The Differences Say It All

When E was three, we moved him from an in-home to a preschool. We moved him because we had moved and the in-home was simply too far away. I thought preschool would be good for him. Within the month, he was moved up to the four and five-year-old class because the younger class was too far below him. She was teaching them how to cut paper and he was describing the inner workings of the heart.

The move was a disaster.

We found ourselves in a situation where E had to sit for prolonged periods of time doing worksheets over the alphabet and basic numbers. Because of the size, nap time became the worst time for him. While state law requires preschool children to lay for at least 30 minutes, this place required kids to lay for 2 hours. There was no where else to put kids who wouldn’t nap. We tried compromising, but it wasn’t seen as “fair” by the director. And you know, everything must be fair. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to make an energetic three-year-old boy lay still for 2 hours and then get upset when he can’t do it.

And so we moved him. To a better place. To a place that recognized he was far and above the rest. To a place that catered to his strengths and tried to teach him conflict resolution, control, and empathy. It was a rocky start, but they listened to us and we listened to them. We worked together to find solutions. There were good days and bad days, but there were more good. He was happy.

As I’ve already said, Kindergarten was a disaster. I know his teacher tried. I know she cared. I know she became overwhelmed and worn out. And I know she did not have training to handle the complexity that is E. That’s okay. I’m not a grudge holder, to which I am thankful.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. If, let’s say, you have my child restrained, fail to call me, and I find you chatting it up with the teachers in the pick-up line, I might hold a grudge. Or maybe it’s not a grudge. Maybe it’s pure, undying disrespect for you and your decision-making skills. Maybe because of that, I find you inept in making decisions about my child’s future.

With kindergarten behind us and the acceleration discussion still on-going, I am collecting evidence. One such piece of evidence that came to light with absolutely no trying on my part is the drastic change we’ve seen in E over the past few weeks. He is spending his summer in a center that has a variety of “labs.” Tech lab, learning lab, music lab, game lab, etc. The kids get to switch labs every hour. I thought for sure E would try to spend ALL of his time in tech, but that’s not the case. He joined a garden club and wants to join the guitar lessons. He loves the learning lab because “I can learn all about science stuff in there.” He enjoys music. And, of course, he enjoys the games lab.

Driving home one day, E said, “I’m going to learn so much this summer! I can learn about all sorts of things. I’m going to learn WAY more here than in school. Can I just go here?” He WANTS to learn! That’s a huge shift from where we were when school ended. But that’s just ONE piece of the puzzle.

Behavior. They listened to me when I described E. They have people on staff that are highly trained to handle behavioral issues. Every day when I pick him up, I see the papers laid out with names on the outside. They’re write ups. We have received ONE, and it was because he had a meltdown about another child not following to rules in a game. Since then, E will tell them when he feels like things are getting out of control and ask to go to his “cool down” spot. Seriously!

In the short time that he’s been there, he was won a dance competition because he and another child used “teamwork” to put together a dance routine that had everyone laughing. And he won TEAM MEMBER of the week! He won academic awards throughout the year in K, but to be TEAM MEMBER of the week for honoring and following the rules and code of the club?!?!?! I never thought it possible.

He wants to learn. He wants to listen. He’s trying so hard to follow the rules both there and at home. He’s happy. He’s beaming. He LOVES going.

And while those top the list of most important things about this change, I’m also cataloging it. Determining how best I can use this information to PROVE to the school that an engaged E isn’t perfect, but he’s a whole heck of a lot better than when he’s not engaged!

“Blazing the Trail.”

My son attends a rural school district. We live in a state with few concrete guidelines about gifted programs and no funding to support those programs. There are schools that do support gifted learning and do understand that these children need more in order to be successful. However, I fear I do not live in one of those districts.

Following the February meeting, we were to see how the pilot reading program went. We were to see how his behavior lined up with his ability in the first-grade reading class. We were supposed to reconvene. So as the months ticked by and the end of school drew near, I sent a follow-up email to the group to discuss. It took over a week to garner a response. We met yesterday morning.

There were three additions to the group. My husband, a new instructional coach, and the curriculum/gifted director (I will refer to her as the CG). The latter was the representation from the district. I am wholly unimpressed with her, I might add.

I came prepared. I had an agenda. So did they. So I decided they obviously put some work into this whole thing and thought it best to let them start. Here’s a quick summary.

Apparently, they are developing (note the ‘ing’) a universal screening tool for math that students will take at the beginning of the school year (fall). The CG’s group is working on this screening and would prefer to wait and see. The idea is the screening tool will allow them to see where students have gaps and where they can excel. That information will allow them to be able to teach students what they need to know. Sounds a bit like differentiation. But here’s my question. If a dozen first graders have noticeable gaps and only a few are way above the curve, who do you think they’ll focus on? Who do you think they’ll differentiate for? Not my child. They’ll be more concerned with getting all of the kids  up to speed. Besides, there is no place I can review this screening tool because it’s being made in house. And it’s not ready.

I think it’s great that they’re trying new things, but A.) I find it unlikely that one teacher will be able to teach at varying levels from gaps to above average. B.) I have very little confidence in the CG due to past issues when she was principal. C.) My kid is not a guinea pig for them to use while they figure it out.

We discussed the IAS. I think most of the people at the table were okay with the idea of seeing how he’d score. I made it very clear that I want to use the IAS BECAUSE it is objective. I understand I am biased in this situation. I prefer to use a tool that takes all factors into account to determine if whole-grade acceleration would be the best fit for him. I don’t want to wait and see because the longer we wait, the more difficult the transition will be for E. He’ll be more intricately placed with his peer group and it will definitely be noticed in later grades that he skipped. I am not rushing. I am being cautious. But I also want to make sure we move faster than a snails pace in examining our options.

Ms. CG disagrees. She stated that it’s obvious I have done the research and I have read the studies. They, however, would need time to do the research as well.

What!!!??? Did we not meet in February? Did I not send a follow-up email? Did I not make it clear what I wanted to discuss in my last email requesting this meeting? Why haven’t they done ANY research?

At least the new instructional coach has read A Nation Deceived and A Nation Empowered. I like her just for that fact alone. Someone actually knows what I’m talking about. Oh, and she was okay with us doing the IAS.

CG also brought up that the principal, who is in her first year, will have to answer for whatever course we take should it go wrong. We need to be cautious and consider that. Because….”you’re blazing a trail here.” They haven’t done this before and whatever we do will set a precedence. If it fails, then they’ll have to answer to the board. So do nothing and let my child squander his potential by sitting in classes learning things he already knows and acting out because he’s not engaged? That’s the answer? Deciding for me, despite a proactive approach, that he should be pulled out twice a day for “obstacle course” with the other ADHD kids is the right approach? He doesn’t have ADHD. He’s GIFTED people! He’s not ENGAGED people. Do nothing is NOT an option.

And then….CG says, “I haven’t heard your husband say a single word.”

So what? Did she think he was going to say he disagrees with me? No. He knows I am more up-to-speed on the topic. He also knows I work in education. He also knows I just received a doctorate in EDUCATION. He’s strong enough and secure enough to allow me to speak about this topic because I know more about it. That doesn’t mean he disagrees. We’ve discussed it. He agrees with me. He’s confident in my ability to advocate. He knows I’ve done the research. He knows I’m ALL OVER THIS THING. He was supporting me.

Next steps? He’s scheduled to take the WJIII in June. We’re going to wait until we get his scores to determine how to proceed. CG still wants to wait and see, but if his scores are good scores, I’m pushing for IAS. I reiterated that in my follow-up email to which I have received no response.

What did I take from this whole thing?

  • Only one person at the table knows what the heck I’m talking about and it’s not the gifted director.
  • Everyone at the table is okay with doing the IAS, except the CG.
  • I’m going to continue to meet resistance at the district level and will eventually end up talking to the Superintendent.
  • I have the knowledge and education to do this.
  • They are hesitant because they have never dealt with this issue before, but they realize with five elementary schools, it’ll come up again at some point.
  • I like the principal, even though she’s new and totally out of her depth on this. I think this experience will be a great learning experience for her.
  • People will try to knock holes in your argument. Preparation is key. It will also allow you to knock holes in their argument.
  • Proceed with caution. Listen to their concerns. Allow them to have a voice. Do not attack their credentials. Believe me when I say that can be hard. I wanted to tell CG exactly what I thought of her at more than one moment. I did not.
  • E had a pretty decent year. Those that worked with him have seen improvements and feedback from reading was positive.
  • They have to do something. I’m forcing them to do something. At this point, they know I won’t go away. They know I know what I’m talking about. They also know I understand the education system and the processes. And they are all more than aware of what I hear in the Board meetings when they speak as though parents aren’t there. Because they aren’t used to that either. I know, because I’m the only parent in attendance.

Anger in Advocation

I try to be a patient person. I try to avoid conflict. I don’t like to be the bossy girl in the room. I don’t want people to look at me. I don’t want to be the center of attention. However, if I have to step into that role, I can. I just don’t want to.

Unfortunately, being an advocate for my gifted child has become a marathon of stepping outside my own box and my own comfort zone. E comes by his little anxiety honestly. Mom has it, too. I mean, the whole drive to the board meetings gets me sweaty. I’m uncomfortable. Nervous. Anxious.

Yet I go.

And so as I wait for a response to schedule a follow-up meeting, I become more angered. More anxious. More deliberate. I sent an email last week to the four people on the team. I haven’t so much as received a “we’ll get back to you soon.” I got nothing. Nothing. Silence in the virtual void.

And I’m stewing over it. I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m disheartened. I want to scream. I want to say, “Fine! You want a war? You got one. Bring IT.”

But I remain quiet. I am learning, or maybe have always known, there can be power in silence. I know they are getting their “ducks in a row.” They’re scrambling to be better prepared than the catastrophe of our last meeting. I mean, I came with an agenda. They did not expect an agenda. I came with direct objectives. I had research. I had freaking handouts. Yes, ma’am. They’re scrambling.

However, while they scramble and choose to NOT give any response, I’m waiting. And while I wait, I’m seeking information. I’m scheduling the WJ cognitive abilities test. I, too, am preparing.

Paying $40 for Tears

I read somewhere (time hinders me from actually tracking down the source) that gifted children tend to be more focused on what is just and fair. They focus on morality a little more than other kids and they notice when something is out of whack. It’s probably why E spends so much time worrying about the sharks being hurt by human consumption of tuna, a major food source for said sharks.

I think it has taken E a little longer to get to this overly sensitized state (his brother has been there since nearly birth), but he’s definitely there. By longer, I mean, when he was around three, he’d stop in his ever-moving tracks when that Sarah McLachlan Animal Rights commercial to watch the animals with little tears in his eyes and say, “we need to save all of those animals.” He still wants to save animals and only recently decided hunting is okay because animals would die a more horrific and painful death if they were over-populated and they would push out other animals. I credit that change all to a podcast about goats on the Galapagos islands.

Okay. So how in the world did I pay $40 to make my child cry? And why in the world would I do that?

It all starts with an assembly and an announcement. The school is hosting a CSI (yes, crime scene investigation) to determine who left the mouse in the principal’s office. This event is brought to us by an outside company that also does the after-school science club. For $40, your child can learn how to investigate a crime scene, play games, get a certificate, and some other stuff. When E told me about it, he was so excited….and concerned. “Mom, you HAVE to sign me up. Some of the other kids were laughing, but I wasn’t because!” He pauses to catch his breath, “I know mice can carry diseases that can kill humans and we have to find out who left it in Ms. H’s office because they put her in DANGER.” (He’s talking about Hantavirus. Blame me. I had to give him a solid reason for killing the field mice that plague my home, which sits in a field.)

I thought it was cute. I didn’t think to tell him it wasn’t REAL.

And so the night arrives and I drop him off. He’s excited and ready to find the culprit. The mouse, apparently, has been caught and resides in a small, little cage, safe from people. But still, the culprit must be found.

He had a great time, I think. The person in charge of his group said, “That one has a lot of energy!” And I thought, well, that’s better than what I usually get! He was upset that his team chose the wrong culprit because he swears he told them #6 but no one in his group agreed. It was #6.

But here is where the tears began….

As he strapped himself in, he began to cry, “Why did they lie to us?”

“What do you mean?”

“They lied to us. They told us at assembly they didn’t know who left the mouse, but at the beginning of tonight, they said they’d reveal the culprit at the end of the night. They knew the entire time and they lied to us! Why would they do that?”

I tried to give him some reasons. I tried to explain it was a game. To no avail.

“They could’ve just told us that. They didn’t have to lie to us. And their adults, which makes it worse because adults are never supposed to lie to you and how can I trust them?”

Well, my little E, you have a point. You definitely have a point.

And that is how I spent $40 to make my child cry.

I Am That Mom

I never wanted to be that mom. You know? The one that wants to know everything going on with her child’s education? The one that asks the tough questions and keeps asking more? The one that refuses to take no for an answer? The one that will fight to the death to advocate for her child?

When it’s written that way, it doesn’t seem so bad. 

But here’s the thing. Those aren’t the qualities other people see. I’m that pushy helicopter parent that thinks my kid is awesome. That’s what they see. I’m too involved. Too vocal. Too everything. Hell, they probably even think I let E do whatever he wants because I think he’s so “special.”

I’m not that parent. I don’t want to be that parent. And I don’t want to be viewed as that parent. 

What I really want is for them to do their damn jobs. E’s teacher simply doesn’t respond to me at all anymore. When I see administrators, I get a tense “hi,” as if they’re waiting for me to ask more questions or make more demands. Thing is, most of the time, I just want to go about my business. Besides, I don’t believe in the side swipe. The “since you’re here, let’s talk about…” I believe in asking for time to discuss important issues. I believe in allowing them time to prepare. Allowing me time to prepare.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to listen and take opportunities to learn more. 

Hence the reason I am now seen at board meetings. You can learn a lot from board meetings. Things they really don’t want you to learn about. Like the fact that they find it ridiculous that the medical field should be in any way, shape, or form involved in determining needs for disabled kids. Like the way the tease and make fun of them. Like they way they say parents think they get just ask for a 504 and get it. Like the comments about parents not “ready” to accept the truth about their child.

This is real stuff. 

As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking, “They have E in OT. Wonder if they decided I’m not willing to accept he has ADHD (he doesn’t).” “I asked for a 504 plan. I wasn’t going to, but then they poisoned him with gluten despite my information regarding the vile substance on a kid with Celiac.” “I trust E’s therapist way more than I trust a bunch of educators that have very little, if any, education about gifted children and overexcitabilities. Or for how anxiety can present in this group. And they won’t even take suggestions from her? And they put my kid in OT? What the hell is going on? Shouldn’t we all be working together?”

And finally….”You morons realize you’re bashing parents with a parent sitting here? You know I’m gonna use this information, right? What a bunch of dumb asses.”

For real. I’m totally gonna be THAT mom. 

Extracurricular Brain Food

When we met with E’s school before Kindergarten started, I was hopeful that we could find a solution together and work as a team to meet his needs. I was excited that he was matched with a teacher that had experience teaching kindergartners. Surely E would not be the only child she’s had like him! I wanted to believe in the system…at least in the system we are in-district for. I needed to believe it.

I was wrong.

Here’s what I am coming to realize about “seasoned” teachers. I don’t want to paint a broad stroke over the whole of them, so let me say I am positive there are seasoned teachers out there that continue to grow and change and confront challenges as opportunities to learn. However, there are just as many, if not more, that are not that way. They obviously know what they’re doing and they don’t need some parent to push them on what they consider their expertise. *sarcasm*

I believe that’s where we are. I have done my very best to be kind and respectful. I have complimented his teacher and thank her for her patience before providing any type of suggestion or asking any “tough” questions. I have been careful to avoid words such as bored and disengaged. I have tried to be open. I have backed her decisions insomuch as I do not nay say her in front of my child.

I have listened to her tell me “he’s great, but overwhelming.” Or “sometimes he’s just too much in a classroom of 20 kids.” Or “He’s manipulative, he’s argumentative, he’s lying, he’s directly defiant.” Or even, “I don’t see anxiety; he gets along with everyone.” I have signed my name on his daily report even though I stopped caring about the color he gets about half way through the semester because if nothing is going to change, then change can’t be expected.

I have asked her to be open to communication from E’s therapist to help find ways to make both of their lives easier. And she quit communicating.

While she responded to a couple emails, she has since quit responding to anything from the therapist. I know she’s tired. I know the year is almost over. I know he’s “the most challenging kid” she has. I also know that she could learn so much from this “challenge.” I don’t think she wants to. I think she’s set in her ways and this is her expertise. Only I doubt she’s taken many, if any, classes in gifted education and gifted children. She goes to all kinds of math workshops and teaching workshops, but I doubt any of them give skills on how to teach gifted children, especially the extroverted I’m-not-going-to-sit-quietly-while-I’m-bored kids.

And any supplemental worksheets I’ve sent for him to work on when he’s done before everyone else? They stay in his folder with the note gone, but the papers still there.

I’ve lost that hopefulness. I know longer believe the school will willingly work with me. I know I’m going to have to advocate constantly for his education. And I know that means I’m also going to have to find other ways to engage him and keep him challenged. So he’s signed up for an online reading class this summer. And I signed him up for the Open Enrollment EPGY math class. I figured this way, we could see if he likes it before shelling out $895 dollars.

So far he loves it. He’s moving through at a decent pace and learning. So while I will continue to advocate for him, it may just end up that school is a place he goes while I work and home is the place he goes to learn. How sad is that?

The Words We Use

E’s teacher has decided to try a new discipline technique. This technique still uses the color scheme (green, yellow, orange, red and blue), but the consequences will be different. In the morning, if he reaches orange, he’ll have to eat lunch by himself. If he reaches red, he’ll have to do laps during recess. In the afternoon, he starts over. If he reaches orange, he’ll have to sit alone to do his work. On the surface, this seems okay. However, E is an extrovert. Isolating him is going to escalate his behaviors. And unfortunately, he doesn’t put much credence in colors. Why? Well, I’m not there, so all I can do is make assumptions, but from what I have gathered, his card is turned a lot for “yelling” out or distracting peers or “arguing.” I hate to say it, but the kid doesn’t stand a chance. I foresee many lonely lunches in his future.

This new system was discussed with E before I was told about it. That’s fine. This isn’t something I’m going to complain about. I really think if he were challenged more, a lot of these issues would go away. I’ll fight for challenge and let the rest speak for itself. I mean, I’ve stated it in so many ways, and if you’re not going to correct the actual problem, you can’t really expect a different result.

Upon receiving the email explaining the new system, I responded with a couple questions of my own. I wanted to get her take of how he’s doing in the upper reading class (he’s doing great) and if she feels he’s the most challenging student in her class. To paraphrase, here’s the response.

Yes, he is. He continues to “yell” out, which hasn’t improved. He wants to be the center of attention and likes it when kids come over to look at his books because he gets to dictate what his classmates can read and share. He’s a class clown in the morning and usually gets in trouble before the bell even rings. He argues with a smile on his face like he knows the outcome but wants to give it a try “just for fun.” In reading, the only thing she’s heard is that he dominates the conversation.

Again, I don’t think it’s right for me to quote verbatim what was said, so the above is a paraphrase. Here is how I responded:

“Okay. Thank you.

I’m not surprised that he continues to speak out. It’s kind of his MO. Nor am I surprised by the class clown thing. Both of my boys fight for who is the funniest at home. All.The.Time. And I’m definitely not surprised he continues to negotiate.
He says he’s doing well and doesn’t get in trouble in reading, but he’s Ethan, so I wanted to make sure that’s the case. I’m not surprised, either, that he was dominating the conversation. Again…kind of his MO.
I try to see things this way. Yes, he needs to learn patience and he needs to learn how to control his behaviors better. Hands down. But some of things will come in handy for him someday. A willingness or desire to delegate (while it looks like controlling his friends right now) will serve him well. Also, that negotiation will serve him well. I have no doubt he knows the outcome, but you never know unless you try. It’s frustrating. He does it at home. And with some things, if he has a strong enough counter-argument, we discuss that and may readjust the outcome. For me, I feel like this helps him develop strong arguments and really think through WHY he believes he should be able to do xyz. It can never be, “because I want to.” Or, “because I got a green yesterday and it was really hard” (he uses that one all the time). It has to be legitimate. And he knows there’s a good chance the outcome will remain the same. So I’m sorry for that. I don’t kill the negotiation at home, so he’s always going to try.
The very first psychologist we saw about Ethan (when he was tested) had a very frank conversation with us. She said, some of these very things that are driving you crazy now and are challenging as a parent are going to be the very things he will need as an adult to be successful. You just need to cultivate them in a positive manner. Don’t let him control you, but don’t squash these traits either.
I keep that in the back of my mind. What I want him to learn is when and where it’s okay to be “him.””
The last line was a bit of a jab, and I knew it when I did it. 
I get so frustrated with the language used to describe E. It’s always yelling, arguing, controlling, dominating, manipulating. For a long time, I thought he really was yelling. I asked him, “What are you yelling about all the time.” He said, “I don’t yell. I forget to raise my hand.”
I’m not blind. I know my son. He is not an easy kid and he can be so overwhelming, but you stick him in an environment where he’s not being engaged or challenged for nearly the entire day, and I kind of think you’re asking for it. Describing him in such negative terms will only bring about negative feelings about him. I get so frustrated so often with him. I do. It’s a struggle to parent this child, but I’m also always looking for the amazing things in him. I try to reframe any negative thoughts to see the bigger picture here. This kind of language used constantly is going to squash him because the things that are usually complained about are also very much ingrained in him and make him who he is. It breaks my heart.