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.

Hitting the wall

Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall.  This happens, usually around 18 miles, when your body wants desperately to stop the madness but you need to make it to the finish line (if it’s a race) or a couch at your house (if it’s a long training run).  To get past the wall I focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other.  As long as I keep moving, progress is made.  This is where determination, grit, and a high pain tolerance comes in handy.  Also, some well placed stubbornness.

This week I finally heard back from the principal at #3’s school.  Last week handed in his assessment which clearly states he will qualify for special education and details how intense the correct interventions need to be NOW so that he doesn’t slip into failure (I would argue a deeper failure).  At first I heard back nothing.  So, I e-mailed the special education teacher and principal to let them know the paper work had been turned in.  I asked a simple question, “Is anyone at our school trained in an Orton Gillingham method?”  Again, no answer.

Finally, yesterday the principal came into #3s first grade classroom while I was there and asked me to stop into his office when I got a chance.  Yeah!  Progress.  I really like this principal.  He is responsive to parents and truly a nice guy.  He has a great love of what he does and it shows.  A couple minutes later I sauntered down to his office with high hopes of having a great conversation. He would share with me how quickly the school is going to move because of the thorough assessment I provided. We would end it with a smile and perhaps even a high 5.  Go team!

I’m so dumb.

He started by going over the qualifications for special ed. and I realized this was not going to be the conversation I had pictured.  First, there needs to be a discrepancy between achievement and ability.  #3 has a huge discrepancy.  He is labeled gifted by the district (and this was confirmed in his outside assessment) and is in the bottom 5% for reading achievement and phonemic awareness according to his psychological testing.  Second, his level of achievement must be very low.  Again, we have mastered this one…..he is below the 5% mark.  Third, he has to show no progress.

And this is where we hit the wall…..according to the principal.

#3 is holding his own, to a very low degree, in the classroom (I completely disagree with this).  In other words, he hasn’t failed yet according to the districts standardized testing.  He is on the low side, but until his standardized tests show that he is very low and he is falling further and further behind his classmates, no assessments will be made.  Its all about the number on one test in the Mondo Reading Curriculum.  What I say doesn’t matter.  What his classroom teacher says doesn’t matter.  What an educational assessment says…that doesn’t matter either.  He hasn’t failed enough.

I was stunned.  Am I supposed to hope for #3 to profoundly fail so that he can receive help?  Really?

Oh, but there is a solution the principal says.  The classroom teacher is going to do the Sonday System (Orton-Gillingham based) with him and another child.  I was speechless because how do you respond to insanity?

#3’s teacher is a master teacher.  She is disciplined, incredibly hard working, doesn’t waste a single second of instructional time in the classroom, and very skilled….however, she is human.  She has not been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia.  She has not been trained in the Sonday System or any Orton-Gillingham method and has not been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia.  So much of teaching a learning disabled child is about the pacing and the understanding of how frequent you need to go backwards and review.  These children learn at a very different pace and with very different instructional methods than other children….THAT IS WHY THEY STRUGGLE IN THE CLASSROOM.  A classroom teacher should not be expected to do everything twice, once for 90% of her classroom and another time for the other 10%.  Sometimes this is appropriate, but this should not be the final solution.

BTW, she has about 25 kids in her classroom, many of them with their own set of special needs: behavior, social, academic, highly gifted, poverty, struggles at home, etc.  She is supposed to figure out how to use an entirely different curriculum, find the time to do intense intervention (at LEAST 3 hours a week) AND teach the rest of the class all on her own?  Again, she’s excellent, but not a miracle worker.  This is not fair to her.  This is not fair to the classroom.  This is not fair to #3.  So much of what happens in the classroom for reading and writing does not apply to him, but he will be forced to sit there and watch his classmates understand and catch on to what is happening why he is continually learning “this does not apply to me” because the way reading is taught in the classroom is wrong for how his brain is wired.  Confusion sets in when a child is asked to do the classroom reading curriculum, guided reading and also a specialized curriculum.  That is 3 different approaches to tackle something that is already incredibly difficult…..when only one will work…..the other two only create anxiety and failure.

But, no help outside of the classroom will be given because he hasn’t failed enough yet. And I have yet to get an answer to my original question, has anyone in the school been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia?

I have hit the wall….in this case it’s the wall of crazy policies and bureaucracy in the district.  No help until your child is a puddle of tears on a daily basis, is so far behind his peers there is virtually no hope of getting caught up, and you and your child are both filled with hate and rage towards school.  Lovely.

Time to put one foot in front of the other.  Remember my form.  Breath.  Don’t freak out. Believe in myself.

I have trained hard for this.  I’ve been down this road before.  I know what needs to happen.  I have a good playlist.  I have friends and family along the road yelling encouragement, taking extra baggage, and handing me nourishment.  I have grit, determination….and let’s not underestimate my well-placed stubbornness.

I can’t see the finish line, but I know it’s there, and I will work with everything I’ve got to get there.  On the other side of the wall will be a child who believes in his academic capabilities and is given the chance to succeed.

family-27-2Failure is not an option.

After you got the diagnosis, then what?

Good question.  A lot of tears.  A lot of frustration.  Some swearing.  Temper tantrums. And then finally laying my head down on a table and saying to school administrators, “Honestly, I have never been more frustrated or beaten down in my life.”

Let me explain.

After #2 was diagnosed I was naive enough to think he would get the help he needed to be successful.  Because his learning disability was so severe and he was so incredibly behind where he should be, I knew he would qualify for special education and was looking forward to him getting the support he deserved.  The exact opposite happened….nothing.  A couple months later we did some more testing at school.  The same tests he had taken that summer.  The same tests he had taken that fall.  Now he was taking the same tests that winter.  The testing dragged on and on for weeks….all the while he was falling further and further behind.

They diagnosed #2 at school with some incredibly random LD not-specified-something-because-we-actually-don’t-know-what-we-are-talking-about label…who knows.  I was so angry I put the first draft through the shredder because the school assessment and initial IEP were incredibly non-helpful and vague.  At one of the many meetings concerning #2 I said, “We know the problem.  He’s dyslexic.  We also know how to help.  It’s called Orton Gillingham or a related curriculum.  This is not difficult and we are wasting time as he continues in a downward spiral and falls further and further behind.”  I was met with crickets…silence around the table.  Finally someone said, “Our school district does not recognize dyslexia.”

SAY WHAT?!?!?

I broke into tears.  There is research.  Books.  A local school. Curriculums.  A center at Yale…..all about dyslexia and YOU PEOPLE ARE TELLING ME IT DOESN’T EXIST? You don’t recognize it? Should I introduce you?  You can do a brain scan and see dyslexia….but this school district is telling me its not real?  Is that what they mean? This is a physical difference my child has and that is why he is having a difficult time learning, yet you are saying it’s not real.

Oh the rage.

I was speechless.

And that takes a lot.

Just when I thought I had found answers and we could move forward with a plan for both #1 (who had been privately diagnosed while all this was going on) and #2 I was met with a brick wall….and two children that were beginning to unravel.