How it all began…

Our Homeschool Journey

Why We Chose To Homeschool

I decided to start this blog because I am just like every other parent out there who loves their child and has realized that public education just isn’t what it could be. It falls short in so many ways of providing our children with the one on one attention they deserve. It has become a killer of creativity, it now encourages us all to be the same instead of celebrating our differences, and let’s face it, it no longer provides the safety and protection every child deserves to expect when they walk through those doors. That is not to say that there are not many wonderful teachers who truly are blessings and really touch lives. However, these teachers are over worked and underpaid and held back by new standards. These new standards were the beginning of the end for T’s time in public school.

Teacher3

My son T was in public school until this past year when we finally decided to draw the line. The final straw for us was the “common core curriculum” standards instituted here in Tennessee. In stead of re-hashing the battle I am going to post below the letter I sent to the school, the TN Department of Education, The White House, The governor and on and on…

Good Morning Dr. W***,

I am writing to express my concerns about the new All Inclusion Policy which was just instituted at my son’s elementary school, H***** Elementary in Elizabethton TN. My son T is in
the fourth grade. He was born with bi-lateral cleft lip and palate and while he has already completed the majority of his repairs he currently has speech and language delays and developmental delays which affect him academically. H***** School has been blessed with an exceptional Special Education Group, led by Laura C****, which has helped him overcome so many of his obstacles and reach many goals but he remains behind and needs their assistance desperately. His IEP allowed him the majority of his day in general education class with the typically developing students and about an hour a day with his resource team in
a classroom that is designed to suit his needs and teach in a manner which differs from the practices of general education teachers greatly. This environment is one I consider critical in moving him towards his ultimate goal, which is to become current and enjoy full time in a typically developing class. In my opinion, this system was highly effective and his records can attest to
the success he has had with a partial inclusion environment. This year however,his time in the resource room has been taken from him. His Special Education Teacher and her aides are now attempting to teach them while the general education teachers are teaching, in the same classroom and at the same time.
The result is that none of the students are getting what they need most and his Special Education Teacher is reduced to more of a quiet tutor. I cannot fully express how valuable the assistance provided by Mrs. C**** has been and what a blessing she has been to my son, our family and our community. When we went to
register my son this year I visited her classroom and was impressed with all the time she had spent preparing it. I will give you one example, though there are many. My son has a hard time reading a clock. She knew this and had turned her clock into a flower with the petals reading :5 – :10 – :15 etc to help them
grasp the concept and so they would be continuously exposed to it. Do you suppose the value of this kind of clock would be welcomed in a typically developing fourth grade classroom? Not likely, the kids may even say such things as , “We’re not stupid, why do we need that clock?” Well, my son is far from stupid, he is extremely intelligent but Dr. W***, he needs that clock! He needs that classroom. He needs Mrs. C****. So does every other
student in our school. By taking away her classroom, our children are left without her individualized lesson plans, they are robbed of her one on one uninterrupted attention and let’s be honest, they are robbed of their best shot at getting the very best education possible. I find that unacceptable and it is my sincere hope that you do too.

My son has been working this past week in the All Inclusive setting and he has chewed all of his nails off, he has cried in front of his friends out of complete frustration (he never cries and it is his worst nightmare to show such emotion in front of his peers) he
says he feels stupid all the time because he just doesn’t have enough time to keep up with the rest of them and he is in no way benefiting from this new arrangement. He is hurting instead. I ask that you do all that can to help us.
Join Team T, Dr. W****, we invite you, and let’s get back to
partial inclusion where our kids don’t miss out on time with typically
developing kids, but they are also given an environment where they can work through their delays and come out ahead.

 

May God Bless You,

Gwen Little

Well, I received replies from several people but they all had the same message, it’s state implemented and our hands are tied. Until, the principal of his school was contacted by the head of the Department of Education at which time I was immediately granted a meeting and assured that every effort would be made to assist T during the transition. This lasted less than a week. I do want to share a few more pieces of correspondence I received before I move on because I don’t want to sound as though no one cared, though I did feel that most just didn’t.  Here is the exception to that rule:

On Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM

 

Dear Ms. Little:

I received a copy of your e-mail from Dr. W****.  I am the special education supervisor for the district and I can appreciate your worry and concerns.  I have a call in to Ms. C**** to discuss your son and learn more about his individual needs.  Beginning, next school year, it is required that all students, to include special education students, be in the general classroom for ELA and math classes. We have moved, statewide, to the common core standards and are in the process of transitioning. This year is more or less a pilot year for our students with disabilities, although we have been told that our students will be in the general curriculum for these classes. In addition to a 90 minute period for ELA and 90 minutes for math, he can receive small group instruction in these areas in an intervention period, so he will actually receive smaller group instruction for these areas in addition to the general curriculum.  T will continue to receive all modification, supports and accommodations that he needs. I will contact you again after I have had the opportunity to talk with Ms. C****.


Director of Special Education

Carter County Schools

My reply:

Thank you for your reply. I did have a meeting with Ms. C****, Mrs. C***** and Mr. C******** today and we were able to make satisfactory arrangements for T this year. I am still concerned about his, and all of our special needs kids’, future education under this plan. I expressed my concerns in my previous communication but I would be interested in knowing if there is anybody at the State Department that may be willing to listen to the parents. Any direction you can give me would be appreciated. I sincerely can not see this working unless they greatly increase staff as well as restructure classrooms, and if we are going to use tax money to do that, why not just keep the resource rooms and spare the kids the social impact of having all of their peers keenly aware of their extra needs? The partial inclusion system for Special Education students in my experience, is not broken and the new environment is bound to failure. I would be very interested in sharing my experience with anyone who is behind this all inclusion plan. I care about these kids, one of them is my very own, and I am sincerely concerned about the long-term impact these changes could have on them all.
I thank you for your time and attention and look forward to hearing from you!
Have a blessed day,
Gwen
I received:

 

Ms. Little, I think you could talk with Joey H***** who is the Assistant Commissioner of Special Populations.

