So I went to this thing. (Truly, I am a master storyteller, no? Silver-tongued and imbued with the wisdom of the ages!) It was a meet-n-greet for elementary school parents get to chat a bit with our local middle school’s staff, and I went.
I felt a little bit like a spy, because of course I already know the principal and the staff; my daughter’s been at this school for nearly two years, already. And normally I’m the last person to attend any meeting that isn’t compulsory, but it occurred to me that when they had this when Chickadee was in 5th grade, I sent Otto for some reason (I can’t remember, now, but I’m thinking maybe one of the kids was sick and I wanted to stay home). I’d never been to this particular event. So I figured I’d go.
Because I’m me, I spent 15% of the event goggling at the information being presented and 85% of it musing to myself that the middle school administrators in that room probably already sort of consider me a pain in the ass, and right now they’re only dealing with my neurotypical star student. Just IMAGINE how much they are going to love me if Monkey goes there! JUST BUNCHES, I am certain.
Let me be absolutely clear: I think all of our public schools here are fighting an uphill battle and I applaud all of their efforts, plus I think the education my kids are receiving—and, by and large, the care they’ve been shown by teachers and administrators—is excellent in spite of the many challenges inherent in our schools. I have never made any bones about our district being a severely challenged one, but I truly believe that they’re making a lot of lemonade out of lemons over there. Also, I really dig our middle school principal. A lot.
That said, the dog and pony show they put on for the parents was pretty impressive. It accentuated the positives and minimized the negatives, and in a couple of places even produced answers to direct questions which I think may have been… ummm… just a tad bit fanciful. (Someone asked for the average class size, for example, and was told it’s about 20 students. Let’s just say I would really love it if that was true.) (Though, okay, in their defense: I think there are some self-contained classes with something like a 4:1 student/teacher ratio, so if you average it out… that might TECHNICALLY be true.)
I tried very, very hard not to get my panties in a wad over the fact that the coordinator of the gifted program talked extensively about how the school is so pleased to be serving students via the collaborative model, which means that “the gifted students are being served right alongside the students on IEPs!” (The first time she said it, I thought to myself, “Does she not realize that there are sometimes gifted students who are ALSO on IEPs?” And the second time—stated even more enthusiastically, then—I thought, “Wow, it’s almost like those kids on IEPs are PRACTICALLY HUMAN, or something!”) And I realize that this is my own personal hang-up talking, I do. But this is also someone with whom I deal on a regular basis, who thinks my daughter can walk on water, and it will quite simply break my heart if she doesn’t similarly adore Monkey.
[Sidebar: Do you know there’s an accepted term for kids like Monkey who have simultaneous special needs and intellectual giftedness? It’s twice exceptional, which is a good and valid and demonstrative label, but which also makes me want to punch myself in the face, HARD, whenever I say it out loud. “My precious snookums is TWICE EXCEPTIONAL, don’t you know, darling.” Basically I believe it labels the kid as twice as complicated and the parent as four times as annoying. Perhaps such a pronouncement should come with a mandatory round of tequila shots for everyone involved.]
There was some other stuff that either caused my eyebrows to shoot towards the ceiling or an involuntary guffaw to escape my lips. I looked around at the parents who have yet to experience this school and I thought that most of them are in for a rude awakening, though not all of it is bad. A lot of it will be better than they suspect. But some of what they were told that night was maybe just a nice fairy tale.
Afterward, I approached the guidance team to introduce myself. I mentioned that I have a student there already, but that because I have a rising 6th grader [holy crap I have a rising 6th grader] with special needs, I wanted to talk to them about how we start planning for that. They, of course, deferred to the special ed coordinator (who had left the session earlier), but then one of them asked me who my daughter is. I answered, and there was a polite smile and a nod. I burst out laughing.
“You don’t have any idea who she is, right?” I said. The counselor froze up a little. “It’s okay,” I reassured, “there’s no reason you would.”
“She’s not a frequent flier,” it was acknowledged. “So if we’ve met, I’m not sure I remember.”
“You probably haven’t met,” I said. A pause, then. “Um, if my son comes in next year? I think we’re all going to be getting very well-acquainted.” This was met by chuckles, and so I plowed ahead to ask them how many students with Asperger’s they have at the school, currently. Looks were exchanged.
“Oh, lots,” said one.
“Sure,” agreed the other. “Maybe, I don’t know, at least a dozen?” The tone of voice suggested that this number had been pulled directly out of the speaker’s ass.
“And do any of them have instructional support in the classroom?”
“Oh, I’m sure they do…” ventured one, looking at the other for confirmation. Oy. I decided to spare us all further discomfort; I thanked them for their time and went on my way.
I was waylaid on my way out by a couple of parents who know Chickadee is already at the middle school and who wanted to ask me some questions. I suspect one or both of them will withdraw from this district—either move, or choose to go to private school—rather than send their kids to the middle school. I offered as many reassurances as I could; because, honestly, there’s a lot about the school that we think is fantastic. I pointed out that at the recent regional science fair, more kids won from our district than any other… and the neighboring county with the “great” schools only had one 1st place finisher. (Meanwhile, Chickadee and three of her friends placed 1st in their categories, and that’s just winners from her grade.) One fellow mom told me that she had it on good authority that colleges look at your high school’s overall rank when considering admission, and staying in-district could be a problem later, when headed to college, for that reason. I responded that stand-out students at crappy schools still look better than average students at average schools, but I don’t think she believed me.
We haven’t made any definite decisions (though I did go ahead and buy the polos), but sitting there and beholding the gap between the presentation and the reality didn’t do a lot to soothe my fears.
Though, of course, I guess I shall plow ahead for my twice exceptional snookums and see what we can do. Here, have some tequila.