In January of this year it became quite apparent that something had to change regarding Matthew’s educational world.
Long story short, his primary educators at the school level claimed to know what Matthew needed. Mike and I disagreed and made our points very well known to them. Far be it for us to know what tools our son needed to encourage and promote a positive learning environment. We allowed his educators to educate him the way they assumed he should be taught. It failed. Miserably. And in part we allowed it to happen. We were not being listened to. The educators were much more interested with his level of independence than with his academic ability or success. Matthew was no where near ready (or able) to take on the level of independence that they felt he should. But no one was listening to us. We knew regression was imminent. We knew his frustration and anxiety levels were on the rise. We had to try to hold it all together; to hold him together until we were just about to the point of no return.
In the meantime we learned of a school – a private school for children with learning disabilities – that had its sights set on our home town. A school that specialized in all the challenges Matthew lives with was interested in coming to us. Could this be the answer? We decided to start doing some homework (pun intended) and even made the 5 hour trip to visit this school in person during a regular school day so we could see with our own eyes how this all worked and how it could work to Matthews benefit. After a 2 hour meeting and guided tour through the school we were sold. It was going to be a lot of money but we’d find it somewhere. We were so fortunate to have a school of this calibre wanting to come and help our children. We were on cloud nine as we returned home.
A couple of months later the staff of the school visited our area and held a couple of information sessions. A hand full of parents turned up to each session to hear what the school had to offer.
The faculty from the school enlisted our help in spreading the word. They explained they weren’t getting the numbers they hoped for. This was flabbergasting to me. Of the number of children in the school system who had TA’s, let alone those children who needed them but didn’t have access to a TA Mike and I could not fathom why these information sessions were not bursting at the seams. The success rate and track record of the school spoke for itself. Children had a much lower student:teacher ratio, each student was assessed and based on their assessment a program to fit each individual child was developed and constructed based on their strengths and needs. IPP’s (IEP’s) were no more. Each child who successfully graduated did so with an academic diploma which meant university and college was still achievable.
Why were there 10 people ( 5 couples) at the information session we attended?
Here’s my take, for what it’s worth. Our school board blocked any correspondence from being distributed through their inner office mail system meaning details could not be given to families who needed it this way. Certain community groups did not make the information about this school available to its members and some advocates for those with needs didn’t have a good word to say and continually bad-mouthed the school. This I know from personal experience as it was bad-mouthed to me by someone who had no idea we were even considering it as an option. With no first-hand knowledge of the school, its staff or its proven track record people here who should be helping and advocating for our kids were determined to be negative about this possibility from the get-go. Not all advocates, mind you. There was an advocate we spoke with who fully endorsed and 100% backed this new educational institution and if I could (or would) publicly state who this was it would show that it came from the most unlikely of places but this form is not the place for me to name names. Suffice it to say her endorsement held great credence with us which solidified our decision to investigate this further. The final reason why we felt that their numbers we so low was because people (in general – no one specifically) refute change. The unknown is scary, intimidating and foreign. Of course it is, I’ll be the first to agree.
However, I have often said that knowledge is power and the more information one has about something the more informed their decision can be. As able-minded people we have the right to know what services are “out there” for us and our families. We have the right to have options presented to us and have our questions answered. We also have the right to choose. Unless you dig for information and not stop until you are satisfied that you have the knowledge you need to make an informed decision how can you truly be opened to change and accept that the typical and established ways are not the only ways?
We tend to, at times, take the word of those in position as gospel. Those who hold a position of influence should stop doing injustice to those who look to them for support. If an opportunity arises that you don’t necessarily agree with personally, so be it. Please, don’t hold the rest of us in that same sphere. Don’t insult our intelligence by assuming because you don’t endorse something that we shouldn’t either. Provide us with the necessary tools and allow us to make our own informed decisions.
By mid-summer it was evident that this was not the right time for our area to host this new learning environment. Personally, our family had to decide what was going to be best for Matthew this year. If you have been following my last few entries, you know how that all turned out so there is no need to repeat myself. He’s were he is for better or worse, for this year anyway and thankfully for him (and us), so far it’s been for the better.
Finally, one thousand words later, there is a point to this entry. The reason I went off on this tangent is due to a phone call we received today. This morning Mike was speaking to our contact at the school we toured back in the spring. She phoned us to do a follow-up interview. More specifically she wanted to let us know that as of right now the hopes to move to our area are still on hold as they only received commitment from TWO families stating their intent to have their children attend the school. TWO! That (for lack of a better expression) blew my mind! So many families had the opportunity to get exactly the learning environment that we were
fighting (I dislike that word…) advocating for for our children and this school had two families who were willing to take the leap of faith with them. Anyway…I digress. She also wanted to know how Matthew was doing as she was familiar with his struggles of last year. She was thrilled to hear that he is thriving and more importantly enjoying school so far this year. The door has not been closed on the possibility of a future with this school in our community, but for this year it appears as though it will remain status quo. We were surprised and very pleased to receive this phone call today. It showed commitment on their part. It should that even though they haven’t joined our community yet they were still concerned and interested enough in our son to pick up the phone and call. That meant something to us. Definitely.
To sum this all up as best I can, if you take nothing else out of this entry please take my final thoughts and ponder them. Do you know a family that may benefit from having a school like this in our area? Do you know a child with a learning disability who is not getting what s/he could be getting from their traditional classroom? Are you a member of a family who can relate to what I’ve spoken about? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, please do me a favor. Don’t take my word for it, because my word only works for me. If you ever have the opportunity to investigate an alternate form of teaching (or anything for that matter), be true to yourself and do your homework (pun intended – again). Of course word-of-mouth is an important way to gain knowledge but don’t just stop there. For every negative there is a positive. Inform yourself and make your own conclusions. Ask questions, make visits and decide based on facts as opposed to opinions alone what is going to work or what you’d be willing to try for you and your family.
I am not campaigning for this school either way. I heard all the good and all the bad and ultimately we had to weigh the pros and cons for us. It was our faith in the pros that we were willing to go with to see if Matthew could A) be happier and B) be taught the way he had to learn. Maybe we’ll find out and perhaps we won’t but at least I know we did all we could to inform ourselves.
Should you see ads in the paper or on bulletin boards at the malls and you think a child you know should have the chance, don’t just skim it by. Find out for yourself. It’s the only way you’ll know for sure.
Until next time…