Dear School District……I have a rebuttal.

On Feb 11, 2014, at 3:57 PM, SAINT PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS wrote:

Dear Saint Paul Public Schools Families,

Saint Paul Public Schools and the leadership of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers – the union that represents teaching staff in your child’s school – have been negotiating the terms of our teachers’ next employment contract since May of last year. That contract outlines wages, benefits, and other work-related issues. The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers has scheduled – on Monday, February 24, 2014 – a vote asking its 3,200 teacher members to decide whether or not to authorize a strike.

We want you to know that if the teachers union votes to strike:

  • Your child’s PreK-12 classes will be canceled at all Saint Paul Public Schools for the duration of the strike. This might be one day, one week, or longer.
  • Before and after-school childcare, Discovery Club, Early Childhood Family Education and Community Education programs will not be held.
  • Your summer plans could be impacted. Classes for K-12 students could extend into summer to make up for lost instructional time. Summer school (S-Term) dates would need to be rescheduled.
  • The district would be unable to provide any food service for your child.
  • If a strike lasts more than a few days, it will likely have an impact on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) scheduled for April 2014.
  • All teachers, school staff and district staff will be affected. Many staff members, including teachers, will not be paid during the strike.

And…my response:

Dear Ms. Silva,

     This e-mail was very insulting to me.  I have e-mailed you in the past with my concerns about St. Paul Public Schools and I have never received a response from you.  One e-mail was just last week when my child was denied an assessment for special education even though he is behind 1st grade benchmarks, is labeled gifted and talented, has been formally diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I put my formal request in writing.
     I support the teachers in this conflict.  There are NO RESOURCES to help my child learn to read.  NONE.  My child’s 1st grade teacher has a large classroom with a huge range of cognitive and emotional needs.  She is an amazing teacher.  She cares deeply about each student in her classroom and wants to meet all of their individual needs.  To help my dyslexic child learn to read she was handed a curriculum she has never seen before and told to individually teach him.  This is wrong and unfeasible but there is no other option.  How can she teach all the children if so much is demanded of her to teach one.  Other children’s needs are just as important as my child’s, but there just aren’t enough teachers to help.  There are no reading specialists at my child’s school…..and the district denied my written request for a special education assessment, leaving the classroom teacher as the only option.  If his classroom was smaller, much smaller, it may be possible for the classroom teacher to teach him individually with the type of intense intervention he needs.  But, the classroom isn’t small.  Because of your policies, it’s large.  My life, the life of my 1st grader, and the career of his teacher is effected every single day because of this reality…..but I should worry that his Community Ed. class is cancelled?
     Because of your policies my child and his amazing teacher have been set up to fail, but you are telling me my concern should be that he can’t take a standardized test…which would only show me that my child is failing to learn and no one in your district is able to help him.  Parents are stressed, teachers are stressed, children are stressed….but I need to worry that his unhealthy breakfast in a plastic bag won’t be available to him.
     I want nothing more than for St. Paul to have strong schools for ALL children.  This is why I’m siding with the teachers.  I am willing to have my life disrupted for however long it takes for the school board and you to sit down with the negotiating team and work out your differences.  During my 12 1/2 years with a child in this district (I started with ECFE in 2001) I have only seen the situation for students and teachers get worse and worse.  I worry on a DAILY BASIS about how my children are going to read and write.  DAILY…and many times at 3:00 AM.  Administration has never been of any help.  I have been shut down time and time again.  My life has been disrupted enormously because of failed policies in your district.  I have homeschooled.  I have changed schools.  I have tutored my children.  I have had heart wrenching meetings.  I have had to look at test results that show them in the bottom percentages of the district.  I have put my oldest children in charter schools.  I constantly worry about their future.  And because teachers want to make the educational environment better for children you send me an e-mail telling me to worry about after school programs.  When are you going to worry about my children not learning how to read and write?  When are you going to worry about their crushed self-esteem?  When are you going to worry about my feeling of helplessness?
     Don’t tell me I need to worry about breakfast, lunch, and vacations.  Thanks, but I can handle those things.  Easily.  Actually, feeding my child is my job.  Figuring out summer vacation is my job.  Teaching my children how to read and write….that is your job.  And, so far with my children you are 0/3 on fulfilling your responsibility of teaching them the basics.
     I want to thank Mary Doran, chair of the school board, for reaching out to me last week to share her personal story.  I appreciated her taking the time to listen, really listen, to my concerns.  I do have hope that things will change in St. Paul Public Schools.  The conversation I had with her was heartwarming and I felt listened to.  This was the first time in many years I felt listened to in St. Paul Public Schools by anyone except a teacher.
     The e-mail that the district sent, however, took away much of that good feeling.  Again, the district is not listening to what parents are saying, just proving talking points.
     I speak for many when I say the parents are sick of the talking points.  It’s time to really listen.  Listen to parents.  Listen to teachers.  Listen to the children.  Don’t assume you know what is best.

We won’t help

I finally had the meeting.  The meeting that was cancelled because of Polar Vortex #2.  The meeting that I thought would start us down the road of getting #3 individualized help.

That wasn’t the meeting that happened.

I was told he isn’t far enough behind yet. We won’t test him.

I countered with:

He hasn’t made progress.

He is far behind when you look at where he should be.

He gets further behind each day.

He is far behind if you look at his intellect.

He’s had a ton of interventions and he is still just creeping along with progress.  The interventions need to be more intense.

I was told again and again….he’s not far enough behind the rest of his peers yet.  He is behind, but not far enough.

The teacher sat there and said how he is reading at a level of a kindergartener and hasn’t made progress this year which is very concerning.  He does not know the sight words automatically.  And he knows less sight words now than he did in the fall.  Yet, he isn’t far enough behind yet.  They won’t test him.

What about writing? He can barely write his letters.

What I heard was……We won’t help.  I know this is not what they said, they told me about what the classroom teacher will do, and how the special ed. teacher can answer her questions, but this is how I feel.  We won’t help. Over and over they said he isn’t far enough behind his peers yet.  On a standardized test for the district curriculum he is not enough standard deviations behind the rest of his peers.

I sat in an office with the principal, an LD teacher, a school psychologist, the classroom teacher, and a student teacher (who I probably completely freaked out) with tears streaming down my face saying “I’ve been down this road.  I’ve already had two children fail.  I want this time to be different.  Please help this be different.  If we all work together, imagine the difference we can make. There are so many children that need help.  Let’s start here. Let’s make a difference and help him sooner rather than later.”

I was met with stone faces by everyone except the classroom teacher, who was also tearing up by this point……we won’t help.  Perhaps their stone faces were because they were following orders from people higher up.  Perhaps district office has tied their hands.  I don’t know.  My takeaway was we won’t help.

“We can’t help you because of the laws in this state.  We must follow the laws.  Perhaps you should put your energy into changing the laws surrounding this topic.”

This was their solution to the problem.  Oh yes….that sounds simple.

“Why do you want him labeled?” they ask.

I said, “I don’t want him labeled.  He is labeled.  This is the reality.  He is dyslexic.  I want him to have help for that.”

The LD teacher says, “I can’t label him dyslexic.  That’s a medical diagnosis.”

Oh, don’t get me started.  Honestly.  My head was exploding.  My insides were churning. That was a discussion for another day.

To say I’m devastated is an understatement.  Where can I go to get my children the help they deserve? I want them to read.  I want them to write.  I want them to feel successful in school….and not dread anything that requires them to write a sentence or read a paragraph.  I want them to live up to their potential academically.  I want them to not have their self-esteem crushed.

“Here is some information on why you shouldn’t label a child or test them before the age of 8.” the LD teacher tells me.

This is when my adrenaline kicked in.  Fight or flight…..I chose fight.  I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I stared into her eyes and said, “That piece of paper is crap.  Research does not support that anymore.  How dare you tell me that catching my child’s dyslexia early and fighting for him to get services is not what he needs.  I know what he needs.  I’m his mother.  I’ve been down this road 2 times already, and I refuse to watch one more child fail.  I will not do it again.  I’ve pulled 2 kids from schools where they weren’t getting help.  I’ve worked very hard to put them back together.  I WILL NOT DO THAT AGAIN!  This time I want my child to get help before he falls apart.  Before the anxiety.  Before the low self-esteem.  Before they hate school. I honestly can not understand why you believe its OK to not teach him with the methods he needs in order to learn how to read. I do not understand why my children get punished because they are smart enough to not completely fall apart academically.  I do not understand why I am being asked YET AGAIN to sit back and watch my child make very little progress while I watch the rest of his peers learn how to read with relative ease.  I have a diagnoses.  I have paperwork saying he needs intensive and individualized help.  I do not understand why we can’t work together and get him the help he needs.”

And then I started to cry uncontrollably, put my jacket on, and shoved the papers in my purse that told me why they won’t test him.

Meeting over.

My heart is broken.

Connect

“OMG.  Sorry for the verbal vomit for approximately 6.5 miles. I feel better now.  Thanks for listening and caring.”

