Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
"Put your lunch box away," I told my daughter. "You won't be using it this year." Tears flowed down her pudgy little cheeks when she heard my request.
"Why can't I go to school?" she cried.
"I'm sorry, honey. The school principal said you're not old enough yet," I told her as I patted her weepy eyes.
My daughter and I had talked about school many times. During the summer she had seen her brother and sisters prepare for the next grade. Natalie was almost five years old, and I assumed she would start kindergarten in September. I had begun preparing her for the transition by telling her wonderful stories about kindergarten, buying her books about starting school and touring the grounds. She was very excited, and she looked forward to her first day.
I dutifully filled out paperwork. I was prepared with all of the essential documents: a birth certificate, proof of residency, and immunization records. I finished quickly and handed them to the secretary who was sitting behind the desk. Having done this several times before, I felt like a professional. The secretary studied the forms for a moment, then took out a huge red marker and wrote "NEXT YEAR" on the application. My mouth hung open as I squinted at the paper. "What do you mean?" I demanded.
"Your daughter is not old enough yet," she replied curtly.
"But she'll be five on December twenty-sixth," I insisted.
The secretary rolled her eyes and snatched a form from under the counter. She thrust it at me as she explained, "Children must be five years old by December first to enroll for that year. Your daughter's birthday falls after the December first deadline."
I read the policy she had handed me. I had not realized there was such a thing as a birth date deadline and could not understand why anyone would make such a stupid rule. I couldn't believe that they were going to deny my child the right to attend public school when I knew she was ready.
I spent the next few hours hunting down teachers, the principal, and school board officials, certain I could persuade them that the policy should be overlooked for my situation. After all, we were only talking about twenty-five days. I tried in vain to convince them that the decision should be up to the parent. I couldn't persuade them to consider that under special circumstances policies should be flexible. I ran into the same wall at every turn. No one was willing to negotiate. It was as if God himself had put this rule on a stone tablet. They assured me that this was for the best. They tried to pacify me with comments like, "The older children have the advantage and tend to do better than the others in the class."
I just couldn't accept that philosophy. They didn't know my daughter. How could they think they knew how to judge what was best for her? I believed my daughter already had an advantage over children her own age. She had attended four years of preschool. She had the experience of older siblings who played school with her and read to her, but most of all she was an unusually smart kid. All of my children were very bright and I could tell that Natalie was even more advanced than they had been at her age. Her vocabulary far surpassed that of children in her age group, and she could already read and do simple math.
My son started kindergarten when he was five. From the beginning, the teacher noticed that his advanced intelligence was the cause of his boredom. Consequently, he became very disruptive in class. This was a problem throughout his first few years of school. The lessons were too easy for him and the extra work they tried to occupy him with was not enough. It was not until he was tested for the GATE program (Gifted and Talented Education) and entered into that curriculum, that we saw a positive change. Knowing that the school system does not test students until the second grade, I was worried that this problem would repeat with Natalie.
My twin brother and I entered kindergarten when we were four years old. There was no age policy in our state. I can remember the kindergarten readiness test we took before registration. If we could spell our name and sing the alphabet song, we were in. That was in the days when teachers did the rest. I don't recall having any trouble fitting in with others or keeping up with the homework. My brother went on to a school for intelligent children after tests showed that he was not retarded. I did a fine job keeping up with my assignments and got decent grades.
As an adult, I don't see any disadvantage to starting school early. The only time it really mattered was after graduation from high school. I was only seventeen and was not considered a legal adult. I could not rent an apartment or sign a binding contract. Job hunting was difficult also, but this was remedied on my next birthday.
I wanted Natalie to start kindergarten early so that she would not stand out so clearly when compared to her classmates. I knew that her learning abilities would be noticed. But she stood out in other ways too. She is very tall for her age and her waist-length hair is a beautiful snow-white color. Even though these are positive traits, they make her noticeable. My concern was that she would not be like the other children and would have to deal with the hardship of not fitting in. I remember children who were teased in my classes. As an average student with a dull appearance, I usually fit in, while my brother, with his flaming orange hair and superior intelligence, spent most of his recesses alone. I did not want this for my daughter.
Perhaps the school system needs to be flexible enough to trust a parent's judgment when it comes to a child's education. Not all circumstances should be measured by statistics, not all children categorized by their birth date. The school officials did not justify their determination of kindergarten readiness, and I did not convince them that my daughter should be the exception to the rule, so I have to stand in the registration line again next year.