Posts tagged ‘public school’

Perspective is everything

     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.

October 20, 2010 at 6:36 am 8 comments

Lessons learned

      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.

     Done.

September 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm 12 comments

It’s done

     After a mere two weeks and one day, we pulled C from his school. We had been contemplating it since he started at this school last year, but we were pleasantly surprised when he had a pretty good year in third grade. We knew things would change as he went along, and we expected that around sixth grade, his school situation would likely have to change. Sadly, we only made it to fourth.

     Even more sad is that we are pulling him mostly because of what goes on during a mere 35 minutes of his day. 35 minutes in which the public school system (yes the “system” –  I don’t for one minute think this problem is unique to C’s school) has completely and utterly failed this child.

     It all started with lunch. I walked in only to see him sitting all alone at a table for 20 while every other table was completely full. C’s sometimes utter aloneness in a sea of children is often too much for me to bear. Part of his IEP includes having an adult help facilitate conversations between C and other children during situations like these. He wasn’t alone because he wanted to be; he was alone because it didn’t occur to him to ask someone to join him. Then to hear C chastised by an adult for not inviting someone to sit with him, well, that was about the end of the rope for me. I figured if the people working with him don’t get it by now, perhaps they never will, and I’m not about to wait around to find out. 

     Then it got worse. Far worse. He went out for recess, and with 130 kids on the playground and two aides, what I didn’t expect to happen this soon almost did. I saw it all from afar as I sat in the parking lot watching, tears streaming down my face. I watched C crying and arguing because he got called “out” of a kickball game I don’t think he was even being included in to begin with. Before I knew it, he was surrounded by several very large kids who were yelling at him and threatening him. He was, in my opinion, within seconds of getting punched in the face by a kid so big I thought he was an adult. Thankfully the situation defused itself, but not before it all happened a second time.

     There was no adult within 100 yards of C, and certainly no one was watching him. I know this because I was watching them not watching him. Oh, I understand there are a lot of kids to watch out there, but he is one that they are supposed to be keeping a special eye on simply because he is so incredibly vulnerable, and his social skills – in an unfacilitated situation such as this one – are so undeveloped. 

     The near violence at recess was the push off the edge that convinced me his experience at this school was over. Upon later discussion with C, it became clear he didn’t even realize how dangerous the situation was – which shows me he’s even more vulnerable than I thought.

     So he’s set to start a new school on Tuesday, one where we don’t expect perfection, but one that seems to not only celebrate kids in all their forms, but also seems to teach the kids to celebrate other kids in all their forms. It is with heavy heart that we leave a teacher we loved and the traditional public school system – which we have believed in so strongly for so long. It makes me sad that the public school system in general seems to have such a difficult time helping the very children who perhaps need it the most.

August 30, 2010 at 6:19 am 10 comments

It’s a love-hate thing

     Today is the first day of school. I’ve been waiting for it since school adjourned two months ago. Not only is there not much to do around here in the summer – it’s too hot for anything but swimming, which we do daily – but for an only child with few friends, summer is long for both him and me.

     Yet this morning, I woke early – as I always do on the first day of school – filled with low-grade anxiety about the upcoming year. Every year I think it will get easier, and every year I am wrong. There are so many things to worry about, and I can worry with the best. My concerns are admittedly sometimes unfounded, but most of the time there’s a ring of reality and truth to them.

     This year, for the first time, I am worried about academics. Hyperlexic children tend to start struggling academically around this fourth grade year, and I saw glimmers of that struggle at the end of third grade. Word problems become more complex, reading becomes more of a subjective experience as plots thicken and subtleties in text become lost to the child, and writing is expected to be far more sophisticated.

     But there’s more, there’s always more. The academic issues don’t create the knot in my stomach the way the other things do. Things like having 31 kids in C’s class, none of whom are, at first glance, part of C’s small support system. Then there’s the fact that he really doesn’t want to go to school any longer; the excitement of school in general seems to have worn off, and we have many years left to go. Finally, there’s this little thing about social skills.

     Oh, how I have grown to hate those two little words. Long fuming at the school district for putting my kid in a “friendship skills” class when the little tyrants who are so mean to him are not, I wonder what he’s really learning about social skills at school. Given that C’s two best friends are a frienemy – who is as mean to him as often as he is nice – and another child with Asperger’s, I hardly think he’s picking up much in the way of useful social skills. Neither boy is a particularly good role model for C, but friends they are, and friends he needs.

     Sometimes I think if I had a brain cell left in my head I’d yank him right out of the public system and homeschool him. However, his isolation would then become more problematic as opportunities to interact with other children would grow less and less. He craves social interaction like I crave chocolate, and I imagine by the end of a school day at home both he and I might run screaming into the woods.

     So off I go again, exploring alternatives: online schools, charter schools, and private schools, in the search for the place that best suits him. And my biggest worry on this day is that I will never, ever find that place for him.

August 9, 2010 at 11:45 am 12 comments

Harvard or Yale?

     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.”

April 27, 2009 at 9:23 pm 5 comments

Taking the C out of 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.

January 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm 7 comments


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