Category Archives: School

Grade 8 (where did the years go?)

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EIGHTM started Grade 8 this week. He was in Grade 7 last year, so logically he’s in Grade 8. I’m trying to figure out how we got to the last year of middle school so fast. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I waited with M for the bus for the first day of Grade 1 (an ill-fated foray into the gifted program which lasted barely two weeks) and waited anxiously for him to come home safely so we could talk about his day. The intervening years have had their ups and downs. Some of them seemed like they would never end – endless trails of suspension notices or meetings with officious school board staff. The last couple of years, however, have been less eventful. M has become increasingly able to manage his behaviour and requires less and less in the way of parental interference. Without the drama, time speeds up. Last year flew by in a flash.

On the first day of school, M was up and out of the house more than an hour before school started, anxious to see his friends and find out who was in his class. I still wanted to hear about his day when I got home, but it’s getting him to talk to me is a matter of timing. His focus is turned increasingly outward, away from me – it’s all about his friends, Instagram and what’s on YouTube. I expect that if I catch M at the right moment, I’ll hear a little bit about what’s happening at school. I’ll probably meet with his home room teacher once or twice between now and June. But he’s becoming his own person, with a distinct persona that is largely separate from me. Next year, M will start high school. In five years, he’ll be graduating high school. Slowly, surely, he’s cutting those apron ties – we’ve only got a few “first days of school” left to share.

All this is a cause for celebration. I want M to continue to grow and thrive. As much as I want our relationship to stay the same, I know that’s neither practical nor desirable. Relationships aren’t static and the parent-child dynamic changes constantly. Sometimes several times in one day. M was sweetness and light when he in the mornings this week and was Captain cranky-pants at the end of the day. On the first day back, he yelled at me when I called after school to find out if he got caught in the rain coming home (well, duh). and hung up the phone. He’s been pretty even-tempered over the last few weeks, but going back to school means a big change in routine. While M did have to get up and out of the house 5 days a week for camp, playing tennis all day was fun. Even the excitement of seeing his friends is slightly overshadowed by the prospect of following rules, daily schedules and class work. Since M’s school isn’t big on homework, except in the case of unfinished assignments, I pointed out to him that completing his assignments in class would reduce the likelihood of having to do work at home.

Whether he follows this nugget of wisdom is up to him. He’s perfectly aware how much he’s doing (or not doing) at school – on a recent drive past his future high school and he told me he’s probably have to do some work in Grade 9, because “they can fail you in high school.” I’m not sure this is true, but he needs to figure out how to navigate this year and the following four on his own. I can encourage him and help him figure out what he needs to succeed, but the rest is up to him.

Even though our relationship is changing, he still needs me to make him pancakes in the morning and help him put his lunch together. I get the occasional hug and kiss, mixed in with world-weary tone and rolling of eyes. My sweet boy is growing up.

 

 

 

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Count down to middle school – we have blast-off!

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Epic Rocket Launch

Epic Rocket Launch (Photo credit: jurvetson)

 

The beginning of school is a particularly nerve-wracking time for me. I never know how things are going to go for M. Even if the principal doesn’t have me on speed dial by the end of week one, I’m reluctant to say he’s off to a good start. In my experience, that’s a sure-fire way to jinx things.

 

However, after nearly a month into middle school, so far so good. M is getting back and forth to school by himself.  I still have to remind him to check to see if he has everything he needs for the day, but so far he hasn’t forgotten anything important at home or school. He’s been dong his homework, with limited parental prompting. He’s adapted surprisingly well to coming home alone – at least 2 hours of unsupervised media time seems to keep him well occupied. When he called me one day last week to tell me he was home, he was making himself popcorn, something he never does when one of his parents is home.

 

Compared with previous years, M seems to happy at school.  One of our neighbours remarked that he looks like he’s grown about a foot taller in the last month. He hasn’t , but he is carrying himself with renewed confidence. One of his buddies in his class and he seems to be hanging around with a group of boys during breaks and lunches. Some of them were classmates in elementary school and are very familiar with his past behaviours. But M seems to have discovered what I’ve been telling him for several years – other kids are more likely to want to hang around you when you aren’t poking them or yelling at them. While M has some definite quirks, he’s a pretty likable kid. His problem has never been making new friends, it’s been keeping them. I’ve been convinced for quite some time that if M felt that he was part of a group, rather than an outsider, he’d probably be better able to cope with the normal lumps and bumps of life. In other words, a strong social network would help him feel better about himself, thus increasing his resilience.  Like most 12 year olds, M’s relationships with his peers are one of the most important things in his life. But no matter our age, everyone needs to feel connected to other people (cue the cheesy pop song – People who need people/Are the luckiest people in the world).

