Posts tagged ‘public school’
It’s been several years now, but I still vividly remember the last interaction I had with C’s principal at his Montessori Kindergarten. “It doesn’t matter where you go,” he said to me. “He won’t qualify for an IEP anywhere. He’s too smart.”
That conversation took place the last day C attended his school, a mere three months into the year. I still fantasize about sending this principal the very full IEP C has had since then, coupled with his report cards (all of which show him at or above grade level in every subject). Being smart – or being on grade level – doesn’t automatically disqualify a child from having an IEP. How is it that I, the parent, knew it, but every single professional at that school didn’t?
As recently as last spring, I began to think about the day C would no longer need an IEP. Could he finally graduate from special education? I know he’ll always be his quirky self, but is it possible he will some day no longer need services? Then C started at his new school, in his small classroom, with his very observant teacher and a special education teacher who really gets it. And for the first time in years, we had an IEP meeting that was hard for me to sit through.
It wasn’t all about how great C is doing. This school wants to increase C’s services, and increase them dramatically. While there were the usual wonderful comments about how bright and delightful C is, it was paired with comments that cut to the bone.
“C is being unfair at recess. He’s cheating at tag, and the kids don’t like it.”
“C got S in trouble when he told the teacher S had hit him when he hadn’t.”
“We can’t let him get away with things anymore just because he’s cute.”
Ouch, ouch, and more ouch. It was a sleepless night for me. I was frustrated and angry, despite knowing what they said was absolutely true. I knew I was being completely defensive - I knew it, because none of this was a surprise to me. C does cheat because he hates to lose. He doesn’t seem to notice how much it irritates other kids when he does that. And S has said mean things to him since day one at his new school, and he’s a little obsessed with S now. Saying he’d been hit was probably C’s way of lashing out at S. And darn it all if C’s dimples can disarm me to the point of distraction when I am trying to redirect, give consequences, or otherwise discipline bad behavior. Let’s face it, the kid is beyond cute by any standards, and it has probably gotten him out of various situations over the years.
But what was beneath it all was what disturbed me the most. Yes, C is doing well, he’s delightful, and he’s made astounding progress. That is always clear. What I realized, however, is that his particular struggles haven’t really disappeared as much as I thought they had. C’s challenges are simply more noticeable now because he’s in a smaller class. It’s probably not that C has been so steadily improving that his old school wanted to cut his services - it’s more likely that they just didn’t notice how much he needed them.
I never knew looking for a new school for C would be such an adventure. We saw it all. Having realized that the giant public school model is no longer a fit for C, off we went to explore some pretty interesting places about as far from the neighborhood school as one could get.
First it was the excellent charter school in a yuck part of town in an even more yuck facility. We almost left before we walked in the door. But the class C would have been in had ten kids from 4th-6th grade, and is taught by a teacher with a special education background. Very cool for the 4th grader who has some awesome math skills. The place would have been a no-brainer if it weren’t for, well, just about everything else. No specials to speak of, and the playground was beyond dismal.
Lesson learned: first impressions sometimes are everything.
Then came the interesting private Christian school that I have wanted to visit for two years. With less than twenty kids in the whole school, I figured C would get all kinds of individual attention. But looking at it online and visiting are two different things: it is run by a large-hearted, barefooted, grubby guy who looks and speaks like he did a few too many hits of acid in the 60s. The old house-made-church-made-school was piled with I’m not sure what, and the layer of filth worthy of a few bottles of clorox did not please my allergy-sensitive nose. It was an interesting place with interesting kids, but it wasn’t the place for my interesting kid.
Lesson learned: apparently there is such a thing as bohemian Christianity - two words I never expected to see that close together.
We then visited the more traditional Christian private school, with properly coiffed little ones behaving perfectly and scoring well on their achievement tests. Everything was fine until I dared mention “Asperger’s,” which sent the principal into a tizzy of, “Well, we’ll have to test him thoroughly with our resource teacher to see if he can handle the rigor before we could even consider admitting a child like him…” back-pedaling. I’m pretty sure he equates special education with stupidity, and I was non-plussed, given that C could probably out-math any kid in that school. No amount of my bringing up C’s AIMS scores, grades, or abilities got the principal back onto the “We have a wonderful school here” track. And when the principal himself pointed out how small C is right in front of him, well, that was the end of that.
Lesson learned: good Christians do not necessarily good people make.
Finally, there came the school we almost skipped visiting because it’s further away than we’d like. But the principal answered the questions I wanted to ask - in the way that I wanted him to answer them – before I asked them. “We have the classroom teachers go out with the kids at recess because they know our kids far better than an aide would, and they’ll know right away if there are problems,” he said just before I asked about recess. “Ms. J is a nurturing, kind teacher who has a very gentle spirit with the kids,” he said about the 4th grade teacher right before I was planning to ask about her.
It was a done deal before we walked out the door: this was the school. We still visited four more schools after this one, but none measured up. I find myself wondering why we didn’t switch years ago, and when I read the Principal’s welcome letter to parents, it only served to reinforce our decision. At C’s new school, “children don’t have to fit the system…[teachers] appreciate individual strengths and reinforce them with frequent praise…[children are] given the opportunities to express ideas in different ways.”
Lesson learned: Find the place that encourages C to be the kid he is, without trying to make him be like all the other kids.
We are once again on the search for the best possible educational program for C. Third grade feels like a big year for him; in our district, it means moving from the K-2 school to the 3-5 school. The kids are expected to be more independent, parents are less involved, and it’s a big change. Frankly, I’m not sure C is ready for it, on any front.
As I agonize over the choices we have available, weighing pros and cons and talking to anyone and everyone who might have an opinion, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the ramifications of each particular choice. If C stays in the regular public school will he slip through the cracks next year? If we switch him to the smaller charter school, will his academics suffer? It’s never easy making these choices for C, because “education” means so much more for him than simply the three Rs.
I made the joke to Husband that I need to remember this isn’t exactly Harvard we’re talking about here – it’s third grade. Elementary school. Basic math and art class, with a little recess and reading thrown in. Yet with one single sentence, Husband reminded me that this is every bit as big as I’m making it out to be. His answer summed up my concern that this is a pivotal year for C by pointing out the obvious. ”Every year,” he said, “is a pivotal year for C.”
In our yearly struggle for the appropriate educational placement for C (which is part of why he went to two preschools in two different states, two kindergartens in the same town followed by a move to another state for 1st, and now 2nd, grades), I often fight the impulse to just yank him right back out of line and take him back home in the mornings. Most of the time I want to avoid for him the meanness from some of the other kids, but sometimes it has everything to do with his education.
I have to say, we’ve been mostly pleased with his education so far. Yet I can’t help but wonder sometimes if we’re educating the very essence of C right out of him. As he struggles to carry and borrow in his math homework, I realize he’s taking far longer to do the same problem on paper that he used to be able to do in his head in mere seconds. I have no problem with him doing the math in his head – however it is that he does it – but will he be able to do it when it’s 10,322 minus 9,999 instead of 56 minus 48? Are we wrong to try and teach him the “right” way in the hopes of well-serving him down his educational road?
As I continue to evaluate how he’s doing on a yearly, monthly, and even daily basis, I hope I’ll recognize the signs if and when it becomes clear he needs something beyond what traditional public education offers. There’s no doubt he’s a square peg; what’s not clear to me yet is if all the holes in school are perfectly round or if there’s a few that might accommodate his somewhat different shape.