Thursday, January 29, 2015

Changing Schools

I tried to "anonomize" these emails as much as possible. These are details of the school situation we had been dealing with & the principal's response. He is still doing good at his new school. He told me yesterday (2/11) that he talks with a girl at recess who is also in karate (in the class after his) and ALSO that he jumps rope at recess while 2 kids are turning the rope.. I had no idea he could do that! I asked, "Do you turn the rope too?" He said, "No, I mainly like to jump." ha.
Dear Principal M,
We are writing you this letter to share with you some of the reasons we took S.. out of his 1st grade classroom at H.... He loved learning Spanish and was starting to show great progress, but the class was being taught in many ways that were very unorthodox. We saw this taking a toll on him from the beginning & it only got worse. As we learned more & more of what was happening in the classroom, we realized that the potential for damage to him was very strong. We spoke with his teacher & quickly decided that we needed to get him into a different classroom immediately.
We were told that the English classrooms at H.. were being taught by subs. We were told that one English class had no teacher & the other had a teacher who wouldn’t be back for another month. We observed the classroom with the teacher on leave before we made the final decision to move him to a new school.
One issue in S...’s old classroom (H...) was the checkmark chart system. After realizing how upsetting & stressful this chart was for S...., we set up a time to meet with Senora H... in hopes of learning more about the checkmark chart. Although she wasn’t able to give us an explanation of how it worked that made any sense, she repeatedly told us that the students were treated fairly as far as earning and losing checkmarks, and that it was used to encourage good behavior in the classroom. It wasn’t long before we learned that this chart was not being used solely for encouraging good behavior in the classroom. Kids lost checkmarks for not bringing back papers that had been sent home for parents to sign. They lost checkmarks when they didn’t bring back money from home when asked by the school to donate (if possible). Students were told that they weren’t being “responsible” if they weren’t bringing these things back to school. One day S... brought home a paper from school. It was a request for parents to donate art supply money to the classroom, if possible. We lost the paper & later found it. We walked S... into the classroom after school to return it to Senora H.... We apologized for returning it late & explained that we had lost the paper, not S..... Once given the money (she didn’t ask for the paper), Senora H... patted S.... on the back & told him that he would now get his checkmarks.
The only thing that was really clear about the checkmark chart was that the more checkmarks a student got, the closer they were to getting a prize. S... said it made him feel like everyone was in a race.
S.... sat quietly at his table & consistently lost checkmarks because others at his table were talking.  Apparently they were told not to talk at their tables, so he didn’t talk. He said he felt that he couldn’t let his voice out until he got home. Behaviors at home started around the same time he began attending this class. There’s no doubt in our minds that these were largely a result of the stress & anxiety he was enduring in the classroom. He felt that he had to hold everything in until he got home, where he would then let out his frustrations and emotions all at once.
S.... was visibly nervous in the classroom even when his teacher & mother were the only 2 people there. This is not his natural demeanor.
The hardest thing to hear was him telling us that his work was being displayed in front of his entire class & that the students were told to judge it. The teacher participated as well. He had mentioned to us a number of times before that he was sad because the kids had given him a “thumbs down” that day. It was only recently that we understood what that really meant. The students do a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”, depending on what they think of the student’s work that is displayed on the projector. When we confronted Senora H... about this, her justification was that she covered up the names when the work was displayed. Can you imagine how it would feel at 6 or 7 years old to have your work in front of the entire class and all your peers give you a “thumbs down”? Covering a student’s name doesn’t stop this practice from being hurtful & damaging to these children.  Can you imagine how it must feel to know that you were going to continue to go through this?
As if that wasn’t hard enough, S.... shared with us that there were many times when he got a “thumbs down” from the entire class. The teacher wasn’t even giving him a “thumbs up”! This had apparently been going on all year. We, as parents, do not understand the reason for doing this & can easily see how damaging & traumatic this could be for children (and adults!). We mentioned this teaching method to a behavioral specialist recently. She didn’t hesitate to label it as emotional abuse. The parents need to be aware this is going on.
After S.... was finally able to tell us about the “thumbs up, thumbs down” routine, we emailed Senora H..., letting her know we needed to meet with her right away. We met with her the following day. Senora O.... (the 1st grade Spanish teacher) showed up to give us a book & quickly took over the meeting – staying even longer than H...! We had not asked to meet with Senora O...... When we mentioned the practice of displaying student’s work for the entire class to judge, O..... persuaded H... to agree not to do this to S..... anymore. O.... attempted to justify this teaching method, telling us that the students (6 & 7 year olds) were “critiquing” one another. 
There were other times when our son was put in the limelight in a very irresponsible & unhealthy manner:
We emailed Senora H..... when S..... came home & shared with us the offensive hand gesture he had learned in class. The next day she put the 2 girls responsible for teaching this gesture in seats away from the class. In that same email, I let her know that S..... had explained to us that these girls were always a huge distraction to him & that it was affecting his ability to concentrate on his work. When we learned that S..... & the girls were not being separated at school, we again wrote Senora H..., this time being very specific. We let her know that we felt S... needed to be seated at a different table. The next day she announced to the class that S....  was going to be at a new table and that everyone at that table was going to be nice to him & not distract him. Her announcement was obviously completely unnecessary & humiliating.
We feel it very necessary to add that within a week at his new school, S..... is happy once again. He talks to his teachers the minute he walks in the door & is bringing home fun things that he has done in class and fun homework. We are getting positive reports from his teacher & principal. He’s telling us about playing with kids at recess, funny things that happened that day and most importantly expressing that he is enjoying the first grade, as all children should.
As responsible adults, we felt that it was very important to share the issues in this email with you. Kids in that class may be enduring practices that will affect them the rest of their lives. We urge you to have Senora H.... share her teaching methods with all of her student’s parents right away.  They need to be informed.  Thank you so much for your time.