 

I’m not so naive as to believe M won’t have some challenges are school. We’re still in September – we’ve got 9 more months to go. The teachers are still getting to know the kids and haven’t started piling on the work yet. For the moment, the kids are getting outside at break and lunch which helps make them all get through the day. Wait until winter comes and M is stuck inside from 9 to 3 every day with 500 or so restless 12 and 13 year olds. If we don’t have some drama. there’s probably something wrong with my child.

 

But why borrow trouble? For the moment, I’m not going to worry about what might happen. M is making friends and is happy at school. Can’t ask for much more than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countdown to middle school – school supplies

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notebooks

Middle school hasn’t officially started yet, but it isn’t too early for new experiences. This weekend we’re going shopping for school supplies.. M’s elementary school supplied the basics – the only things parents were asked to contribute were tennis balls (for the chairs, to protect the floors) and kleenex. So we’ve never had a mother-child bonding moment over purchasing pens and notebooks.

As I parent, I liked the way M’s  elementary school approached the issue of school supplies.,  Each child was asked to bring in $20.00, which was pooled and used to buy supplies for all the classes.  The students all had access to the necessary supplies, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.  By purchasing in bulk, the school got a better price than an individual parent. Sharing was a given, as there was no sense of ownership over the crayons, etc. Plus, there was much less waste. Instead of sending the leftover supplies home with each child at the end of the year,and possibly having them thrown out, the surplus is stored until the next year. I can recall friends complaining about much they spent on new supplies ever year, as many of the teachers discouraged the students from recycling supplies from year to year.  So what if Joey has a red duotang for Math, instead of green? Would it be so terrible to re-use one from the previous year and slap a new label on it? Admittedly, M’s notebooks start looking pretty beat up after a few weeks, so there isn’t too much left of them by the end of the school year. But unless they’re totally ripped, wouldn’t it make sense to use a notebook or a binder for a couple to years?

A few years ago, the school board came up with a standardized list of basic supplies. The idea is a good one – parents and students know from Day 1 what they need. Since the list is voluntary, parents don’t need to feel compelled to purchase any or all of the items on the list. However, I expect that unless the school explicitly tells parents that they don’t need to provide school supplies , most will do their utmost to ensure that their child has the basics.

While the  list may be voluntary, M’s school’s website indicated that the students are expected to supply their own pencils and notebooks. Since M always does better with advance preparation and I like to be organized, I checked out the list to figure out what he needed.

I admit to being a bit intimidated by the list at first. For one thing, it’s long – 16 items and in many cases, students need several of the same item. When I first looked at the list, I saw dollar signs in my head. We can certainly afford to buy everything on the list, but I’m inherently frugal. I have no problem buying M a good pair of shoes to wear to school, but spending $50 to $75 on stuff that is by its very nature disposable, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Plus, knowing M, he’ll lose stuff. I guess that’s why they have Dollar Stores.

As I looked at the list more closely, I found it quite confusing. For example, students in grades 4-8 need “12 pencils.” Why 12? Surely M doesn’t need that many pencils for the first day? He can only use one at a time. Do they have to be the same? What happens if he only has 11?

Another item that stumped me was “2 erasers (preferably white).” Don’t each of the pencils have an eraser on top? And what makes a white eraser superior to a pink one? Was there a study that I missed? Maybe specifying white erasers is an attempt to discourage the kids from bringing in fancy erasers, in different colours and shapes, since they rarely ever work properly.

I get that M needs a ruler, coloured pencils and coloured markers. But “1 pair of blunt scissors”? Everyone knows you can’t even cut properly with those puppies. It’s like trying to cut an ice cube with a butter knife. I get that it’s a list for grade 4 to 8, but surely by grade 7, the kids have enough hand-to-eye coordination to manage “real” scissors? Plus, the blunt ones are tiny and at all not comfortable for bigger hands.

