Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I know I should trust my own instincts but...

This morning dropping Julia off at Kindergarten (Stu is still sick so no bus for us) I ran into the retired teacher from last year, the outspoken one who had been in Stu's class for several weeks when his teacher was so sick (read: burnt out). She was replacing one of the kindergarten teachers today and I just caught her as they were going in.

Me : Mme XX, I'm glad I ran into you. I wanted to thank you for the talk we had about Stuart.

Her : Well I really wasn't very discreet.

Me : No, I wanted to tell you how much it helped us. We've decided not to come back next year, we're changing schools.

Her : Good! I'm glad to hear it!

Me : We're going to take the kids to the Alternative school (and which one).

Her : PERFECT! What a great environment for Stuart! That's a wonderful decision.

Me : Oh thank you - that means a lot to me. We feel it's the right thing but your opinion means a lot to me.

Her : I think that's a great decision. And... I strongly suspect that he might be gifted. I would think about having him tested next year...

Anyhow, that's not the whole conversation, she also said it might Stu time to settle in and things might not change right away (his motivation) but all in all a great conversation... Not to mention she was a teacher for 35+ years and part of the committee that started our school board's gifted program.

I know I should just trust my own instincts, but honestly? I am a sucker for feedback.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dry those tears

The bump was a good, loud, resounding one.

Our dining room table is made of heavy oak. Pretty hard on a little head.

The tears were immediate - loud, big... a wail.

I bit my tongue - the tongue that after a long day with two under the weather kids and a travelling husband wanted to say things like: "I told you to stop chasing the cat!" and "What were you doing under there?!".

Instead I held her and rubbed slow circles on her back. Let fat tear drops fall on my foot.

"It h-h-h-HURTS Mama!"

One day what hurts her won't be made better by a hug and slow circles on her back. So I bit my tongue and held on to my baby and tried to commit the moment to memory.

Memory that I hope will help when I feel helpless to stop her tears in years to come.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

just because I got this far without my head exploding

So - it's been one of those weeks.

2 sick kids. Had to pack them into the car on Monday to head to Montreal (after driving back from Montreal the day before - lovely weekend en famille in a hotel thank you very much) to see my grandfather in the hospital. Where he'd been rushed. And he has decided that he is dying. Which at 92 isn't shocking except for the fact that he has always sworn up and down that he would live to be 105. And he is stubborn enough to do it (tough old Dutchman!). So that he is saying he's done? Yeah, disturbing. I did have a lovely visit with him though in case this is it, and I am thankful for that.

In Stu's class today I had the longest talk with his teacher. Who dropped the "You need to insist they test him next year, I think he's gifted" bomb on me. Huh? She even admitted that because he has such strong support at home (nice pat on the back for me) and she has had such a difficult class this year that he hasn't had enough attention from her.

So now - is Alternative going to be the best thing for him? Or not? And while I should wait until Marc gets home from Toronto to decide if we will pay the money to have him tested privately ($1900 thank you very much) I tried to go about making an appointment. Some doctors are taking appointments for NEXT APRIL.

Welcome to Canada people. We have a terrible medical system, thanks very much for asking. WTF good is 10 months from now going to do me making my decision right now?

And yes, I am talking VERY fast in my head and I AM overcaffeinated.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday's Drama Queen moment

The Catholic school FINALLY called.

Were in.

Crap. Now what do I do?

I'll fill in the paperwork in case we don't get our transfer approved.

Friday, June 12, 2009

An end to the drama?

So... yesterday I had a 20 minute phone conversation with the principal of our school. And felt much better about the situation. As in, I said what I felt, didn't sugar coat, didn't dismiss, made my point clear. And she said a lot of things that made me feel better (Stuart will be in another class for next year, the bully may be moving to Toronto) and we worked out an approach to how we are all going to work together on this issue.


Yes, I still have a but. Because while this boy has been the main part of our problem, he's not the only part of our problem.

The best way i can describe it is when you decide to break up with someone. There's usually an incident that is the straw that broke the camel's back. One big thing that makes you mad enough to end things. But usually in getting to that stage you find other things to back up your actions. Little things that have happened etc. And then even if the BIG thing can be resolved, you've acknowledged all the little things and, as my friend Anne said this morning, THE LOVE IS GONE.

That's where I am. Yes, the bully is the biggest part of the problem, but he's not the whole problem.

The Catholic school won't return my calls. The other public school (the JK-8 one) was not able to accept cross-border transfers back in March when is when they should be able to accept them without issue. Getting in isn't looking good.

This morning I asked Marc to go to the Alternative school with me. I don't know why, it was totally spur of the moment, but something has been pushing me to go there.

