locker or moving from class-to-class. It seems a bit excessive to me, not to mention a lot of trees. Even if we buy paper products made from recycled materials, there’s the issue of the carbon footprint of the production process. By supplying our children with this much stuff, what are we teaching them about managing our resources in a sustainable manner? I’m pretty sure the kids learn about recycling and taking care of nature in school. But looking at this list, there seems to be a disconnect somewhere.

The middle school’s web site sensibly advises parents not to worry about sending their child to school on the first day with everything on the list (good thing, because they would each need a wheelbarrow, just to carry it all).  The various teachers will apparently be sending more information home next week on what the students need for each class. While it’s helpful to know that M and I don’t have to spend a long time at the store, running up and down the isles, trying to find everything, it does mean we’ve got a second trip ahead of us. Since we’ll already know the lay-out of the store, it may be easier to find things. But there’s also a greater likelihood that they’ll have run out of some items. We’ve got construction paper somewhere in the basement. Maybe I can re-cover duotangs so M has the right colour. Or run a stack of computer paper that’s only printed on one side through a three-hole punch?

Maybe I’ll suggest to M that he and his dad go out for more supplies. Why should I have all the fun?


Countdown to middle school

Students at Mililani Middle School

Students at Mililani Middle School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M starts Grade 7 in less than two weeks. This is a big transition for both of us.

He’s leaving the cozy, close-knit community of his elementary school for a large middle school, with multiple streams. His old school was just under 400 students, from junior kindergarten to grade 6. The new school has about 500 kids, just in grades 7 and 8.

The elementary school was very close to our house – M could get there on foot in about 4 minutes. The middle school is quite a bit further and he’ll get there by riding his bike or by public transit. Instead of one or two teachers, he’ll have several teachers over the course of the day; – he’ll have to change classes and take his stuff with him; it’s further away. He’ll have a locker instead of a desk.  Even though he’ll still be in an Alternative program, which means less emphasis on competition and testing than in a traditional program, he’ll have more homework. And perhaps the biggest change of all, he will be coming home from school, rather than going to his much beloved after-school program.

Middle school will mean an adjustment for me too. I had a very good relationship with the principal at M’s old school. Whenever there was a potential issue, I could fire off an email and have confidence that depending on the issue, the staff would investigate or keep an eye on M. The principal at the middle school is new; not only will I  not know her, but she’ll be adjusting to a new environment. Plus, she’s in charge of all the streams, not just the Alternative program. The principal at the old school went to bat for M on numerous occasions – she worked very had to create an environment that maximized M’s success. Even though she knew M and had a good understanding of his challenges, they were always a few bumps to work out, especially at the start a new school year. As much as I’d like to think that M’s transition to the new year/school will be drama-free, I know that’s not realistic. When it comes to M, forwarned is forearmed. And even though I’m confident we’ll get everything worked out, the fact that I don’t know the various personalities makes me a bit anxious.

I’m also worried about how M will manage having several teachers instead of just one – M, like many kids with ADHD and anxiety, copes best when he has a positive relationship with a teacher and/or school staff. While I think he’s a pretty likable kid, I know full well that not everyone “gets” him. I still remember having teachers that I didn’t connect with, which made sitting through class seem tortuous. I had a math teacher in Grade 9 who I really didn’t like – I didn’t understand him when he explained equations and mathematical concepts and for the first time in my life, I didn’t get a good grade in a particular subject. I also a low mark in gym that year, but I sucked at sports – the gym teacher was also my home room teacher, so I knew she wasn’t evil (not so sure about the math teacher). I’m sure there were teachers at his old school that didn’t like M (and some he didn’t like), but he was lucky in terms of his classroom teachers.  I know he needs to learn how to manage dealing with teachers he doesn’t like and vice versa, but there’s a potential for a steep learning curve.

At M’s old school, the strong sense of community among the students extended to the parents and families. Even though I wasn’t at the old school very regularly last year, I knew lots of the parents from helping out at various events. I rarely went out in the neighbourhood without running into someone I knew from school. I also knew most of the teachers from helping out in the classroom in previous years. Since parental involvement is one of the tenets of the Alternative program, I’m sure there will be opportunities for me to help out at special events and on field trips. But middle school is much more transitory than elementary school – after 2 years, M will move along to high school. Plus middle school kids are older and encouraged to be more independent. That’s a good thing, but  I will miss the sense of belonging that characterized the elementary school.

Perhaps the biggest change will be that M won’t be attending his much-beloved after school program at the local community centre. As much as the principal worked to ensure M’s success over the last couple of years, the counselors in the after school program recognized M’s strengths and went out of their way to support him in situations where he struggled – instead of insisting that he participate in group activities every day, they would give him his space when he needed it and let him sit quietly with a book or talk with one of his favourite counselors. Last year, the after school program ran a separate “club” for the grade 6’s, supervised by a group of counselors who really understood 11 and 12 year olds. One of the counselors had a part-time job testing video games and would often bring new games in for the kids to play. Not surprisingly, he was very popular among the boys. The program staff have already identified M as a future counselor and he’s been invited to come and help out with some of the younger kids later this fall. This is a huge vote of confidence for a child like M who often struggles to fit in.

M says he looking forward to coming home from school by himself – expect it’s more the attraction of being able to play MindCraft or listen to his iPod, without his annoying parents watching the clock. Too much electronics tends to turn M into zombie-boy, so I’m a bit worried about what kind of mood he’ll be in by the time one of his parents gets home, especially if he’s had a tough day. We’ve been leaving M at home alone more and more over the summer, when we go out to dinner or run errands, but being alone for almost 2 hours every day will be a new experience for him.

Despite some nervousness on my part, I do think middle school will be good for M. Because it’s a larger school, M will have an opportunity to meet new kids and make some new friends. As much as I liked the fact that in elementary school, he had the stability and security of spending 2 years with the same teacher and a core group of kids, I recognize that this could be a bit claustrophobic. The kids all knew each other, for better and for worse. While M had a couple of friends he hung around with at school, he was never invited to hang out with them after school or on weekends (granted, he didn’t make much of an effort to connect with them outside of school). From time to time, he would often complain that all his classmates “hated” him. Since he usually said this in the middle of a meltdown, I’m not certain it was totally true. But he often felt like an outsider among his classmates. Nothing terribly unique about that – neither his dad nor I were popular at school. But no 12-year-old is entirely reassured by his or her parent’s tales of pre-teen angst. Ironically, the characteristics that make it difficult for M to get along with other kids – being a know-it-all who wants to be in charge, will probably serve him well later in life.

Even though I expect there will be some challenges over the next few months, I do  think M is ready for middle school.  He has to learn how to navigate his own path through school, both socially and academically. Now is as good a time as ever. Even if I’m not 100% ready.

Roasted corn and black bean salad


This recipe is adapted from my new favourite cookbook, Big Vegan, by Robin Asbell. I made it several times while we were on holidays at the cottage, to rave reviews. It was the crowd favourite annual (extended) family dinner, beating out my mother’s ever popular potato salad. Like the majority of the recipes in Big […]