Monday, September 5, 2011

Robert's First Day at School

Before kindergarten started, they had an open house, where you could meet the teacher and see your classroom. So of course we went to show Robert his class and to talk to his teacher. We hadn't counted on the fact that at least 5 different parents would be trying to talk to her at once and that it would be hard to get a word in edgewise. But we tried. When she finally had a moment, we said something like, "Robert might have some trouble in kindergarten." (Yeah, we tend to understate things.) "Oh no, he'll be fine!" she said and was already talking to another parent. Well, so much for warning her. At least Robert seemed interested in his new classroom and liked his new desk.

Cameron drove Robert to school on the first day, took him to his new classroom, and made sure he was settled. And the day began. I was on pins and needles all day long. It was hard to do anything but imagine what might be happening and hoping things were going well. So after a tense day, the phone rang just as school ended. It was the principal. "Your son had some difficulty today. We need to put him with a more experienced teacher and work on an IEP (individualized education plan) for him." Me, "What did he do?" Principle, "He stood on a table in the middle of the classroom and yelled." I laughed. (I'm sure she thought, "No wonder this kid had problems. His mom laughs at his bad behavior.") Principle, "He also cried a lot in the cafeteria." Okay. So tomorrow he would start with Mrs. LeVeau who had been teaching for ages and had another child with challenges in her classroom.

So school, take two, began. Cameron would drive Robert every morning on his way to work and talk to Mrs. LeVeau before school started. Mrs. LeVeau had an assistant teacher in her classroom. She also had a very special lady named Valarie Wallace in her room, who was assigned as an all-day aid to the other child with issues. And that's when our miracle happened. You see, in order for Robert to be assigned an aid to help him, the IEP had to be completed. But the evaluation and IEP process took 4 months to complete. In the mean time, my little five year old with the maturity and speaking skills of a three year old, was supposed to go to regular school without assistance.

And so, a miracle happened. The child Mrs. Wallace was assigned to help all day, didn't need the help after all. So instead, Mrs. Wallace spent all her time taking care of Robert. She became his school mom. She even went to lunch with him to help him get used to the cafeteria. And when the fire alarms would go off for fire drill and Robert would become hysterical, she worked to find a solution. She had the principle warn her if there was going to be a drill, so she and Robert could go outside before the horrible noise started that would set him off.

Robert was having a terrible time doing any of the school work at this point. He could recognize his own name but was only starting to learn letters. And Robert hated to write anything. But Mrs. Wallace would work with him and take him to another room if he got frustrated and agitated, which happened pretty often. Robert would get frustrated when his teachers couldn't understand what he wanted or what was bothering him, like mom could. He would yell gibberish and cry when he couldn't make them understand.

Very quickly, though, because there was no other option, Robert started speaking in complete sentences. Also, as he would walk with Mrs. Wallace down the hall from the classroom to another quieter room, he would pass a bulletin board of the solar system. He was fascinated by it and liked to look at it with Mrs. Wallace. He surprised Mrs. Wallace one day, by telling her all of the planets in order. So Mrs. Wallace would get books from the library about the solar system to read to calm him down. They flew through all of the books for younger kids. Robert would soak up and memorize the information and want to know more. He still couldn't read and was struggling to do any work, but soon Mrs. Wallace was checking out books intended for the 5th graders and reading them to Robert. So Robert was now memorizing what each planet was made of and all of the names for each planets moons and even learning what those moons were made of. He would ask me and Mrs. Wallace questions we couldn't answer. So back to the library for more solar system books.

Two or three months into the first semester, the light went off in Robert's head and he suddenly got this reading thing. And when he got it, he got it. By the end of that semester, he was communicating well and reading solar system books to himself on a 2nd or 3rd grade level and memorizing all of the facts in them.

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