School advocacy – making some adjustments

The first day back to school after the Rosh Hashana holiday break was Sunday. Ds5 stayed home because he had chickenpox, ds4 stayed home because he didn’t want to go to gan if ds5 didn’t go (he said ‘I’ll be lonely’), dd10 had a cold, and ds12 also wasn’t feeling great. It was so, so nice having all five of them home for the day, and then on Monday everyone but ds12 was home. I do like those kids. :)

Seeing how relaxed they were made me think, once again, about the stress of being in an environment all day where you have to work hard every minute to figure out what is going on. All of the kids are doing really well in adjusting to school, and ironically, I attribute that to an attitude they’ve developed as homeschoolers, of taking responsibility for their own learning. They haven’t been frustrated by the absence of assistance from their administrations, but after seeing their class schedules and hearing about their days, I felt it was time for me to step in to help make it more workable for them.

I started with the principal for dd10. I explained to her the reality of sitting for hours in a class without understanding more than a few words a day at best, then asked when dd will get the in-school tutoring she’s entitled to by law. After Sukkos, she said. And she said she’ll order a book for dd to help her learn Hebrew, which was very nice.

Then I showed her the school schedule, and explained that by leaving school early two days a week, dd would hardly miss anything (one of the two days is a double period of English, which is for girls who are learning it as a second language). By being home early on those days, I’d be able to help her privately with Hebrew language skills, as well as to do math at a level which would be more appropriate for her. (The math is super easy for her which on one hand is nice for her since it’s a class that is low pressure for her, but if she can actually advance from where she’s already at without the pressure of a Hebrew language classroom, that would be better!)

She asked me how many children I have, exclaiming and wondering how could find time to do this – to which I told her, I didn’t even understand her question. I’m her mother – who else is going to care enough to make sure she gets what she needs, if not me?? She was very agreeable to letting dd10 leave school early, and just like the first time we met when I registered dd for school there, it was a pleasure dealing with her.

While I was in her office, the principal for ds9 came in, and when I told him I planned on meeting with him afterwards, he told me I could speak to him right then. Rather than go through the whole explanation of why academically and emotionally I felt ds9 would be better served by a shorter school day (as I did with dd’s principal), I just showed him ds9’s schedule, and requested that he be allowed to leave at 1:30 every day (ie leaving two hours early three times a week). Dd’s principal right away said to him, “There’s no problem with that, right?” and he immediately agreed – and here I have to say how much I like this principal. Such a caring person!

I don’t know what they do in the boys’ school, but ds9 goes to school every morning with a smile and comes back home with a smile, and I told the principal that, as well as how much I appreciated all they are doing for him. Ds9 is the only one of all the kids getting any Hebrew language assistance through the school – literally, the strategy in every other place as of now seems to be to let them sit there and wait until enough months pass by that they understand the language – and I really feel that he cares about each child and is doing whatever he can to make the transition positive for ds9.

Gratified by how smoothly both meetings went, off I went to speak to the principal of ds12’s school. I wasn’t looking forward to this because we were already having a philosophical disagreement about the mandatory morning minyan for seventh and eighth grade boys, which we didn’t know anything about when we registered ds as it was just instituted last week. Ds12 has gone only twice in the last eight days or so, and told us that he’s getting a lot of slack from the administration because of this, despite dh having spoken to the principal about it.

We feel very strongly that a boy should be praying alongside his father in synagogue when possible, that he has more than enough time with his peers all day and he doesn’t need to ‘bond’ with them more through this. Additionally, ds12 takes ds4 and ds5 to school each morning, since their schools are on the way to his school. (For me to do that adds another forty minutes to my morning, and there’s no possibility of paying for the transportation service since it was full when we enrolled the kids.)

I also feel strongly that a child is part of a family and part of a community, and they need to learn to be of help and contribute, and that taking his siblings is a good growth opportunity for him. I’m not saying that just because it helps me! A couple of weeks ago I was at the meeting for mothers of the four year old gan, and a couple of women there asked me if ds12 was my son. When I was surprised that they could possibly know him when school had only been in session two weeks, and he’s an older boy in a different school, they told me how he had offered to take their sons to the gan along with his brothers to save the mothers from having to deal with all the flights of stairs. (The school is located down three flights of stairs, then up another flight – not the easiest thing when you have a baby in a stroller with you!) You can’t help people like that if you’re kept away from anything but your own school building.

I planned to discuss the minyan with the principal, in addition to my second request for an early dismissal for ds so we could work with him privately. He was busy when I got to the school, and while I waited, I asked the secretary about getting the government mandated tutoring assistance for ds12. She told me they had received authorization for students the year before, but not two years before that, and would have to submit a request after I gave her the necessary documentation. I told her to look in her files and she’d see that I’d already provided the necessary paperwork a month before when I enrolled him, and then asked her to immediately file the request. And then reminded her again before I left the office, and once again after meeting the principal before leaving the school.

My experience here has so far been that if you don’t insist on something and follow through in making sure it happens, it won’t happen. That means you’ve got to be assertive (beyond US standards of assertiveness) when it comes to helping your kids. It’s not that people don’t care, but things fall in the crack, and it’s up to you to keep your kids out of the crack. She told me it will probably take several months to get the approval,if it goes through, and I asked her how that could be acceptable, for a student to have no assistance for the early months when he needs it most?

With my next experience you’ll see what I mean about advocating for your child and needing to push hard. I think it’s because Americans have a hard time with this that our kids often don’t get the help they need. It’s a different culture, and what works in the US just isn’t effective here.

When I met with the principal, I began by asking about the tutoring assistance that ds should be receiving. He checked with the secretary, and explained to me that someone higher up didn’t want to spend time applying for the assistance since it wasn’t granted two years before and maybe it wouldn’t be granted at this point. I didn’t find this acceptable reasoning but put this to the side mentally, and went on to discuss the minyan.

I shared my concerns about the minyan, and he basically told me, he hears what I’m saying but it doesn’t matter. “Parents send their children to our school because they rely on us. Sometimes they don’t like the decisions we make but we’re the ones in charge and we know what is best.” Oh, my. If you wanted to wave a red flag in front of me, all you have to do is tell me that I as a parent have no right to an opinion about what goes on regarding my child and some administrator knows better.

He told me that four other parents complained about the minyan the morning it started, all of them fathers who said this was important time they spent with their sons (for some of them, it was the only one on one time they had during the week with their sons) and didn’t want to relinquish it to the school. He said no to them and he can’t make exceptions for me. I told him that if so many parents aren’t happy about the minyan, maybe they need to rethink it, and he told me they can’t make their decisions based on what parents want. I told him that there’s nothing in school that a child gets that is more important than developing and warm and loving relationship with his parents, and that coming to school from a position of feeling loved and secure would be the best preparation for the day. (He had said they instituted this since in the past students weren’t in the right frame of mind to begin their studies.)

After telling me he couldn’t make an exception for ds12 regarding the minyan, he made the comment that it would be easier for him to grant something like letting a child out of class for two hours a day than this. Yay, this was the perfect segue for my next point! So after begrudgingly telling him I wasn’t happy about it but would send ds to the minyan, I told him I wanted ds to be allowed to leave school early each day in order to work privately with dh and I on his studies. I showed him the schedule, and how the classes he would miss weren’t critical – math (which is about three years behind where ds is at)and geography (they’re doing US geography this year). After that is gemara and mishna (yes, more, even though they do that all morning), and dh already goes to the school each day at this time to teach ds12 the gemara they’re learning in school, and he would continue doing this but at home. I told him that ds would benefit from more private tutoring, and since the school isn’t able to provide it, we will.

I also explained that it takes enormous mental effort to focus so many hours a day for classes in a foreign language, that ds isn’t getting much out of it, but I’m willing to let him sit there for hours a day and absorb the language. But there’s a limit, and to totally waste time and not develop any skill isn’t something I can countenance. He responded that it’s because ds isn’t used to being in school that it’s an issue.

Nope. This is not the direction this conversation was going to go in. I said, “Oh, is ds disturbing the class? Not paying attention? Not participating?” No, he shook his head. Obviously. I know ds is doing fantastically well. “I’m telling you that even though he’s doing well, he would benefit by having less class time and more one on one instruction. If there were visible difficulties, you’d agree. But because he doesn’t cause problems, you’re going to make him suffer?”

He told me that if he lets ds leave school early, others will also want to do that for their own various reasons. (This key concern that was repeatedly expressed brought back memories of my talk with a principal several years ago when ds18 was in ninth grade.) I really do sympathize with administrators. They need to keep things equal and fair for everyone.  And this principal is truly a very fine person and dedicated principal.  So I tried to think about it from his perspective.

I said, “It seems that you’re not concerned about ds missing the classes, but not being in the school building itself, right?” Right. “And that others might ask to do the same thing if ds is allowed to leave early?” Right.  “But ds is a new immigrant, and that’s not something that applies to anyone else in the school. Any person would realize that someone who doesn’t know the language needs additional support, right?” Right. I told him very strongly that this is the life of a child he’s dealing with, and what’s best for ds needs to be primary.

So he told me he needs to think about it and this morning I followed up with him. He said that they were reluctantly willing to partially grant my request, but I have to compromise and meet them halfway. I told him I’ve already compromised hugely on the minyan issue and it’s their turn to show willingness to work with me.

When I got off the phone I felt like I had done battle. Really. I was so emotionally drained, I didn’t even have a feeling of victory that I got what I wanted. As part of his agreement, he told me that if he got any requests from anyone else to leave school early for any reason, he’d pull the approval for ds. I reminded him once again that ds is the only non-Hebrew speaking student in the entire school that needs this help at this time, so it’s not as if he’s setting a precedent.

Coming from my American mentality, I felt like I had to be exceedingly aggressive to get an agreement on this. I asked my dh who overheard my follow-up phone conversation if I sounded nasty, and he said no, but I felt like I was close to obnoxious. Push, push, push. I just refused to accept his compromise and told him it wasn’t acceptable, that it had to be the way I wanted it for the reasons I had already outlined in detail during our face to face meeting. Being this pushy is just not my way of communicating. But I got ds what he needs, and communicating like an American wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere (we tried that already).

For now, I’m grateful for each principal being willing to work with us, in spite of whatever concerns they may have had. I’m glad this will give the kids some much needed breathing space, while helping them meet their academic needs as well. Hopefully this will be a positive move for all of three of our children, and it will be evident to all involved that it was the right thing to do!


8 thoughts on “School advocacy – making some adjustments

  1. Yasher Koach! Avivah, you are truly inspiring. Even here, one often has to push beyond one’s comfort level to get kids’ needs met. We are truly their best advocate. Gmar Chatima Tova.

    1. After I wrote this, I was also thinking that in the US parents often have to push to get their child what he needs. I just had very limited experience in the US with the school system! Gmar chatima tova!

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