East End's Jewel of a School

When my son started Kindergarten, we sent him to the school in the district where his father lives. It's one of the schools in the area where people outside the boundaries of the school apply to send their kids. That worked out really well for us until Stony hit the third grade. His teacher didn't exactly seem to...oh...how do I put this...like children. Because the teacher wasn't having a lot of success with helping Stony learn, we consulted with the principal who could not even accurately detail the requirements for a "504 plan" (the laws setting forth the details for education plans for kids with special learning needs).

The following year, Isabella was entering Kindergarten so it seemed like a good time to make a switch if we needed to. We enrolled her and Stony in a neat little Catholic school with a real dedication to children and a wonderful socioeconomic and racial diversity. Well, there were some things we ended up really liking about it and some things we ended up really not liking about it. As it turned out, following Eric's injury during his job with the fire department, we just couldn't afford private school tuition anymore (no matter how reasonable). Since we're Catholic, the Diocese would pay up to half of it but...that was still a lot more than the free education we could find in a public school.

So what to do? For months, we pondered the right choice for the kids, what public schools might be a good choice, what would be best for them in making a transition, etc. Many of my friends and co-workers had placed their children in one of our local, downtown schools, Piedmont Elementary. Piedmont is interesting in many ways. It serves children who live in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Charleston, children who live in some of Charleston's large, beautiful (and expensive) Historic District homes, and even children who live in the local shelter for homeless families. It's also one of Charleston's year-round elementary schools, where the children go for about 10 weeks then take three weeks off. Lastly, the school gets extra money for extra staff because a certain percentage of its children are below a certain income level.

So how shocked would outsiders be, then, to know that the school's diverse chess team won the state championships last year? How surprised would they be that I know parents who have taken their children out of the exclusive Montessori school to send them to Piedmont? And how surprised would they be to walk in from a city street and see the bright, airy, open-floor plan inside the school? What would they think to know about Piedmont's math and science magnet program and its partnership with NASA?

Well, let me tell you...I was certainly surprised. Several years ago, Piedmont had some reputation problems including behavior issues and an unbelievably-high turnover rate among students (due to transience in the neighborhood). But when I walked into the school in early July for their open house, I knew almost right away that this was the place for us. The building was filled with energetic, smiling teachers and staff. The principal took time from his (also energetic ) runnings around to discuss my concerns about my son's learning, what material was being covered in what grades, and the issues we'd had in the last school with racial discrimination (going in all directions). We talked about the free, all-day pre-school program in which my youngest, Edie, could enroll. Finally, after talking to each of the kids' potential teachers, I walked out feeling great because of this spectacular find (that so many people already knew about) but also hectic because school started the next day.

Stony put up a fuss at first. Somehow he'd forgotten that, only five weeks into summer vacation, he was already announcing his boredom on a daily basis. Bella was her typical, quiet but mildly nervous self but was very happy at the prospect of first grade, new friends, and starting school the next day. Edie was equally excited because she had recently finished potty training and had been walking around announcing that she would be going to school when Stony and Bella went back.

So now we're about three weeks into this summer/fall quarter. The kids come home happy every day. Stony's math is taking off which is awesome because I thought being in the math and science magnet would really give him the chance to showcase his talent in science but might exaccerbate his historically-difficult time with math.

Bella's teacher confirms that, while her nature is quiet, she's having a good time in school and making some friends. Bella's a sweet girl and has always had fun with other children despite her shyness. She kind of takes it all in stride and, even though she can be a little of a drama queen at home, she always seem content around other kids.

Edie has loved pre-school and has had only a couple of mornings (both late in the weeks) when she was hesitant to go. Of course, this morning was the morning I decided to take pictures and, despite her early bedtime, she was tired and most definitely not wanting to go to school. This is the first picture I tried to get:

And here's the best I did at getting her to be compliant:

So there are competing studies about whether or not the educational benefits of a year-round school are greater. Taken at face value, though, and with my limited experience, the kids at Piedmont appear to be academically successful and happy. I'm already a huge fan of the year-round concept which is gaining momentum in West Virginia and even recently earned the endorsement of the governor. Aside from that, my kids come home every day smiling. Of course, it's too early to tell for sure, but I think this is going to be great.


redneck muppet said...

One of Momkins' favorite schools. And Mark Ferrell's young lad Breece was on that chess team. Love that school, and your description of it.

daisybones said...

You're the second parent I have known to give Piedmont a glowing review. Are you on the East End or um, can one totally cheat? I'm on the West side and I'm already having wiggins about not being able to afford Montessori. Piedmont sounds so awesome.

TTHBTK said...

RM, your Momkins' review really adds to my good feelings about it. That's some serious knowledge of education she's got.

Daisybones, I think this is a school where you'd have a good chance of getting an out-of-district transfer. I know at least one parent was at the last LSIC (Local School Improvement Council) meeting who was out-of-district. Everyone is pushing to get into the South Hills schools but this place is really something special.

Melissa said...

Congrats, Tiner. You've been looking at that school for awhile and I'm glad it turned out to be even better than expected! I heard the WVPR story on the chess team a few weeks ago! So, when's the scrabble club starting up? ;)