A Win for Families in Pittsburgh: #ppsafterschool

Disclosure: This content has been compensated as part of an Early Childhood Education promotion for Pittsburgh Public Schools. However, all opinions remain my own. #ppsafterschool

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Source: Jason Cohn

What’s the main reason Greg and I maintain a working mom / stay-at-home dad family balance? Because balancing work, child care, and soon school are not the easiest jobs in the world. We’re lucky that I’m able to work to provide for the family, but not everyone has that flexibility. As you know, we went back and forth in the spring about what to do regarding Arianna’s (pre-)schooling, and finally settled in on a public school program that fits our family’s needs.

Our decision would have been a whole lot easier if we lived in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district. Their Early Education Childhood Department “provides children, ages birth to five, with a comprehensive, educational program” with some of the programs being at no-cost to income eligible families.  There’s even a “Ready Freddy” program designed for kids Arianna’s age (4 going on 20, I mean 5) that is part of the PPS’ “Transition to Kindergarten” outreach. With programs like this, her October birthday never would have been an issue. She would have stayed in the preschool program for ages 3-5 then transitioned to kindergarten in 2014.

(Like any parents, we know think our kid is a genius. She went to pre-3 for 2 years at a private school, then we hoped to test her into private kindergarten. The school wasn’t really supporting our decision, so this year she’ll be in a public school program and start kindergarten when her same-age peers do. Let’s hope she can be tested for gifted SOON!)

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Source: Jason Cohn

The Early Childhood Program supports learning at an early age to help children avoid the “start behind, stay behind” paradox. As a former teacher, that’s why I pushed so hard to ensure my kids had access to programs like this. With me spending the majority of my time away from the kids, I want to be sure they have resources to prepare them for school. (Greg is amazing with the kids, but when it comes to working on writing, reading, and math, we agree that we’ll be relying on teachers for help with this area.) If our children have this background, they will start kindergarten at or ahead, setting them up for success down the line (like when it’s time for standardized tests).

Beyond the fact that the Early Childhood Education Program is offered five days a week, six hours a day, includes breakfast and lunch and at no cost for many families, Pittsburgh Public Schools will be offering an incredible win for families of Pre-K to 5th grade students this year–an after school care program. (This is exactly why I fretted so much about school for Arianna, I was going to have to rush around either before or after school to have her in an “all day” preschool program.)

For families with children enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools (Pre-K to 5th grade), there are five schools offering this program–Pittsburgh: Brookline, Colfax, Crescent Early Childhood Center, Morrow, and Phillips. Students will be able to enroll in part-time or full-time care (provided until 6:30 PM, daily) at a low cost ($28 per day for 2 days a week to $13 per day for 5 days a week). In exchange, they will get homework help and participate in thematic programming and partnerships with local organizations like the Carnegie Science Center, Gateway to the Arts and Jump Start. The students will be in a safe environment and work on age-appropriate activities.

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Source: Jason Cohn

This sounds like a great alternative to balancing schedules and rushing around at the end of the work day, doesn’t it? For my family, a program that combines the Early Childhood Program and the After School Program would be a huge win. Just enrolling Arianna, we’d get after school care for $13 per day or less than $300 per month. (This would be in addition to the PreK program, which would be at no cost for income eligible families or about $650 for those who don’t meet the income eligibility.) Across nine months of school (since the program runs the school year schedule), the year-long spread of costs would never come close to the impact day care could have on a single income family. Although we chose to go the public school route this year, putting a low cost like this on education would be well worth it, in my opinion–when compared to other high quality programs, the value and cost are so worth it. Especially because the curriculum prepares the PreK students to enter Kindergarten classroom by aligning standards so there’s no gap.

If you have children in Pittsburgh Public Schools and are interested in applying, the application deadline is August 9, 2013 (which is next week!). Applications are available online at www.pps.k12.pa.us/earlychildhood or parents can request a hard copy by calling the Early Childhood Department at 412-325-4291.

I am participating with a number of other Pittsburgh bloggers to write about this incredible opportunity for Pittsburgh families. If you are interested in reading the other posts, I highly suggest searching Twitter and Facebook book for #ppsafterschool for more posts from us. 

Parenting Decision: School

One of the things I’ve learned as a parent is that you cannot second guess your decisions. Many things we decide as a parent are made in a split-second, while others involve great thought and discussion. The decision we made to not enroll Arianna in another year of preschool was not an easy one, yet here I am second guessing my parenting decision about her school “career” and she’s only four.


You see, Arianna is one of those unlucky kids with an October birthday. I used to think that to attend public school she would miss the cut-off by five days, but I was wrong. In our district, the cut-off is September 1, meaning she would not be able to go to kindergarten in public school this fall.

When enrolling her in a preschool program, we knew that moving up to kindergarten wasn’t a guarantee, but a possibility at the private school. So, off she went to another year of pre-3 instead of pre-4 just in case she wouldn’t be able to move up. This saved us quite a bit of money (3 days versus 5) and time spent driving to the school.

