|Learning about the first|
I moved smoothly along, the hall of my elementary school beginning with First Grade at one end, with its tiny toilets and miniature desks, and growing towards Fourth Grade at the opposite side of the building. Each year, I was taught by wonderful women and surrounded by an assortment of children from the area. When I recall those years, I am just as likely to think about the Hispanic and Korean classmates who carried the smell on their clothes of their parents' ethnic cooking as I am to remember lessons in cursive and multiplication. We learned songs for PTA meetings and wore our best clothes for picture days; our happiness was dependent upon how well we did in "Around the World."
The last thing I expected when I became a mother (nearly a decade ago...) was to put so much effort into my children's education. My own experience as a student had truly been propelled by an invisible conveyor belt; my parents rarely attended parent-teacher conferences and expected me to handle disagreements with teachers and classmates myself. But any expectation of self-reliance for my son went out the window when we received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. After all, you can't very well expect a child to stand up for his rights when he can't even talk. Suddenly, I was navigating a world I didn't even know existed in order to find the right classroom, the best teacher, for a child with very different needs from my own. Once he had a place, then came the endless waves of evaluations and paperwork. IEP meetings. Speech therapy appointments. Progress reports that were often blank or incomplete because my son refused to cooperate with his teachers.
There was no option to take his education for granted, to expect that he would attend school with his younger brothers, or even to rely on a classroom's effectiveness for longer than a year. As his needs and abilities shifted, I had to re-assess which environment would serve him best. By the time he was in third grade, he'd gone to four different schools. Ideal for a child who struggles with transitions, right?
And now we find ourselves at the end of February, observing an anniversary of sorts. A year ago, I got a phone call that changed everything, a call that determined my next steps as a mother who will do whatever is necessary to make sure her son is able to learn. It was a Friday afternoon, and I spent the weekend ensuring that he would not set foot in his classroom again. I kept my son home with me, my son who had transformed over six disastrous months into a ball of anxiety and emotion and couldn't even hear the word "school" without completely melting down. I took everything I knew about third grade, about my son and his special brain, and I sat with him Monday through Friday, working on Math and Science and Language Arts. We took a "green hour" each day at noon, a chance to walk outside and look at leaves and animals and lay in the grass. We watched videos on pbs.org and created experiments in the kitchen. We called it "work" instead of the dreaded "s" word. Rather quickly, the sweet child I remembered from the summer before returned.
on the couch
It took a few weeks to adapt to the new curriculum and style of education, but with two-thirds of the coursework complete and summer break looming on the horizon, I can safely say that this option has worked well for us. My son is thriving, both emotionally and academically, learning new concepts each week and pushing himself harder than he ever has (with more than a little prodding from this mama). We've begun conversations about where he'd like to do school next year, with his emphatic vote going to online school. It's challenged me in ways that I didn't expect, and certainly takes a huge chunk of time out of my days at a time when I thought I'd be luxuriating in the worst stereotypes of stay-at-home mothers. But rather than eating bonbons and watching TV all day, I find myself wolfing sandwiches during math lessons and helping my son spell big words as he's writing a persuasive paper.
In the past year, I've become aware that I could have done more to keep my son in his brick and mortar school. I could have escalated my concerns sooner, I could have demanded that the district enforce his rights as a student to a free and appropriate education. But I didn't know the intricacies of the law the way educators do, I wasn't able to hold the system accountable for the services they're meant to provide. And, quite frankly, my son's mind is too precious a thing to languish in a bad situation indefinitely.
|A literacy outing |
with fellow online students
I don't know which side to join when people demand that public schools be given proper funding and teachers be permitted to educate their students rather than teach them how to take a standardized test...I fully support this attitude. But then those same people insist that school choice is destroying our nation's public education system, and pulling my son from his school and switching to an online program is part of the problem. I cannot agree with those arguments. Likewise, I find myself nodding along with proponents of alternative schooling options, who say that not every child will do well in a traditional classroom, and having options for those kids is necessary to upholding our country's value of equal access to education for everyone. Of course they are right! I've seen this happen in my own house! But they don't want schools to be held to equal standards, or they want to abolish the neighborhood schools and replace them all with for-profit charters, and I cannot give my support to such a ludicrous idea.
So here I sit in No-Moms-Land, believing in the ability to make alternative arrangements for my child as needed, but also wanting all schools to be held to high standards so that every student can receive their free and appropriate education. I'm upset by lawmakers who don't seem to know anything about the very schools they are legislating and seem to care so little for the millions of children and teachers preparing for another day of hard work. I'm disheartened that so many parents would rather homeschool their children than wade into the murky mess that our public school system has become. I ache for the countless educators who abandon this most important job each year because shifting standards and changing evaluation systems have sucked their joy so they have nothing left to give their students. And now I have to push all of this to the side so that I can prepare my son for his vocabulary test in the morning.