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Academic Extracurricular Activities: Yay or nay?

With back to school around the corner, I have been receiving a few solicitations from after-school tutors or academic enrichment programs.  There are one-on-one tutor opportunities who can help children with math, reading, and other core subjects. There are also larger programs like Saturday Academy or Kumon that offer more strucutred, further exploration of subjects that may already be covered in school.  

My kids gravitate toward sports for their extracurricular activities.  With that, a two-working parent schedule, plus the other daily requirements (dinner? bath? laundry?), I feel like there is no time for much else.

We recently ran into old friends whose sons go to Kumon.  They love it!  So, then, I started wondering: should we consider it too?  Do your kids have any extracurricular activities of the academic nature?  Out of "need" or their own interest?  Are the one-on-one opportunities the way to go?

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I agree that with two working parents there just isn't enough time for extra curricular activities. But if you are using after school care on school premisses, you may be able to sign up for extra curricular activities offered at the school (Spanish, mad scientist, sports etc).

Unfortunately since arriving in Portland I've come to realized that the schools here are way behind those from our previous home and so my kids do extra academic activities just to keep up with the kids at the schools we left behind. I think people who grew up here do not seem to realize that overall, Oregon's academic standards are quite low and the curriculum is completely deficient.

One working-outside-the-home-parent family here. I second the after school activities that are offered on-site at the child's school or aftercare. Aside from those, my daughter has had one other extracurriclar--year round competitive swimming--which has required carpool planning of epic proportions.

High school starts for her next week, and she's certainly more independent than ever, so we see what other things get added to the mix. I'm trying to balance encouraging involvement/engagement at school vs. leaving plenty of time for homework and sleep. Wish us luck!

Anonmom, I'd be curious to hear more about your experience.

We were transferred here for work from another state and being strong believers in public schools (since my husband and I are both successful after attending them) we enrolled our children only to find that the children in their grades were one to two grades behind. When I started mentioning this to people they commented that it seems good enough and that the schools in our previous home probably had unrealistic expectations or were somehow overzealous. I know that they weren't even top schools just good solid public schools and so was dismayed at the attitude. In reading, writing, math and for the older high school aged child, science, their peers here are woefully behind. In the old schools my kids did very well but weren't top of the class, here they are TAG and everyone thinks their abilities are somehow amazing. I talk to friends back home and their kids are moving through concepts that don't even get mention here and so we started supplementing for the first time....it's new to us. I don't think it bodes well for the competitiveness of the children here to gain entrance to colleges and universities outside of Oregon.

anonmom, as someone connected to Oregon education, would you mind sharing what state you transplanted from? I am saddened to hear your account, and I think there is a lot we can learn from other states, other schools, other models. Please share!

I worry about this a lot. It keeps me up at night worried sick. We're not from here, I'm from Miami and my husband is from Berkeley. Our neighborhood school here is Oak Hills. Everyone in the neighborhood says it's a good school. But no one can answer me when I ask why. There seems to be an abundance of resources & programs for kids with special needs here, but very few resources from the city/state for accelerated learners. There's TAG, but that's hardly a leg up when competing with uber techie kids from the Bay Area or the super competitive public schools back East. When I called the school to ask about full-time kindergarten, they offer it, but they don't know if it'll be one or two classes because not all parents want it. Who doesn't want FT kindergarten? Her answer was that kids get tired and bored. Bored?! All I could think and wonder is what are they doing in that classroom to make kids bored at 5 years old? The school has a strong PTO, which is nice. But after looking at Bonny Slope, it's clear to me that Oak Hills is a nice little neighborhood school, but there are very few extra curricular activities and things for accelerated learners to get involved with.

A friend of mine recently moved to Camas. She called and told me, "OMG, this is light years different than Oregon." Then proceeded to tell me how her elementary school has everything one could think and dream of: music, choir, drumming classes, Math Olympics, reading clubs, drama, a few kinds of art, sports and more. All school sponsored. She met with 2 teachers, one previously with West Linn/Wilsonville and the other with Portland. One called Oregon schools "Mickey Mouse compared to Washington," the other said Washington's curriculum was "night and day" better than Oregon. Apparently they also teach math. Not Everyday Math where kids learn 4 ways of doing everything, then in the end don't know 4x3, aka the basics.

So here we sit, wondering what we should be doing. Don't have enough money to go private, scared to death of lost opportunities by being complacent, scared of not knowing what we don't know, other than what we hear.

