Tuesday, February 7, 2012
I love our neighborhood school.
I really, really do.
In the national conversation surrounding public education my state is usually the butt of the joke. We are not known for our progressive ideals, for our investment in future generations, for our belief in science. It can be hard for a transplanted Yankee to navigate the public school system here without wincing mightily.
Our neighborhood school is a sweet little oasis. The facilities are old and the playground has seen better days. And yet the teachers are fantastic. The student body is an almost-too-good-to-be-true representation of diversity. The parents are involved. The principal is steadfast in the belief that "teaching to the test" helps no one succeed.
Each class has their own garden plot where they tend crops that are later harvested for a school-community wide celebratory feast. Kids eat the salad they grew out of bowls they made in art class. A dance teacher comes to visit the classes once a week to lead the kids in expressive movement. There are free after-school activities like Robotics and Chess Club and running club...Each week teachers select new students to be "Peacemakers of the Week".
Peacemakers! I die.
We have been so fortunate with the teachers our children have had. We have also been so fortunate that our children thrive in a traditional education setting. I know that each day my children are spoken to kindly, that they are listened to, that they are praised appropriately. I know that at each parent-teacher conference my job will be to review their accomplishments and to discuss how to challenge them more. There will be no conversations about difficult behaviors, social anxieties, or failing to meet milestones.
I also know these days are numbered. It is likely that our youngest son will have a very different school experience. And I am worried that his path will make me fall out of love with my neighborhood school. That my progressive-hippy parenting ideals will have to fall by the wayside in the face of a system unequipped to handle his needs.
YH's future is likely to hold some learning difficulties, behavioral challenges, sensory issues, social problems...and yet on the outside he will look like any other kid. His special needs will be invisible to the untrained eye and will instead present as defiance, stubbornness, hyperactivity, being just plain weird. He may be delayed in some academic areas and yet excel in others. He may be gifted artistically and in athletics. On the playground he may gravitate to younger kids because his development is more on par with them.
And so I am watching. At pick-up and drop-off I am watching the way the teachers and staff respond to other "quirky" kids. I am listening to the way they tell a child for the five-hundredth time to stop climbing a tree. I see them run out of patience at the end of the day. I see them react as any human would to a particularly annoying child, one who doesn't seem to "get" the basics of social interaction.
I am watching.
And I see how teachers take an extra minute to talk to me about my daughter's accomplishments, turning their backs to the a-typical child hopping up and down next to the bench. I see how much easier it is to give the good news to a parent than it is to talk about the trials of the day. I have compassion for the teachers. I do.
But I am also building my mama-arsenal, preparing for a battle I don't yet know if I will need to wage. I am getting ready to go up against the very people who have thus far been key players in our community support system.
I can kill with kindness. I can kill with legal-ize.
I can do whatever it takes to make sure my kid is supported.
I am watching.