So I haven’t written much about Ayub’s struggles at school.  This is mainly because some teachers at our school read this blog and I was trying very hard to stay on everyone’s good side throughout this process.  However, now that we’re moving, I feel like I can share a bit of our story in hopes that it might help someone else who has an older adopted child.  So, here is our laundry list of mistakes for you to avoid.

Mistake #1 – We started  Kindergarten. 

We debated about whether Ayub should start Kindergarten or stay in Pre-K this year.  His birthday is in March, so it wouldn’t have been unheard of to hold him back.  But, we hoped to keep him with his age peers and had some reassurances from the principal that he would do fine.  He told me that we’d be amazed how quickly he’d catch on and that he’d be reading by Christmas.  That is how most ELL (English Language Learners) had progressed at our school.  However, most of them were kids of faculty members or researchers and had a strong foundation of education in their own language.  Ayub came to us with NO experience with books, reading, literacy activities, puzzles, or scissors.  He was so far behind, it was crazy.

Mistake #2 – We let everyone know we would be okay if he had to repeat Kindergarten.

I think this led to the school not providing extra help/assistance/services because no one expected him to meet standards.

Mistake #3 – We put him at a school that didn’t have an ESL/ELL program.  

I’m not sure that ELL would have helped Ayub, since his first language was missing and there wouldn’t have been a teacher who spoke Amharic anyway.  But, instead of being pulled out to work on learning English language, our school bought the Rosetta Stone program for elementary school kids learning English.  I never saw the program, but I’m thinking that sticking Ayub in front of a computer to learn English wasn’t the best strategy.

Success #1 – We started asking for interventions.

Around November, we got a progress report from Ayub’s teacher that indicated he was meeting only one (of about 25) standards for Kindergarten.  (Yea for oral counting.)  I knew from working with him at home that he only knew about seven letters and one letter sound.  So, I thought this would be a good time to start a conversation with the guidance counselor about how to get him some additional help.  I’d heard from many of our adoptive family friends that their kids were in speech therapy, had an aid in the classroom, were getting occupational therapy, or had special tutors.  It seemed to me (not an educator) that Ayub had a need for all of these things.  I, for some crazy reason, thought that the school would WANT to provide these things in order to bring a failing student up to grade level.  That first meeting was incredibly frustrating.  I was told that he wasn’t really eligible for services because he was an ELL student, so he wasn’t really EXPECTED to be performing at those levels.  (This concept was later rescinded.)  And, yes, my mama bear came out at this meeting and I cried in her office.  Regret that.

Anyway, at my insistence, the school set up a Response To Intervention (RTI) meeting for January.   I did a lot of homework preparing for this meeting, as it’s VERY difficult to find information about this whole process.  I knew that the district could have 60 days to evaluate Ayub and see if he was making progress.  I also knew that I could ask for a full evaluation at any time to see if he had any developmental delays (which we were beginning to suspect at this point).  The RTI meeting was a three-ring circus.  There were about a dozen people there from both the school and the district.  Most of them had never met Ayub (but were fascinated to hear about him from his teacher).  The end result was that we would measure Ayub on the Kindergarten readiness scale (remember, he’s now half-way through Kindergarten) and see where he was on that scale.  In addition, the speech therapist, occupational therapist, and district psychologist would all do “informal” (maybe because we don’t want anything in the record?) evaluations of him and we would follow up in March.  Everyone made it very clear that they could not do any kind of formal evaluation because of the language issue and that there was no “norm” to measure him against.

Mistake #4 – We gave up on the school district.

At this point, I knew that I could request formal evaluations, and that they would have to figure out a way to test him.  But, frankly, I had lost all confidence in the district’s ability to adequately test a kid like Ayub.  At this yearly well-check, I talked for an hour with the pediatrician about all these issues and she suggested that we pursue independent testing on our own.  After calling and talking with the center who she suggested, I was encouraged that we would get a more accurate description of the issues we were facing (which now included possible ADHD).  Because I was pursuing this, I never requested an evaluation through the school.  At the follow-up meeting to the RTI, Ayub got glowing results.  The speech therapist was impressed that he was able to tell her a story about what we did on Easter and she could understand him.  The district psychologist gave him some non-verbal tests, which he scored at the low end of the normal range.  The occupational therapist had observed him and only suggested that we buy a different kind of pencil.  His teacher noted that he had made a lost of progress and could now do more things on the Kindergarten readiness scale.  (Keep in mind, he is now 3/4 of the way through Kindergarten.)  After these glowing reports, I looked around and asked if anyone in the room thought he was ready for first grade and got a resounding “NO.”  Only one person thought it was a good idea to send him to first grade…the principal.  He made several arguments about why it would be better to move him on to first grade and then hold him back there, if needed.  I was adamantly opposed to moving him on to first grade.  Having had two kids go through first grade, I’m keenly aware of how much is required of them.  Knowing that he didn’t even know all of his letters, I think it would be have extremely discouraging for him and set him up to hate school.  Had we decided to stay here, I think I would have had a hard time respecting some of the educators and definitely would have had trouble accepting the system as it is.

I should say at this point that he was receiving some special services.  He was being pulled out once a week by the reading coach.  He had been assigned a volunteer tutor who worked with him once a week.  And, there were some college interns who worked with him in the classroom.  I was happy about all these things.  Yet on our own, we were getting private speech therapy and paying for a costly evaluation.

