Posts tagged ‘Montessori’
Right after C’s first day of kindergarten, the principal caught up with me in the parking lot to tell me he thought C should just skip K and go right into first grade because he was so smart. We’d had an extensive meeting with the school team before starting C in order to convey to them our concern not with academic issues, but with social ones. Hadn’t this guy heard anything we’d said? In hindsight, that was the beginning of the end of “The Terrible Montessori Experiment,” (see here and here) which came to its final, and extremely painful, end a scant few months later.
I’ll never forget some of the principal’s parting words to us. “C will never qualify for an IEP anywhere. He doesn’t belong on one. He’s too smart.” (Nevermind that he’d already been on one for three years.) It was all I could do not to send this idiot a copy of the full IEP C ended up on at the public school 15 minutes up the road – along with the full IEP he’s had ever since at yet another school. The principal’s complete misunderstanding of not only hyperlexia, but high functioning autism/asperger’s, was a rude awakening for us that has made us skittish ever since. That caution has fortunately been unnecessary as since we left that charter school nightmare we have worked with people who actually know what they are doing.
Now, however, it has come full circle. As C prepares to enter third grade, his end of year IEP meeting brought a bit of a surprise. Two of the members of C’s team, and arguably two of the ones who know him best, feel we should consider having C repeat second grade. We are starting to see some comprehension issues coupled with challenging social issues as the maturity gap between C and his peers continues to grow. The thought is that perhaps with younger children, C will emerge as a leader in his class instead of struggling to make connections and friends. It’s not a bad idea, and it’s one Husband and I have considered extensively since that meeting, although we have decided not to pursue it.
Yet I find it almost amusing that we have gone from someone wanting C to skip a grade to potentially repeating one in just two short years. It reminds me how important it is for parents to listen to their instincts when it comes to the people with whom we trust our children. Clearly I should’ve listened to those bells going off in my head that first day of kindergarten as it became obvious to me that the principal had no clue how to deal with a child like C, and that skipping him ahead a grade would’ve been a disaster given his social challenges and maturity level. My only regret is that we even bothered to return to the school on the second day and didn’t move to C’s current school that much sooner.
It is that dastardly time of year that so many of us dread. No, not Halloween, but IEP time. The “Individualized Education Plan,” code for “special education action plan,” is enough to bring trembling to any parent’s steady hands. It has all kinds of categories, goals, percentages, test scores, etc. It’s a picture on paper of what your child supposedly is. And people spend hours and hours writing them. I know our special education teacher did; she is enthusiastic and capable, and really wants to do a good job. I love that about her.
But it’s not important. It doesn’t matter what is written in the IEP. Well, it does when there is a problem. When something is not happening, you need to have the IEP so you can say, “Look, here is what’s supposed to be happening and it is NOT.” It is important when you find yourself in a disaster situation with a school that does not get or does not know how to deal with your child. But even then I do not find an IEP all that helpful. We have been in that disaster situation (I keep calling it the “Great Montessori Experiment,” although “great” means “NOT great, but really, really terrible”), and the IEP did nothing for us. It does not matter what is written in that document if the people on the team are not capable of carrying out those goals. Ultimately we questioned if, IEP or no IEP, we really wanted those people being responsible for our child. The answer was no, which is how we ended up here, at our new school home.
So here we are, in our second year in this new school, and we had our yearly IEP meeting this morning. A group of people, including the principal, sitting around talking about C for an hour. It is a great thing, really; ideas flying around, suggestions made, handwriting studied. And somehow, I walked out of there and found myself the newest Cub Scout Den Leader, but I’m still not sure exactly how that happened. These are highly skilled people.
What I have found, over the years, is that it is about the people around the table, not the document on the table. It is about a group of people who are not only excited about my child, but take ownership of what he does in school. It is about caring how he does, wanting to do right by him, and cutting or adding services based on what he needs, not on what the budget needs. Perhaps I am seeing things through rose-colored glasses, but I always walk into the room at this new school feeling like these people are on C’s side. Not my side, not their side, but C’s side. And that’s where we all should be.
