August 26, 2008

Back to School (Daycare)

This year, my unexpected surgery put a rush on preparing for our school year. Still, we had several missed "To Do's" sneak up on us after school had started. Since school can feel like an unknown piece of your child's happiness, I thought it would good to talk about it a bit. Afterall, your child's long term success can be GREATLY influenced by the first years in school. Their expectations about themselves and your study habits are formed the first few weeks of school. Before I start blabbing, just keep in mind that I do throw out my ideas and they may not be practical or reasonable for everyone's situation...ah, the beauty of unique situations. Furthermore, I am writing JUST as a parent.

Establish an open line with your school/teacher
Many teachers are thrilled and relieved when they find parents are approachable. Make sure that within the first week of school, you have had the opportunity to see the teacher face to face (ok, this would probably not apply to some middle school and high school students). If there are no meetings prior to school, take your child to school and into the classroom one morning. This is a non intrusive way just to say hello and a subtle suggestion that you are an involved parent. If you can, take some items for treasure box (if applicable) or a bunch of extra erasers for the teacher to give out to students. Furthermore, if you have an email address for them, email them and let them know that if they have any concerns about your child, please feel free to call or email. Regardless, of paperwork you have filled out, this is an extra flag to let them know that you are involved with your child's education. This open line can prevent a lot of miscommunication and questions about what's going on in class.

Homework? Ask about the amount of homework they will be given and whether it is consistent (Mon-Thurs?). If there is a curriculum night, do what you can to attend.

Mongolian Spots
If your child has mongolian spots (often they fade out prior to school age), make sure to document this for your school or daycare AND make a copy for the teacher. Print out an article about them instead of trying to explain themselves such as Wikipedia's

I like to print these things in color so the person reading it can really see what they can look like. In your documentation, describe where the spot is located and the general size and shape. Documenting is a good idea whether your school/teacher is familiar them or not. For a little extra assurance, get your pediatrician document them for you. Why? As you probably noticed, these spots look like bruises and can easily be mistaken for abuse. I am aware of a few cases where the parents were reported for abuse. So, be proactive and protect your family.

We are an Adoptive Family
There are many suggestions around the internet about writing this letter. Here is one: Adoptive Families' Letter

My only criticism is that a smart teacher may be offended at the way the letter was written (well, duh). I would probably tweak it so that it doesn't insinuate that the teacher is braindead :-) Unfortunately, there are a few out there that are a bit clueless. Of course, if I really had to answer these questions for a might be a wise move to pull my daughter out of this class!!!! Other than that, you will want to add an explicit request to consider how certain projects/statements relating to a child's family are presented. You can use the family tree project or genetics projects as an example. Express an openness to brainstorming assignments that might be sensitive subjects to an adoptive family. Notice, I do not say adopted child...because that is a label that insinuates that they are somehow different whereas, it is actually the FAMILY that is different! It is also a subtle reminder that the subject is sensitive to the parents as well as the child. (Is she adopted? No, she WAS adopted..verb, not an adjective). Some teachers DO have experience with dealing with sensitive subjects and remember, you want them to be on your side so don't offend them within the first few days of school! What I try to do is say something like “Here is some information about XYZ that I found helpful. to us. OK...I'm bad about doing this. I guess it is because we know the teacher and are pretty confident in the way course material will be handled (generally).

Less Business, More Pleasure
Young children are a great source of laughter, amusement and personality when they are home. That doesn't completely change when they step in the classroom. Who wants to miss out? Certainly, not me! They will often share their reservations or excitement about school with an amusing comment. A teacher can know your child much better by understanding the fears or excitement that they have for school so take time to share them (without breaking confidences or embarrassing your child, of course). The first day of school, I shared a mild funny with my daughter's teacher. At week two, we are already communicating very comfortably whether we are sharing concerns or laughing over funny statements. Our little list of amusing comments have made the circuit with the teachers and they have a better insight to my daughter's personality! While I know that I am extremely lucky to have very thoughtful teachers, I know that this relationship is a two way street. Good communication happens long before problems or concerns pop up.

For elementary age children, this is also a good time to look around at tutoring options. Many schools have programs or teachers wanting some extra income (where allowed). Outside tutoring programs like Silvan or Kumon might be a good idea if you want to change the environment. Tutoring is not just a resource for struggling students. Most children have weak spots in their understanding on SOME subject and it is often a great way to boost confidence. I find it is a wonderful option for working parents who have limited time to tutor at home. Furthermore, a lot of children don't particularly like tutoring from their parents no matter how patient they are! Some of the most advanced students I know spend time with tutors...and it doesn't have to be a huge investment.