I LOVED IT. Correction - WE LOVED IT.

It's a smaller school. A teacher on break volunteered to show us around. She found us the principal in a classroom who showed us around more, talked to us for about 20 minutes, took us to the library (the librarian shook our hands and gave us her personal guarantee that our kids would love the school - she was a character!), talked us through a day at the school, discussed their philosophy... I was in school l-u-r-v-e...

She told us about a Grade 4 girl who played her recorder for the talent show yesterday. For her second song she played Au Clair de la Lune - and announced that she was able to play it through her nose, so she would. The principal thought that was awesome. Music to the ears of a parent who has heard about her kids marching to the beat of their own drummer.

We didn't even need to talk about it - we got back to the office and Marc asked for the forms to fill out. We've done them - there is a chance we could be refused by our current school though. Ugh. Going to have to work on that one - I feel slightly hypocritical after yesterday's talk, but honestly I feel the alternative school is so much more what we are looking for and that my children will blossom there.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Decisions, decisions

And the agonizing begins (I did warn of this in my last post... I knew it was coming).

I have spent hours on the internet looking at schools in this area and checking out their EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office - in other words the standardized testing for the province of Ontario). I've discovered the interesting information in their detailed 31 page reports for each school (I sense the Vulcan in me emerging - there must be something in their numbers that will speak to my search for the best educational opportunity for my children.)

I've pored over school websites and board profiles of the same schools. I haven't slept much for the last 3 nights.

Not that I have mild OCD tendencies or anything.

Now I have all this data and I have to start sifting through it. And figuring out what I think is best for my kids. And seeing what my options truly are - this post is really mostly an exercise in getting my thoughts in order.

I learned that our current school - while not doing badly on the EQAO scores - has a very high percentage of ESL students. 40% of households speak Arabic at home, 30% Somali, we have enough that speak Mandarin to have warranted us using a grant we got to translate some of the school documentation into Mandarin (We also did Arabic and Somali - I helped co-ordinate the initiative). Add to that any other languages that are spoken as a main language at home and I think we're probably down to less than 20% of families that speak English or French at home (the two languages of the school).

After much thought I have decided that maybe our school is a little too diverse - I like diverse, really I do. I welcomed it when we moved back here - we had so many nationalities living in Luxembourg and I had appreciated - for the most part - what they brought to the table (with the possible exception of Belgian drivers - woah... they redeem their poor driving habits with chocolate and waffles though). But our school is dealing with so many different cultures that it almost feels like a family with two many different personalities all wanting to be the centre of attention. Which may be fine for some people, but I find is not best for the Stu.

So my "options" for a new school are:

1) Another Public School Board school that is about a 10 minute drive. They have considerably lower ESL numbers than we do, and similar EQAO scores. Their site looks good, they have some great initiatives mentioned in their board profile (Anti-bullying! works for me!). I know someone who's daughter has started attending the school for Middle school and they seem to be happy - another plus for it is that it does run JK-8 so we wouldn't need to find an option for Middle School (our local middle school is a problem and this school was one we were considering for down the road).

Problem : I have to go and talk to them about a cross border transfer - which is usually done in February. They are a very popular school and hard to get into from what I've heard.

2) The Catholic school right around the corner. The kids could walk. There are kids on our street who attend. It has a very low ESL population. There is less French instruction, though I could (with some self-discipline) probably cover that off pretty well with the kids.

Problem: One of you needs to be Catholic. Neither of us is - they do take other students if they have the room, but there's a chance we wouldn't know until after school starts in September. And we need to discuss our interest with the principal (which I have been told is another way of selling ourselves to her) and she hasn't returned my call for two days.

3) An Alternative School in our Public System. Hear me out here. I've heard of this alternative school because my neighbour teaches at the nursery school/daycare on the premises and her 4 year old is going to go there for JK/SK. Looking at it I am intrigued. Lots of parental involvement, small classes, mixed classes. Mid-level ESL numbers. Mid-level EQAO. It looks like the "real deal" of Alternative schools. It's an environment that I think (if it's all it's purported to be) could be great for the Stu.

Problem: it's not the alternative school for our area (and that one? oooh no. It looks more like a dumping ground for problem children than a true alternative school). So again with the cross-border transfer. And it's a good 20 minute drive, in rush hour traffic. Which wouldn't be an issue in spring/fall, but come winter? Eeesh. That could be a killer.

I have to make some decisions in the next day or so. Cross-border transfers are closed until June 15th when they will be re-opened - meaning that I need to get mine in by Friday so it can be reviewed on Monday. And then? Then they need to contact our current principal to see if she will release us - which she can refuse to do. So I need to pick one of the Public Schools (I don't believe you can request 2 cross border transfers) and then try and explain to our principal that we want out. Which I think is going to come as a shock to her (I see her regularly and haven't said anything because this has just blown up).

