When we moved to Little Rock in August of 2008, we found a specific neighborhood that we loved. Luckily, our realtor informed us, we were in one of only about three good elementary school districts in Little Rock. This was a relief, as several people had warned us about the city’s “bad” education system. Before we moved, Craig visited the elementary school, Baker Elementary in Pulaski County Special School District, and met the principal. All was well and good, he reported.
We also scouted a Parents Day Out program for Carina to attend. We wanted her to have social interaction, and quite honestly, I needed a break from juggling a baby and a toddler. She started the program at St. Margaret’s Episcopal in September and loved it. While the program was housed in the church, the “curriculum” did not center around religion – the program is open to everyone – which we appreciated as “non-religious” people.
When Carina was two and half, in early summer 2009, I began researching preschool options. One day I was on the Arkansas Department of Education’s website and came across information on kindergarten entrance rules. I read that children must turn 5 before September 15th in order to enter kindergarten. I already knew this, but was more than surprised when I read on and learned that the cut off would roll back every year and that in 2011-2012, the year Carina should enter kindergarten, the cutoff date would be August 1st. I continued to read, assuming there would be something that said there was an option to “test in” or request an assessment if your child did not make the cut off date, but there was nothing.
When I shared this news with Craig, his reaction was very similar to when we discussed Carina’s kindergarten entrance plan back before she was born. Only this time, Craig DID NOT want Carina to have to wait an extra year. “We can’t make her wait!” he said. “She loves school – she’ll be ready when she’s 5!” I agreed with him, but there wasn’t much that could be done. Other than occasionally lamenting that extra year, we kind of let the issue drop for a few months.
In January 2010 we moved Carina to a preschool program at Asbury Church Child Development Center. Again, the program is housed in a church, but there is not a religious component to the curriculum. One perk to the preschool program at Asbury was the fact that they have a “Transitional Kindergarten” (TK) class, which is basically for kids who technically should be going to kindergarten, but don’t make the age cutoff.
As I watched Carina learn and develop in the preschool setting, I started to do more research on our education opportunities. I listed to other parents talking about how their children, some of whom were only a month or two older than Carina, would be starting in pre-k 4 (preschool for four year olds specifically geared to get them ready for kindergarten – pre-k 4 is “the new kindergarten”) that fall. It just didn’t seem fair. The thoughts/concerns/contingency plans began swirling around in my head.
I wondered if the umpteen private schools that exist in the Central Arkansas region had to follow the same age cutoff rules as public schools. A friend of mine who works at a private school inquired with the Admissions Office. The answer that came back was that yes, the age cutoff date is a state law that all schools must follow. (It turned out that this is not true, but more on that later…)
Another mother who had worked in early childhood development told me that there was a loophole that if your child attended a state-approved preschool program and didn’t make the age cutoff date, he/she could get a letter from that preschool saying he/she was ready for kindergarten and go. So, I started looking at pre-k 4 options. (As a side note, later research found that the letter loophole was being done away with after the 2010-2011 school year anyway.)
Our school district, Pulaski County Special School District, does have a pre-k 4 program. However, it is only open to those families that qualify financially. We are talking an income cap, not a minimum, of course. This may not have been so aggravating, but for the fact that Little Rock Public School District, which we live about one mile from the boundary line of, offers pre-k 4 to all children who live in the district. So, in addition to the fact that we did not have access to a state-approved preschool program, Carina’s friends were all trotting off to pre-k 4 in the fall for free while we would continue to pay ~$180 per month for her preschool and TK classes.
So, in the fall of 2010, Carina went to the 4 year old class at Asbury. She is the oldest in her class, because all the kids older than her made the date cutoff and went off to “official” pre-k 4 in Little Rock School District, pre-k 4 at a private school, or into the TK class at Asbury. Seeing Carina’s birthday on the class roster was when it really hit me that she would always be the oldest in her class. To me, this meant no older peers to learn from and continual pressure to be the leader. Not to say that Carina isn’t a leader, but I want her to choose that role for herself, not because someone decides she should be because she is the oldest.
Craig and I had resolved ourselves to the fact that Carina would not be going to kindergarten in 2011. We considered the positive points of this: 1) Carina would be more mature, 2) Carina would not be so little physically compared to her classmates, 3) Her “advanced” maturity and intelligence might make her more likely to have access to gifted and advanced courses in school. The things that concerned me were that 1) Carina would be bored in Kindergarten and become a behavior issue, 2) By holding Carina back a year, she and Callen would not have a grade between them and thus be subject to more comparisons/competition, 3) The overwhelming and aggravating feeling that I did not have any control over my own child’s education.
But, we were resolved, and we went ahead and toured the two public elementaries that we could send Carina to in 2012-2013: Baker Elementary, and Chenal Elementary, which we could transfer to. Both schools have great reputations, and we were happy with what we saw on our tours.
Then, in November 2010, another friend of mine was touring private schools in prep for sending her daughter to Kindergarten. Two of the private schools she toured told her that the age cutoff for kindergarten was September 15th, because the state law only applied to public schools. She was frantic to tell me this news. I was frantic to tell Craig. And the thoughts/concerns/contingency plans started swirling again…
(to be continued)
Other Posts in this series: