I strongly believe that the school knows all the kids and puts tremendous effort into determining the classes. My two older children have had good experiences with their classmates thus far (3rd and 1st grade). They are both well-adjusted children (thank G-d) and have been able to make and maintain friendships in the classes assigned to them.
Last week, my 4 year old son, Tzvi, started Kindergarten. Wednesday was orientation where mom and chid visit the classroom, meet the teacher and enjoy 30 minutes playing in the new classroom. Wednesday was the first complete day of school.
I was playing with my son at orientation when I overheard the teacher telling one mother, "Don't worry, we do not expect your daughter to know the ABC's." Then, "We hope the two young girls will play with one another - they will probably gravitate to each other." And the kicker, "This looks like a class that likes to do projects [rather than be active]."
After some inquiring and with the help of the class list, I discovered that there were 2 nursery aged children who were joining the kindergarten because the school did not have enough children to fill a nursery class. This meant that they were younger than the rest of the class. I then looked over the birth-dates and found that my son, a June birthday boy, was the second to oldest in the class. With the exception of those two boys, the rest of the class was Sept-next February babies. (I truly respect that the school felt a responsibility towards the nursery kids and did not just kick them out of the program entirely. Instead they found each child a spot in one of the lower classes and will place them in the older kindergarten classes in the coming school year.)
I know my son. He needs constant stimulation, constant action. He gets along well with older kids. He has always been among older children. He is verbal, active!, and a REAL BOY. How could he be placed in a class full of younger children?
I was afraid he would soon lose interest in the class and start being mischievous (which he normally is not) or worse, aggressive towards the other kids.
I immediately called my husband and just broke down. I expressed all my concerns and frustrations never expecting to do anything about them. He told me I should not cry, I should protest! We decided I should call his teacher, Dana (name changed) from the previous year and ask her opinion. There were two other children in his class from Dana's nursery group so she would be able to assess if they were a good match and on equal footing. Dana felt that Tzvi should have been grouped with the older children and that I should certainly approach the preschool director with urgency to make the change before the first day. Sometimes directors (understandably) say, "try it" or "let's see how it goes." If I wavered one bit, Dana advised, the director would not make the change.
With that, I called the director (who was still busy with orientation) and left a message that it was urgent that we speak as I felt that she placed my child in the wrong class.
I was on the way to work in New York City but chose to turn back. My husband joined me as well (also from the city) and we decided to go to the preschool to have this conversation in person. Thankfully, the director was still in the building. She had my message on her "to do" list. But she was happy to resolve in person. I told her my feelings and mentioned that I always felt she did a good job placing my other kids but this was different. I was nervous he would develop bad character traits at this early stage when he realizes he is bigger and stronger than the other kids.
I know it is just kindergarten, but I wanted him to be with his peers rather than with nursery children. To her credit, the director heard our concerns and agreed to try her best to make a switch by that afternoon. She told us that there was no specific negative reason that my son was placed in a "lower class." There were no concerns after his interview. The boys in this grade skewed older while the girls skewed younger. This meant that they had to move more boys into the younger classes in order to maintain the ratio of boys to girls. This could be the reason for Tzvi's placement. She told us that she would have to speak to the English director and check the files of all the kids in the new class to ensure that it would be a fit for all. She had an idea but could not irresponsibly just move him. Then there are always logistics to consider. She had no cubby in the new class but perhaps she could place a hook and bin against the wall for Tzvi.
That evening the director called me back with Tzvi's new class. It was the one she thought would work earlier. She would personally move his possessions into the classroom and leave a bin for Tzvi's cubby. I could walk him in to school the next morning and introduce him to the new teacher and classroom. The director was extremely kind, taking the time to read the full class list to me to see if I knew any other students' parents. I did!
The next morning, Tzvi and I met the new teacher. She is experienced and well-liked. We met some of the kids. Many of the boys go to our synagogue and will be his friends out of school as well. Tzvi is now closer to the median age of the class with some older and some younger students. The boys in is class are older and more mature and he has already begun to play nicely with them. There is even one boy from Dana's preschool!
I know that the classes get mixed up again for the coming year, but I truly believe that I made the right choice for this year. The adjustment was smooth and the benefits are already evident. I hope that Tzvi continues to have a good and meaningful kindergarten year. He has matured so much over this past summer and I know that this year will be a year of growth and development. This is the best environment in which to make it happen.