Hope you are well.
Her response:
Thank you for your email from January 29th. I am sorry it took so long for me to reply. My second round of treatment (on 1/29) presented different challenges, so I am just now getting caught up with my tasks.
I appreciate you sharing your concerns and S....’s experiences with me. Creating a safe and positive learning environment for each and every student is a high priority and I want to assure you that your feedback will assist me in supporting staff.  I understand you took quite some time writing out all the details of yours and S....’s  experiences. I assure you that I will address each of your concerns with his former classroom teacher.
Again, thank you for your time and support.  I wish S...... the very best at (his new school). 
M. M. (principal)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Judah stayed home from school today as his cough was hard not to be concerned about every time I heard it and his nose was gushing from time to time. He seemed fine as the day went on. The cough is still there, but he is very obviously feeling better as he is playing & even went outside to play today! Unfortunately, while we were outside, he wouldn't stop putting his cars in the mud & rocks - expensive, large cars.. it was hard to just turn my head & pretend not to think anything of it. After many, many times of asking him to stop & removing him and/or the cars from the rocks, I finally just had to take him inside. That was the only thing he wanted to do - play with his cars in the rocks & mud. At the same time, miss Willow is dashing down the sidewalk, sitting on the ground against the neighbor's garage door and hitting Judah's toys with a bat as he played with them. Sufficed to say, she went inside at the same time. Judah put up a fight though. I could hardly lift him - that took a while. He took many attempts at scratching my face. He got in a few good scratches at the top of my nose. Scott also has a scratch from Judah on his face - his is much more noticeable though. Judah was pulling my hair as well. This physical aggression has been seen before but has never stuck around for long. This is a pretty new cycle & definitely the most aggressive he's been. He hits his aide on a daily basis - this has been going on for at least a week. Sometimes he even butts heads with her.. yes, completely on purpose!

