The Sprout has always struggled in school. In our previous school it was less apparent because it had measures in place to help kids as well as smaller classrooms due to a larger population. From the moment we moved four years ago however, the Sprout started to act up.
Of course, it was an incredibly trying time. We moved, the kids switched schools and then within a month I was diagnosed with PLS. It was an incredibly stressful time for all of us. At first Sprout had made a good friend and that made it ok for awhile but slowly both kids started to have a caustic relationship until it just ended. That unfortunately coincided with Sprout having challenges with the school, especially their teacher. We thought we had made some progress, they made new friends but we continued to have issues in the classroom.
The following year, Sprout changed classes and it was amazing. They were separated from the friend they had challenges with and were doing well in a classroom setting…until they had to reorganize the classes & Sprout was moved to a class with the previous year’s teacher. At the time I agreed to it but I failed to recognize how abrasive that teacher was and over time Sprout’s behaviour became more and more aggressive.
Then the pandemic happened.
Online school was a gift for Sprout. They did much better than they had in traditional school. Because we have terrible luck though, they were put in an online class with the former friend with whom they had the caustic relationship the previous year. There were some issues with online communication between them, with – if I am to be honest – Sprout being the aggressor who would get histrionic about things in the class chat that happened between them in the past. So near the end it was challenging but overall given the pandemic, it went well.
This year started off ok but over time it was clear that the classroom setting with the large number of kids wasn’t working for Sprout at all. The constantly had issues with behaviour and anxiety and were disruptive and aggressive. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t all their fault. Thirty kids in a classroom is a lot and I suspect the sheer numbers alone contributed. There were also some bullying issues that I feel went unresolved and allowed to continue. So following the advice of some of the learning specialists we had Sprout try anti-anxiety medication and we put them in therapy. Meanwhile, the school started testing Sprout for learning challenges. I don’t think they expected it but Sprout scored so high that they were forced to test them for the gifted program. Because nothing is ever easy for the Sprout either: their bully was also being tested at the same time. He did his utmost to undermine Sprout’s confidence at every turn telling them that they were too stupid & that they needed 100% or else they wouldn’t get in.
Sprout’s behaviour did get better with medication and therapy but not good enough. Also, it felt like their fate was sealed and that no matter what they did they couldn’t get out from under the branding of BAD STUDENT. I think the final straw for us was when they were suspended.
In order to understand my frustration, I need to add that my eldest child was also in that same class two years previously. During the Bean’s time there, she had an aggressive kid in her class who once told her at recess, “I am going to sexually assault you!” Of course, Bean took it to the teacher who told her that there was nothing that could be done because the teacher hadn’t been out there at recess and had not witnessed the incident. Nothing was done & the Bean only told me about the incident AFTER they left the school.
So when I got the notice that the Sprout was suspended you can imagine how furious I was to discover that Sprout was suspended about an alleged incident that happened off school property, as the kids were walking home from school. Apparently the other kid said something mean and the Sprout shoved her. Now, at no time did anyone ask the Sprout about the incident, it was just assumed that since they were the BAD KID that the other kid and their parent (who wasn’t even there) were right and that things happened exactly as they said. When I asked why the school could suspend a kid over something that happened off of school grounds I was given a song and dance about how it was their job to ensure the safety of kids blah blah blah.
To be fair, the learning support teacher is amazing. She worked really hard at trying to help the Sprout succeed and gave them a bunch of tools to help them calm down and work with their feelings when they got out of control. They even made sure to get external support in the form of Social Workers to help observe Sprout in the classroom (a fruitless effort, in my opinion, as people who are being watched are always on their best behaviour) and other tools they could use to manage their big feelings. In the end though, it was no match for large classroom sizes and an administration that was prone to misrepresenting situations. It became clear that the administration did not like the Sprout at all and the inconvenience of having them in the school was a constant source of frustration for them. On top of this, I learned that they were keeping Sprout in at recess as punishment (a terrible idea for a kid they know uses exercise to manage emotion, which just set them up for more failure) and putting their desk out in the hallway to deliberately ostracize them from the rest of the class. There are myriad examples I could pull out about the lies they’ve told (that I’ve caught them on – and I am sure many more I haven’t), how they’ve prioritized the sneaky wheels over actual fairness, and how Sprout was never able to get over their labelling them as a BAD KID so nothing actually got better even when they acted better. So all of this, plus what the eldest had experienced, we were thoroughly done & so we started to look at private school options.
Sprout is a challenge. That is definitely fair. But the behaviours that we see in school NEVER happen at home. Sprout is very rarely explosive and while they can be lazy, they aren’t violent at home or at their recreational activities. They also love learning and they love project-based tasks and I fear that keeping them in public school will just suck their love of learning out of them and lead to worse behaviour as they move into the most challenging years of their life. So we hope that a small school & a self-led learning program will help smooth over the rough edges that Sprout has experienced with the rote learning public school program. Of course, the flipside of this is that if this school doesn’t work out, we know for sure that it wasn’t environment and can work from there. But it is my fervent hope that these last eight weeks of school will see Sprout thriving in a less structured, learner-driven environment.
What breaks my heart is that I have always been a huge supporter of public education and I can’t help but think of Noam Chomsky’s quote, “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” This applies to education in this province and it is super frustrating. On the other hand, do I let my kid suffer through this experience – maybe for the next six years – because I am supporting a system that keeps failing them? It is also not like we are rich but we are privileged enough to be able to swing this if we make cost-cutting a priority in other areas of our budget. I am acutely aware of this as well. In the end, I am choosing to try a different path for my kid in the hopes of giving them the support they need. Hopefully, this means that the resources they used will be freed up for a kid who doesn’t have the option to move out of the public school board. At least, that’s how I am justifying it to myself.