Dear Harford County Public School System,
I am writing this in an attempt to open eyes to (what I fervently hope are) an archaic set of academic values, and to hopefully bring attention to the woefully under explained "Pre K" federal program. Although I am a bit emotional as I draft this, I hope that my goal of bringing the difficulties of the public school system to light may help other parents in the future.
My son's birthday is October 6th, and he will be turning five this year. In April, I inquired about the Pre K program at a local elementary school. My question was met by several heads turning toward me, either scoffing or in disdain. As a new resident to Maryland, I was unaware of the federal status of this program, rather than it's being hosted by the public school system. My ignorance aside, the response I received was short and chilly: "You know this is an income based program."
I use a period at the end of that statement because that is how it was spoken to me. No question, no offer of information. My inquisitive look at the secretary warranted only a glance at my appearance (which in some way, apparently, was indicative my financial superiority). Rather than fight what was clearly going to be a losing, uninformative battle, I reached out to a second local public school, and received more friendly, yet equally uninformative response. Having met with nothing but closing doors, my husband and I looked into the early admission requirements for kindergarten.
According to your 2011-2012 Handbook:
"For entrance to kindergarten, children admitted to the kindergarten program in the public school system shall be five years old on or before September 1st of the school year in which they apply for entrance. Exceptions to the age entrance policy are considered only in very extraordinary circumstances. The standards are rigorous to ensure that children are not frustrated by the advanced placement" (Harford County Public Schools).
Duly noted. I understand that a child frustrated by advanced placement would be a distraction, both to the educators and to the children whose parents loved them enough to birth them on or before September 1st. Your handbook continues:
"Although not encouraged, exceptions to the age of entrance policy are granted by Harford County Public Schools when it is clearly evident that the precocious four-year-old will be effectively served by a rigorous, standard-based curriculum in kindergarten...Exceptional abilities refer to your child being able to read the newspaper, magazines or books. For mathematical ability, word problems should be solved without prompting. Word problems indicate the child’s ability to construct abstract thought" (Harford County Public Schools).
I was interested to find that my son, who can write and verbally spell his name, add, subtract, and regularly uses "hypothesis" (and varying other multisyllabic words) correctly in a sentence would likely be deemed incapable of entering kindergarten 36 days after the age cutoff because he lacked the ”extraordinary circumstances" and "precociousness" sought by way of the exceptional abilities that "refer to your child being able to read the newspaper, magazines or books".
The Maryland state website for educational improvement Standard 1.0 General Reading Processes, however, lists the first task for kindergarten " PHONEMIC AWARENESS: Students will master the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words by the end of grade one" "General Reading Processes ~ Grade K ~ Reading/ELA Using the State Curriculum ~ School Improvement in Maryland.").
So the questions I pose to you, Harford County School District, are these:
As our child is currently unable to read and I am not a parent able to supply home schooling and our household income exceeds the (albeit federal) standard for Pre K, we are left with two options: paying between $500 and $750 per month for a private learning institution, or not providing our son with the academic curriculum and peer interaction crucial for his age. Does the fact that we are neither destitute nor rich mean our child does not deserve the education provided easily and unreservedly to others?
And how is it, exactly, that the intention of the curriculum for state of Maryland clearly indicates the goal of teaching five and six year old children to read, while my four year old must regale his assessor with a piece from the Associated Press to warrant his entrance to kindergarten?