Suitcases and bathing suits have been packed away. The sun is beginning to set a little earlier. Buses are rolling down the street, the voices of children can be heard everywhere, and parents are transporting children here and there. Fall is in the air as school bells begin to ring.
At the beginning of every school year, there’s usually an open house for parents. It’s a chance to meet your children’s teachers and learn about their expectations for the year. There are many parents who breeze right through those sessions without blinking an eye toward the curriculum. There are some, though, who feel very overwhelmed at the prospect of what lies ahead.
One of my friends is a parent who feels weighed down by the heaviness of those nights. She has a teenage son who has had learning disabilities since the third grade. These learning disabilities were caused by major medical issues he had as a child. Although each year that her son successfully passes a grade is cause for celebration, the challenges of the next year come quickly and cast a shadow on those festivities. This mother lives in a school district known for its academic achievements and while that’s extra tough on this teenage son, her other child, who is in middle school, thrives on it.
As my friend makes her way through her son’s schedule on parent night, visiting each classroom in the same way her son does, she is struck by feelings of inadequacy. She feels like she is experiencing what her son undergoes in those settings. While other parents are sitting up confidently, eagerly anticipating words from the teacher, she sits there uneasy and unsure of whether her son will ever pass the class.
Part of her concern stems from the fact that there have been new graduation requirements mandated by the State of Michigan. While many kids will struggle and lose the opportunity for electives in order to fulfill these requirements, students who use special education services will suffer the most.
For the past seven years her son was in special education classes for both English and math. Due to the new requirements, he was forced to be in regular education classes with special education support. The pace of regular education classes doubles that of special education classes. She says kids who receive special education services are not stupid, they just learn at a much slower pace. Her son also has to forfeit most fun electives in order to have two academic support classes where he can get help with homework.
Many of the parents she interacts with have very bright students who are also athletic. She said she wanted me to write about her son so that parents would understand that not everybody fits into the same mold. She understands that parents are proud of their kids, but when they constantly prattle on about high GPA’s, athletic prowess, and social success, it just makes her feel that much more of an outsider. I imagine her son feels it too when he’s in school.
As I listened to her talk, I realized that we all need to be more sensitive and we need to set an example for our children. We are all uniquely designed with different gifts and talents. Not everyone is going to be an academic superstar, but everyone has something to contribute to this world. Strip away our job titles, report cards, houses, cars, and you’ll find were not that different from each other.