Diversity is not skin deep

#3’s teacher has been gone the last couple of days….at diversity training provided by the school district.  The training is expensive, and time consuming.  In fact, the school district signed a contract for $1.2 million dollars for this training.  It’s clearly very important to the superintendent.  And, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

 

Except…….

 

How many years have I been telling administrators in the district that my children, because their brains are wired differently than most people’s, need a different reading curriculum and instruction methods?  They are diverse.  

Diversity is defined as “a range of different things.”  My children learn differently.  Learning is diverse.  

However, it seems that the administrators are only interested in diversity when it means skin color or country of origin.  A Pioneer Press article states, “The policy calls on the district to seek out input from diverse students and families on teaching practices and curricula.”  But these same administrators seem tone deaf when I talk about the diverse learning needs of my children.  Is it because you can’t see their diversity?  Does the school district only consider a child’s race to be where diversity lies? I don’t know.

I haven’t gotten anywhere with my pleas for help for children with dyslexia.  Unless your “diversity” is obvious, it seems the children are placed in a classroom, mandated to sit quietly and complete tasks at the pace dictated by the district administration.  Decisions are made based on numbers on a standardized test without taking into account the individual needs and potential of a child.  It seems even the potential of a child has been standardized by the district with the use of testing.  Individual potential is no longer part of the conversation, as long as the individual child’s achievement falls within the district norms.

When #1 started kindergarten at our current elementary school they had wonderful programs that celebrated multiple intelligences.  They had a program called “Theaters of Learning.” Children could choose classes about Fairy Tales, environmental science, card games, etc.  It was diverse and many learning styles were valued and appreciated.  The teachers do the best they can to hang onto their value for diverse learning styles and interests, but it seems to get harder for them every year.  Many of the programs that made the school inclusive of all learners and celebrated diversity have gone away in the wake of mandates from the district office that claims to value diversity.

They do value diversity….and this is good….but it seems to be a very narrow definition of diversity.  They do not seem to value the diversity of learning styles.  The achievement gap is real and serious.  I do not want to take away from the efforts to help this serious situation and the intense needs of so many children.  Going to training to learn about your own racial stereotypes and understanding the needs of other cultural groups is wonderful and should happen.  Institutional racism is real and greatly effects the lives of people.  I firmly believe this.

However, helping one group of children should not come at the expense of helping others.

It’s frustrating to show principals written documentation from educational psychologists stating the intense learning needs of my children and explain to them what an Orton-Gillingham based system is only to hear “We don’t have the resources for that.”  I have been asking people that work in the district office “why isn’t there a reading specialist at my child’s school?” only to be told “We don’t have the resources for that.”  I ask for reading interventions designed for a child with dyslexia and I’m told “We don’t have the resources for that. ”  (Lucky for #3, his fabulous classroom teacher took on teaching him with an Orton-Gillingham system on her own because she recognized his diverse needs.)  At our previous elementary school, when #1 and #2 were struggling, parents told me, “This is not the right school for YOUR kids.”  I was furious.  You would never say that to a child because of their skin color, but because my children learn differently some people felt it was OK to exclude them from a public school.

When I am told about lacking resources for children with dyslexia, what I hear is: “We are using our resources to help with diversity in our district…..but we don’t mean your kind of diversity.”

As I watch the curriculum continue to narrow in our school district I wonder where the place is for a child who needs a different reading and writing curriculum, a child who is particularly gifted in the area of recess, and spends a rainy Sunday happily making a sculpture out of a box, duct tape, string, plastic wrap, tinfoil, water color paintings, old cabinet pulls, and of course gobs of glue.

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 Imagine the possibilities if the school district would train all the teachers to recognize warning signs of dyslexia and how they can help.  Children would no longer get lost in the cracks.  Children would be able to realize their potential before.

Diversity is not skin deep.

Sometimes diversity is in how we learn and process information. 

It’s time for my school district to recognize that diversity is, in fact, diverse.

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Not as planned

This year we went to Moab, UT for spring break.  Reservations were made at a great resort and two beautiful campgrounds.  Hikes were plotted out.  Ingredients for s’mores were purchased.  Zip off, quick dry pants were packed for those cool morning but glorious and sunny afternoons.  I even bought incredibly over-priced camp chairs at REI so we could sit next to the campfire and gaze at the awesome stars at Arches National Park.  Lists were made.  Meticulous packing was done.  We’ve been on quite a few epic minivan adventures by this point I was even able to pack all our equipment, clothing and food….AND we could still see out the back window.  After a long and particularly brutal Minnesota winter we were ready to soak in
75 and sunny in the dessert Southwest.

We made it to Golden, Colorado.  Look Mom, no jackets!  Everyone was happy.  We felt warm while outside for the first time since the middle of October.

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Look, Mom, No Jackets!!!!

And then the puking started.  Just #3 at first.  I convinced myself it was altitude sickness.  We ventured on.

As we headed over the mountains and down into the Moab region I checked the updated forecast.  Wind warning? High of 42? Low of 20? I told myself that forecasts change all the time and we weren’t camping for a couple more days.