And then the logic goes out the window... My son is asking to go to a new school but does he really want to? Or rather he WAS asking last week - this week doesn't seem so bad (yes, but for how long?) Am I imagining this whole problem? (NO). Should I be able to resolve this whole thing with better support for my kids at home? (Possibly - but I am already volunteering 2 mornings or more and we still have problems - I can't keep sleeping with my 7 year-old. Or picking him up 1/2 way through the day which has happened 6 times since Christmas).

Am I being fair moving them? Will they integrate well into another school? Will they (especially Julia) be crushed that all her little friends are still at one school when she's at another?

Not to mention pretty much my entire support network is made up of mothers at our current school. I'm a volunteer, I'm on school council. I have a lot of vested interest at our current school. This isn't going to be easy for me either.

Anyone have a crystal ball they can loan me? I need to see what the future holds.

Friday, June 05, 2009

the problem with school

It is 3:40 a.m. and I have been awake for nearly 2 hours, going over our issue with the school the kids are currently at.

More specifically with Stuart's issue. And trying to break it down to it's most simple form. Which is that there is a bully in his class and he is being bullied.

I've known this for months I suppose. There are just so many other issues clouding the matter - Stuart's sensitivity that can be overwhelming being one of them.

I was about to get off point again and tell you about his sensitivity and how it affects me, but this is not about me. This is about the Stu.

There is a boy in his class who is bullying him. A few months ago, during a particularly awful week when Marc was away and the world seemed to have it in for us, I wrote briefly about the bullying in class but I never followed up (with myself mostly) about what happened.

The boy in question is a shit disturber. I was loathe to label a 7 year old boy "bad" but you know what? HE IS.

And for the intents and purposes of this post I am going to refer to him as "the bully" - because you know what? It's going to make me feel better.

Back in March Stuart got off the bus one day and said "The bully told me that at recess tomorrow I wouldn't be laughing, I'd be crying and bleeding." and then proceeded to tell me that the bully had people to help him with this - kids from the Special Ed class that he had recruited to help him. (I am not in any way trying to label special needs kids - but the ones at our school are HUGE. Some are as big as I am and do not seem to suffer from many physical problems. I know, send me hate mail, but it is what it is).

Long and short of the story - Stuart had told on the bully. Following the school rules that are posted everywhere, he had a problem with this shit disturbing kid and when he couldn't resolve it he got an adult. These kids are 7 - this is what we tell them to do over and over again.

So I went to school the next day. I went to try and catch his teacher before class to talk to her. She wasn't in class and by the time I found her she was bringing the kids in. She knew something of the problem and had me talk to the bully about what he had said/done. He started screaming and shouting that it wasn't his fault (one of the Special Ed kids told him to say it to Stuart if he didn't want to get beaten up etc etc).

From the class I went to the Vice-Principal - the Principal was away. She said she would handle it. I did see her talking with some boys from Special Ed (their class is next to Julia's where I was volunteering) but that was it.

It turned out that there was another boy who had also been threatened - I had called his mother the night of the incident and we discussed it at length and her husband called the school. When Marc got back from his trip he called the school too. The only answer we seemed to get was that i thad been handled. No follow up. No punishment that we were aware of, other than having to walk with the Vice Principal at recess.

It seemed to settle down though until a few weeks ago. I went on a field trip with the class and this boy wanted to be in my group. I had a group of 5 boys (one of them on the wild side) and I looked at the teacher. She told me to try it if I was willing to and told him that she was watching him. We made it as far as the cloakroom before he had head-butted another child in my group because he was "pretend" wrestling - I told him to get out of the cloakroom, he screamed it wasn't his fault it was an accident and the teacher came in and dragged him out. The looks he gave me for the next 1/2 hour were so full of hatred - have you ever felt uncomfortable from a 7 year-old glaring at you like he was going to take you out back and beat the crap out of you? It's not fun ( I should probably mention that he is only about 6 inches shorter than me and probably weighs what I do - the kid is HUGE).

Last week getting off the bus one of the other kids asked the Stu why he'd been in the VP's office. When questioned he revealed that the bully had gone up to his friend (same sweet kid as the head-butting at the museum) and knocked him over at recess and proceeded to throw his legs over his head like a wrestler. Stuart told me that he had to "testify" because he had been there and saw what happened. TESTIFY.

