Tonight I'm going to go before the Board of Education to offer my input to the budget. This will be my 4th year doing so. In the past, I’ve talked about funding for the needs of special education students as well as funding for the needs of twice-exceptional (2e) students. Last year, I asked not for their money but for their interest and attention in using what the school system already has to provide appropriate rigor for students in our elementary schools.
This year I don't have my ear to the ground as much as I have in past years, but I’ve been hearing some good things about additional rigor in our elementary schools; I’m encouraged, and I’m very grateful. But mostly, I’m hoping to see this trend continue and expand.
I don't have anything new to say to the Board of Eduction. My concerns are the same as they have been the past three years: appropriate programming in the special education department, appropriate programming in the gifted department, and appropriate programming for our students who need both. However, I don't think I ever told the board why I do this, why I come before them every year and shake and sweat and pretty much make myself sick.
It shames me to say it, but I do this every year because I failed as my child’s primary advocate all during his elementary school years. (I failed both my children, actually, but I’ll just tell them about the one.) It’s not a happy story. It's not a pretty story. It's an important story.
My son wasn’t often engaged in learning much of his elementary school years. In part, this was the nature of his disability. He had an agenda, and it wasn't theirs. In part, he already knew the material -- to his way of thinking, why should he listen? When something is done, then it's done; he doesn't wish to revisit it. And in part, we didn’t use his considerable strengths to address his (then) considerable needs. We didn't use his strong academic abilities to teach him the social skills so necessary to succeed in life. In short, we didn’t know the learner or the learning. In point of fact, my son didn’t need academic remediation; he needed academic acceleration.
It wasn’t until close to the end of my son's elementary school years that I finally uncovered why: Appropriate rigor wasn’t consistently available, and the special education department declared it not their obligation to get it for him. Though I tried, I couldn’t work through the roadblocks to get him what he needed. The result was that by the end of elementary school, nobody really expected much of anything from him.
For his own reasons, my son wanted to apply to the STEM Academy for 6th grade. He did, and he was accepted. His school team flat out didn't believe he could succeed there. We were nervous, but we knew that he had never been tried in a planned program that offered appropriate rigor with general education peers. We felt that it was time to expect more of him and to give him the chance to show us what he could do. AND WE GOT MORE -- beyond what we ever imagined. That child blew everyone's expectations out of the water. He finished the year with so much more than a year's worth of growth, and he maintained a straight-A average.
He’s in STEM7 now, and if you’ll allow me this proud note: He placed in his division at the school's Science Fair and won the Da Vinci award from Lockheed Martin. That advanced him to the County Science Fair, where he again placed in his division. Now he’s going on to the Regional Science Fair in Prince George’s County at the end of this month. Look what can happen when we expect more -- we get more. But it shouldn’t have to wait until middle school to happen.
Elementary school is behind him now, but there are many more students with a profile similar to his who are coming up in the elementary grades. And that’s why I continue to go to the board's budget hearings every year. With the Board of Education's focus, we can get appropriate rigor consistently available in all our elementary schools so that those who need it can get it. I need them to continue to emphasize the importance of providing appropriate input and rigor to all our students. Expect less, get less. Expect more, get more...
*** So I get there tonight and follow 10 teachers and one independent bus driver. I start talking, make it through the intro., and break down at "I do this every year because I failed as my child’s primary advocate all during his elementary school years." Great. Now I'm going to be all wobble-chinned on Channel 96 for the next two weeks. Next year, no more personal anecdotes; it's back to generic begging. ***
**** 3/14/10 -- I forgot to mention that I think I was "unfriended" on FB because of my comments referring to my son's former school team. Oh, well. ****