I thought I finally found a school for Avi—really I did.
While we are technically “Home Schooling” him, it is among the most difficult things I have ever done (mostly because of the “negotiations” with him that are increasingly required to get him into the frame of mind in which he is ready to learn [and interested in learning something!])
The other day I realized how profound Avi’s dyslexia is—and that started me on a search… is there a school here, near our home that focuses on dyslexia that might be be a good fit for Avi?
Thanks to the magic of Facebook and the Portland Mama’s facebook group, I found just such a school, and my initial reaction was “Wow, this is a MIRACLE!”—not only is it the ONLY SCHOOL IN OREGON of it’s type – but it just so happens that it is only about 5 miles from my house… a 13-minute drive! All I would need to make it work would be 1) a car (we’re car-free) and, 2) um, $16,000+ a year in tuition (yikes – where would I come up with THAT!)
Putting the potential barriers aside, I thought I would check it out.
I told Avi how this could be “it” – the solution we were looking for: super small class-size/ good ratios, a place where really smart kids who have trouble learning can go to learn.
So tonight we went to the open house for the school. They invited us to go when we called, and they told us that it was the kind of open house you can bring kids to. Len was busy working, and AJ was watching a movie, so I picked Charlie (my 5-year old) up from school at 6 p.m. and headed over to the Open House with both Charlie and Avi (problem #1!)
When we got there it was a little chaotic; there were “student guides” [7th and 8th graders]—but they weren’t exactly sure what they were supposed to be doing or where we were supposed to go or the order they were supposed to guide us in. There were a lot of adults in a room that was too hot (for Avi), and there was also a big plate of cookies set out on a table (read: wheat + sugar= yikes, problem #2.)
I excused us from the hubbub of the meeting room (with the evil plate of cookies – and those of you who have little kids who react badly to wheat and sugar know what I mean ;-)) and we waited outside on the porch in the dark for our guide to arrive.
When we were finally escorted to the first room on the tour, it appeared to be a classroom for older kids; there were 6 or 8 adults in the room and a few older kids, and Avi was COMPLETELY overwhelmed by the noise and the movement (you would be too if everyone in the room was at least 18 inches taller than you!)
I took him into the hall between the classrooms, where I got Charlie set up at a small desk and gave him a phone to play a video game on (so I could focus on Avi) and Avi and I went into the classroom for the younger kids. At first there was no one there—which was good, as it gave him a chance to get settled in the space and not feel uncomfortable. He looked at the books and the toys and then started having a FIT about how he was hot (but would only take his coat off outside… so he ran in and out of the building taking his coat off and putting it back on for the next several minutes – while I tried to calm him down).
Finally, after the teacher came in the room I got him to settle down a bit and we talked to the teacher. I prompted Avi with questions that I encouraged him to answer (so he could tell her a bit about himself) and he settled in to talking and sharing about himself with the teacher.
We talked to her a bit about what hadn’t worked in his old school and about what he was interested in and what he would like to see in a new school. He explained about how noises and chaos bother him, and how sometimes he needs to fidget to stay focused; he mentioned that he didn’t like it when teachers told him what to where (like when he should or should not wear his coat); he talked about how he likes to hum and how he was uncomfortable in gym and in music classes when they tried to put ear-coverings on him in an effort to reduce the level of the noise that was bothering him (he said that when he had those covers on his ears, “I couldn’t understand what the teachers were saying and then they would get mad at me for not doing what they asked!”)
All-in-all, during this brief visit at the new school he was agitated and upset and I was overly conscious of the fact that he did not seem to be making a good impression.
I explained to the teacher that he has sensory processing issues as well as dyslexia and that a small classroom environment with a good ratio would probably be all he needs to manage that. [After all, when he was in Kindergarten at PJA he did really well—but things have changed a lot for Avi in the past few years.] Teacher said that it all depends on the kid, that some kids with sensory issues have worked out very well in their school and that others have not, and that their application process is thorough and each child is carefully considered as an individual.
Then Avi went into the hall and grabbed the phone from Charlie, Charlie screamed bloody murder and chased Avi around the classroom and both the teacher and the administrator reprimanded the kids for running and not being nice to each other… <sigh>
I left – practically in tears – thinking only one thing: How could Avi EVER participate in a classroom environment again? I couldn’t imagine going through the whole application process (the application is 16 pages long and it is a requirement to submit it along with all of their evaluations/ testing results and IEP information)—and then be rejected. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. [We’ve already been rejected from two other schools we thought would be good for him!]
I buckled the kids in and sat in the car for a bit, trying to compose myself before driving home.
If a school like this isn’t the solution, what is? Do I need to start my own school for lead-poisoned kids? Maybe I do. Can I throw that in on top of everything else I am doing? … Well… I can try, I can think of 96 other parents (in our parent-support group for parents of lead-poisoned kids on Facebook) that would be thankful for a school like this. Even if it is not close to them, it could serve as a model for similar schools in their community.
Let’s dream for a moment…
There’s a building for sale two blocks from my house; they’re asking $2.2 Million. It’s on SE 13th in Portland, Oregon and is the perfect size and location for a school. Does anyone want to buy it for the new headquarters of the Lead Safe America Foundation and School? [It’d be a tax-deductible contribution! :-)]
Startup Budget for the LSAF School
(I’d love this to be a tuition free school, parents of lead-poisoned kids have already been through enough!)
$2.2 Million – property purchase
$300,000 – property improvements
$500,000 – operations costs? first three years (salaries, supplies, etc.?)
I would want staff to include a food-prep person (who would prepare gluten free organic meals for the kiddos), a music therapy teacher, and a “room teacher” – with a few different rooms divided by age. I think a ratio of 3 kids to 1 teacher would be ideal to start and we could see if we need it to change. I even have some AMAZING childcare providers who have worked with us and who are graduates of the Special Education Program at Lewis and Clark College (which is nearby) that would be good candidates for room teachers to start! The building is across the street from the public library (one of the best in the country) and just four blocks to Sellwood Park – so a great location!
10-students in year one (with 2-3 teachers)
20-students by year two (with 5-6 teachers)
30-students (max) by year 3 (with 7-10 teachers)
Thanks for reading!
November 14, 2013