Pretty Baskets (ESL/ELL)
Last year, I researched the possibility of changing careers to being an ESL teacher. We have a large Hispanic population and I felt (like many other ESL teachers) that they needed an advocate in the school system. Oddly enough, ESL and ELL have become sore spots with many adoptive parents and fluent English speakers of Latin American decent. This year, I've already heard several instances of children from Guatemala who have been brought up with English as their primary language and came here at a very young age are being misclassified in ESL/ELL (English as a Second Language/English Language Learner). It amazes me since they are supposedly concluding this from “assessments”. It certainly doesn't happen everywhere, but it happens enough! The reasons for these improper placements seem to run the gamut:
Thought the child should have cultural exposure.
Child had speech issues and placed in ESL because it was convenient
Child was bilingual
Misconception that all Hispanic children struggle with English!
Restrictive Placement Guidelines used by people that can't think for themselves.

In a discussion with an assessor last year, I could not seem to get across to her that my daughter would not need ESL (my daughter knows very little Spanish, unfortunately). After being talked down to about state guidelines, I told her "If you are incapable of thinking for yourself, then you are incapable of assessing my child." My quote seems to apply with many organizations/individuals bent on following insufficient “guidelines” over common sense. Unfortunately, lack of flexibility is not the answer! It *seems* (and I say that because its based on my exposure) that it is more of a problem in Public School. My polite the first time, but don't let them railroad you into something that is not appropriate for your child. Be firm, get loud and call the local investigative reporters! On the flip side, if your child who came home later might benefit from these programs, then fight to have them included. Someone asked me once why I picked a Private school for my child. The question was so generic, but the answer was simple. Because I felt that FOR HER, it was the best solution AVAILABLE. On the flip side, I have a friend who took her son OUT of a different private school because they did not have adequate resources for ESL and speech. Kudos to her...everyone should do what is RIGHT for their own child(ren)!! Research...research...research that school!

Advocating for your Child
I've heard about a lot of families being denied government programs for various reasons. It happens and its frustrating. I am a huge supporter of fighting for your child. However, don't eat away a lot of time trying to find a government supported program if your child needs assistance immediately. Go out and find it. Find out if there are speech therapists and occupational therapists that often visit after school programs and who are privately paid. If you do qualify for a government sponsored program, ask lots of questions about restrictions. Just remember, that tax paid programs are not going to be all out generous. When my daughter entered pre-K, we glanced at a few Georgia sponsored pre-K programs. The curriculum was not very flexible and she was already ahead of it. I was not getting paid regularly, but I opted for a private school setting because of the personal attention. Instead of reviewing her ABCs, she was learning to read and doing basic math. She was challenged and pampered. To date, we are happy with her progress in this particular school and will continue even if it is stressful financially. But if she had been at the same level with the Georgia Pre-K program and if the facility seemed pretty nuturing, our choice would have been to take advantage of it. There are no blanket answers for your child. Don't assume that a school is going to be a good match for your child because it costs money and don't assume that inexpensive or free programs are going to give you adequate services. The point is to take the time to RESEARCH and find out if what they have to offer is what you want and whether its WORTH what it costs. This is especially true if you are locked into a year contract or have penalties to pay for withdrawing!

What are the longterm benefits?
Is this a preventative action (meaning, you are possibly offsetting future ramifications)?
What is the cost vs. the hassle/inconvenience?
How comfortable do you think your child will be with the service?
Is this personalized/customized or is it a group setting?
Who will be teaching/coaching my child?
What methodologies do they follow?
How much flexibility is in the program (is it too rigid)?
Is this appropriate for MY child?

Furthermore, if you are unhappy with a school situation after starting, don't stomach it out if your child is suffering. Money is replaceable, children are priceless!

Extra Curricular Activities & Homework
My early years in a private school had very limited physical activities. I always felt “behind” in this area and envied those students who seemed to be so coordinated (ie: good at sports)! So, it was really important that I found a physical activity for my daughter. The problem is that there are a LOT more programs right after school when I am still at work. Then there is the time it takes when your child gets more into competitive sports. I know kids who have activities every afternoon. What about homework? In our own situation, we are lucky that the after-school care provides a quiet time for working on homework. My niece balances a lot of dance classes and Kudos to the facility for providing an area for children to sit and work on their homework!

This year, my daughter has a weekly organizer designed specifically for kids her age. Each day, the teacher has the students write their homework assignment in their organizer. I am really pleased with the effort to teach them organization skills along with having a log for their homework. If your teacher does not do this, buy a weekly school planner. You can still help your student by asking them to write their homework/schedule in the planner. We purchased one at Barnes and Noble before we knew that the class would provide one (and it ended up being better suited to her age).

It is also a good exercise to have your child sit down and plan activities with you. Even a Kindergartener will feel more responsible if he/she is giving input on when to have “chill” time and when to work on homework. Obviously, a parent may do a better job planning...but organizing FOR your kids doesn't teach them how to do it themselves (something I CONSTANTLY have to remind myself!).

