Do Not Ignore the Soft Signs (of a future school drop-out)

Sadly, kids can’t use all the words they need to help us best parent them into adulthood, but they will often give you some clues. Please do not ignore the soft signs.

The hardest, but most important, thing to me.

This week I got a call from Mr. Ornery’s homeroom teacher. He got in trouble midweek at lunch for acting out and causing a scene – the classic “attention-getting” behaviors, she said. He came home with a “behavioral slip” (which he tried to get the sitter to sign-off on so he didn’t have to show it to Mom!).

But the key thing is that as the teacher talked with him, he mentioned that his goal is to act out until he gets expelled. Who says that at third grade?  A kid who is not connected is who.

Here’s what I know now. He spends forty-five minutes with his homeroom teacher (Mrs. L) and has her for a science/social studies period. He is then in a different class for math (Mrs. R), another class for English (Mrs. K), another class for the “enrichment” time slot (Mrs. H), in other classes for specials (art, music, library, gym – 4 different teachers). On top of that, he is pulled out for “reading support” (Mrs. C) and for “speech therapy” (Mrs. T) and sees Mr. M twice a week for orchestra. Mrs. M watches him for recess/lunch (my boys seem to prefer to act out for her) and Mrs. B is the school counselor who “touches base” occasionally. When I sit with him and ask him to tell me who all his teachers are, he can’t name them all. I just listed thirteen that I can figure out and there likely are more!

This boy is eight and he is walking all over the school to different classrooms, just like a middle-school and high-school kid. And do you know what he’s doing in the hallway? He’s dragging his feet and getting to class late. He’s “hanging” out behind a door and skipping his English period completely. He’s essentially “skipping” school while within the school – at the age of eight.

So who is this kid connected to, I asked. Who at the school has the power to speak into his life when he starts to act up? Who is consistent enough to keep him grounded? To make him feel worthy? To make him feel empowered to do his best? To help him develop confidence? To help him develop a love of learning?

I asked this of his teacher. I asked this of the assistant principal the next day. We set up a meeting to review his schedule. You see, this school is apparently so focused on academics that they are frequently doing assessments and altering the students’ schedules to place them in “just the right” classes to target “just the right” academic level. They seem so pleased with this concept. So I ask, “It seems that you are targeting academics beautifully. But have you stopped to consider what this is doing to the kids social-emotionally? Have you considered how fundamental and foundational the first three years of school are? Have you thought about how important consistency is? Have you considered paying attention to the soft signs of a student who is lost in the shuffle?”

Do not ignore the soft signs. Do not ignore an eight-year-old considering ways to get himself expelled. Do not ignore a third-grader suggesting that he’d like to skip school and hang at the skatepark like the teens do. Do not let a little kid continue on a path toward truancy and drop-out because you love your academic assessments and beautiful matching of precise academic levels. Do not ignore the importance of childhood. Do not ignore the cries of my little boy.

Because I will not allow this bright child to lose his light and his potential.

He and his brothers hold my heart.

 

 

 

 

Why I love summers!

I don’t know – I always had this idealized vision of “school” probably mostly with the thought that “wow, once they are in school, I won’t have to pay a HUGE child care bill every single week” anymore. Unless, of course, they are in a school district with half-day kindergarten and then you have another 9 months of child care bills for afternoon care! (Just to add some perspective, kid starts day care at 6 weeks of age and has a February birthday when he turns 5 and school starts in late August, so I’ve basically spent $65,052 in just child care. On one kid! Man, I could have been rich!!)

So, yes, as a single working mother I was thrilled with the concept of school. The children would be someplace. They would be learning. I wouldn’t be the only one responsible for whether they knew their colors or could multiply 6 times 7.

But let me tell you. School stinks! In the best sense of the word, that is.

Let’s just start with homework. It’s not that I’m opposed to academicsschool bus (after all, I have a BS, MS, PhD and MD degree, and about 19 years of school/training after high school), it’s just that after 6 hours at school, I really do think the kids need some unstructured play time. And they need to do some sports or physical activity so that they develop a sense of feeling healthy. Why would we want to spend an hour or two doing homework? This is especially true for families with working parents who don’t get kids gathered up and home until 6:00pm or later and trying to get an average of 10 hours of sleep (for them, not me!) makes it hard to squeeze much else in.

Then there’s the “projects” which take up even more time, like making a poster or a diorama. Naturally, this involves the extra time burden of running to the store to round up supplies because in this tiny townhome, we’ve streamlined quite a bit.

And then there’s so many “volunteer” opportunities at the school, that it can get overwhelming. There’s such self-imposed guilt to be “present” in the school and see what the kids are doing and have them so excited to see Mom in the class as Mystery Reader (or maybe that was embarrassment) or Holiday Party volunteer (Just going to have to say no to that. Kids are noisy enough. Now give them sugar and excitement of a celebration and you’ve got chaos personified!). And of course, some of those holidays require significant time commitment, like the Halloween parade that begins at 1:30pm but if you’re not in the parking lot by noon, you’re not getting a spot. The Memorial Day program takes all morning – bring your fold-out camping chairs and come early to find space.

Let’s not forget about those fundraisers! What a joy to convince family and friends to buy some items so the kids can “win” a T-shirt which they refuse to wear anyway. How about saving those Box Tops (which also have to be cut to the exact shape of the rectangle)? You don’t want your kid to be the only one in homeroom not bringing them in and they would sure like to actually win the Box Top contest for the month!

Now consider that school ends at 3:20. That’s right 3:20. But when they hit middle school it’s  2:40. Interestingly, my job would like me to work until 5:00pm, which means now I get to figure out afterschool care. Which means I can pay for someone to watch my kids for 2-3 hours every day or beg Grandma. And please don’t forget about the before school care. When school doesn’t start until 9:00, it’s pretty hard to be at work at that time too!

This timing is a far cry from just dropping off at daycare whenever we all get ready in the morning and picking them up in the evening after I’ve stopped at the grocery store or run a few errands first. No, now with school there’s actually a specific start time and they expect you to pick up at a consistent time too. Really cramping my cram-a-lot-into-the-day lifestyle!

Even worse are the two-hour delays, the “no school” days or the unexpected cancelled days for snow!

School was looking really good until I realized how much more I have to juggle now that it’s back in session.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love school. I love that the boys are learning. I love that they are meeting new kids and forming new friendships. I love that they are learning to listen to other authority figures. I love that they have opportunities to learn the cello and “rugby basics” and art and science and handwriting and so much more. I love that they are in a good school district which cares about them and with teachers who want them to succeed. I love that they are doing well.

I’d just like to return to summer time …right about now.