M graduated from Grade 6 last week. In September, he’ll start Grade 7 at a new school.
If you’d asked me 3 or 4 years ago, if he would finish elementary school in the public system, I probably would have been skeptical. M was in 3 different schools in Grade 1 alone. I couldn’t tell you how many times he was suspended in both Grade 3 and 4 – usually for 2-3 days at a time and almost always for hitting/punching/kicking another child. I remember one particularly brutal period, when the suspension ran into PD days and holidays and he was out of school for nearly 10 days. On more than one occasion, my mother came to town to look after M when he wasn’t at school. I got so many calls from the school, that every time my office phone rang, I could feel my blood pressure shooting up. To this day, I always feel a frisson of anxiety if my phone rings between 9 am (when I usually get to work) and 2:30 pm (when school lets out). Talk about Pavlov’s dog.
During this period, M’s dad and I were summoned to meeting after meeting with school and Board officials. While most of the professionals we encountered had good intentions, we left these meetings in a state of despair, feeling like our child was the spawn of the devil and we were the worst parents ever. One time we walked into the meeting room to discover 10 officials, including a police officer. His contribution to the meeting was to tell me that M could be charged with assault when he was 12. I wasn’t at all anxious when I left that meeting.
The most frustrating thing was that every time M got suspended, he’d go back to school and nothing would have changed. The principal identified early on that recess and transition periods were very challenging for M, but she didn’t have the resources to give him one-on-one supervision. So M would trundle back to school after every suspension, increasingly anxious and isolated and be thrown right back into the same situations that got him into trouble the first, second and third time. The poor kid was like a hamster, going around a very dysfunctional wheel.
Finally, in Grade 5, the school was able to put in place a number of supports for M on a more-or-less permanent basis. He had an educational assistant with him almost full-time; he got scheduled breaks from class; and eventually, a computer to do his written work. The number of suspensions dropped dramatically and M started to participate in class. In previous grades, he’d rarely completed his class assignments (unless it was math, his favourite subject), he refused less and did more.
Fast forward to the last couple of weeks of Grade 6. At the year-end Open House, M had work posted on the bulletin boards outside the class. He had lots of work to show his dad and I. Even more impressive, he was clearly present in the video his teacher put together to show case the class’s activities. Last year, he helped his teacher announce the “Recycled Fashion Show.” This year, he not only designed and sewed an outfit, he got up on stage and showed it off.
On the morning of the Grade 6 graduation, the school auditorium was filled with proud parents and extended family and friends. We were fortunate that a very dear family friend was visiting us and was able to attend the event. In keeping with the non-competitive environment of M’s school, all the Grade 6 students gave a short speech that they had prepared and written out in advance. Since M is still not a big fan of writing, his speech was short – “I’d like to thank my parents and Ms E for always having my back.”
Brevity aside, it was a very sweet moment. He’s gone through a lot in the last few years and come out on the other side. I couldn’t be prouder of him.