So, those are my back to school tips....I'm sure I could keep writing to cover more subjects, expound on some, or to clarify...but then it would never make it on the site!

Good luck to all our new school dwellers. Parents, please feel free to add your back to school tips in the comments!

Posted by Kelly at August 26, 2008 02:34 PM | TrackBack

Kelly, WOW! As a teacher I wish I could pass this out to every parent! I could comment on each area you addressed, but since ESL/ELL is probably relevant for many adoptive families, I will give you a little info. In AZ, upon registration, parents answer a few questions: What is the child's 1st language? Is a language besides English spoken in the home? If the answer to any of these questions is anything but English, the child must take the AZELLA test (AZ version of and English proficiency test). The test measures listening, speaking, reading, writing, and language (grammar). If the child does not score "proficient" they are labeled an English language learner. Based on our delightful laws (sarcasm evident I hope!), these students in AZ are now segregated away from the "proficient" kids and placed in ELL classrooms where they get 4 hours of English instruction a day (which means they will get less math, science,...) Because the test measures reading and writing, if the child is behind in these areas, they often don't score proficient and they become labeled even if they don't speak another language. However (and this is my main point!!!) parents ALWAYS have the option of signing a waiver to not label their child, and refusing the "service" (the often don't tell anyone this because money is often attached to the number of students labeled). Like Kelly said, know your child and fight to get them the setting that is best for them. Sad that education has come to this, (and obviously I don't agree with it!) but as parents I guess it is our responsibility to know the "tricks" of the school system.

Thanks for a great article Kelly! I may borrow pieces with your permission, of course!

Posted by: Kim at August 27, 2008 09:15 PM

Thanks for a great article. Also, thank you for the adoptive families letter. I will be giving this to my 4 year old's teacher this year, as we will be picking up her little sister from Guatemala on September 8th and I'm sure she will talk about it at school.

Posted by: donna at August 28, 2008 02:56 AM

I came up with an idea early on to get involved with my bio son school. I work. Instead of having to bake 30 cupcakes on a moments notice (and teacher said most times she ends up throwing away most of it uneaten anyway) I started ordering craft projects from Oriental Trading Company for each holiday during the year. Most of them are very inexpensive (24 for $6.00) etc. I would ask the teacher if I could either send them (separate each child's craft pieces into zip lock bags so she will have a easy time handing them out) with needed glue etc. Or would love to come (at my convience on a day I knew I had off) and help them do the project. Teachers LOVED the idea. Most of them end up paying for projects out of their own pockets. The kids like taking something they made home. The teachers liked the idea so much I had teachers for the next year asking if I would let son be in their rooms! I ordered the stuff during the summer so I would not have to rush and like I said ordered like...valentines (pompom critters shelf sitters), Fall (decorate a little fake pumpkin), Christmas (ornaments),etc. My favorite one of all times was a Turkey magnet Justin made in first grade....he colored it kind of crooked and it still makes me smile. I still have it on the Fridge and he is a SENIOR! Plus I always loved helping out with his class and spending time doing projects with him.
Rene' V.

Posted by: Rene' at September 5, 2008 03:37 PM

Great advice Kelly. It seems the time from arriving home with your baby/child to putting them on the bus passes in the blink of an eye! Our oldest son is in the fourth grade this year. His third grade teacher from last year is now teaching kindergarten and our second son has her this year. We talked about being an adoptive/multicultural family with unique concerns with each teacher and it has been a positive experience for us at our local public elementary school. Our third adoption of our beautiful daughter from Guatemala covered two grades and the support of the teachers and excitement of the fellow students as our son shared progess was so helpful. To date our children are proud of thier heritage and sharing in classroom experiences has been positive. I encourage all families to be open, honest and informitive in thier education experience with thier children.

Posted by: Sue at September 5, 2008 06:33 PM

The ESOL comment really resonated. My six-year old son, who was adopted 5 years ago, was placed into the ESOL program in a highly-regarded Georgia public school without my knowledge or consent. When I asked the criteria by which children were assessed....the administration noted that he was "obviously adopted" and "obviously Hispanic". Two weeks after my request to remove him from the program, he received a progress report from ESOL. It noted that the services needed to be continued because he could not write in English. Since he is in kindergarten, that was not particularly surprising, for any language. I had to make two more phone calls and a visit to the school before he was removed from the program.

Posted by: Meg at September 14, 2008 12:24 PM

In our school system, I was told if the child is born anywhere other than the US, they are automatically classified as ESL. One parent was told the only way her daughter could be removed from the program was for the parent to go back and change the answer to indicate that her daughter was born in the US. Assessment scores did not matter.

Posted by: Mari at October 9, 2008 02:25 AM