Thursday, January 30, 2014

Speaking of School...a New Journey

Abby and Natalie - Sept 2013
It's seems appropriate that the last post over a year ago was about the girls starting school.  Well, school is once again the topic of discussion, but not in the same way.

Natalie and Abby had a great year of kindergarten last year.  They enjoyed making new friends and playing on the playground at school.  They very quickly learned to read and once it clicked, they soared ahead in their reading ability.  Natalie struggled some with being able to finish her work in a timely manner, so we prepared to consider future options for ADD evaluation if we needed to.

Over all, however, they had a very successful year and we were pleased.  We LOVED the year round schedule.  It allowed us to do some wonderful things during the breaks.

Natalie and Abby with Great-Grandma Courliss - Sept 2012
Abby and Natalie - Tawas Point Sept 2012

Tawas Point, MI

Michigan - Sept 2012

Abby and Natalie - Big Meadows, Skyline Drive, VA - Sept 2012

Abby and Natalie - Luray Caverns, Luray, VA Sept 2012

Natalie, Poppy and Abby - Limberlost Trail, Skyline Drive - Oct 2012

Natalie and Abby - NYC, March 2013

Natalie and Abby - end of Kindergarten - June 2013

All in all, Kindergarten was really good and we were pleased over all.

The summer was short - but fun.  With only 5 weeks to play with, we had a lot to do and not much time to do it!

Abby and Natalie - First Day Camp - Caroline Furance, Luray, VA - June 2013

Abby, Mommy, Natalie - Storybrook Trail - June 2013

Abby, Natalie and Kenan - Summer Faith Adventure - June 2013

Abby and Natalie - NC Aquarium Manteo - July 2013

Very quickly, mid-July came around and we were very excited for first grade!  We had fun meeting their teachers, shopping for supplies and heading off for the first day of school!

Natalie and Abby found the reading nook! - July 2013

Natalie and Abby - shopping for 1st grade
Natalie and Abby - 1st day of 1st grade! - July 15, 2013
Abby and Natalie - ready to go

The girls seemed to enjoy first grade at first.  They were disappointed that none of the friends they were closest to in kindergarten were in their new first grade class.  We also had an incident early on in the year with a classmate asking to see Natalie's underwear!  I was very proud of Natalie because she told him, "no, that's my private parts and I'm going to tell my mom."  The teacher handled it beautifully though, and we didn't really think it was malicious at all.  They enjoyed the first field trip they took and recess was a big hit - of course.

At the same time, we were really struggling with homework.  The girls weren't big fans of the idea and every night it was a huge struggle.  Often, we weren't getting it done.  It was A LOT of writing - actually all writing.  We tried a variety of ways to get things done but it was a struggle.

At the same time, Natalie was really beginning to struggle even more with her school work.  She was not able to finish her work in school and it was becoming more and more of an issue.  We worked with the teacher on some options, but they didn't seem to be working.

At the same time, Natalie was also struggling with her own emotions.  She had began to say things about herself that caused us great concern.  She was saying things like, "I hate myself", "I'm a terrible girl" and other things along that line.  Her behavior was also starting to fall apart.  She was throwing tantrums, trying to hit and kick and yelling in defiance.  The tantrums were becoming a daily event, sometimes more than once a day and were even spilling over into public, which was completely out of character for her.  In late August, we put in a request to be seen by a child psychologist both for the emotional issues Natalie was having as well as an evaluation for ADD.  We were able to get an appointment in mid October to start meeting with a psychotherapist and start the ADD and emotional evals.

In late October, Ben and I took a trip to Thailand with Ben's mom (who is from Thailand), Dad and sister.  While we were gone, the girls were lucky enough to have Poppy, Nanny, Grammy and Auntie to take care of them.  They didn't miss us at all-)  My mother and sister were both giving us reports while we were gone of problems they were noticing with information coming home from school.  Additionally, my mom had visited the classroom to help with a Halloween project and was concerned by what she observed.

When we returned from Thailand in November, we resumed Natalie's evaluations and I decided to spend a day in the classroom to observe and see what exactly was happening when Natalie was "distracted" from her work.  After a day in their classroom and another half-day on a field trip with them, I could not have been more saddened and concerned by what I discovered.

To shorten a VERY long story...
- the teacher had poor grammar and often used double negatives and even the word "ain't"
- when writing an example on the board, she used a sentence structure that I had never quite seen - "I open my cookie apart to show two pieces."
- she gave them a math assignment to figure out in small groups, then never showed them how to actually do the problem

and then, the worst part....
- The teachers, especially the assistant, were, in my opinion, verbally abusive to certain children when dealing with behavioral issues and trying to get them to complete their work.  Children were berated, threatened, and spoken to harshly.
-  On the field trip, the assistant repeatedly referred to one child as "boy", and in, "boy, you better stop that" or "boy, I don't know what's wrong with you".  This was not a "oh boy" with a big sigh.  It was more like a "come in from the fields, boy" kind-of boy.  It was unbelievable.
- The children seemed scared - scared to answer questions with the wrong answer and unsure of what the teachers want from them.
- The energy in the room was low and depressing.  There was no joy or excitement in the classroom.  By the end of the day, I felt depressed.  I couldn't imagine spending all day there.

I had also observed the assistant tear into a child on the playground at recess one day.  Additionally, I'd witnessed other teachers and staff berating students in the hall.  My mother reported she had observed the same behavior.  As we began asking the girls more questions we became aware of the computer teacher who apparently yelled at everyone and made kids stand against the wall in punishment.  In fact, Abby reported being afraid to even ask a question of this teacher for fear of getting yelled at.

We quickly began to realize that Natalie's behavior could be directly related to the emotional climate in the classroom.  We also realized we had significant concerns about the quality of education the girls were receiving.  They appeared to have very little math (we saw almost no math homework in 18 weeks of school.)  We were having difficulty seeing where they had learned much of anything new at all.

We took our concerns to the principal and asked they be moved immediately to a new classroom.  Again, a long story, but ultimately moving was very complicated and our concerns about the emotional climate were very much dismissed.  After much discussion, we made the choice to pull the girls out of school and home school for the rest of the year. ( When we told the girls Monday was would be their last day, Abby nearly started crying because that was computer day and she was afraid to go to class.  I promised her I would show up and go to class with her - which I did.)

I will say the teacher was fantastic about their transition.  She had the class sit down and announced that Natalie and Abby were going on new journey.  She allowed the kids to say goodbyes to them which was so, so sweet.   Many of the children offered up their favorite toys or boots as gifts:-)   I had also brought cookies and cupcakes and we had a little going away party.  It was really nice for all of the children to be able to have some closure and say goodbye to each other.

Last day of 1st grade at Pearsontown - (Abby and Natalie) Dec 9, 2013

And, so our new journey begins.  The girls' last day of school was December 9.  We started easing into home school but with Christmas we took it easy until after the new year.

From this point on, I am excited that I will be able to post about our home schooling journey - all the up and the downs (which I am already discovering!) and hopefully, the joys of learning as well!

No comments: