Calvin’s Seeds of Wisdom #21 (and Soaring with Learning Challenges)

28 Sep

What a difference a year makes.  Last year at this time, my then 8 year old son Calvin was at one of our public schools that we knew from the beginning was not a good fit.  It took about a month but then thanks to a number of our amazing public school officials, we were fortunate enough to be able to move him to another public school that fit him and his “learning style” from day one.

Our county has a unique cutting edge program for children who are “Twice Exceptional.”  Calvin and his peers are both highly gifted with exceptional abilities as well as having learning disabilities.  So Calvin was selected to join a class of children who are “Gifted and Talented” or GT as that term is defined by our state and county, as well as having a designated learning disability or LD. It is termed the GT/LD program.  Calvin was in second grade at the time and the GT/LD program was a combined class of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders so Calvin was moved up from second grade to third grade so he could join.  In Calvin’s case, on the LD front, it is dyslexia and this made learning to read a major challenge. He also struggles with hand-writing. (We learned that Apple creator Steve Jobs had a similar profile as do many inventive and creative people.)

Here is a link to a site that discusses the Twice Exceptional or GT/LD program in our county. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/uploadedFiles/curriculum/enriched/programs/gtld/2010%20Twice%20Exceptional%20Students-At%20A%20Glance.pdf

(Although no child ever fits neatly into one category and I have generally rebelled against labels, I have found over the past year that finally being able to access information and services through these designations has been liberating for Calvin and us, his parents.)

Like many of his peers, Calvin’s spark for learning was beginning to dim, together with his confidence, when he found himself struggling with reading and writing when other children in the class managed these skills with apparent ease.

Soon the focus at school became on remediation, focusing on the “problem” only and not him as a whole child with both strengths and challenges.  In the process, Calvin’s ability to understand and absorb complex concepts and above-grade level material was lost in ineffective teaching methods by well meaning teachers. As parents, it was painful to watch and not understand the special education system, educational jargon and what options we had available to us.  The learning curve for us was excruciatingly steep but we were fortunate to eventually meet people who provided to us the keys to understanding what was happening.

Now that Calvin benefits from an advanced curriculum that is challenging and meets his intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge, together with strategies to help him with his learning challenges (the use of technology including keyboarding and voice recognition software, books on tape, a scribe) and a talented reading teacher, Calvin is soaring, thriving and enjoys school again.

How did we know the first school was not a good fit?  Well, in addition to the daily tears and Calvin’s mantra that he just does not fit in at the school, in true Calvin fashion and in his dry sense of humor, here is what Calvin reported to us about the old school……

–They were talking about gravity and I already know all about it.  So I did not learn anything new.

–Me: “How was the classroom part?  Calvin: “It was okay.  Well, actually, it is worse than when I got strep throat.”

–“The snack is terrible and you can’t bring your own.”

–“The lunch is all chemicals and the drink is not even real juice.  It is colored water with artificial flavors.   It isn’t even healthy food.  They gave us candy!  We got smarties with sugar.”

–“The lunchroom is so crowded that everyone has to sit shoulder to shoulder and it is too crowded.  I can’t stand that.”

–“The playground is terrible and small. Why can’t they cut out the huge parking lot and make the playground better for the kids?  It’s a ghastly playground.”

–“It is old and I don’t like it.”

–“The room and halls are boring. What they have on the walls are uninspiring and uninteresting.”

–“I feel like it is a work camp.  A prison.  They have big metal fences instead of low wood fences outside.  It is like we are prisoners.”

–“I want to take over the Public Address system and play the song, “We don’t need no education.  We don’t need no mind control.”

Fast forward to this year.  In addition to Calvin happily running out to the bus that picks him up in the morning and coming home in the afternoon with lots of great stories about the day’s adventures, here is what Calvin likes about his new school:

–“I like that the halls are filled with the art that students have made.”

–“The playground is open and the only thing that prevents kids from going outside the playground are some trees unlike the old school that had nothing but asphalt.  At my new school the vast majority of the playground is a large field.”

–At my new school, they teach to my learning style and I am learning a lot.”

–“The lunch room is less crowded.”

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