Posts tagged ‘charter 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.
The new school, that is. We like. It seems we have found a place, and a teacher, who fit C. He’s had great teachers all along, and they’ve all adored him (and he them), but this one goes above and beyond special. I don’t know what it is, exactly – but she seems to have found a way to encourage C’s quirkiness while at the same time pushing his boundaries. From appreciating his “stream of facts” book report to offering him the chance to count the money at the school economics fair, this teacher has got him pegged.
The class size alone (18 as opposed to 33 in his old school) makes much of what is in C’s IEP almost unnecessary, as his teacher is more able to address some of the issues he faces in the classroom. Her gentle approach to reading and her willingness to forge him ahead in math make him feel both relaxed and challenged at the same time.
At least that’s what I think he feels. Perhaps I’m projecting, but the seeming absolute lack of stress about school are my clues.
No more stomachaches, no more clinging to my leg in the morning, no more fear about walking into the building. There are still challenges: C still isn’t really bonding with anyone and has managed to find one kid who seems to go out of his way to bother him. After all, autism still lives here. But C is safe, he is nurtured, and he is appreciated, and with those things, much is possible.
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.
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.