Later last week the bully kicked another kid in the class in the rear end. Ended up at he VP's office. Within an hour he was back in her office for showing another boy his privates in the bathroom. There have been more and more little stories coming out, and bits of info I've gleaned from listening lots and asking questions in passing (along the lines of "how do you feel about having to go to the VP's office?" etc etc). The pieces really started to fall into place

Since March - the whole "bleeding and crying" incident - the Stu has been getting into our bed almost every night. And unable to fall asleep unless I am in his bed. Now if you have been around to hear me moan for the past 7 1/2 years you'll know that the Stu has never been the best of sleepers. As a newborn in the hospital the nurse told me "I've never seen a baby this age fight sleep!" We've had other sleep disturbances over the years. I put it down to Marc traveling (and my poor mothering skills, which is what I always blame) but then today I realized that hey! Maybe it's school. (I know, I'm slow on the uptake).

Yesterday was the icing on the cake. Every year the school does a 2km walk for Cancer. It's a really special day in honour of a boy who died of cancer at the school 11 years ago. Yesterday was particularly moving because the boy had been in Grade 2 when he died and had Madame as a teacher (so same age/same teacher). I walked with the class, as did a few other mums, including the bully's who was pushing her 3 months old baby in a stroller. Her presence did nothing to calm him down.

After the walk there was a hot dog lunch in the park across the street. It took a while to be served and the kids were playing games. And the bully was cheating (I saw him myself). Other kids were "telling" on him, but if course it was the Stu that he shoved out of the way in a race so he lost, and the Stu burst into tears. And that's when the shit hit the fan - the bully screaming that he hadn't touched the Stu, that he was lying, that every time something happened to the Stu that he got blamed, and on and on and on and on and on... the teacher put him aside and another mother - a much cooler mother than I am, with cool dreadlocks and a hip attitude - came to talk to him, told him he needed to calm down or he was going to die of high blood pressure one day, that it didn't matter etc etc etc... eventually he settled down a bit, but had to be put out of two other games before the hot dogs were being served.

It was honestly like the pieces of a puzzle starting to fall into place. I saw this kid screaming. I heard the teacher getting frustrated (she has been off a lot lately, she's getting burnt out by this class). I heard her say something like "Oh the two of you today - it's just not working!" - about the bully and MY SON (who was just getting upset about being pushed). I took a big step back - I too had been trying to reason with the bully, explain to him that even if he didn't think he'd pushed Stuart that he had to realize that he'd knocked him out of the way by accident etc etc etc etc. I took a step back and took my son, who was still on the verge of tears complaining that he was hungry and generally on the brink of losing it, and walked away. I went to find Julia. We walked around a bit. I just hung out with him. I finally clued in to the stress he's been under at school with this boy pushing his buttons all the time.

Just before lunch was served another mum in the class came to talk to me about the bully. Her daughter is a very shy little girl who has been in Stu's class for two years and who I had not met before, but had been talking to off and on all morning (and liking). She commented that the bully was a problem. And told me that the school has a problem dealing with him because every time a teacher disciplines him in a way to try and deal with his behaviour they call and complain. They claim that he is being unfairly treated.

Now - I need to tell you something about this boy. We live in an area that has become very multicultural. And the bully is Somali. I don't even want to touch this one with a 10 foot pole, but honestly? If he was white he wouldn't be getting away with all this. I have seen that the children from families with parents that are involved are treated much more strictly than those with parents that are seen as "new" to Canada or who might be suffering from "cultural differences" (not that they aren't, and I am really very open to cultural differences, just not ones that mean my kids can be bullied because someone else's family doesn't have common respect for people. The end).

The bully is disruptive in class. He is aggressive and has anger issues. He has no respect for anyone in a position of authority. He is foul mouthed. He is - in my opinion - BAD.

I know - he's 7. I know. I've been making excuses for him since last year (last year when he thankfully was in another class). I too have said that he's got a good heart underneath (he was playing me too). I too have given him the "cultural differences" card to play - but honestly? It's his 3rd year in this school - if he can pick up video games, wrestling, pizza et all from our culture should he not be able to pick up some of the not so subtle school rules and maybe learn a little respect?

And so we have begun the saga (because it's me, I overdo these things) of looking for a new school. I know - seems drastic. But there are two such boys in the Stu's grade. They can't be in the same class, so we will always be stuck with one of them. Last year the other one was an issue (not to the same extent). As Marc put it last night, we either just move the kids or we can try and fight with the school over this, which will ultimately just have us labeled as racist and be a waste of time that we could use in better ways - and that there will be very little change if any.

So - my most simple form of the problem ended up being very long winded (phew, getting some stuff off my chest!). But it boils down to:

My son is being bullied at school. Wether or not he is too sensitive to this bully pushing his buttons is irrelevant. I feel his education and his happiness are being compromised by this kid. The school is not handling it and I can't let this situation go on.

The end.