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.