Today is a professional development day in the Chicago Public Schools, so all the students have a day off. By about 10 this morning I could hear Peter Pan and some of the Brady Boys playing soccer. At about noon I took a lunch break and as a result, my neighbor Daniel got a little pre-high school professional development, too.
It was beautiful outside--a little breezy, noticeably warmer and sunnier, with bright blue patches of sky showing between shining clouds. The boys were playing soccer in the street, most of them in t-shirts. Joey had even rolled up his jeans into shorts.
Some Brady girls and the youngest Brady boys were on the sidewalk, and their mom, Peter Pan's mom and Joey's mom were out watching the scene. Mom Brady was with her kids; Peter Pan's and Joey's moms were chatting in front of Peter's house. Danny was talking with his dad in front of their house. His dad waved to me as he left, and I went across the street for a chat.
Danny went to Curie recently to register and begin the orientation process. This summer, all freshmen in CPS will spend four weeks at their new high schools, getting to know their teachers and classmates and doing a mix of teambuilding exercises and academic work. I asked Danny what he thought of the idea, expecting "yuck, summer school," but he surprised me. He said he was glad to get the chance to learn the building and get to know people before school started. "Otherwise, I might get lost," he said.
In a less happy surprise, Danny also 'fessed up today that his grades went down this quarter to all Cs. Since he got into Curie, he's been slacking off. He thinks he's in regular English for next year and I know he is smart enough to be in honors, even if his grades right now don't show it. I told him he needs to pull up his grades fourth quarter so he can make a case to Curie to put him in honors next year, especially in English. We strategized about how he could talk with his homeroom/English teacher about what happened in there. He thought he was getting a B. I told him when I taught high school, kids would come up to me and say, "Why didn't I get a B?" in a whiny tone and it got on my nerves. But when a kid said to me, "I don't understand what happened, and I want to do better next quarter," I would bust my butt to explain why they got the grade they did and talk about how to improve next time.
Danny wants to know what high school is like. We talked about honors and how it leads to AP classes and how AP classes can save you time and money in college. We also talked about Marwen, since Danny is a pretty accomplished graffiti artist. His ears perked up when he heard they help you think about colleges with arts programs and careers in art. I don't know whether their summer offering will conflict with the new CPS high school orientation--they probably will--but in the fall he'll be old enough to get around by himself so maybe that would be the time to get him signed up for an after-school class.
Then I asked him if he was reading anything for fun on his own, and he said no. "It's a really good idea to read on your own if you want to go to college," I told him. Then I went in the house and looked to see whether I had any good books. I had two contenders--one young adult novel written by a guy and left over from the book giveaway, the other Frank McCourt's Teacher Man. Danny wants to know what high school is like, and McCourt captures the feel of a high school classroom from the teacher's point of view better than just about anyone I know. So I brought it out.
Danny looked at the young adult novel first, read the jacket and handed it back. I wasn't surprised--it's kind of a white kid slacker-novel and I didn't like the writing style much either. While he looked that book over, I searched for a good scene in Teacher Man. I found the one where McCourt talks with Nancy, a Chinese student, about learning English, then segues into a scene when he worked in a restaurant kitchen and his fellow kitchen staff pressed him into teaching English. Danny thought that scene was pretty funny and guessed it must have taken place in the 50s based on how much money they were making. He was in the ballpark on that, for sure.
Then I let him in on a big secret. "You know, when you read a book for fun, you don't have to read it from the beginning to the end."
"No. You can just skip around and look for things that seem interesting and skip the boring parts." He agreed to take Teacher Man back to his house and poke around in it for a week while I'm out of town. We'll talk about what he finds when I get back.