First Day of School

8/19/2015 Laura Watkins 2 Comments


I seriously told them to smile, and this is what they gave me... 

At first, I was thinking how funny this picture was, then realized that I really can't blame them. These kids are way too young to hate school, but last school year was a nightmare for our family. 

Out of these three, our youngest had the "best" experience, which meant that he's so advanced that the teachers didn't have time to teach him at his level, so he spend a LOT of time playing "educational" video games. 

Our daughter, who happened to inherit my overly sensitive nature, was teased and bullied, but not badly enough for the school to really do anything about it. 

But our oldest had the worst time. A few weeks into the beginning of the school year, we met with the principal, teachers, etc. to discuss whether or not he would need a 504 plan again this year. (As some might recall, he has high functioning Autism and anxiety, but he's a very smart, constantly testing above his grade level, etc.) The consensus was that he was doing amazingly well, and other than the need to be reminded to stay on task once in a while and needing a bit more to complete tests, he wouldn't need an aide or any other considerations. This was HUGE for us, and we were so excited for his progress! 

At some point in the school year, he kept telling us that he hated school and never wanted to go there again. "There's too much stress," he would tell us. But, by the time school was over, he was fine until it was time to do homework. I chalked it up to the insane amount of homework they're required to do and tried to help him understand that we had to get through it. We'd spend literally hours (and yes, I do mean "literally" in the literal sense, I'm not exaggerating) trying to get through his homework. The most frustrating part of it was that the homework really wasn't too difficult for him. He had so much stress associated with school work that when homework time came around, he'd stare at the homework page, doodle, and/or cry until I could calm him down and help him realize that he actually could do the work. Once he actually started, he's zip through the work like it was nothing, usually finishing in 15-45 minutes.

I talked to his teachers about this at parent-teacher conferences (he's in a dual immersion program, so he has one English teacher and one Spanish teacher). Both teachers had no idea why he'd have such a hard time or how I could help him. The English teacher said that he was a delight in class and was surprised he was having a hard time at all, and the Spanish teacher was just frustrated that he wasn't taking responsibility and getting his work done. I asked if dual immersion was too much for him, if he'd do better in just English, but the teacher assured us he'd be fine.

In February, we happened to run into his Spanish teacher outside of school. She said hi to him, then asked if she could talk to me privately. I was shocked as she told me how much he was struggling at school. She said that during work time, he would sit for an hour straight just staring at the computer screen and not working. She told us that she was very worried about him, but the way she talked made it seem like we'd done something to cause this and he was just being obstinate or lazy. She asked about our home life, which is stressful at times, but was significantly better that year, and we tried to think why it might be happening. My husband and I talked to our son about it, and all he would tell us was that he was just too stressed at school. 

We rushed him back into therapy. His counselor was amazing, but it took quite a while to figure out what was going on...too late to do anything about it before school ended, but it suddenly it started to make sense. He was only having trouble in Spanish class, the first part of his day, so he'd have panic attacks, but once he moved on to his English class, he was just fine. I still don't know what started it all, but there was something (whether it was an assignment that he needed more help with or just didn't enjoy) that caused the anxiety to start building, until he couldn't handle the stress and just shut down. 

The therapist said it was a pretty natural response to extreme stress, and we're working to help him learn to overcome his anxiety. 

Today, my son was in tears when we had to leave for school. I reminded him of the talk we'd had before, about how this year would be different, better than the last. How we were so sorry that he'd had so much trouble and that as soon as we understood what was going on that we'd started getting help. I told him that we would communicate better with his teachers so we could know what was really going on...that last year would NOT happen again. He stopped crying, and went to school willingly, but still not the happy kid he usually is. 

What really has me upset is that this was all preventable. The school was supposed to be protecting him, helping him learn and grow. They were supposed to let us know if he needed another 504 plan or if we needed to be more involved. I don't know if the teacher was just over worked and forgot that he might need special considerations, was told to push to keep kids who were struggling in the dual immersion program no matter what,  or what exactly happened...  But there is something incredibly wrong with this situation

Now, I understand why so many of my friends are starting (or already do) home or charter school their children. If home school was possible for us, I would do it in a heartbeat. Part of me wants to see if this year will be better if I'm more involved, if I make enough noise... This year, will my child get the education that is lawfully required? 
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