Thursday, January 27, 2011

"He wished he could be in pullout all the time"

(Laura's note: I'm continuing with posts from parents of gifted children. Today's post comes from Monica, a mom of a 10-year-old boy who is in the local public school's GATE program, and a 4-year-old preschooler. She discusses the difficulty of advocating for early kindergarten, especially for an oldest child. You're new to schooling, and you know that the educators you are meeting have much more experience with schools and grade placement than you do. But you also know your child better than they do. Below are excerpts from two emails).

To: Laura
From: Monica

I think that parents really need to feel more empowered in making decisions for their children’s education.  I was not and relied on the assistant superintendent for my local school district to say that yes they did have other children who started kindergarten early, but they weren’t emotionally ready.  She didn’t mention anything about a law that was just passed to allow for early entrance to kindergarten, and I didn’t dig up this fact until later. 
Her comment made me start to question my own gut feeling that my son was ready for kindergarten at 4. My son could read before starting preschool at 3 and knew basic math facts and got along with other children- even to the point of going up to complete strangers and asking them questions or inviting kids over to play.  So with a December birthday, my son entered kindergarten at 5 years, 8 months and without going into too much detail, he wasn’t in the right educational environment.  His kindergarten teacher knew my son could read and so she had the reading specialist use the DIBELS assessment on him (they had to go up to the 6th grade level…at least that was as far as they could go with the materials they had). 
The principal at the school (who did the kindergarten assessment and knew my son could read since he read part of the assessment to him), was very cooperative and wanted to help the following year.  Grade acceleration for reading/language arts was decided on (he went to a 2nd grade teacher in the morning for those subjects and went back to 1st for math, science, and social studies).  This wasn’t an ideal situation as both of the teachers were new and were out quite a bit for in-service/mentoring and he was still unhappy.  He would go to the nurse to get out of class and then just not want to go into school at all. 
I pressed the principal the spring of that year to get my son evaluated for the ALPHA program (the district’s self-contained gifted classroom for 3rd/4th grades combined).  The school psychologist did an IQ and achievement test and then there was a meeting with teachers, and the district's gifted consultant.  As a result of that meeting it was decided that my son was to skip 2nd grade and stay in a regular 3rd grade classroom with a gifted pullout once a week for a few hours.  The request for going into ALPHA was shot down, because of my son’s writing ability (didn’t expand on his thoughts, using the RARE method was torture for him).  The gifted consultant said that there was lots more writing involved in the ALPHA class and that he would feel overwhelmed.  She also had me work with him over the summer on 2nd grade math and science to fill in the “gaps”. 
Third grade was fine, but still my son wasn’t challenged in math or reading as far as I could tell.  The GT pullout was mainly nice enrichment activities, which he loved doing and he said to me often that he wished he could be in the pullout all the time.  At the end of 3rd grade the principal and GT pullout teacher (who was also the librarian) recommended that he go to the ALPHA program for 4th grade.  That is where he finally met some kids who were more like him. 
The teacher for that program had some knowledge (took coursework) in gifted kids and I felt confident that he would enjoy the class.  This year he is in 5th grade in the GATE program and has one teacher with a Masters in gifted education and another who is very gifted herself and has gifted children.  They are differentiating a bit more (mostly in math) and he seems to enjoy his classes.

To: Laura
From: Monica

After writing that lengthy e-mail yesterday about my son’s educational story, I got to thinking more about advice to other parents.  I know I gave you one piece of advice about parents feeling empowered to make decisions and with that I should have mentioned being informed enough about what the school provides in the way of programs (my son’s school did a poor job of communicating what was available in the beginning).  They should also investigate other online resources to get ideas of what other options there are even if their school doesn’t provide them.  This knowledge is important when going into meetings with teachers and educational professionals. 
Go into school meetings being informed and realize that most teachers do not have extensive knowledge about gifted education.  I myself who studied to be a high school biology teacher only took one class called Exceptional Children and there was only one mention, I think, of the characteristics of gifted children, and perhaps education options that were available to gifted learners.  Granted this was back in 1994, but from what I’ve read in other recent gifted blog posts, not much has changed. 
I know that most parents don’t want to seem pushy, but you can go into a meeting with confidence and work on an educational plan with a team mentality.  I also found that e-mailing right after to say thank you to the principal, teachers, and others who attended the meeting  was helpful in getting things accomplished. 

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