Throughout the outside time, Sebastian was helping keep an eye on Willow. He was being good. He wanted the other 2 to ride in the wagon while I pulled. He was planning on attaching his plasma car to the back of the wagon & riding it. He had to wait as I was putting batteries in a couple of toys for Judah & Willow. I could have easily stopped what I was doing & gotten everyone in the wagon.. Willow & Judah certainly weren't paying any attention. But I decided to take some baby steps off the egg shells (his good behavior is very new - 2 days so far). He had to wait.. not more than 10 minutes.. and began getting agitated, finally saying, "I'm getting angry! My counselor says I have SUV!!" When I explained to him that an SUV was a sports utility vehicle he thought that was pretty funny. I told him the correct terminology. Much later, while I was on the phone with Pa Rock, Sebastian was screaming in the background, "I have ADHD!!!" Maybe I shouldn't have reminded him what the correct letters were.

Anyway, when I was struggling to get Judah inside, Sebastian put all of the toys in the garage without being told (this NEVER happens) & told me he would go inside & turn on Mario so Judah would calm down. I had already given him permission to stay outside a bit longer since he wasn't really doing anything wrong, but he chose to help instead. That was pretty incredible.

Sebastian had a few blow-outs with Willow today - short ones, but more so than yesterday, when he only had one towards her & one towards me. While doing his homework  he had a very difficult time remaining focused. He was able to figure out his math problems with ease though! He would focus for a minute (sometimes less), become distracted, focus for a minute, becoming distracted even more, focus, etc. It took a while to get through his 12 questions. And he was becoming more jumpy and active - flying around the room. This started quickly after the homework began. Dinner came not long after - as did his old behaviors, unfortunately. It went back to pretty much as bad as it had been before. Very unfortunate, but I am reassuring him that he can do it and that it will take time.

The homework from his new teacher was very organized & inventive, thank goodness. It was short & simple as well. Sebastian said the questions were similar to problems they had done in class that day, which is excellent for remembering how to do them & building self confidence!!

I think discussing Sebastian's diagnosis with him was really helpful in sparking the good behavior. He has a better understanding of what is happening, thus giving him some control where before he felt as if he had none. When Scott & I told him about his diagnosis, Sebastian ended our talk with giving me a big hug and apologizing for all of the times he had said that he hated me - telling me that he didn't mean it. He didn't do the same for Scott, but he had spent the time before & after our conversation openly connecting with him & enjoying his company.. which was huge.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Willow's 1st Trip to the Dentist!

