Posts Tagged ‘education’

The school system had failed my son.  He had all the opportunities to push him ahead.  When he was young we read together book after book.  Rainbow Fish was his favorite.  “A long way out in the deep blue sea there lived a fish.”  I remember that opening line as if I read the book yesterday. 

To no avail life went in a different direction and reading became a struggle.  The reading programs at school did not help.  Early intervention did not work.  Tutors added little to the goal, but was a cost that I could not afford.

Math also started out ahead of the pack, but soon wavered and was stuck for four years on learning addition and subtraction facts.  Special Ed passed him off as unteachable,  to be bullied by a teacher for two years.

The IEP process was a ruse and was more of a means of classification and funding.  None of these steps had my son’s best interest in mind.  He was just another student that they were forced to deal with.  They were passing him from grade to grade withe no lucrative future in mind. In the end it was not their problem.

Little did I know that my son was the rainbow fish. “Not just an ordinary fish….”

All of this led me to the decision to do homeschooling.   Like any parent, I cared about my son. I also knew that I could do a better job than the school. I knew that if I had been teaching him he would not be stuck on addition and subtraction in math. I had graduated from highschool with high grades, never missing the high honor roll. I went on to college to get a degree in English literature studies followed by a Master’s degree. I was a huge success in my career in Technology. I felt I was fully qualified to teach my son.

The decision was simple once I had looked at the whole picture. Homeschooling was the route we would go. The burden was not on my son’s shoulders alone. We would do it together. I knew their would be challenges but nothing that we could not overcome. I knew that together we could build a future for my son.

Homeschooling has been a real success for us.  I can tailor the courses to my son’s needs and to his learning styles.  The internet is a wealth of information and has been a great resource for our homeschooling.  The good news is my son’s math is moving forward.  We have addition and subtraction facts behind us.  No more timed test which used to trigger bouts of tics.  There is no doubt he knows his math facts.  In fact, I discovered he knew his math facts so well that he is able to tell me how much change we should be getting back when we are buying something.  We moved on to multiplication which has went really well.  We are almost all the way through the multiplication tables and have started introducing division. 

Taking my son out of public school was the best decision for us.  He is moving forward in his education with no complicating factors such as hours and hours of debilitating tics.  In our case, I was the driver of response to intervention.  If I hadn’t done it, I am not sure what would happen to my son.  Most likely he would have been deluged with frustration, resentment, and failure, which would have led him to a very troubled life in his adulthood.

I admit that homeschooling does come with its challenges and requires discipline to be successful.  We have been able to do homeschooling even though I work full-time.  Originally when I worked out of the home, we had a strict schedule that we stuck to.  My son was assigned some work that he would do during the day, and then in the evenings we would review that work and do additional course assisgnments.  We took advantage of using a computer and the internet.  Google documents have been a real blessing for us.  It organized our work and has kept my son on task.  For us homeschooling has been very rewarding.

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Fifth grade for my son was uneventful.  He loved his mainstream teacher.  For his special ed. classes (reading, language and math) he was stuck with the social worker serving as the special education teacher.  Serving is probably not an accurate description of her activity.  She was a thorn in my son’s and my side.  She did not understand Tourette Syndrome or Non-Epileptic Seizures.  My son had no privacy when these events went on, which could go on as short as a minute or as a long as forty minutes.  She expected him to continue working while his body was having these spasms of  tics and loud, yelling vocalizations.  She kept telling him he was fine, and to him, he did not feel fine. 

Something to note, since my son was put in Special Education I saw no evidence of school work.  No completed assignments, no home work (which was specified in his IEP), no comments in his assignment book, no nothing.  The only way I knew what was going on was by what my son would tell me.  In our teacher conference that happened once a year, they would flash a couple of papers in front of my face and tell me everything is going fine.  In those days I was not smart enough to ask for a definition of fine.  I made an assumption that they were doing what was best for my son.  They were supposed to be the experts. Big mistake that was.

What I did know is she was still teaching him math facts using the timed tests, which in turn created more episodes of tics and/or non-epileptic seizures.  I had given up trying to make the school stop.  Each day my son would come home and tell me how this teacher was treating him.  She was consistently punishing him for having these tics.  He was left out of any reward systems which was available for the rest of her students.  I kept telling my son to please hang in there.  This was the last year he would be in this school because he would be moving on to Middle School.  At that time he would not have to ever see this teacher again.

Toward the end of fifth grade the Middle School met with me to ensure my son’s transition went well.  The meeting included the principal, the special education teacher, the nurse, and the psychologist.  Based on the meeting they appeared to have their act together.  We talked about the various types of support my son would need.  They appeared to be very diligent in addressing these needs.  It was obvious to me that this school operated completely different than my son’s elementary school.

One of the best things that the Middle School provided is an orientation week before school started so that the students could get their bearing in the big middle school.  This school was the biggest middle school in our state and was quite overwhelming for students at first. 