As we prepare to head back to the mountains for an autism day camp so outstanding we’re willing to drive 12 hours to take C (and, I admit for the cooler weather), I am reminded of the various reasons we left our paradise to move south to the desert. We’ve lived in a ski town before, before we had C (and then we moved to the desert, and then we moved back to another paradise, and now we’re back in the desert). After we had C, Husband would ski on Saturday and I’d go on Sunday. Not ideal. Despite the fact that 5 feet of snow in a single weekend didn’t much make a dent in the lives of folk who live there (us included), the winters did get a bit long with a small child who hadn’t learned how to walk yet, much less ski. C eventually did take some ski lessons, but because of his low muscle tone, it became clear he wouldn’t be tearing up the slopes anytime soon.
Yet first and foremost, were the school challenges we faced in paradise. Once we pulled C from what should be known as “The Terrible Montessori Experiment,” we enrolled him in the regular public school. The catch was that we didn’t enroll him in the regular public school in our town. The public school in our town had failing scores year after year. We knew the truth behind those failing scores, and they didn’t phase us. A school’s rating doesn’t generally tell much about the special education program, so we tend to take ratings with a grain of salt. The challenge in our public school was the fact that 82% of the students were English Language Learners. First generation English language learners. Lest you think I’m saying something I’m not, let me clarify. Our issue was not the racial makeup of the school; we considered the diversity, and the opportunity for C to learn Spanish in one of the innovative dual language classrooms, advantages. However, we consider C an English language learner. We have observed, over the years, that he has operated much like a student learning not in his native tongue. The subtleties of a language must be learned by immersion, not by reading a book. And to put C in a situation where he, like most of the other students, would be “learning” the language, and all the social intricacies of that language, was not a good idea for him at the time. He needed to be in a situation more balanced, one where he had the opportunity to interact with kids who already knew the language. So we enrolled him in the school in the next town, which had about a 50% ratio of ELL students to native English speakers. And he flourished.
The fatal flaws? The school was 25 minutes away, no bus service, and snowy, icy roads to contend with. All his friends lived in another town. Not the neighborhood school we pictured when we envisioned his elementary school years. Now, in the desert, we’re 5 minutes away from school, and almost all the kids in town go to the same school.
Do we miss it? Desperately, at times, especially as the thermometer is always over 100 degrees this time of year, with no end in sight. Yet Ga and Pa are 15 minutes up the road, C can ride his bike all winter, and school is going well. The opportunities afforded to him by living near a large metropolis are endless. And the mountains will always be where they are, eventually, I’m sure, beckoning us back to paradise.
C attended two different kindergartens, because the first one we tried was so terrible. There was a little girl in his class who had Wilson’s Syndrome, which is an autism-like genetic illness that has at its base a high copper content in the body. I went in for lunch a number of times and sat with the kindergartners outside. Several of the kids were making fun of this little girl behind her back and saying very sophisticated and horrible things about her. Frankly, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do or say given it was a Montessori school whose main tenet seemed to be that adults weren’t supposed to get involved in much of anything.
I later brought up the incident with the principal, while attempting to explain to him my concern about C’s future and his complete lack of friends in his class. Mr. M’s response was that this little girl often hit other kids and that explained why the kids didn’t like her and therefore made fun of her. It seemed completely okay with him that she was the brunt of vicious comments. This wasn’t my first clue that Mr. M was not the kind of person I held much respect for, but it was one of the most telling. It broke my heart that his answer to the problem was to blame the little girl instead of working with her aide to make sure the incidents lessened as well as perhaps helping the other children understand why she often lashed out.
The most damning moment for Mr. M, however, was the day after a particularly unpleasant IEP meeting. My emotions were raw as were my eyes from crying, and as I tried to get out of the school after dropping C off with a minimum of interaction with anyone, Mr. M called me into his office. As he was yelling at me, with door open, teachers, parents and students wandering in and out, he made a comment I will never forget. “I don’t care if C has any friends,” he screamed. “That is not my problem!”
This, from an elementary school principal. I understand it’s not in a principal’s job description to help children have friends, but that comment brought on a light bulb moment for me. We pulled C from that school right in the middle of the year and never looked back.