Willow went to the dentist for her first time today. The dental assistant was able to check her bottom teeth & the dentist was able to check her top teeth. Apparently it was really difficult to get her to cooperate. In order for them to get her to open her mouth, the dentist had to make a balloon animal for her. Apparently he has a hidden talent! And it worked!
Sebastian was at the dentist as well. He had some teeth sealed and cavities filled (3 or 4??). He came home and was completely fine! Scott had taken them both to the dentist. Sebastian's mouth wasn't even numb when he came home and I couldn't visually see any cavities that had been filled. Dentistry is so much incredibly unbelievably different than when I was a child!!
Sebastian has been back home since Sunday. He has done unbelievably well and has had two straight nights of no meltdowns. He had a few short spats today but quickly apologized over and over, "Im sorry! I just got out of control for a minute!" He was getting frustrated with Willow and screamed harshly, "You stupid baby!!!" He followed that with, "Im sorry! I just got out of control for a minute!" He hit me on the forehead with a wooden block. I immediately left the room. He followed me and sincerely apologized.
I had emailed a mom from Sebastian's old class about what we had learned had been going on in class. She invited me over. I talked with her and her boyfriend, both have girls in Sebastian's old class. They basically wanted me to give them details about what I had mentioned in the email. The daughters had given them the same info when they had asked them after reading my email. One daughter is outgoing and the other is more emotional and caring. The emotional daughter is now asking daddy to walk her to class every morning and sometimes crying before class in the morning. She will talk about most of her day when asked, but when asked about the "thumbs up, thumbs down", she clams up. I shared with them that Sebastian had only been at his new school for 4 days and he was happy. He walks into the classroom at drop-off and talks to his teacher. He isn't afraid of her, and she seems very much like a caring human being. Sebastian played with the daughters while I talked to the parents. He didnt seem relaxed and was sort of following the girls around, trying to figure out what to do. Of course he still didn't want to go when it was time to leave. And he tattled on the girls right before we left! They weren't anywhere nearby thank goodness, but obviously tattling is still an issue with him. He also seemed to think they were making fun of his picture (one girl there had a pic in her room from his playdate) and doing/saying negative things towards him that I'm pretty sure weren't happening. He tells me these kinds of things a lot, that kids are making fun of him or being mean to him.
Judah has been sick the past two days and Sebastian wasn't feeling well tonight. Poor Judah was just slammed with some kind of illness - chapped lips and nose, coughing, constant runny nose, fever & lethargic. He sat on the toilet for a long time today, playing the iPad and trying to poop (we think). He didn't bother me to ask for a diaper. I was napping. Funny thing is that he began peeing on his own in the potty when I was napping one day.  I woke up and saw what he had done and then left his diaper off from then out. And for the most part things went pretty well! We've tried so long to get him to poop on the potty - maybe I just need to nap more!?!
Last night I made Judah a remedy to drink for his sore throat.He took one sip and refused any more. Now his sheets smell like honey. Tonight Willow asked me what I was doing and I told her that I was just doing something to help Judah. Judah was sitting at the table. He heard me and said, "Oh dear." But he did let me put the melted coconut oil in his nose, well sort of let me. His nose has really been bothering him a lot while he's been sick. Vaseline hasn't helped.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Giving Our Kids a Better Future

Just a small update on the school issue..
I only contacted one parent of a kid in Bastian's old classroom. It was the only parent email that I could find. She's talked with other parents - who are all very concerned. It sounds like they want to confront the teacher. She asked her daughter about it & her daughter told her the same thing I did. I'm glad she was able to spread that info that all of those parents absolutely need to know. We'll be talking with the principal about it soon - whenever we can get an appointment scheduled with her! Suddenly that is a difficult task for her to follow through with... ???

Sebastian's psychologist spoke with some of his colleagues after getting tests back from Sebastian's teachers with the exact same answers. It was testing that would give some insight as to what they see at school w/Sebastian. It obviously needed to be done separately. I had sent in two separate tests, one for each teacher, & had told his main teacher that they each needed to fill one out .The psych's colleagues agreed that he needed to contact the principal about this, because this could happen to another kid. Obviously they needed to understand the huge importance of these tests. He said the principal didn't seem to understand what he was telling her &  supported the teachers' decision to copy answers. Their decision to do this could have had a HUGE effect on my son's life! When the psychologist saw the answers he shook the tests and said, "This is Sebastian's life!!" The psych isn't taking the teacher tests into deep consideration, given their decision to send in exact same answers (there were over 100 questions!!) and what we've spoken about with him involving those teachers. So irresponsible & offensive. Teachers are people who care & want to help others.. that's like the entire basis of their job, right? To give our children a better future??

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My First Day by Sebastian

My First Day at Chapman Hill

January 13, 2015

By Sebastian F.


After Molly and Gramma left, I worked on math and letters. Same as my old class. Then we went to the carpet and had to talk about what our least favorite part of school is. I said reading. Then we said what our most favorite part was. We could pass if we wanted. I didn’t say anything but I think it is PE.

Then we did the calendar. After that we did math. Take away. Like 1-2=3. 

I made friends with the kids in my class. Cameron is my new friend. The first word she said to me was “hello.”

They have a tire swing at this school. It looked scary. Maybe I will do it another day.

Eating lunch was good. We get our lunch out of our bags and we watch movies. We can talk quietly. Today we saw The Magic School Bus.