I am glad you were able to resolve the issue. We too care very much about our children and want only the best for them.

My reply:

Thank you very much, Dr. W*****. I will get in touch with him and I appreciate your assistance. I do know how much you care about these kids and how hard you work for them, and I am very grateful! T has been receiving speech therapy ever since he was three months old and he has continued to reap the benefits of special educators his entire life. It’s people like you who have this made this all possible and have led him to the point he is now. I have always had nothing but gratitude for the system but I just feel so strongly against this all inclusion environment that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try to reach out in an effort for change before the full impact is felt by our kids. I have tried to consider this from all angles and I cannot even come close to supporting something that takes so much from them.

I have also looked over available information regarding the common core standards our schools are striving for and I see the obvious benefits we can offer our typically developing and advanced students and even provide support for such a plan. It seems to me the basis is to prepare them for the world after school and give them their best shot at continued education. I can certainly get behind that. However, if you are attempting to prepare my son for example for the world of higher education, than he must first receive the basics. The common core expectations are too high and I fear such standardized curriculum may fall short of awarding him in areas where he does excel. For example, T was in the third grade before he was able to read his first full sentence. In the beginning of this third grade year he made drastic improvements in his recognition of letters and sounds and it all finally started coming together for him. I doubt that a standardized testing environment would recognize such improvements when establishing testing criteria for a third grade class. If he took a typical test it would likely show no more than that he could not read a sentence. Chances of it including opportunities to show off his new abilities just wouldn’t be tested. By the end of third grade he was actually reading. What an amazing achievement! If tested, he likely would score low. The efforts and successes of all his educators would print out – not up to par, despite the fact he just achieved almost three years improvement overall. All the patience, all the re-teaching again and again, all of the endless encouragement showered upon him and grand success achieved and the reflection upon the student and the teacher would still show, not up to par. These kids are special and they just can’t be tested the same, they simply cannot perform the same as the other students, and they should have no shame in that. The last thing they need is more pressure. They often work harder than straight A kids, they take smaller steps and they require more guidance but as you know, they still can get there in their own time with the right support. I apologize for being long-winded but I am mystified at the logic behind many of these changes and I wish there was more I could do. Please know that I am very grateful to you and your department, I am just honestly frightened by a lot of these changes, I want him to keep moving forward, slow and steady if need be, but forward always.

Thank you,

Gwen

 

OK, so long story short, I reached out, I cried, I pleaded, I was assured everything was going to work out and then my ten-year old son almost had a complete breakdown. He couldn’t sleep. He dreaded going.  He felt embarrassed, stupid, and frustrated all day long. He withdrew, he chewed his fingernails until they bled and I couldn’t stand another second of it. I felt so helpless… We were spending four hours a night on homework, which was actually classwork he hadn’t had time to complete during the school day and this was every night. He had about 30  minutes of free time a day and his grades (which matter more than you can imagine to him) were dropping like rocks.

Then, there was an incident in the library. The week before T had been thrilled to finally be moved up in the reading program after testing finally reflected his progress. He even spoke with the librarian and suggested some titles for an order in his new group. He was on top of the world. It was his first glimpse of success since he started the fourth grade. We had a Pizza Party at home and celebrated with him. The next week library day rolled around again and he actually jumped out of the car and headed to the school, SMILING! I smiled too. Here was something. I thought we were having a great day. When I went to pick him up that afternoon I immediately asked him which book he had settled on and he burst into tears. He began sobbing, hyper ventilating, begging me to get him home. It was horrible. I tear up even now as I tell you. It took almost an hour to calm him down and find out what happened.  They made him select a book from the kindergarten section. One of the thick card board, three word sentences kind of books. He protested. He refused. He was confused. Why? Everyone was looking at him, watching as the librarian took away the book he selected and handed him that BABY book. He became angry and he completely blew his top in front of everyone. The librarian went to Mrs. C**** to report his unacceptable behavior while he laid his sweet little head down on the table in the library and cried. They were silent tears, his heart was broken, his self-esteem was crushed. He had officially been robbed of his first Fourth Grade Victory. I of course called Mrs. C**** who was equally upset and assured me that they would fix it. I doubted it could be fixed. He was broken, he was exhausted, and he was humiliated. I called his Dad, who happens to be the most amazing Dad and husband on the planet, and he knew what to do.

“Pull him out, enroll him in home school and tell him I love him.”

Home school… Home school… Me teaching him… Could I do it? Would I be enough? Would I let him down? His education in my hands (gasp)! It was terrifying. After a few moments of utter horror one question stood out in bold in my mind. It weighed more than all the rest. Could I live with myself if I didn’t try? I would do anything to see him smiling again. I would tear the world apart to find his confidence. I would not give up. I would give it everything I had. And I would leave right now to take him to the book store to pick up whatever book his heart desired! And so we did it.

It was the best decision we ever made. And so begins my blog. How the frightened Mom and the broken-hearted boy found out that learning is actually SO much fun. How we discovered gifts within the boy that we never knew existed. And how he soared to heights and knocked over goals like the Titan he is. How we found places to visit and lessons we could really dig our hands into. How we stopped memorizing and started really learning, absorbing, growing and becoming the best we could be. And how we laughed and how we smiled together as we did it.

And we have a message to share, you can do it too!

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