I’ve debated several times whether or not to share our story. I’ve only shared our experience over the last few months with a handful of people. Truthfully, it’s my son’s story and I wasn’t sure if he would want the world (OK, the 5 people who even read my blog) to know his struggles. Now that we’re on the downhill side of things, I came to the determination that if we can help at least one other family who may be struggling – it will be worth it.
I’m not even sure where to begin, to be honest. I guess I’ll start with the phone call that changed everything. I was at work and I knew I had a parent-teacher conference via phone that day (Mind you, this was in the middle of COVID, so we didn’t have in person parent-teacher conferences). It was in May with only a few weeks left of the school year. I was expecting to hear about the progress Jonah had made throughout the year and areas we could work on over the summer, and that is how the conversation started. And then I heard the words that will stay with me forever: “We are not recommending that Jonah move to 1st grade.” OK – let me just say that I fully understand that retention is not the worst thing that can happen to a child. We are blessed & privileged that this is the hardest thing we’ve faced thus far.
Up until this point, we knew that Jonah had struggled with learning to read. His Pre-K year had been cut short because of COVID, and at the beginning of Kindergarten, he could barely write his name. In our minds, we thought he had made great strides the past several months. He worked with an interventionalist throughout the year, who offered additional support like computer games, but she didn’t hone in on Jonah’s specific learning style or offer him any accommodations, so we thought he must not have needed any of that. On the phone, I replied (while fighting back my tears and trying to swallow the giant lump in my throat, “I respect your recommendation, but we are confident in Jonah’s abilities and we won’t be holding him back this year.” To which we were met with, “I’m sorry, but the choice isn’t yours to make.”
WAIT WHAT DID THIS LADY JUST SAY?! “I’m sorry, but the choice isn’t yours to make.”
I’m going to interject here to say that it was in this moment that I learned a very important life lesson: You can do allllll the things – you can breastfeed for 2 solid years, you can read to your child every single day, you can take all the classes and do every single thing by the book, and at the end of the day, you can’t control if your child struggles in school. This was a hard pill for me to swallow.
At that moment, and I’ll never forget it, I felt every bit of power and control that I thought I had leave my body. How was it possible that a parent didn’t have any say in a decision that will affect the next 12 years of his life? You know fight or flight mode? I chose to fight. I told the ladies on the phone (His teacher and the interventionalist) that this wasn’t the last they would hear from me. I emailed the principal, the superintendent (while I was ugly crying at my desk at work), and my husband called a member of the school board. They all told us the same thing – there was nothing we could do about it.
In my emails, I wrote about Jonah – about how he’s advanced in math, about how his social & emotional awareness is far beyond his years, about how his grammar and vocabulary are better than some of the teachers at his school (had to at least be a little petty). But nothing I wrote helped my case. I felt defeated, but I knew I couldn’t let them win. I knew I had to advocate for what I knew was right for my child. My good friend is the director of our local Montessori school, so I called her right away and explained the situation. She said, “Allie, send him to me for a year. We will get him caught up, and then you can send him back to public school if that’s what you feel is best for him.”
We were faced with two choices: Pull Jonah out of his school for a year and send him to Montessori school or let him repeat Kindergarten at his school. To me, it was a no brainer, but we wanted Jonah’s input and we knew we needed to pray about it. Montessori Education is based on the curriculum developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, which emphasizes individualism and the child’s natural eagerness for learning. You can read all about it here: https://montessori-nw.org/about-montessori-education/#whatismontessori. Montessori Education does not come cheap, but I knew that I would take out a second mortgage or come up with some sort of side hustle if I needed to for my child to get the education he deserves.
Fast Forward to August. We took Jonah to meet his new teachers and visit his new school. We walked in the doors of the school and this overwhelming sense of peace just overcame me. Its quiet, there is no chaos, the rooms are very subtle and under-stimulating (in the best way). It’s very cozy, and very clean, but not in a cold way. Actually, everything about the school is warm and inviting – very earthy if that makes any sense. Jonah quickly met the school dog – a little chihuahua named Sophie, who has since become his best friend. We all knew before we left that we were making the right decision. By Jonah’s second day of school, he woke up early, got himself dressed, and was ready to go. This was a new child that I had never seen before. He was excited to go to school… what was happening?!
I can’t wait to update you all on the progress he makes this year. I just know in my soul that this year is going to change everything.
P.S. If your child is struggling in school, please know that you are not alone. And remember, you are the only person who is going to advocate for your child. YOU. Don’t give up and don’t let anyone let you feel powerless!