Back to the topic of school.
We’ve been hoping to transfer Martin from his self-contained special-education school to a general-education classroom with an aide. Our local zoned school, at Martin’s grade level, had 26-to-28 kids per class, which is too many, so we looked at private schools. We found two church schools we thought would be good fits. Each school asked Martin to visit, for an entire day, without an aide. Each visit, Martin was at his worst; fighting his Lyme disease has been a rough ride. Combine “Martin is having a bad day” with “Martin is making a full-day visit to a general-ed classroom with no assistance.” The result was no private school placement for Martin.
At the same time, Adrian and I became increasingly convinced that the time has come for Martin to leave his current placement. Martin has started copying undesirable behaviors that he witnesses at school, like whining. Four other boys are leaving the class, including Martin’s two closest social peers. Martin has started self-advocating, telling us that he’d also like to go to a new school. He says he has too many teachers and that he’d like to be in a bigger class, and that he wishes he could go to a school close to home like his friends from play group do. Finally, Martin is finishing second grade, so these decisions concern possible third-grade placement. We’ve been told, by multiple sources, that the distance between second-grade curriculum and third-grade curriculum is the biggest jump in elementary school. Academics (except for reading comprehension and drawing inferences) are Martin’s strong point. Adrian and I worry that the longer we leave Martin in a slower-paced, modified learning environment, the less possible an eventual move to general education will become.
Just when it seemed that leaving Martin in his current school would be our only acceptable, available choice, two late entries arose. First, our district passed a new budget, part of which added additional sections to our zoned school. The class sizes dropped from 26-to-28 kids to 21 or 22 kids. Second, our local Catholic elementary school, which works closely with our district, invited Martin to visit—for a few hours, with an aide—and he happened to be doing well that day. Then the district offered Martin an IEP for general education, with a full-time, one-on-one teaching assistant, plus a consultant special-education teacher, plus resource room, plus regular visits from a behaviorist to the classroom, plus continued speech therapy and, if we wanted more services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and counseling (services he has in his current placement). This panoply of benefits would be available to us at either our zoned school or the Catholic school.
The decision to pull Martin from his current placement was almost clear. Almost. We still faced this hesitation: Whatever our concerns with academics or behaviors, Martin is safe where he is now. His class is small, structured, and constantly supervised. He faces no playground bullying. He does not stand out because of his differences. His self-esteem is high, his confidence intact. The headmaster of one of the church schools that turned us down earlier this year is a former special-education administrator. Immediately after Martin’s full-day visit there, the headmaster kindly spent 20 minutes on the phone with me and Adrian. He enumerated the reasons why they wouldn’t accept Martin (including, apparently, the 11 times Martin stopped between the gymnasium and the classroom, because he wanted to examine a vase, to look at a photo of last year’s graduates, and so forth). The headmaster also said, in Martin’s favor, “I have to tell you that he made himself right at home. This is quite extraordinary—Martin doesn’t seem to perceive that he has any challenges at all.”
I’d like to keep it that way: that Martin doesn’t perceive that he has challenges. With continued hard work and a little luck, we just might be able to lose the ADHD diagnosis before Martin wonders too much about being different. If we toss him into a classroom of typically developing kids, how much of Martin’s own perception of himself will evolve?
Well, we’re about to find out. Last week, Adrian and I accepted the district’s proposed IEP, placing Martin into general education with an aide, in our zoned school, with one change in plans: At our request, Martin will repeat second grade. He’s changing schools, so the other kids won’t realize that he’s repeating. I hope that repeating second grade will give Martin a chance to adjust to the faster pace of general education before he is called upon to master new material.
Martin’s going to spread his wings. Here’s hoping he can fly.
Martin, in orange, with friends.