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)

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