Our big hope is that Beaverton will give Bonny Slope some open enrollment spots, and we actually get one. Then we can work on getting our kid in the IB program there, and on to the Beaverton IB magnet school and the International School of Beaverton high school. One damn good education right there. But that's a lot of if's and luck. Not exactly a solid strategy.

Other option of course, is move to Camas. But Lake Oswego is evident that moving to an area for the schools doesn't always work out. Long coveted as the best schools around, L.O. had major budget cuts and closed several elementary schools.

So who knows.

I would like to add that PPS being behind manyother districts is not "news". It's old news actually. There's many factors; one being the lack of money and priority that the schools are (hey,maybe if people stop convincing the city that we need ridiculous bike lanes everywhere....) and two,everyone seems to have a different definition of what success is. Many of the granola tree hugging type seem to be mostly concerned withliving green and focusing on being close to nature and that lifestyle more than education. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with living green,but i think people here do it a fault which puts money for education on the backburner.

I'm happy with my son's PPS elementary school, so far, but I think we lucked into a somewhat exceptional one.

jln, I don't think it was the "granola tree hugging types" who defeated the PPS levies from last spring - at least judging from message boards, the nay voters were mostly conservatives who think schools are getting too much money as it is.

Also, money for bike lanes and education come from completely different areas of the city budget - taking $ from one won't add more to the other. (And also there are other public school districts in Portland besides PPS, like Roseway & David Douglas. It's complicated.)

More resources would be helpful across the board, of course. Too bad the no-sales-tax thing is such a holy grail for Oregon politicians.

I think after-school enrichment programs are great if they are done right. A creative program that knows how to teach in fun and engaging ways should not exhaust your already tired children after-school. Foreign language is a great idea for school age children in today's world. Culture Club has an after school program offering French and Spanish. They even can sometimes pick up your child from school. cultureclubkids.com

Okay wading into what has now expanded into a BIG debate:

1) about extra curriculars---if your kid has an interest, aptitude or your school offers stuff (at Atkinson they had "Explorers" it's how we figured out my daughter could act), by all means go for it! But on the other hand, it doesn't need to rule your life and your kid may outgrow it (in our case ballet went by the wayside).

Unless your child specifically needs extra academic instruction (or is really gifted, not TAG, which is kinda BS), I'm not a big fan of extra academics for younger kids. I seriously doubt any kid "loves" it. And they only have but so long to be a kid.

You can also do lots of educational stuff with your children. My daughter isn't particularly "school focused" but she knows a lot about politics, antiquing and paleontology because we involve her in our interests.

Foreign language for a middle school aged kid is great. We're contemplating the extra $220 for once a week French lessons at her school. But again, I don't believe in over scheduling (and I've been told DaVinci will demand a lot of extra time for projects and performing).

2) The Oregon schools drool/Washington (and other states) schools rule argument:

I'm seriously not one to defend PPS..BUT, there are good schools, there are not so good schools. We're a large urban district so this is inevitable. There's also a LOT of mythology (and yes, it is) that Oregon schools suck. It would be helpful if anonmom were to tell what district she was in previously?

As for beavertonmom, time to relax! Your school scores an "8" on greatschools.org---pretty much on par with Camas schools. I've had Vancouverites insist to me that Washington schools were better---a quick peek at the score standings and no, they're not. BTW, all the schools in LO still rate a "10" at great schools, so they're much better.

I briefly taught at a tech school in WA, with students predominantly from WA, but entirely statewide. They all (these were high school graduates) expected me to make them fun study guides (in the form of cross word puzzles), were outraged any time any sort of homework was assigned, texted in class and expected all test answers to be spoon fed to them.

Why? THAT was how Washington runs their schools. Frequently when people move across the river, they like to justify their move. Too bad it's all a myth. Your children are receiving a perfectly decent education.

Though I do agree, I hate how math is taught here and definitely understand why my daughter gets so confused. But other stuff they handle really well.

Speaking of which, anonmom talks about high schools being poor here, though she fails to name which specific ones. In PPS alone, high schools really run the gamut of terrible (sadly, Jefferson) to mediocre (Benson)to amazing (Wilson or Cleveland). In the case of Cleveland students canrequest moving on to more challenging classes at any time. They can take college level classes NOT at a local community college like most high schools but at Lewis and Clark or Reed.

I'm not going to talk about where I'm from since it would reveal my identity to friends who read this blog. if you want to tell yourself the schools here are good so be it. It is simply not true, though.

I've actually lived in quite a few states---and attended a top , world famous magnet school (by nationwide standards). I also spent most of my elementary and junior high years in what was then the third best district in the country...and again, I think it depends on which school you attend and even which teachers your kid has.

