Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Next stop first grade

Nate gives approval
for the ceremony to start
Before ceremony close-up, with
friend mugging for the camera

On Monday, my youngest grandson Nate Kurtz graduated from kindergarten at Riverside elementary school, in Richmond CA.  Nate has accomplished much in the past year.  By March, he could write the numbers up to 30, knew 16 out of 30 of his "sight words," and was learning not to play so rough with his peers.  He is ready for the first grade.

The Riverside student body is about 3/4 Hispanic.  Mr. Garcia, the principal, spoke first in English, then translated his remarks into Spanish himself.  Mrs. Maldin, Nate's kindergarten teacher, spoke in English, then another kindergarten teacher gave the Spanish version.  The Riverside neighborhood is not exactly a trendy part of the Bay Area, and there are fewer white children than either blacks or Asians in Nate's class. But if you are adding up these factors and guessing that Riverside has inner-city school problems, take a closer look.

Riverside has a strong anti-bullying program, not just in words, but in serious consequences for students caught fighting.  Other Bay Area elementary schools actually have drug problems, but Riverside does not.  Their report cards grade students on many specific categories.  For example, Nate was graded on "Identifies and produces rhyming word in response to oral prompt" and "Blends sounds in one syllable words."

Dollar bill origami were
popular garlands
The graduation ceremony showcased the results of this approach.  Mrs. Maldin told us that all graduates needed to be ready to start reading, and that counting to thirty was the standard new first graders were expected to meet.  Then she had had the graduates count to a hundred, in unison, first by twenties, then by tens, fives, and twos.  Then the graduates recited the months of the year, then the days of the week.
Nate hands Tamar a red carnation

Riverside honors the magnitude of the graduates' achievement by making a big deal of the ceremony. That means honoring parents too.  All the children filed in holding red carnations, and Mr. Garcia closed his remarks by asking each child to give their carnation to their parents (or significant parental figure).  Many families made special garlands for their graduates, or gave them balloons, so they could carry the family standard with verve and style. Nate's big brother Moises was an usher, passing out programs, and his big sister Sarah was there too, dressed to the nines.

Mrs. Maldin's daughter, who recently received her Bachelor's degree from St. Mary's college in Moraga, gave the commencement address.  She read the graduates one of her favorite Dr. Seuss passages, from Oh the Places You'll Go:

  You have brains in your head. 
  You have feet in your shoes. 
  You can steer yourself any direction you choose. 
  You're on your own. 
  And you know what you know. 
  And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...

Nate at the graduation banquet
Nate, Tamar, and friend at the banquet

She advised the graduates that as they press on in life, deciding on direction and and destinations, their goal should not be to see how many friends they can make.  Instead, they should try to see how many good friends they could keep, the good friends being those who believed they could make their dreams happen, despite the naysayers.

After the ceremony, the party moved to Nate's kindergarten classroom, where we enjoyed a potluck banquet.  Nate is a picky eater, but he gave the fried chicken and watermelon enough attention to get down a few bites.  I enjoyed the macaroni and cheese and pasta salad immensely.

And after the delicious potluck banquet, Nate and his entourage went to his great-grandmother Margaret's house, and Nate, siblings, and friends plunged into the joys of summer vacation -- hooray!  The first thing Nate wanted to do was to draw some pictures for grandpa, and he had me go out of the room so I would be surprised to see what he had made.  When I came back, he presented me with my very own picture of Sponge Bob, as if somehow he'd known that was exactly what my refrigerator door needed.  In case you're wondering, the blue checkmark to the right of Nate's name is what Mrs. Maldin would have made, if she thought the picture was complete. 

"Sponge Bob," by Nathan Kurtz,
for grandpa
Picture of the artist
displaying his palette.

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