When enrollment letters came home, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to swing the pre-4 cost, but didn’t want to hold our daughter back because of money. Unfortunately, the options to keep her in private school simply didn’t work with our budget or timing, so we had to choose to say farewell to her school.

Although we’ve applied for a pre-K program in our local district (free, and five days a week, several hours a day), I fear she won’t get in there. You see, this is an income based program and we make a tad bit too much for it (although they do have a few non-income based slots).

It’s like we can’t win. We don’t make enough, yet we make too much. Sure, Greg could go to work, but at this point, he’d be working to pay for private pre-school and then daycare for Evan. Instead, we sit and wait, floating on hope that Arianna will be accepted to the school program and we will not be “holding her back” from potential this coming fall.

Lots of people say their kid is brilliant, but I really believe mine is. Her mind is like her favorite animal, the elephant. She remembers everything, down to the very last detail. Hopefully that helps her out if she cannot attend a school program. The last thing I want is to know our decision around money kept her from excelling at school.

Are other families faced with the “October Baby” school cut-off challenge? I realize someone would have it regardless of the cut-off, but I need to know that keeping her back with her smarts is going to be okay. What suggestions do you have for at-home learning to keep her going if we don’t hear good news from the school program? We’re already pulling together some Everyday Math activities and handwriting books just in case. I might even throw together weekly units that both she and Evan can benefit from. If so, would this be something you readers would enjoy hearing about here on the blog? Ah, now to find even more time in my already busy life. Wish us luck (and patience). 

Leprechaun Trap 2013

Repeating a year in Pre-3 means that Arianna got to make herself another Leprechaun Trap in school. (Translated, Mama gets to use some creativity if she allows the time and Arianna watches with glee, assisting on few tasks.)

I realized too late that I had thrown out last year’s version (saving anything salvageable) and that we had to start fresh. No worries, we still had her Valentine’s box at hand and plenty of green tissue paper. Arianna gave her idea for vision–no ladder this year, a tunnel to crawl through that was covered in vines. Good thing I save paper towel rolls!

With our vision, tape, gold, rainbows, and shamrocks, off we set to build our masterpiece.

Leprechaun Trap

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As Arianna would say, “How do I think?” My favorite part? Her “FREE GOLD” sign. Win.

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To Trap a Leprechaun

Last week, ‘lil Miss A came home with a preschool homework assignment. “Build and bring in your leprechaun trap on March 14.” This Pinterest crazy mama thought it would be the perfect craft for us to do. I had visions, and my visions had visions.

Then, I forgot about the project, and next thing I knew, it was Monday the 12th and I hadn’t “pinned” anything for the project let alone searched Google for what in the world was a Leprechaun trap. If I had been smart, I would have called upon the creative genius that is Burgh Baby (who I am sure would have jumped at the chance to help the kid out–her daughter would tell you they are creepy, and she knows from experience). But alas, I did not. I grabbed an empty paper box and told my cousin J that I needed to do this project. She googled, and laughed, told me, “oh my, are they green!”. I went home with visions of deep green and glitter. I forgot the box. I didn’t stop for supplies. I went for a run in the misty rain, and I fed the kids and husband Taco Bell for dinner. I failed, and we had one day left to do the project.

Tuesday evening, I went to the craft store (which had clearanced the St. Patrick’s Day supplies out–there was barely anything left on the shelves) and ended up grabbing some glittery gift bags, stickers, and clover garland. Something would work. A and I gathered our supplies (no scrapping tape, just some couponed packing tape and scissors), and we got to work. The trap needed a ladder (A’s demand), so I made one out of gold rope. She stuck coins to the side to tempt the ‘lil Leprechaun, and plastered on rainbows and shamrocks.

She was proud of her trap, but didn’t understand why a Leprechaun didn’t just come waltzing up our table and into the trap right away. (She’s going to have trouble when she goes hunting.) We tucked the trap beside my bag so she’d be able to take it into school and went to sleep. The next morning, she was upset that she still hadn’t caught a Leprechaun, and I had to explain to her that they only come out on Fridays (because that’s when the trap would be filled at school). She associates Friday’s with dinner at Great Great’s and is always aware of how long it is until then, so she said, “Ok, Leprechaun. You have two days.”

Friday came and went. The trap came home from school, and Mr. Burgher didn’t have an update for me about what she did (or didn’t) catch. I didn’t think to ask her about it before she left for my parents, and there is nothing in that darn trap this morning. I think we’ve been scammed, or else she’s joining the “baby” of Burgh Baby’s camp. Creepy Leprechauns anyways.

(PS, have you checked out our cute ‘lil Man as a Leprechaun? That is not creepy in the least!)

Pre-School Valentines

Today was ‘lil Miss A’s class valentine party. A’s teacher asked me if I would be able to make it today, and I was lucky enough to rearrange my schedule so I could be there. I was working from home in the morning, and ended up rushing in last minute, but just in time for A to pass out her “I Love You a Ton” valentines I made while scrapping in January, and Oreos that Mr. Burgher couponed (and our dairy free ‘lil one can eat).

