Saturday, October 31, 2015


Luke & Dad's Ninth Year and a Half

You are in your final year of River School. Your mom has kicked ass as the Chairman of the Board and has been working hard to expand the River's influence. Simultaneously, we've been preparing you for the application process for your next phase of schooling.

Damn, this process is harder than applying to Duke in undergrad or Harvard Business School! Its every bit as selective and a lot more work. Its stressful for your parents, and we are stressing you out too!

However, one nice product of this effort is the essays Rachel wrote about you for the applications. Unlike your father, who is capable of wild fantasy and exaggeration, Rachel is unusually direct, honest and as result, really credible. She also is able to capture you at this moment of your life better than anyone.

So, rather than waste your time with me, I thought you should see what your mom wrote about you in the fall of 2015 ...

(By the way, don't tattle on me. She doesn't know I'm doing this!)

What is your child's attitude toward school?

Luke looks forward to each school day with a mixture of excitement and some small amount of apprehension. The River School is his second home, although he doesn’t quite realize it, and he feels confident and safe there. The excitement you can sense on our drive to school: he’s plotting how he will make his friends laugh and what he’ll contribute that day to the Falcon class’s ongoing project of the month, and what he’s going to talk to Mr. Leigh about in science. To succeed, however, Luke has had to learn to plan, to make lists, and to believe in process. These skills aren’t second nature, and the dose of apprehension comes in because every morning he’s also donning his school armor and preparing to do what doesn’t always come easily. But this apprehension has had its compensations. The flip side to having to find ways to cope with ADD, as Luke has had to from early on, is that Luke has a mental toughness and perseverance that was not as present when he was younger. Luke is friendly and seeks affection, but he is single-minded and determined. When he has an objective, academic or otherwise, he attains it.

How do you think your child is doing in school?

Luke is performing above average or on par in all subjects. Among his strengths is that he is a strong, voracious reader and an imaginative and comic writer. He chose a 500-plus page Skullduggery Pleasant series book for his book review earlier this year, despite his mother’s protestations that it would take forever, and delighted us by finishing it well before the deadline so he could get to work on the review. His reading comprehension is excellent, especially when he enjoys the topic, such as science, animals, history and, especially, fantasy fiction.

Luke excels in science, particularly life science and engineering science: circuitry, building, fluid dynamics (goo vs slime!), and anything involving rocketry or fire. Earlier this fall, he and his partner devised the only paper towel-roll and plastic-liter-bottle stomp rocket that reached the roof of The River School, and he is still proud of this accomplishment.

Luke likes math games and projects but doesn’t enjoy memorizing. He enjoys math insofar as it’s used in the service of a problem or a project.

He might be a little embarrassed to admit it, but Luke also loves being on stage, and his (obviously biased) parents think he’s a natural. At the River School, children act in the Spring Play starting in kindergarten, and Luke has always enjoyed the camaraderie and pomp and circumstance that go with the two months of rehearsal and the attention he gets when he’s hamming it up on stage. He’s spent three summers attending a “Shakespeare Sprite” camp, and he’s loved learning how to die on stage, how to sword fight, how to play up the slapstick side of Shakespeare, and he even got into the Elizabethan language after one of the cool, charismatic festival actors told him, “‘Prithee, peace’ means shutup! Say it like you’d say ‘shut up’ to your brother!”

What are your child's interests outside of school?

Luke's favorite activities are

drawing comics, scenes, and blueprints for machines and toys,
building anything,
inventing board games with his brother,
playing video games, especially with his friends, as well as programming in Minecraft,
reading science fiction and fantasy
practicing karate, and
playing guitar.

Among the activities that were initially parent-mandated but that Luke has come to enjoy through the years are karate, soccer, and music (first piano, now guitar). Luke is a blue-belt in karate and attends class twice a week. He's proud of each new belt he earns, and we have been delighted that karate has had the side benefits that “Mr. Ricky” promised us: it has increased his confidence and improved both his mental and physical discipline. Luke asked to play guitar after taking piano for a few years, and he has found his instrument. He likes getting his teacher to show him how to play simple versions of hit songs and movie soundtracks that he likes.

What are some of the qualities that you appreciate about your child?

Both of us read this question and said, “His imagination!” He loves imaginary worlds – from The Hobbit and Skullduggery Pleasant books to movies like Tron and video games like “Minecraft” – and he spends a lot of his free time incorporating them into his own games and comics. Luke really wants others to like what he likes, and as his social motivation has grown over the years, his enthusiasm for these pursuits has become infectious to his peers. Luke is a “maker” and has become a ringleader in the neighborhood who gets groups of kids to enter his imaginary world, plan adventures, and go on “missions” for his Pranksters Rule! Club. He’s also got his friends playing a game he made that he calls Galaxy Wars 8000, set in the future. It has levels and “bosses,” like video games, and role-playing, like “Dungeons and Dragons.” Each level is a picture he’s drawn, with challenges and probabilities infused into the story arc.

We also love that Luke is big-hearted, playful and has a strong sense of justice. He’s sensitive to others, and even though he can be silly and boisterous, he’s aware when a friend or an adult is feeling down and wants to make things right for them. We’ve been told that he is like “glue” in his class, helping others come together and find common ground. Luke has sometimes struggled, and he has a helping hand for anyone else who struggles.

What are some areas in which support may be needed?

The most significant challenge of Luke’s early years has been cutting out the “noise” so he can access his awesome mind. He’s distracted by an ambulance siren 5 miles away, laughter in the next room, his own impulse to get up and move around. Learning skills to help him pay attention – and accepting that he needs help (e.g., a tutor, medication, and early on, occupational therapy) – has been the struggle of his childhood. Yet each year has been better than the year before, and now Luke has the assurance that when you work on something, you can overcome it.

But Luke hasn’t done it alone, and support from school has been and will continue to be important. We’ve learned that contact with his teachers before problems arise is critical. As one example of support we might require next year, Luke is currently on an ADD medication that wears off at about 1 PM. As the afternoon workload in 4th grade increases, and as he grows, we can expect to need to adjust his medication. Having teachers fill out a short, standard survey once a week for a few weeks has been a good way to assess how things are going. We try to be respectful of teachers’ time and systematic and efficient about how we approach our support needs, such that we do not require more classroom or out-of-classroom time than other families.

And we’re quite open to suggestions. We have been upfront with teachers and friends about Luke’s ADD and what that means, and have come to feel that transparency and flexibility are a key component of the success he’s had.

What qualities about our School make it a good place for your child?

We want Luke to develop the mental, physical, and spiritual strength to find and pursue his passions. Great, innovative, and well-supported teachers are a critical part of that equation. Maret has the best teachers we have seen among area schools.

Beyond that, you are our first choice for Luke for many of the same reasons we have loved The River School: You try new things; you are not afraid to mess with the recipe; your teachers seem skilled, kind, and encouraged not to be complacent; and you foster thoughtful innovation.

The Case Institute comes to mind as an example of what makes Maret vibrant. The world changes, technology changes, our expectations of our kids change. In order to grow and improve, we think schools and teachers have to be open to change. And to do it well, they have to be systematic about it. Of all the schools we have encountered through our work with The River School or have visited over the last few years, Maret seems to best put into practice this principle.

We also think Luke will do well in Maret’s supportive, smaller-size classrooms and in your well-rounded program where he can develop his interest in science and computers as well as in performing and music.