When it comes to finding “the right school for right now” one thing we’ve found to be true is that means the school has the right philosophy and services to meet our complex ADHDers needs. But it doesn’t stop there because when a school works comprehensively to REALLY EDUCATE a student, they don’t just meet their needs – they stretch and grow students to reach their POTENTIAL. This is the difference between students just treading water and thriving! And as parents we know what this looks like in our kids and how the right place can grow our kids exponentially in beautiful ways. We also know when the opposite is happening and how hard it is to unravel the damage.
Ali’s story: I was never a cheerleader in high school because my mother wouldn’t allow it. But that has never stopped me from looking for things to cheer for. As my boys entered school age I was thrilled to have a school mascot, administration and teachers to encourage, cheer for and support to the fullest. I loved the idea of being a part of a community in partnership to grow kids in the best possible ways. Looking back there were absolutely amazing teachers in early elementary who saw my child’s struggles and worked in innovative ways to help him succeed. It was beautiful to see how their love of teaching instinctively enabled them to meet my ADHD+er’s needs. He struggled – but their encouragement, extra help and respect of him as a person grew his confidence and his potential. Then fifth grade happened.
This is a tough story to share. Meds became problematic and a doctor ordered my ADHD+er off of them early that school year. This derailed him in the classroom and he would have giggle fits often and forget to raise his hand. An overfilled classroom. A handful of troublesome boys. An overwhelmed teacher who feared asking admin for help. This was a recipe for the unthinkable. The lack of a school philosophy of respect for students gave an opening for this teacher to take matters to her own hands. And unbeknownst to us as parents until that summer, she was sending our son to a storage area between classrooms for some periods during the day. This went on from January to May. Sometimes his entire desk was moved there. The door was closed and he was shut off from the class. He commonly commented to us that he didn’t like her – but never gave details. Later, he admitted he “thought that’s how punishment was supposed to be.”
Words will never, ever, be able to adequately surmise that experience for us. It will forever haunt me in so many ways I still can’t wrap my head or heart around it. What compounded that hurt was a school principal that negated wrongdoing, spoke in support of the teacher and accused me – the PTA president elect – of starting a firestorm. The lack of any regard for my son, for our family and what is humane was staggering. That year understandably set my ADHDer on a downward trajectory in many ways. Yet, he still opens his heart to teachers who care and he very much wants to be successful at school.
There are plenty of teachers he’s encountered in high school that don’t believe in him. They don’t see past his false bravado and seeming lack of interest. But there have also been others who’ve extended immense kindness and grace. Then there’s the principal. He had a high schooler who needed more. He knows what it’s like to try and get teachers to see past it all and look at the heart of a kid. We may not be in a place where every teacher has the right philosophy or provides services to meet the mark, but when a principal looks you in the eye and says he understands and he will personally stand in the gap – well, we’ll take it and be forever grateful.
Nor’s story: I started this school thing with optimism, I swear I did. As a child, I loved many of my teachers and I loved learning. As someone who helps other people’s kids become more successful learners, I think of myself as a die-hard education advocate. Four schools later, dozens of meetings suffered through, thousands of tears cried and here we are alone with the truth: I have a super complex kid for whom there is NO MAGIC FORMULA for finding the right school.
The right school has to have the right philosophy and services. We tried private preschool, public for K-2, private for grades 3-4, and now are at a charter school. And each time we realized that it wasn’t working any longer, my heart broke. My heart broke like when your first crush dumps you at your locker in seventh grade, like when your boyfriend breaks up with you two days before prom, or when “the one” in college leaves you. And each one of the break-ups left me devastated. Because, you see, I’m an eternal optimist and each time we start over I think, “Maybe THIS is the place where he can stay until graduation” and I invest and I advocate and I dream and I fall a little in love with each new school and new beginning. My heart aches: I want him to belong SOMEWHERE.
School tends to be a probable pitfall for ADHDers. Norrine and I know there are no perfect fits. But we have found that choosing a place that shares the right philosophy for bringing out the best in kids who learn differently can make all the difference. Now we are choosy. We take our time before committing to a school. We welcome change in the name of finding the best fit for right now.