Apparently M also needs “2 packages of 3-hole lined refill paper”, “6 duotangs”, “6 lined notebooks”, and “3 binders” (plus dividers). Presumably he needs one for every subject. Does he really have 13 different learning activities? Maybe if you included gym and lunch? And isn’t 13 an unlucky number? M’s Learning Plan specifies that he should use a computer as much as possible for his written work, so how much of this big mound of paper will he actually use during the year? Plus, the more stuff M has, the more likely he is to lose it at the bottom of his locker or moving from class-to-class. It seems a bit excessive to me, not to mention a lot of trees. Even if we buy paper products made from recycled materials, there’s the issue of the carbon footprint of the production process. By supplying our children with this much stuff, what are we teaching them about managing our resources in a sustainable manner? I’m pretty sure the kids learn about recycling and taking care of nature in school. But looking at this list, there seems to be a disconnect somewhere.

The middle school’s web site sensibly advises parents not to worry about sending their child to school on the first day with everything on the list (good thing, because they would each need a wheelbarrow, just to carry it all).  The various teachers will apparently be sending more information home next week on what the students need for each class. While it’s helpful to know that M and I don’t have to spend a long time at the store, running up and down the isles, trying to find everything, it does mean we’ve got a second trip ahead of us. Since we’ll already know the lay-out of the store, it may be easier to find things. But there’s also a greater likelihood that they’ll have run out of some items. We’ve got construction paper somewhere in the basement. Maybe I can re-cover duotangs so M has the right colour. Or run a stack of computer paper that’s only printed on one side through a three-hole punch?

Maybe I’ll suggest to M that he and his dad go out for more supplies. Why should I have all the fun?

Great graduation

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Philomathean Society Graduation Diploma For Is...

Philomathean Society Graduation Diploma For Isaac Norton Jr., 1858. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Back to school – so far so good

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Heiwa elementary school %u5E73%u548C%u5C0F%u5B...

Heiwa elementary school %u5E73%u548C%u5C0F%u5B66%u6821 _18 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost 2 weeks into Grade 6 and M’s had the best start to any school year so far. I’m probably jinxing it, just by talking about it. But no calls from the principal. Not a single one!

No news is not always good news – in the past, the school has not always advised us when there’s a problem looming, until M’s in crisis. This year, the supports the school committed to last June were in place on Day 1. M has an EA, the same one as past year, at least for a few weeks. He will continue seeing the school social worker. And we finally got the psychologist’s report (the assessment was done last spring), so he can get a computer on a permanent basis, rather than from time to time, depending on availability.

It also helps that M has the same teacher as last year. Most of the kids are the same too – last year, it was a Grade 5/6 class. Rather than re-distribute the students among the two Grade 6 class, they kept the group together. Having combined grade classes is great, but school is chaotic enough for M. Any amount of continuity is a good thing. M had a couple of good buddies in the class, so he had a social safety net going back this year. The school post the class lists a couple of days before the first day back, so M knew who else would be in his class.  usually there’s one child that M doesn’t get along with, but he said he likes everyone in the class.

Since it’s only Week Two, we haven’t had much feedback on his behaviour or his academic progress. His EA told us last week that M had been participating actively. After a little pep talk from the teacher and the EA, M even did part of the class’s cursive writing assignment. Last year, M consistently refused to do the writing assignments,  even with the computer. He claimed not to be able to write in block letters, let alone cursive.  If he started an assignment, 9 times out of 10, he didn’t finish it.

From the school’s perspective, managing M’s behaviour has been a much bigger issue that whether or not he completes his work. The EA’s primary function is to assist M in resolving issues with his classmates and other students when they happen. The EA also acts as a buffer between M and other children, especially during recess and other less structured activities. When M is stressed, his ability to make good decisions is practically non-existent. He would often misinterpret another child’s behaviour as a slight or aggression and either lash out or obsess about what had happened. We’ve learned the hard way that M’s anxiety can trigger some pretty rotten behaviour. Other kids don’t want to be around him, which makes him feel even more anxious and socially isolated. It’s like watching a hamster running round and round on a wheel. Except in M’s case, we know the wheel’s going to hit the wall at some point. That’s usually when we get a call from the principal.

But the phone lines are quiet so far. We’ve had a couple of emails from the EA, indicating that things are going well. M still isn’t doing what he’s asked the first time, but when prompted, he usually complies. That’s progress too.

Over the last couple of years, whenever I’ve remarked about how well M’s doing, he’s hit a rough spot almost immediately afterwards. But it’s hard not to share good news. So if I get a call from the principal tomorrow, I only have myself to blame.

Another milestone…the school concert

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School Choir of an Elementary School in the Un...