Above is a text I send all too often to my running partner at 6:45 AM after a therapeutic run.  It’s amazing how much better I feel after getting it all out and leaving it behind on the pavement (or 4 inches or snow and ice).  My running partner doesn’t normally attempt to solve my problems, but she does show up at my house before dawn, listens and then gets me laughing by the end of the run.  In other words….she is there for me physically, emotionally and at many times….to remind me of logic.  I no longer feel alone in my struggle and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Last week I went to a workshop at Grove’s Academy about helping your child with anxiety.  I was quietly hoping there would be a cash bar in the back of the auditorium to help all of us parents dealing with an anxious child.  No cash bar, but there was good information, thoughtful philosophical parenting ideas, and Cheetos.

There is so much to go into concerning anxiety.  I will only touch the tip of the iceberg and talk about 2 takeaway ideas from the workshop.  I also don’t want to simplify something that is so difficult for people.  I know so many people are hurting because they or someone they love suffers from severe anxiety and have tried these simple steps a million times.  The social worker who spoke at the conference was very insistent that these examples will work when the child is suffering from stress, not an anxiety disorder, which needs professional help.

The first was a stress scale.  A stress scale looks basically like a pain rating scale

images

This is used as a communication tool with your child.  When you see them becoming stressed about something, this can be a tool to help the child communicate and understand how to deal with the problem.

0-2: Push through the feeling.  Get the job done.

4-6: Child gets to choose if they push through the feeling or calm themselves down.

8-10: Get control and calm down.  This is not a time to solve the problem.

If your child is at an 8-10, do not try to solve the problem!  Wow.  This was incredible and eye opening to me.  How many times have I said, “Ok, time to do your homework (or practice violin, or read out loud, or set the table……).” and I was met with a tantrum.  Screaming.  Pulling hair.  Stomping.  A regular chorus is, “I hate violin!  I’m horrible!!!!!”

What do I normally do? Basically my insides churn, my adrenaline kicks in and my internal monologue goes, “There is NO WAY I’m letting you win just because you are having a temper tantrum.  NO WAY.  You can’t complain and get out of something….or else you will complain about EVERYTHING in hopes of getting out of it.”

And then I flip out.

Really awesome parenting happens when you are screaming “YOU CAN’T SCREAM ABOUT THINGS ALL THE TIME IN THIS HOUSE!!!!!!”

Instead of 1 anxious person, we now have 2.  You can determine who was the first anxious person.

You job as the parent is to help your child understand how they feel on the inside and act on the outside to coincide with the different numbers.  With a stress scale, your child determines if they are going to solve the problem or take a break and get calm.  When there is too much stress, problems do not get solved.

The second takeaway was the vital importance of a solid and well-connected relationship with your child.  This is true for any child, of course, but becomes more challenging with an anxious child.  When you child begins to push (see above) don’t push back.  When your child screams “I can’t do my math!!!” do NOT ask a “why” question.  Why questions, or any question your child can answer beginning with the word “because” only gets your child more stuck.  The because is endless…..

because its hard.

because I don’t understand it.

because I hate math.

because I’m horrible at everything.

because my teacher doesn’t like me.

because I forgot it.

The only thing this is accomplishing is the parent getting more frustrated, the child spiraling further into stress and the homework is not getting done.  The child continues to beat himself up, when he already felt like a failure to begin with.  An angry parent only makes it worse. (this is the point in the presentation where I really needed that drink!)  Here was a core belief the presenter shared, and one that I also believe in:

Children want to please their parents.

If the child is struggling in school and the parent gets upset, its a double whammy.  In their mind they are failing at school and failing at home.  This is not the recipe for a healthy self-esteem and endurance to try hard when faced with difficulty.

A child who struggles in school already feels bad about the subjects that are hard for him/her.  I see this on a daily basis with #2.  He doesn’t need me to remind him that things are hard by asking a “why” question….he is reminded by how hard school is constantly throughout the day.

A better question when #2 screams “I can’t do my math!” would be, “Can you tell me what you don’t like about it?”

I’m not solving the problem.  Quite the opposite actually, I’m validating.  I’m letting him know its OK that something is hard.  I’m here to listen.  I’m here to care.  The homework will come later, after he has calmed down (that will happen, right?).  But first step, let him know his feelings are OK, it,s safe to let his ugly emotions out, and I will be at his side the entire time.

As I’ve written about before, one of the most important things when parenting a dyslexic child is to listen.

I are their strongest support in a world where they don’t fit into all the time.  School is hard enough. Its my goal to make home a place where they do fit in, a place they feel connected and understood.

family-11-2

Quirks, tantrums and all.

Just please don’t as me to listen at 5:15 in the morning, I’ll be out on a run.