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.