In this orientation week they ensured that the student knew where their locker was and how to open it. The showed them where their home room was, which was the room they went to first thing in the morning and last thing in the day.  They were showed where the special education room was and explained what time of the day they would be coming there.  They showed  where their house was located (the grade was divided into houses, very much like Harry Potter) and the house location served as the hub for most of their standard classes such as English, Math, Social Studies, etc.  They also showed where art classes and physical education classes occurred.  For physical education they explained what to expect as it relates to another locker, clothing, showering, etc.  And finally they explained the bus routine.  This was a new thing for my son because he had not ridden the bus up to this point.  All in all I think this was a wonderful program.  The school brought together the population of four elementary schools into one seventh grade class at the middle school.

Parents were also invited to an orientation which was basically a demonstration of the rules, preparing the parents for middle school.  Believe it or not, I wasn’t anxious about this transitional year until I went to this meeting.  One of the big topics was school absences, which I was really concerned about.  I talked to the Vice Principal after the meeting about this topic and explained that my son would be using up his absences in no time, just for the purpose of going to doctor appointments.  At this point my son was seeing a neuropsychologist every three weeks.  He also saw his neurologist every three months.  The Vice Principal told me to not worry about it.  The absences were understandable.  Later, I learned the absences were a bigger deal that what the Vice Principal led on.

So we were set to start sixth grade.  I use the work “we” because the transition was not only for my son, but also for me.  It was like starting all over again with new people.  I explained to my son that this was an opportunity for us to start out new and not be impacted by personal prejudices that some of his previous teachers had shown.  He was looking forward to the year and was glad he was out of elementary school.

To be continued . . .

Our new school appeared to be very nice.  The principal immediately set up a meeting to discuss my son.  Besides himself, the school nurse, a counselor, and a couple of different teachers attended.  I explained to the group that we were originally in Ohio, temporarily transferred to a Wisconsin school for about three weeks and were now living in this school district.  I explained to him that my son’s kindergarten teacher had already recognized that my son had learning disabilities and that they were just starting the process of getting my son some support when we had to move.

It was during this meeting that the principal indicated that they only request records from my son’s previous school, which was the three week school.  In the end it was obvious to me that the three week school had not received any records from Ohio yet and as a result of this had no indication regarding arrangements to be made. 

The remainder of the meeting that day consisted of a discussion about my son’s epilepsy and we watched a video, where his seizures had been captured on tape.  I wanted to make sure that the school could recognize the seizures, because my son’s seizures did not present themselves in a typical, grand mal-like fashion.  I also wanted them to understand what the vagal nerve stimulator was, which my son had, and what to do with it if a seizure should occur.  In the end a health plan was put into place to cover how to deal with the seizures.  At that time, no more discussion occurred about learning disabilities.

It took me about a year to find a good neurologist to take my son’s case.  Originally we went to Mayo Clinic, which was one of the reasons we chose this area to live.  After about three appointments at Mayo, it was obvious I was getting nowhere with them.  Meanwhile my son was having seizures twenty or more times a day.  I finally found a neurologist in a nearby city.  He did a short-term EEG, followed by a stay in the hospital for a long-term video EEG and a MRI.  In the end the neurologist confirmed that my son’s seizures originated in the front left lobe of the brain, with a tendency to spread to other parts of the brain (this is sometimes referred to as the Jacksonian Spread).  He then prescribed two medications.  After about four weeks we still had no relief and he changed one of the two seizure medications.  Within about two weeks my son’s seizures had drastically reduced.

This neurologist also spent time explaining that other things can come with seizures, such as learning disabilities, ADHD, and other things.  He then scheduled my son to be tested by a neuropsychologist.  She would do extensive testing, and provide recommendations for accommodations for school.

By this time, my son was approaching the end of first grade.  The school finally recognized that my son needed an IEP, which was classified as Other Health Impairment, due to the epilepsy.  They told me that they would do some testing to determine my son’s needs.  I shared with them that my son was being tested by a neuropsychologist.  The school sounded grateful when I told them I would share the findings with them as soon as I got the results. I think in the end there was only one additional test the school ran that was not covered by the neuropsychologist.  Thankfully the neuropsychologist gave us detailed recommendations for services or accommodations needed for my son.

Once the school drafted the first IEP they were pretty diligent in including the recommendations from the neuropsychologist.  Besides day to day accommodations, they included access to a reading specialist, a language specialist, and an occupational therapist.  My reaction to this was:  so far, so good.

Soon my son was in second grade and was still having a few small seizures each day, but non as drastic as they were in kindergarten.  By the end of second grade his teacher talked to me privately and said that my son was also struggling with math, especially with the topics being learned at the end of the year.  I asked her for her opinion about shifting my son out of the main stream class and into special education.  She thought it was a good idea and came to my next IEP meeting, which occurred at the end of second grade.

From this IEP meeting, I started catching onto the games played with the “IEP.”  In our experience more time was spent figuring out how to fund accommodations rather than identifying the needs for my son.  The  IEP carry over process from year to year was done in a nonchalant manner and became more watered down as time went by.  I was new to all of this and did not know what to do.  At that time, I thought my son’s education was in the hands of experts who should know what needs to be done.  The big catch was they appeared to be so nice and caring, but in reality they were trying to just “deal” with me, and then do their own thing. 

I was very concerned for my son and knew how critical reading and math were.  I knew that if you successfully learned how to read and do math you could be successful in life.  So I took the matter into my own hands and that summer hired a tutor to work with my son.  The tutor happened to be my son’s second grade teacher. She was successful of getting my son to advance by two reading levels.

Third grade became a pivotal year for us.  A lot happened and the real nature of  the broken school system began to show its under-belly.

Continued . . .

Just before we decided to home school, I had an odd discussion with my son’s special education teacher. As you know the discussion of inclusiveness is a hot topic in education. The discussion with my son’s teacher was triggered by an email I had received from the school which included a copy of the school’s newsletter. I read through the lengthy newsletter which included a couple of paragraphs from each class that described their latest activities. The newsletter was pretty long because each grade in the middle school is broken down into sub classes or pods which coincide to a specific location in the school, which is a hub for their core classes. It was also apparent that the teachers of each class were the authors of the newsletter, or at least the source for each article. In addition to theses articles there were also stories from non-core subject teachers including Art, Physical Education, Music, etc.

Some of the articles in the newsletter were very generic and others called out specific students and their specific highlighted activity. After going through the newsletter I noticed there was no article from my son’s special education class. It was noticeable to me because obviously I was looking for his specific class. After further consideration I noticed that there were no articles from any of the special education teachers.

My initial reaction was that it was odd. I would have liked to read about what has been going on in my son’s main class, which was special education. The more I thought about it the more I got irritated. I didn’t understand why these classes were excluded from the newsletter. Besides being irritated I was also sad. This was an example of exclusion. I truly did not understand why the school would decisively exclude these classes from providing class news in their newsletter. As a parent of a child who has learning disabilities, I am very proud of his achievements. In addition since there has never been school work, assignments, or evidence of class activities brought home on a daily, or even a weekly basis, I didn’t have a lot of information about what topics my son’s class was studying. Like many parents I was always asking about what was going on at school, but, like many 7th graders, I got the “Not much” response from my son.

I also understood that in his class there are varying levels of abilities, but I also had a sense that there were commonalities between the topics discussed. For example, if they were studying geography, the whole class were studying the same topic. So once again I didn’t understand the reason for the exclusion. I still could not come up with a logical reason for the purposeful exclusion. In addition I was like any other parent and wanted the benefit to receive the same information as any other parent. It then hit me that not only was my son being excluded, but I also was being excluded.

In the end I was shocked, frustrated, and a little angry. Getting my son an education has always been a battle. It was frustrating to me that the school, who should be the experts, did not offer suggestions on how to educate my son. I had to fight for everything in his IEP and it would have been nice to have an “expert” to make suggestions. They work with my son every day. Who should know what he needs? His teachers! Sorry for the diversion, but the whole IEP is a ruse and another way for the educational system to fail at providing an education. It is a vehicle of smoke and mirrors to make it look like they are providing an education. It is also a bunch of red tape for them to justify their funding.

Anyway, I decided to reach out via email to my son’s teacher to ask why she did not include a story in the monthly newsletter. I was totally shocked at her response. Keep n mind she is my son’s special education teacher. She chose this career and obviously, at one time, had a passion for teaching special education. I recognize it takes a very unique individual to serve in this role and it was not an easy job. It is also obviously clear when a teacher has this passion. When they don’t have the passion, which we had seen in the past, the situation was a disaster. In this case I knew she had the passion. In this case she was also in charge of my son’s IEP, which also implies that she should be highly aware of the laws surrounding an education. She had also, in the past, shown evidence of knowing the importance of inclusion.

In the end her response was that this decision was to respect the privacy of the parents who had children in special education. She went on to say “How would you like to be a parent and have a reference in the newsletter which implied that your child was not in the mainstream classes and was in special education.” To be honest, I was flabbergasted. These statements were coming from my son’s educated special education teacher, who apparently was feeling “shame” for these students and their parents. I asked myself, did she really think that it is not known that my son is in special education. The kids in school know it. And the parents know it too. We have been with all of these children since kindergarten and with that much time you learn which kids are in special education and need a little extra help. In addition, DUH, my son talks to me about his classmates. I know who is in his special education class.

Secondly, I have never met a parent who didn’t have pride in their child. I am not ashamed that my son was in a special education class. And I would be willing to bet that every parent of a child that is in special education, whether it be for developmental delays or for learning disabilities, is just as proud and concerned as any other parent in that school.

In addition there was no reason a specific child’s name would have to be mentioned in the newsletter. I found it hard to believe that this teacher did not have the skills to write a couple of paragraphs about her class without listing specific names of the children. And then on top of it all, she was insecure enough to feel “shame” in these children. I also wondered what type of lesson did this demonstrate to my child. I wondered, if this was happening with a mere newsletter, where else was this happening?

I think this moment was the beginning of my decision to pull my son from this educational system and teach him myself. I didn’t want him to be with a teacher or a school that was ashamed of him. More importantly, I wanted him to get an education, which wasn’t really happening neither. So here we are. Home schooling. And we are proud of everything we do, and I am very, very proud of my son.

I would love to give credit for this image, but could not find where it originated from.  Children may not learn these rules in public school, but they can learn them in home school. 

Another reason to home school!