People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Finally, a post about Carter’s new school!

As you know, we pulled Carter out of his public school just three weeks into the school year. He was in crisis and we decided that I would homeschool him until we decided what to do next. We know that it was the right decision; Carter gained a great deal of stability, put on several pounds, and he and I got to know each other again. By Thanksgiving, though, I was starting to wonder how long we could keep it up. I love the idea of homeschooling, but Carter is a very intense little person. Being with him 24/7 is emotionally draining in ways I can’t adequately describe.

So after the new year, I started scouting around for a school. I didn’t really expect to find anything, but I went on an information gathering expedition anyway. What I found was a school that I’ve know about all along, a little place that’s housed inside the church of my childhood,¬†and it is TINY. There are 6 kids in Carter’s class, as opposed to an overwhelming 24 in his PS. The school takes kids from 1st grade all the way through 12th, but they have only 4 classes: upper and lower elementary, middle, and high school grades. Every single child works at his or her own level.

The experience of the new school compared to the experience of PS is vastly different. All of our 3 older (neurotypical) children attend public schools and I think they’ve done an adequate job of educating them, but with Carter we’ve had one struggle (or crisis) after another. At the new school, Carter is never expected to conform to an arbitrary standard. My favorite example is this: Carter kicks, thumps, drums, and pounds on every available surface. It’s just one of the ways that he tries to meet his sensory needs and it’s rarely destructive, but it’s very distracting and annoying. In PS, his teachers nagged and punished him to try to control his constant motion. They called me to try to figure out ways to make him stop.

Not here. The third day of school, his teacher had tied a pilates band between the front legs of his chair so that he could kick as much as he needed to without disturbing the whole class. I was shocked; the whole time Carter was in PS, no one ever tried to work with his needs. We seemed always to be engaged in a battle, adults vs. Carter.

Everything is like that. All the teachers seem interested in getting to know Carter and finding ways to meet his needs so that he can learn. He can eat at his desk, hug his teacher, and move around the room when he needs to. Egad, sometimes I thought my head would explode if I had to go to one more IEP meeting at the PS and write one more goal about how Carter would do this or that “at grade level”. Things like sit in a desk, be quiet, stay on task, etc. And if things like that just aren’t possible for him? What then? At his new school, the process of learning how to do those things is much gentler, and it’s based on the child’s needs and abilities, not “grade level” expectations.

Oh, and here’s a crazy thing: I talk to the teachers as much as I want, which so far has been pretty much everyday. They aren’t over-worked, overwhelmed, and over-scheduled, so they don’t usher me out the door after 40 seconds of conversation. If I send an email, I don’t wait 3 days for a response. If Carter has any kind of problem during the school day, I hear about it the same day. I’m welcome in the classroom. I feel like Carter’s mom, one of the two most important people in my son’s life, instead of an annoying fly that teachers and administrators can’t wait to get rid of.

Best of all? Carter is happy to go to school every morning. He drives me crazy, begging to “go now” from the moment he wakes up until we finally get in the car. This is the crazy I’ll willingly live with forever, 1000% better than the crazy of August when he was so anxious and upset he broke out in hives from head to toe and made himself vomit.

Here’s what makes me really mad, though: it’s a private school, and therefore expensive. If we didn’t have family who are willing and able to take on this expense, we’d be left to choose between a PS system that’s unable to adequately meet Carter’s needs, or homeschooling which, let’s face it, wasn’t going to be good for Carter or I in the long term. So while I’m deeply grateful that Carter’s needs are being met, I’m angry that truly appropriate educational options aren’t available to all children who have special needs, especially those who have psychiatric illnesses. Of course, our system of public education isn’t working very well for most children, but some of our kids have become downright disposable and in no interpretation of reality is that ever going to be OK.

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6 comments to Finally, a post about Carter’s new school!

  • If DLD were public, the dynamic you love would probably change. Larger classes, admin nightmares, teachers who can’t cope, etc. I’m sorry that it’s so expensive, but I’m glad that it’s working for Carter and for you and your family. Maybe if they can get some sort of sponsorship, they could offer scholarships? Is it run through your denomination? Maybe there’s someone to talk to on that route. Just ideas…

  • Meg

    That sounds great. I’m so happy for you and Carter. My son went to a school like that for 2nd grade and it was a lifesaver for that year.

  • Wow, that sounds amazing.

    I live just outside of DC, and they have laws that say that if the school district can’t meet the needs of a special needs kid, they have to pay for private school. Of course, it’s a battle to prove that your kid isn’t getting his/her needs met in the public schools, but a lot of kids get private school paid for. But the sad part is that a lot of private schools of very poor quality have sprung up with the goal of subsisting on these funds. There’s no easy fix for the problem.

  • Welcome to my wonderful world of real learning! My daughter (Emma) is not special needs, but she goes to a school very much like the one you describe. Classrooms are multi-age, and kids don’t sit at tables and do worksheets. They move around the room, learn to be self-motivated and responsible, and have lots of choices when it comes to their education. They become truly engaged in the process of educating themselves. Emma loves going to school, and misses it on the weekends.

    Just this year they started to buy “air chairs” for the classrooms –these are like the exercise balls you see in gyms, but they have four little nubs on the bottom so they don’t roll as easily. When the kids do sit at tables for some projects, they can bounce up and down, releasing some of that wonderful energy they all have in abundance.

    Spectrum School is bigger than Carter’s school (about 200 students total), and has only had a high school for the last 3 years, but it’s been around for 40 years. The teachers don’t get paid as much (they never do at private schools), but they love teaching and develop their own curriculum. Emma doesn’t spend all her time being tested –in fact, the assessment they do is done while students are actively working on projects, not as a “test”.

    I wish all the kids in the U.S. could be as engaged and happy as they learn. But there are too many people in the U.S. who don’t value education, and this kind of education is expensive. The teacher-student ratio at Spectrum is never higher than 1:12, but as much money as we pump into public education in areas like sports and technology, no one ever wants to pay for a smaller class size.

    I’m glad you found a place that works for Carter!

  • […] here’s some info about Carter’s school for the new […]

  • If your public school is not meeting his IEP needs, then you can sue them for the cost of Carter’s tuition. You’ll need a child advocate attorney, and he/she will handle all the paperwork for you. Parents do it all the time. You can probably get the cost of transportation covered as well.

    It’s worth a try!

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