School Choir of an Elementary School in the United States Deutsch: Schulchor einer Grundschule in den Vereinigten Staaten, mit Kindern der 4. und. 5. Klasse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week was a big one for M.  He sang with the senior choir in their big concert.  Ninety kids and a live band.  Six months of practicing.  Despite wanting to quit from time to time, he stuck with it.  There he was on Friday, standing in the front row and singing his little heart out.  And two very proud parents and one grandmother clapping like mad.

The senior choir concert is a very big deal at M’s school.  They start practicing in October and perform at the Remembrance Day and Holiday concerts.  In January, they start preparing for the spring performance.  Not only do the kids have to learn 12-15 songs, they have to master the actions as well.  They have t-shirts made and almost everyone at school wears one on the day of the big show.

For M, the concert is a huge accomplishment.  Learning the songs wasn’t easy for him.  A couple of months ago, he was on the verge of quitting.  He was anxious not being able to master all the words.  We spoke to his teacher, who reassured M that there was still lots of time to learn the songs.  So he went back to the weekly practices.

But as a child with ADHD, his biggest challenge was coping with the chaos inherent in such a large group.  Whether it was deliberate or just a coincidence, he stood on the end of the first row, where he had room to move.   As I watched him perform, I noticed that he was always a couple of steps away from the other children.  He created just enough space for himself to be comfortable, yet he was still clearly part of the group.  He didn’t smile a great deal – he was focused on the performance. 

Of course, we were proud of him – not just for sticking it out, but also finding a way to make it work for him.  We didn’t have a single call from the school about his behaviour during practice.  Other than occasional words of encouragement, we had very little to do with his success.  This is something he did on his own.  Another milestone met.

Forget April, February is the cruelest month

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April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land… (T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland)

View of the lake in winter

Image via Wikipedia

With all due respect to T. S. Eliot, April is a nice month. Spring is just around the corner. Days are longer. Clothes (indoor and outdoor) are lighter.

February, however,  is a different story.

February is definitely the worst month.  The novelty of winter has given way to the daily drudgery of wet boots, mis-matched mitts, scrapping ice off the car in sub-zero temperatures, etc.  Even the groundhog only sticks around for a few minutes before heading back underground to sleep for the rest of the month.

The best thing that can be said about February is that it is short. Except for every 4th year, when they throw in an extra day. Just to mess with us.

February is generally a difficult month for M. While his behaviour at school is often up and down, during February, it is mostly down. Typically, he starts to have more difficulty complying with direction (compliance not being one of his strong suits at the best of times) and has a harder time getting along with other children. As he begins to struggle, his anxiety level goes up and his self-esteem goes down. Inevitably, the calls from the principal increase to almost daily. For the last two years, there has been a major crisis that has resulted in him being suspended at least once during February (one of advantage of it being a short month). We try to put on a cheerful face for M.  But my husband and I tend to spend the month in a state of heightened anxiety that has us snarling at each other like dogs when M is out of earshot or in bed.  By this point, Eliot’s poem seems auto-biographical.

I have learned not to comment on M’s behaviour between February 1 to 28th, in case I jinx things.  When he was in Grade 3, the month was half over and I remarked one evening how well M was doing at school. The next day, he threatened another child with a pair of scissors, which set off a chain reaction of suspensions and meetings with the principal.

Last year was a particularly tough year for M.  December to May phone calls to come and pick him up, meeting with school board officials and more suspensions. I can’t actually remember what February was like. But I’m sure it wasn’t great.

So this year, I am braced to expect the worst. 

Towards the end of January, I started mentally counting off the days until the 1st day of February. We are now a few days into the month and every time my phone rings at the office, I fully expect to hear the principal voice. Or my husband’s, telling me one of us has to go and pick him up.

Some may see this approach as self-defeating and pessimistic – how can you expect your child to do well, if you are expecting the worst?  I see it more as a survival tactic. If M hits another child on the playground or kicks a teacher, I won’t be surprised. Because I am expecting the principal’s call, it won’t be a shock when it comes.

In my next life, I want to be a groundhog. Whether I see my shadow or not, no one will expects me to hang around during the month. And when I wake up, the daffodils will be out. Until that happens, I’ll just keep an eye on my calendar, waiting for March.

Note: I tried repeatedly,without success, to include a link to Eliot’s The Wasteland. You can find the full text of the poem here: http://www.bartleby.com/201/1.html