When my sweet, spunky daughter set off for school, I did not have any reservations. I knew she would be one of the youngest in the class, but I did not have any concerns about her potential for success. She had always been eager to try new things and very social, always wanting to make new friends. She walked right into the first day of preschool with barely a look back so that Mommy could take a picture.
As the year progressed, she had some struggles. Everyone attributed it to her being so young and told me not to be concerned. At the end of the school year, I asked her teachers if they thought she needed another year of preschool and I was assured that she was perfectly ready to move on to Kindergarten. Now I had reservations, but decided to take the teacher’s advice. I figured we could always have her do two years of Kindergarten if she needed extra time to catch up to her older peers.
Kindergarten was where our struggles really began. At my first parent-teacher conference my daughter was behind in every subject area. Her teacher told me she did not follow directions, could not complete assignments, and was falling terribly behind. It is during this meeting that I found out repeating Kindergarten was not an option in our district. I was shocked! I realize I should have researched this before enrolling her, but I had never heard of a no-repeat policy and I worked in a Pre-K program for 5 years. I thought I knew my stuff, but now I was lost and not sure what to do next. So began the meetings, the trips to the principal’s office, the calls to come pick her up because she was being defiant, or pushing and shoving. The behavior they described at school was not what we saw at home. It was a Dr. Jekyll/Ms. Hyde scenario if I ever saw one. As parents we were at a loss as to what to do next.
At the end of Kindergarten, I was once again assured she was ready to move on to 1st grade. She would have time to grow and mature over summer and all would be well in the Fall. The report card I received in the mail did not paint the same picture. She was behind in every subject area. I decided I would just keep involved, request extra help if needed, and we would make it through. The problem was the more difficult things became at school, the more her behavior shifted at home. She was becoming more and more defiant, anxious, emotional, and extremely hard to parent.
We entered 1st Grade excited to start a new year with a new teacher. After the first several weeks of school the struggles started and increased rapidly. More calls, more e-mails, more trips to the principal’s office. She was not completing any work during the school day and homework was a battle of World War III proportion. Needing advice, I made an appointment with a Family Therapist I had seen in the past. I gave her the scoop, she saw Mariana a time or two, and then referred me to another Doctor to have her evaluated. I made the appointment right away, hoping we would find some answers as to why this child was having such a difficult time. We took her to be evaluated and completed mountains of questionnaires on what we saw at home. The results showed she had a high IQ, but a low processing score. She had trouble with attention, even in short intervals. The doctor described it this way, “Her brain is a corvette engine with a spark plug loose. All the power is there, but she is not able to use it.” Okay, what am I supposed to do with this information? This is not a diagnosis of anything. This is not going to get us extra help at school. The doctor told us because of her age, 6 years old, he did not want to label her at this time. His fear was an ADHD label would have the school “encouraging” us to medicate her prematurely. He did express that her anxiety and depression around school was very high and that another environment would probably be helpful. He recommended a Montessori environment and I filed that in my brain under “things to research”.
The situation continued to deteriorate. My child was anxious, angry, and sad all the time. She was sick to her stomach every Sunday night because Monday morning brought a new school week with it. We battled over EVERYTHING! The smallest thing would erupt into a massive meltdown and she was spending the majority of the school day in the office. Through my research, I found a Montessori charter school in our area. I went for a tour and completed the application the same day. We needed to try something new and this was going to be the first step. I finally felt like we had some kind of plan to move forward. It felt good to have a plan.
One night tucking my sweet girl into bed, she said to me; “Mommy I heard the grownups talking. They said I’m the problem. I think they are right. I AM the problem.” I was horrified! I quickly told her she was not a problem, she was a little girl. And like all little girls, she had a lot of things to learn. She would make mistakes and we would find a way to learn from them so the next time things were better. Typing these words right now makes my blood boil and at the same time makes me want to cry. How can adults in a school not realize that little children are always listening? Adults should know to choose their words more carefully and keep their negative opinions for a time when no children are in the building. The next week I took her out of school.
We home schooled for the rest of the school year and entered Four Corners Montessori Academy as a 1st grader in the Fall. It was the end of the first chapter of our journey. We looked to our new school with anxiety and hope. I did not know where this journey was going to take us, but I knew that I would NEVER give up on my child. We would find answers together, whatever those answers may be.