We headed to our posh resort nestled in the red rocks of the Colorado River.

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We had a beautiful day hiking in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.  I even took off my ski hat! And I rolled up my pants!

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A balmy 50 degrees!

And then, as we were packing up to leave the resort and head into Arches for camping, #2 puked.

Perhaps this is not altitude sickness.

But, I had done all that planning.  I had meticulously packed.  I had done everything right!  This cannot be happening.  I thought we were going to be thwarted by the weather, not puke.  18 hours from home, freezing temps, puking kids and what do I do?
Go check in at the campground.
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At least one kid was feeling OK and excited to take on the adventure of camping.
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We are in Arches National Park!
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The others can hike while I comfort #2.

It was a nice thought.

The weather was HORRIBLE and we weren’t allowed to set up our tents until the wind went down, so  we head to the visitor center.  Might as well get junior ranger badges and watch the movie.  #2 was moaning and groaning throughout the movie so I sent him outside and asked #1 to go with him.  #1 took one step out onto the main patio of Arches National Park, during the very busy spring break season….and projectile vomited.  Everywhere.  It was actually impressive.
As we were driving up the winding road I hear a weak voice “stop.” Its #1.  He’s puking.  Again.  In the minivan.  That we still need to drive 18 hours home.
I scrubbed with all my might using the only cleaning products I had available….Purell hand sanitizer and paper towels….while #1 continued to empty his stomach, sitting on the back bumper.
Did I mention the windstorm and freezing temps?  It was amazing that this is what I thought was going to put me over the edge.  The weather, at this point, was a side issue.  There was nothing I could have done to prepare for this.  It was time to just muscle through it.
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At least one child was still pumped to be camping.
With the help of #3 and #4 who sat inside the tents while we set them up (so they wouldn’t blow over the cliff), we got them set up. #1 and #2 were delicately placed in a comfortable sandy area with #1’s head hanging slightly out of the tent.  I made dinner and tried to enjoy the beauty of nature.  #3 and #4 were actually delighted that they were the only two left standing.  So much attention!
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And then, in the middle of the night, while freezing in our tent, I hear that horrible sound.  The sound of a child throwing up, right next to you.  And then I realize something worse….I feel it.
Yup, #4.  Everywhere.  In the tent.  I pick her up, place my hand in front of her mouth to stop the next waves and somehow get the screen door open.  Dad runs to the car to get, you guessed it, Purell and paper towels.  Its still all we’ve got.
I’m in uncharted territory here.
And then it snowed.  Well, at least I know how to deal with snow, sleet and freezing temps.  I’ve had 6 months of this weather non-stop.
 IMG_0389In the morning we packed up as fast as we could and headed to town.  The children learned the valuable skill of how a laundromat works and the benefits of finding one next to a cafe.  And then we booked a Hummer tour on the petrified sand dunes.  “Might as well do something where puking is acceptable” was my reasoning.
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The puking was behind us, but not recovery time or freezing temps.  We camped one more night, which happened to be WAY colder than the first night of camping and then found a hotel before heading back to Denver.As I’ve been psychologically recovering from our non-vacation I have been thinking that this vacation is sometimes how I feel about raising children with learning disabilities.  I quit my career to stay at home with them.  I read parenting books.  I read to them every single day.  I kept them away from a lot of screen time.  We went to the children’s museum.  We went to ECFE.  I did everything I thought I was supposed to be doing.

And guess what.  They failed 1st grade.  Impressively and with gusto.  This is not what I had planned.

It’s heart wrenching to try and figure out what you could have done differently when you have a child that fails in school.  Did I read to them too much?  Too little?  Did I put them in the wrong school?  Should we have moved to the suburbs? Should I have kept working and put them in day care? Should I have drilled them in their letters when they were 2?  Should I have played with them more?

But, as with camping with puking children…..I just didn’t see it coming.  And, there is no way to know how to react in the situation until you are actually in it.  Eventhough it’s my third time through 1st grade with a child who hasn’t learned to read I am still caught off guard when I look around his classroom and see all the wonderful growth that his peers have made, and I realize my child has made none.

So, I muscle through.  And to think I spent years thinking that the hesitant personalities of #1 and #2 and the boisterous personality of #3 would be my biggest issues.  They are side issues so much of the time, but certainly make the situation more difficult….just as the weather made everything more difficult on our spring break “experience.”  But I can say with confidence, as a young parent, I never saw reading problems coming.

I continue to read out loud books my children enjoy.  I encourage hard work, yet look for places they can excel with ease.  I realize its OK to grieve the loss I feel when they can’t read and how hard the road ahead with be, but smile about all the things they are great at.

In other words, I book the Hummer tour and try to enjoy the place we are at.  I realize I didn’t do anything to bring the stomach flu with us to Utah, but I can buy new camping mats and Lysol.

Then, as we were stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of Iowa farm country because of an overturned semi….from the backseat of the minivan comes “Mommy, I just pooped!  EVERYWHERE!!!!!”  It was time to just break into uncontrollable giggles and call a professional to help with cleanup in the morning.

True story.