I will also say that throughout all this Ayub’s teacher was WONDERFUL.  I mean really fantastic.  She was incredibly good about giving him different work than the other kids because she knew he couldn’t keep up.  She let him stand up whenever he got restless.  She spent a great deal of one-on-one time with him.  And, ultimately, it was she who convinced the principal that he wasn’t ready for first grade.  Next year, he’ll repeat Kindergarten in our new school district.  We are armed with recommendations that came out of the private testing.  And we now understand the system and how to navigate through it.  And hopefully, by moving, Ayub won’t have the stigma of being held back.  I hope that he can feel confident and successful next year, since he has been through it all before.

My advice to anyone going through this process?  Study.  Know exactly what you are entitled to.  Put your kid at a school that offers ELL or ESL services.  Go ahead and request the evaluation through the school district.  They are required to find a way to do it, despite any language barriers.  And be prepared for a long, uphill battle.  Some of our friends who adopted have had great success getting services and additional interventions, so I know that it can be done.  I’m hoping our next school district will be a little more eager to provide a struggling kid with the help he needs to catch up.


13 responses

  1. You are so good at writing these practical pieces. I love it. I need to do one, step out of my comfort zone. Aberash cannot read and it maddens her. They did not expect her to be able to read (which is why she is now doing reading recovery over the summer to get her prepared for first grade and so she can do the official test that would qualify her for more services). Her kindergarten teacher was instrumental making sure she got special services in ELL/ESL and Math every week twice a week. And would write me weekly, but truthfully I should have been more on top of the practical stuff. I was more focused on the emotional, getting her settled, feeling loved, this is your last home stuff. Next year that’s my goal and your list helps. Thanks again for writing this. Can you send me a topic I should write a practical post on :)?

  2. Unfortunately everything you write is very familiar, and this is from the other side, from the teacher side. Even though I was an ESL teacher in a different district, a different state, the lack of coordination, the inability to see the whole child, the lack of COMMON SENSE is maddeningly normal. I tell parents to KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and forget about being polite. Figure out what your child needs (like you did) and DEMAND that your school provide it.

  3. The hard part is trying to figure out what your kid needs. As someone who isn’t a teacher, I had no concept of what I should even be asking for. It’s like going to the doctor – you expect educators to be able to tell you what’s best.

  4. Thanks Kristen. Wonderful write up. As you know we have had similar challenges with our older adopted girl, same Ethiopian region. There was no precedent for an unrecognized and seemingly nonexistent second language. Besides synthesizing all the system process, evaluation feedback and opinions, the most stressful thing I found was trying to navigate what the best path for who we are finding our girl to be. The big question was how best to balance the social, our girl is a foot taller than several of her classmates, with getting an acceptable chunk of the reading/writing foundation laid. Fingers crossed for the fresh start with the more knowledgeable you at the new school. Go Mama Bear!

  5. Hi. Wishing you were coming to our district because we DO have the services in our district (or at least in our school in our district). One thing that might be helpful is that you can take a support person with you to the meetings. Someone who can take notes, hear with you what is being said and help you advocate for your family. Rosetta Stone for little kids? That’s crazy, especially for a child with very little experience with schooling, technology etc. I am so sorry that this was your experience. Your child’s therapist, pediatrician (if you were so lucky) and outside consultants are all allowed to attend IEP meetings, so if you get to the point of needing the outside of school people to gather with the inside of school people, it is allowed. Crying may have not been your first choice of ways to communicate your frustration, but it is entirely understandable. New school, new programs, new opportunities. Do try and take a friend or an ally. I am hoping your new school(s) can provide you with the support and programming you need and want. Good luck.

    • I should have mentioned that we did take an advocate to the first meeting with the school. It was somewhat helpful, but mainly just to show that we were taking this whole process seriously.

  6. Ugh, what a terrible situation – for all involved! I’m so sorry you, as especially Ayub, had to deal with all of this. I’m appreciative of all you shared here, and I hopefully it will help another parent in a similar situation. And I’m hopeful that next year will be a better experience for all involved. Good luck!

  7. I’m so glad you and Ayub are getting a fresh start in a new school. And dealing with schools to get your child the help he/she needs is maddeningly frustrating. They are required by law to provide special services, but special services are costly. What I have seen and experienced is schools jumping through hoops to avoid any sort of labeling that would require special services — hence the positive comments at your follow up meeting. But…I have to say… a teacher who let Ayub get up and walk around when he felt restless? We would have been getting “manners memos” here. I’m convinced the main purpose of kindergarten is to teach children how to “follow school rules,” which most certainly include “sit quietly in your chair — no exceptions.” Kudos to her for being his advocate!

  8. Great piece. Love it. We’re in the process of adopting a 3 to 4 year old from Ecuador. Our biological daughter Zoe was born at 24 weeks and has some motor delays so we’re familiar with the special needs services in our community, but I’ve been reading about how to prepare for an internationally adopted toddler and was thinking about pushing back on Kinder if needed… your blog helps a lot!
    I’m curious to know if you have any book recommendations… while we wait for a referral (sigh), I’m trying to prepare myself as better I can… Thanks!

    • My #1 recommendation is The Connected Child by Karen Purvis. It has helped us with adopting an older child more than anything else. They also have a great DVD series which compliments the book – I found it more helpful to actually see the process in action with real, live families. Good luck – I’ve been following your blog and look forward to hearing more about your journey. Adopting an older child is hard. Really hard. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.

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