The only area that I find real weakness is, as I mentioned, in math--because I truly hate how they teach it. But if anything, it's sometimes too hard---because they incorporate word problems waaaay too early.

I respect anonmom's desire for privacy...BUT, simply saying "I think they suck, so they suck" isn't an effective argument. Based on actual research, PPS is a better district than Phoenix, Albequerque, Hawaii, anything in urban Florida, nearly every OTHER Southern state, Detroit, DC, Kansas City, MO (though not nearby Shawnee Mission, KS), overall NYC (though they pretty much created magnet schools)and (despite rigorous testing drilling) Texas--and that's just off the top of my head.

Your old district may well have been better because perhaps it was smaller, more suburban or wealthier---but if your refernce point is PPS, again, we're actually better than the average urban district. And yes, I have plenty of issues with how they run thngs.

Even if you don't wish to reveal anything about yourself---please cite something other than your own, anecdotal evidence.

Zumpie - since you're involved with the schools, do you have any insight as to whether Oregon will stick with this new math stuff, or have possible plans to replace it in the future?

The math stuff is what scares me the most. It scares me because our kids have it different than we did. When we graduated high school, things weren't as global as they are now, and the rise of China and Asia in general along with India hadn't happened yet. The brain power coming out of these countries now is tremendous, and high tech companies employ them by the thousands. These are the kids that our kids will compete against not only for college spots, but for the high paying engineering, research and high tech jobs of the future that require outstanding skills in math and science.

I can appreciate all the comments on this board - there have been many nights when I wonder am I doing enough, is public school the right choice, are there other areas of the country or even the NW that would provide a better advantage for my child. I acknowledge beavertonmom's comment regarding China, Asia and India - heck, the majority of my neighborhood is is from those countries (talk about feeling like an outsider)... but what if your child doesn't want to become an engineer or in high tech? There are a lot of other vocations that invoke passion and enjoyment outside of those fields, and money or making money isn't everything in life.

In fact we chose to enroll our child in another school through open-enrollment because we wanted her to be able to just be a kid. Our neighborhood school is an A rated elementary that has robust TAG environment. But these kids are not outside playing on their bikes after school. They are not in the dance classes my daughter loves and looks forward to with all her heart. They are not swinging from trees and drawing with chalk on the sidewalks. They are in enrichment. They are in saturday school. They are inside doing workbooks. We choose to send her to an equally good school that has a cultural environment that mirrors our values, which are that kids should be allowed to be kids. There is plenty of time to be a grown up, to learn to "compete in a global environment" - whatever my kids choose to pursue, we will help them to best position themselves for it, but I have to remind myself that right now they are just kids!

Most kids I know who do academic enrichment also play and dance,etc. Weird stereotyping on this thread.

Okay, just found the additional comments, so my apologies for the late reply:

Beavertonmama---I'll assume you're no older than myself (46) and I'll point out that yes, things WERE global "back in the day". It just wasn't China, it was Japan. And in someways (because they did 5 1/2 days and competed against impossible standards), Western Europe. And to some degree (largely bases on mythology), The Soviet Union.

That said, apparently the math thing is already changing. As of last year, the tests became harder because Massachusetts has a more rigorous math testing program. My daughter's former elementary school is now teaching math a bit differently (I can't speak to specifics, cause she's no longer there)--and thus far I looooooove how her new middle school math teacher is teaching.

Additionally, as I said, it isn't that it's too easy (IMHO), it's that it jumps all over and fails to offer real mastery of basics. You don't need to pay extra or over schedule your family's lives to help with that--just have your kid do the odd thing here and there.

Lastly, I agree with attorneymama about letting kids be kids. Every time you schedule another activity or "enrichment class" (which again, they spend enough school time doing that), you take away from their kid time.

I'm not big into putting pressure on a little kid so I can be impressed with myself in my awesomeness. If a kid enjoys an extracurricular activity, great---otherwise, let them do things on their own or with their family or friends.

Kumon may be a decent program/Center for kids to learn, but it is not fit for ALL. Beestar is absolutely a better alternative for children than Kumon. Rather than spending a significant amount of money for courses and workbooks to complete on their own, one can definitely switch to Beestar to give it a try! Beestar offers free math and offers assistance in multiple subjects as well. Children are motivated by receiving Beestar Honor Rolls often for their performance, which engages them to do better each time. Another advantage is that Beestar offers online management where parents can check their child's progress wherever they go. My daughter has been with Beestar for a good two years and loves it! Beestar all the way!

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