The kids were so sweet, all sitting quietly on their carpet squares (and trying so hard not to eat the bundles of Kisses they were given). Next, they did crafts–a lady bug made of hearts and a door hanger covered in cute foamies. ‘lil Miss A played her turn at an octopus ring toss game, then it was snack time.

“Why does A always get special snacks?” her friends asked me. “Why can’t she have icing on her cupcake?” Oh, the joys of explaining to three year olds that some things just don’t sit right with our bodies. A didn’t mind as she was given a cupcake with none of the icing (but oh, can I say it looked SO good?) and ate it all up (even licking the wrapper).

Soon, it was time to go, but we had to wait for Mr. Burgher to pick us up. A and two of her friends got to stick around and play a match game with Oreo shapes. I was delighted to watch her learn, and it made me miss teaching (and wonder what being a SAHM would be like). We got in the car, and she proclaimed that it was a beautiful day. “Mama, you don’t have to go to work now. You can just play with me all day long!”

Sorry, kiddo, I wish every day could be like today. Hope you enjoyed your Valentine’s Day party!

Her First Day

As you saw yesterday, Lil Miss A has started Pre-School! Several have asked how it went, so here is your bonus post to tell all. 🙂

The morning started off quiet, she and I got ready together. Every step I took to get ready to get out the door, she felt she had to do. We pretended to put deodorant, perfume, and makeup on her, brushed our teeth in sync with each other, and put on our shoes together.

She posed for pictures and yelled that she needed her backpack on NOW. Mr. Burgher, as always, made her wish his command and captured her usual goofy camera avoidance.

Mr. Burgher and Lil Man wanted to go along with us on the first day, so we packed into the two cars–Mama and Lil Girl in one, Daddy and Lil Man in the other. Since we normally let her eat breakfast on the road, I gave her a plate of cheerios and a banana. This spilled after my second right turn, so I had to pull off and rescue cheerios from all over the backseat (of the new car, meep!). We finally got on the highway and headed toward her school.

When we got to the school, she was bursting at the seams with excitement. She stared down a garbage truck and dared it to defy her crossing the street. We were followed into the school and classroom by another pre-3 student, and she was all about trying to talk him up.

As soon as we entered the classroom, she handed the teacher her backpack and was OFF AND RUNNING. We had to coax her to go hang her backpack up, but those are just the details, there was playing to be had! She seemed to fit right in, except she is so tiny and short compared to the rest of the class who is already 3. We found her birthday on the wall and took a few more photos.

After giving the teacher Mr. Burgher’s number (just in case), we were able to slip out with not a single tear from Mama, Daddy, or Lil Girl. Lil Man was chomping at the bit–I think we are going to have to send him to the 1’s and 2’s next year–but otherwise, we were good to go. She didn’t even see us walk out! Mr. Burgher and I headed to our cars and on our separate ways. Easy!

At 11, Mr. Burgher went to pick her up and she looked thrilled. Her teacher came out with a raincoat (far too big for A) because A said it was hers. (She is obsessed with rain gear, so if you need a birthday idea, hint hint, rain boots (size 6 1/2 or 7) and a rain coat would thrill her.) It wasn’t, of course. They got in the truck and she hugged her backpack tight, proclaiming that she LOVES PRE-SCHOOL!

She presented Mr. Burgher with a picture she drew us (you know, one of those masterpieces we are supposed to hold on to…actually, I should keep it and track her progress through year end now that I think about it), and kept talking about how much she loved school. When I came home, I poured over the take-home folder and swooned at the mass amounts of book order packets were sent home (a previous guilty pleasure of mine from my teaching days). Then I woke her from her nap and all she wanted to do was go back to Pre-School! I did ask if she got into any trouble, and she mentioned something about trouble for teaching (surprise, surprise), so Mr. Burgher plans on poking in a time or two to see if she’s causing any grief. 😉

Friday is her next day back, and she is ready!

Someone Needs to Stop Time

Seriously. Can one of you get on that? I know a few of you talk to the Big Man upstairs like we do, so maybe you can say an extra prayer or two for us?

This past weekend, my mind starting racing. Lil Miss A is growing up way too fast because too much time has passed between some events.

A friend told me that a dog I used to co-own passed away–it had been three and a half years since the Ex had returned her to the Humane Society and an old friend adopted her out of there.

(RIP Daisy)

Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, making me think back to the night my roommate and I ventured out to greet Tropical Storm Hanna–this was three years ago this coming weekend and I had just hit the start of my 9th month of pregnancy.

(Me during Tropical Storm Hanna in Myrtle Beach 9.5.08, one month before A was born)

And, we got the welcome postcard that A was accepted into Preschool.

PRESCHOOL. Yup. Next Wednesday, I will be driving our first piece of precious cargo with me and dropping her off at preschool. Can you stand it? She is just growing way too fast, see?

This is her a year ago:

And this is her now:

I really can’t stand it.