There is a folder at our table where you put all your art work. You dump it into your back pack every Friday.

I went to PE today. The PE teacher is a girl. There is another PE teacher who’s a girl, too. We played with balls. Mrs. Hanin said, “I’ve known this guy for a long time. Maybe 30 minutes!” Then she gave me a big hug.

After PE, the teacher read a book to us about spring.

Later, one of the girls picked me to be student of the day tomorrow!

Then it was the end of the day. I put my chair up and got my back pack.

The day seemed shorter than at Harritt. I like my teacher, Mrs. Rosendahl a lot.

PS A good thing is that lunch seemed longer! Also, there’s a drawing test in PE. The best one wins a prize!

Bastian's Got Lots of New Women In His Life!

I did blog recently. I just wanted to acknowledge that it really hasn't been THAT long. The last blog was a private blog that I shared with some family. It wasn't really public blog material.

Some things Willow said recently.. she is seriously so funny, and QUICK!

She was standing next to me, staring down at her feet. "My feet are getting bigger (sigh). I guess I'm just getting old."

I had to run to Target the other night to return a couple of things & didn't want to go alone. So Scott, Willow & Judah joined. (Sebastian has been staying with Gramma & Papa for a while - due to some behaviors that have been consistently happening with him here, but not happening there.) Target is doing their toy clearance right now, which usually involves some really awesome prices. Christmas shopping used to begin at this point for us, but we haven't done their toy clearance in years. We told the kids we were going to Target to look at toys. It was dark out, an hour or so before their bedtime. They were even in their pajamas. Willow asked me to repeat what I had said about what we were doing. I said, "We're going to Target to look at toys." and her response, 1/2 a second later, "That's more like it!!" haahha

I responded to an email I got from my younger brother today. I didn't realize how much I had written until I began scrolling to the top. I'll post some of that in here since it's got a lot of details about some things going on here.

