Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Turns Out When You Homeschool, They're Always At Home!

We home school.  It still doesn't roll off my tongue.  But, it sure does consume my thoughts. 

As soon as our decision was made, we started the process.  I made the appropriate calls.  I sent in the appropriate paperwork.  I registered him on the appropriate virtual learning website.  I turned in his books.  Then, we waited.  He had to be approved and assigned to his classes.  It only took a few days so I have to applaud the school system in this case.  It was a simple transition and the home school department was very nice.

There is one thing that we could have done without.  We could have done without the letter warning us that William couldn't go back to public school and wasn't even allowed to be on other school grounds until he did his time at the alternative school.  Or the home school guy telling me that he couldn't come back to public school until he did his time at the alternative school.  Or the school counselor who called with good intentions to check in, only to find out that we had pulled him out.  When I updated her, she told me, (you guessed it!) that he couldn't come back to public school until he did his time at the alternative school. 

We get it!  We got it when we were told this by the vice principal, the discipline committee, and our next door neighbor.  Ok, maybe the next door neighbor didn't tell us but my memory is getting fuzzy. ;)

Don't even get me started on the ridiculous fact that he still won't be allowed on a public school's property, even though, he is now home schooled.  We assumed that rule would be irrelevant when he transitioned to home school, but turns out...not so much.  So, William can't go to his Lizzie and Antwan's plays, Kaleb's band performances, or even ride with me to pick them up from school?  Seriously?

For the record, I get that they were covering their bases by making sure that we had all the information; particularly, the counselor who is sweet as honey.  (Did I really just use that phrase??)  But, after awhile, it just felt like bullying.  They have all the power.  They had made a decision about our son and that was it.  We had to do what they want or else.

Yeah, we took "else."

So, yeah, I took all my adrenalin and ran.  I printed out educational worksheets while William waited to be assigned to the virtual classes.  I checked his former class websites and had him work on the same stuff so he wouldn't fall behind.  I had him write an essay about an episode of Doctor Who.  And, not just because that I meant I got to sit and watch Doctor Who.  :)

Once the adrenalin wore off, I started running a little slower.  I started to really feel the gravity of our decision.  Not regret, mind you.  Just feel.  When I dropped Lizzie and Antwan off and Kaleb left for the bus, I would come home and he'd be there.  Gone was the option of mindlessly sitting in my recliner until I was good and ready to get up.  I had a kid here and I had to do something with him.

So, for the first few days, I let him play on the tablet until I got food in my tummy and then printed out more worksheets.  I knew that it was going to be ok, but I knew that it was going to take some getting used to. 

Within a couple of days, he had been assigned to all but one of his classes.  We're still waiting on Science for some reason.  I was pretty impressed with how easy the website was to navigate and how nice the teachers were when they called for the welcome calls. 

It was my quite incorrect belief that William would do most of his computer work on his own.  I assumed that I would then supplement his learning with inspiring, educational experiences.  You know, the kind that he would always remember.  I even bought a bunch of supplies for some cool at-home science experiments. 

Then, he got 3 F's on his first 3 assessments.  It was clear that he needed help and also clear that he wasn't listening when I had asked him, after 2 F's, to stop submitting assignments before checking with me.

I gotta say, that didn't feel good.  I was freaking out a little.  But, with guidance from his teacher, we were able to reset the grades and re-do the assignments.  with a whole bunch of  hesitation, I sat with him and we went through the first lesson step-by-step.  And, would you believe that I understood it?  (This is when I mention that I find math intimidating.)  And, after fighting William's lack of focus and frustration, we got through it and he re-took the assessment.

And, he got an 80%!  And, he was proud of himself!

And, the next day went even better! 

To go from a consistent D to an A.  That's pretty amazing.

It wasn't all easy.  I discovered how quickly William gets discouraged and how easily he loses focus.  (I already knew the last part.)  When he had to answer a question, he would struggle to answer for fear of being wrong and then get very upset if he was.  I remember, in one case, he put his face in his hands after making a mistake.  As I continued to read from the computer screen, I realized that he wasn't looking.  And, of course, he had no idea what I had just said.  When I asked him if it was how he acted in class, he said yes.  Well, no wonder he was missing stuff!  When the teacher had moved on and William hasn't, he can't learn.

Little by little, he gained knowledge and confidence.  By the time that he was finishing the last lesson of that section, he was getting A's and figuring out the answers faster than me.  I finally just stopped my own calculations and just let him do his thing.

So, basically, yeah, it's going well.  I have discovered that he is the perfect candidate for home schooling.  With the ability to take his time and a mom who will re-explain things (possibly clearly, possibly not, ha); William's grades have soared and it's nice to have some time to talk to him alone.  It was and still is a transition.  And, man, do I miss my me time!  But, ask me if I still think that we did the right thing?  :)

(That's rhetorical, of course.  You can actually ask, but you might end up with a whole post in response.  You take your chances...haha.)

Plus, he gets to take a Photography class as an elective and he's having a blast.

I've also discovered some unfortunate candids of me....which I will not be sharing. ;)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

They Think My Son Is Dangerous...Really?

I can't even.  I suddenly understand what that means.  Because, after going through our first (and, hopefully, last) discipline committee meeting....I can't even.  But, I will, because this would be a pretty pointless blog post, otherwise.  ;)

The day did not go as I expected.  I expected it to be stressful.  I expected to look down at my sweater and realize that I had dog hair on it.  I expected to have trouble walking in my boots.  But, other than that, nothing else went like I thought it would. 

Before going, we had a talk with William.  We explained that the counselor had some theories and that she recognized possible signs of high functioning Autism in him.  Although, it's not remotely official, we told him that we were going to bring it up.  We were feeling supremely confident that this information was going to tip the scales.  We explained that we wanted to home school him if they assigned him to an alternative school.  And, since he had previously stated that he definitely wanted to go back to his middle school if he was allowed, we said that he could, but we'd be watching closely.  And, at the first sign of trouble, we might pull him out.  We then asked him how he felt about everything and he said that he wanted to home school. regardless.     

We headed out, feeling nervous but optimistic.  I was sure that they would let him go back to middle school and that we would then have the ability to access the situation and go from there.  I was sure, but I was wrong.

So, we drove to the official bad part of town for our meeting at the school.  Well, where we thought the meeting was anyway.  We had been given the wrong location.  But, it didn't matter much.  We didn't miss anything because William's current vice principal also had the wrong location.  But, I include it here so I can comment that it was in a bad area....

So, we got there and we waited.  I'll skip the part where I sat there, scrolling through my facebook newsfeed, trying to pretend that this was not a big deal.  Sorry, that was some ineffective skipping.  Anyway, we got called in.  The room and the table were surprisingly big.  I looked around the table at about a dozen committee members and felt like I was in the interview from hell.  Because I just can't seem to keep my mouth shut, I joked, "Well, this is intimidating!" 

Everyone introduced themselves.  I don't remember a single name and, honestly, I only remember a few of the faces.  The vice principal gave her spiel.  They asked pointless questions, like "what period is P.E." and "When you got to school, did you realize that you made a mistake and consider turning it in before you were caught?"   (Yes, because the average 12 year old will fess up and guarantee punishment..)

I was literally wringing my hands.  Which is weird because I don't recall a time in my life when I had ever wrung my hands before.  But, it was so hard to keep my mouth shut and just listen to how they were misrepresenting him.   

I did jump in at one point.  I'm not entirely sure if it was allowed, but they were talking about William's ADHD and how it had been determined that it had not played a part in his choice.  At the time, we agreed, but since he started with a counselor, of course, that had changed.  So, we told them that she has picked up on possible signs for high functioning Autism.  Nothing is official, but we told them that we thought it was important to let them know because, clearly, it was relevant.  I was sure that they wouldn't take a chance on assigning a child to an alternative school with an unclear knowledge of his mental state.  I felt like if something happened, it was a law suit waiting to happen.  I guess that I thought wrong.  They seemed remarkably un-phased by this revelation and continued with the meeting.

So, we went back to waiting.  Oh, and more hand wringing! ;) 

Finally, we got to speak.  We explained that he had been bullied for years.  We explained that he had gotten to a point that he was fighting back.  We acknowledged that he made a bad choice and assured them that he had been advised of that...a lot.  We acknowledged his challenges with telling the truth.  We explained his history.  We assured them that counseling would continue and that nothing was more important to us than making sure that he was "ok,"  but that he didn't belong at an alternative school.  We were on fire!  We were this amazing tag team of high pitched mom and low pitched all-business dad!  Now, we're going to clear this up!  They will get it now! 

They just looked at us. 

I don't recall seeing any emotions on their bureaucratic faces.

It continued. 

They asked William some more questions.  As they asked, he started to shut down and give them the expression that I have seen a million times.  The expression of nothing.  I call it - looking at me like I'm speaking French.  Because it's like he doesn't understand what I'm saying, even though, I'm usually making very basic statements.  But, now I get it.  He's overwhelmed. 

He stopped answering.  We explained that he was getting overwhelmed.  He asked them to repeat the question.  I encouraged him to take a breath, relax, and then answer.  But, instead, he started to cry.  That's when Brian (I'm so glad that he was there) went to him and held him while he cried.

I looked at my son, with his face buried in his Daddy's chest as he cried.  And, I was never more sure that he isn't a juvenile delinquent in training. 

Apparently, they were not so sure. 

They said things like "bullied children are more likely to become violent" and "we have to worry about the safety of the other students."

And, as he cried, they went around the table and unanimously agreed that he should be sent to the alternative school.  And, for some reason, they all said the words, "I'm ok with it."  (That keeps replaying in my mind.)  The only question was whether 45 days was long enough. You see, usually they do 180 days, but since the school year is almost over, they settled for 45.  One of the committee members hesitated by saying, "I hesitate, but I think it's just the mom in me....yes, I'm ok with it." 

We were stunned.  We really thought that there would be more a discussion.  And, again, I was glad that Brian was there because I was falling apart.  As they went around the table agreeing with each other and then discussing the details, I kept repeating "no."  Then I looked at Brian, "Can I say no?" 

Then I brought up the Autism (or maybe Autism) again and continued with my dramatic tirade, "So, knowing he might have something else going on, you're just going to throw him in there and hope he's ok??"  

That's when I started to cry.  And, that's when Brian really had his hands full, literally.  He held a crying kid in his arms on one side and held a borderline hysterical wife's hand on his other as they all talked about getting William set up with ESE classes if he got the official diagnosis, etc, etc.  I wasn't listening.  I knew that we intended to home school if this happened, but, I honestly didn't think it would happen this way. 

I asked Brian, "Why are we still here?  He's not going there."

So, Brian told them that we were considering the homeschooling route.  They countered with the fact that he could never come back to public school without first doing his time at the alternative school.  We were basically like, yeah, whatever.  We were advised that we could appeal the decision, but he had to be in attendance there first.  Again, yeah, whatever.

Then, they were passing paperwork around and I had to have Brian sign everything because I literally couldn't see it through my tears.  Then the principal of the alternative school was by my side with more paperwork and explaining that it's not as bad as I thought.  She invited me for a tour and quite frankly, I believed that she meant what she said.  I believed that she felt for me.  But, that didn't mean that he belonged there.

I was so overwhelmed (there's that word again.).  I started to wonder if we were over-reacting.  But, my mind kept going to the messages and comments from the wonderful people who read my blog and about the conversations that we've had with friends, family, and teachers.  And, how we kept hearing over and over that William doesn't belong at an alternative school.  Some of these people were familiar with this particular school, some were familiar with other alternate schools, and some were just familiar with the concept.  But, they all felt that he shouldn't be sent there.   

The principal continued talking.  She said that we could come take a tour in the morning and assured me that I'd feel better, after.  I was pondering just playing along and saying never mind later because I wasn't sure how to escape.  But, I looked at Brian and he said, as gently as he could muster, "I wouldn't expect us."

And, that was it.  It was done.  We started gathering our stuff.  I took the principal's card per her request (in case I changed my mind) and we stood up.

And, because I just feel compelled to make jokes in stressful situations, I referenced the fact that it was a good thing that that Brian was there, "I was planning to leave way more dramatically!"  haha! 

Despite the fact that I'm hilarious, haha, as you can imagine, I was rewarded with blank expressions. ;)

We said our goodbyes or something like that.  I thanked the principal of the alternative school for her kindness (she didn't get a vote on whether or not he went there).  And, we were out.  Brian matter-of-factly marched up the stairs with William as I took the slower (and, hopefully, just as matter-of-factly) path up the ramp.  I  had no interest in tripping up stairs in my stylish yet not easy to walk in boots...

So, there you have it.  We're home schooling our son.  I have named our school "Parker Academy" and intend to enrich his learning by educating him on the history of Jedi's and, of course, Stan Lee's autobiography (if he's written one yet) will be required reading! ;)

But, honestly, we think this will be good for him.  And, I'm really excited about it.  He will be surrounded by people who love him and he can focus on learning and developing as a person.

Those people had already made up their mind about William.  They only let us come and speak because they had to.  Our fancy words and grown up clothes had no impact.  They actually said that they have to worry about the safety of the other students?  You do that.  We're going to worry about taking care of our child.  I guess that I was wrong when I thought that you were going to worry about that, too.  In the words of Brian, before we stood up to leave, "We'll take it from here."