Thursday, January 24, 2008

Today

Today starts with yesterday when an option that hadn't seemed like an option suddenly seemed worth looking into. When we first moved from St. Louis Scott had attended a preschool that was housed in a K-12 charter school. The teachers had an educational philosophy that seemed very appropriate to that age group, with an emphasis on treating children with respect. In fact, that's part of the overall mission of the greater school, "democratic education": http://trilliumcharterschool.org/

The school seemed to be a haven for unconventional kids and families. I had thought that it would be a friendlier environment for Scott. For a long time he's seemed like he had his own drummer, and any beat outside of him had to be pretty insistent to penetrate. In a less-than tolerant atmosphere it could easily be framed as a problem. I worried about the decision to send him to our neighborhood school which seemed to have its kindergarten in flux (one of the classes had had quite a lot of teacher turnover). Furthermore, it seemed to operate on a more traditional model of expectations of students' behavior and I feared Scott might not thrive there.

In the end I crossed my fingers and sent him to the neighborhood school. Trillium is about a 20 minute drive on the other side of the river. In contrast there's a bus to the neighborhood school that picks them up and drops them in our driveway. (There are other obvious advantages to having siblings in the same school; on the other hand there are some hidden disadvantages to having an older sibling in the same school.) It was the prospect of a commute that had kept me from seriously considering Trillium as an option.

At one point when I was trying to think of what to do the idea of homeschooling seemed like the only option open (and I was dismayed about that.). It seemed it would be too disruptive and too late to transfer him in to a new classroom as the new kid. Connor's a child who fairly easily assimilates himself into a new setting, but Scott is different. Then it came to me yesterday that many of the children who had been in the preschool with him had continued in the elementary school. Scott wouldn't necessarily be a stranger there.

I called the school; this is the last week where they are enrolling new students and there is space for one student. I went over this morning to observe the classroom he would be in. The teacher is Billy.

My first impression was, "no". I got a feel for what the details of transplanting a child might be like and it seemed it could be truly disruptive to a point that would overrule the benefit. There are nearly as many children in this class as there are in the neighborhood school (but 6 of the kindergartners go home at lunch), and it's possible the room may be smaller . It's a school in an inner urban setting with graffiti on one of the walls. The children range in age from around 5 to 7 (K thru 2 grades). There's a lot of agitation in this classroom too, though the kids didn't seem particularly unhappy or irritable like in Scott's current classroom. There is carpet time here in an area that's pretty small, but I didn't see the children pushing each other or hitting. The playground is rudimentary and asphalt. In some ways it seemed a transfer here would be a sort of lateral move, if not a slight downgrade (our neighborhood school is a country school, up on a plateau that overlooks the Tualatin valley and the coast range mountains.), at least setting-wise.

So the setting and classroom structure alone aren't really worth a move. However, Billy seems like he's a teacher with the flexibility and curiosity and interest that could make a difference for Scott. He seemed quite tolerant of the children's various eccentricities and was always respectful even in fraught situations. I told him that what I had observed about Scott was that he seemed pretty calm and self-controlled during the Christmas break. When school re-started he had vision therapy the afternoon of the first day. His vision therapist remarked that he'd seemed silly and unable to focus. This was very different from how he had been during those 2 weeks at home and that's what started me wondering if school itself had an adverse effect on him. I wondered if it might be the overstimulating effect of children in a group...Billy replied that he wondered if Scott might be 'not getting what he needs'.

So what does Scott need? Does he need to be shielded a while from the over-stimulating effects of a group until he can develop a bit more skill in self-regulation? Or, does he need a teacher who is mindful of his different drum and is willing to find ways to reach it?

I'm taking him tomorrow to the school to see what kind of reaction he has to the teacher, the room, the children. It just seems like the thing to do, to see if this might open into a way, or rule it out as an option. It could be a viable compromise between leaving him in a situation I'd have a bad conscience about, and having him home full time. I guess a 20 minute drive isn't as much of a sacrifice as full-time homeschooling. It's worth a look-into.

As a bit of a P.S., Gary visited Scott's class today at the neighborhood school. He came home disgusted with the set-up, said it was a depressing atmosphere and he didn't see how anyone could learn anything there. He said it was a waste of time and there were still 4 and a half months left of the school year. I felt relief that he saw it too.

1 comment:

Lori said...

So glad you have another option.

Doesn't it feel good that you and Gary are on the same page about the neighborhood school?

Hope things go well at the Trillium visit.