Ha, I will tell Sebastian about Uncle Tim having bad handwriting. He really perks up when he knows other people have the same problem.. he's very much a kid that wants to be doing the "right" thing - having an Uncle with bad handwriting (you said it not me!) will very likely add some positivity to that issue. And you're very successful too! Can you imagine a class full of kids all giving you a thumbs down (this happened MANY times - it kills me that we didn't know until the year was half over!!!) and not even the teacher can manage a thumbs up. She rushed them thru work - rewarded them for finishing quickly.. he wants so badly to do well (obviously desperately doesn't want more thumbs down bullshit) and so he takes his time writing and doesn't get done in time (gets no points and points may be taken away), or he rushes and his handwriting suffers.
So many things have already happened in my life as a parent that I didn't see coming.. big things! I often think, "Did Mom & Dad go through anything like this??"  I feel like things have just gone to hell in a hand basket with our generation in the family, for many of us anyway (you are shiny gold). I feel like Dad is just going to say at some point, "What the hell is going on with everyone??!" ha. But I really do think that.
I've reassured Sebastian before that his handwriting will not affect anything about his future. He'll always work on it, but he won't be treated like he is not good enough for the way his writing looks, which I'm sure we will be reassuring him about for quite a while. Tonight he told me that he and ONE other kid got a thumbs down from the class EVERY TIME. I think he said the first time they ever did this he may have gotten a thumbs up.. but then he got a thumbs down the next time & every time since. Same thing with the other boy. I explained that the class was probably thinking that they were supposed to do that for him & the other boy since they were the only ones it had happened to. Now it is much more clear why other kids haven't been pulled from that class by their parents. They are all getting thumbs up!!
The attendance office didn't call us today, so I'm pretty sure they realize we've pulled him out. The counselor at his new school told me that she had spoken with his old counselor & that his old counselor (who had gotten comfortable with and was seeing on a pretty regular basis) could come to his new school & talk to him if necessary.
I think every staff at his new school is female (staff list on website). He came home and told me, "My new P.E. teacher.. it's a girl!! And the other P.E. teacher is a girl too!!!" ha.
I did send the teacher an email before he started there, letting her know that he had very legitimate fears of being in school now. The principal asked me to share the email with her. She then sent it to the counselor, who also needed to be clued in on this obviously. So today the principal walked with us (my mom was there - Scott was home sick) to his class.. the teacher had a buddy for Sebastian as soon as he walked to the door.. the teacher quickly introduced him to the class and helped him zip up his backpack when he was struggling, as if it was just second nature to her (it felt like she would take care of him). The principal checked on him twice throughout the day. The counselor showed him her office during the day. A kid "picked him" (I'm guessing this is P.E.) and he was so happy & surprised.. "I didn't think anyone was going to pick me!" When I picked him up the counselor found me & we chatted, the principal talked w/me twice after school & his teacher also took the time to tell me about his day. It just felt like them having some knowledge of how the first half of his year was really gave him a shield of adults who were going to make damn sure he felt safe & was happy.
I talked with some friends about our biggest issue with his last teacher after the other Spanish teacher at his old school informed us that thumbs up/thumbs down was a teaching method practiced district-wide. Not a single one of my friends was anything but shocked & appalled. They all found it to be so awful. 
I didn't speak at the Parent Club about these things. I wanted to, but Scott & Mom both talked me out of it. Our autism support group meets once a month and lands on the same/time as Parent Club. We went there instead & I'm really glad we did. I heard some struggles that those parents were going through that just killed me. And Scott & I were able to share some contact info with the group (medical, therapy, etc.) and laugh about hard shit that isn't the norm, but for us never ends!
We'll either email or meet with the principal at the old school. I can't walk away from there knowing that the parents of 29 other children are going to have to meet with the teacher in order for these things to stop. Sebastian's teacher had agreed to stop doing it to him after we talked, but she saw nothing wrong with it and was surprised when I told her that Sebastian didn't like it.. ?!??! He had his last day of school there the following day. After talking with him about school issues for just a brief time the evening of his last day of school, he asked me if he had to go back. I told him, with no hesitation, "No, you won't be going back."
His old school had the kids sit boy/girl/boy/girl at lunch telling them that this would make lunch quieter. Their social time was being stolen away. After all, they couldn't talk in class! Sebastian said he felt that he had to hold his voice in until he got home, where he could finally let his voice out. He did this for half a year. I don't know how. The class was split into a girls line & a boys line when they entered music & P.E. class. His old school was obviously VERY "old school". Sebastian's new teacher told the kids they could talk quietly at their tables at some point in the day (he came home & told me this, very excited about it).
Sebastian said that he wants to go with me to pick up his notebooks from his old school. He said he wants to tell his old teacher hi and bye and tell her that he isn't going there anymore because it's a bad environment. :) Apparently she's not so scary anymore!!

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, January 5, 2015

Willow rode her bike!!!

Willow rode her bike for the first time today. Sebastian, Willow and i went to the park after school. It was starting to get dark. We stayed for about half an hour. Willow rode up and down the sidewalk as I walked beside her, using my hand to help her pedal. Bastian ventured off into the forest and through the puddles.. across the small bridges.. he did pretty much everything I told him not to do. I couldn't see him when he went on these journeys. Eventually we left, due to this. Willow pedaled once on her own after I pushed her feet down and around. She had done the same last week. However today she kept going, pedaling one, two, even three times in a row!  Without stopping!! Unfortunately her ability to steer disappeared when this would happen. She was truly truly proud and sooo happy on the four or five time she was confident enough to pedal like this. I will attach a video soon.
Sebastian was aggressive with Daddy tonight. Fiercely so. Sebastian told me what had happened minutes later, almost as if he was reporting a crime, not able to take responsibility for his actions.. Not seemingly upset over them.
i wasn't able to share with Scott that Willow rode her bike for the first time today. My heart is just breaking for Sebastian.

Willow rides!: