Friday, January 14, 2011

1/14/2011 School office

Today was a real mind-blower.

We had an early meeting with every teacher Gabriel's had (kinder, 1st, 2nd+3rd), Julian's teacher and the principal. This was a "Student Success Team" meeting to review Gabriel's strengths and weaknesses and discuss strategies to increase his "success." This was originally conceived to address behavior issues, but his behavior has overall been better recently, so we also talked about his so-so school performance.

Perhaps the most striking thing was Gabriel's teacher telling us that in visits by the school speech therapist and psychologist for other kids in her class, they also noticed Gabriel. His humming attracted the attention of the psychologist, and the speech therapist noted issues in "social pragmatics." That's a new term to me, but it's related to his not responding in conversation to feedback from whoever he's talking to. Or he'll do something to another kid that is playfully obnoxious and not stop when all social indicators are to stop.

Transitions are always an issue; once he gets focused on something it's hard to redirect him. He also assumes he understands everything, so doesn't listen to the teacher and sometimes misses important instructions.

He also doesn't seem to have many specific friends -- there's always Parth, but Parth always seeks Gabriel out. Gabriel joins groups if there's an activity he wants to do, but not just to hang out. And, all his teachers noted, he's never seemed concerned about having or not having friends. It's not clear if this is a problem or not.

( Meantime, tonight, Mr. Super-Uber Tough Cookie bawled his eyes out for over an hour when he thought a balloon he's been playing with all day had been popped. A balloon. )

A strength that Gabriel's teacher brought up is athleticism. She said he's really good in P.E. and is the fastest kid in the class. I was really surprised, actually. I know he's strong and agile, but I thought that's just how 9-year-old boys are. This is what spurred me to sign him up for soccer, which he was very happy about.

The principal added politely that he'd met Gabriel, and I sheepishly said, "yes, in the 4th week of school he was sent to your office." I added, "Let me guess, he wasn't intimidated by authority?" The principal answered apologetically, "well, no..." while all the teachers in the room who do know him cracked up.

In a different time or place, he'd just be an ordinary troublemaker. But it was useful for us, and everyone else, to confirm things like his athletic strength, or that his music teachers have noticed him (apparently a new teacher played what she said was a note C, and Gabriel raised his hand and said, "no, that's a C-sharp," and he was right), or how consistently difficult it is to guide him. Even the principal said, "It doesn't seem like any of the usual measures work with him." Indeed. The hallmark of living with Gabriel.

The outcome of our meeting was to bring all this information to the school psychologist and meet with her. The principal even asked if he's in counseling or therapy, which it sounded like he needs to be, but I'm still not exactly sure for what, or how to tell when he's "better."

We left 20 minutes before the school office opened for kindergarten registration packet pickup. A big day! I asked if by any chance I could pick up our kindergarten packet now, since I was already in the office, so I didn't have to miss more work to come back. The district has a "sibling priority" policy this year, so I'm not really cutting line. "Absolutely not," said the school admin, overriding the principal, "That wouldn't be fair to the people who've been waiting."

And indeed, this was the line at 7:40 when we arrived for our meeting that morning. The admin said this line started forming at 9pm last night.

But if we already have priority because of siblings in the school, it's not unfair to those waiting either -- we're drawn from a different pool anyway. "Fine, then give us a high-numbered packet," Dave said. But she was adament: "No, they're numbered, I can only give them out in order, and not until 9am."

Later we heard that there were parents who already have kids in our school on that long line, under the impression that our school was not adhering to the new "sibling priority" policy. Dave called the district to complain, and they called our school to straighten out the administrator, who then took me aside when she noticed me picking up our kindergarten stuff at 10:30 (no line!). She insisted defensively that she was following the protocol, but I wasn't able to persuade her that "you must wait in line to get your priority number" contradicts "sibling priority."

What an astounding hassle. It overshadowed our most remarkable experience of being in a room with every teacher Gabriel has ever had, and realizing that most parents never need to do that, and that our son is something of a special case. For the most part, our experience with him is normal (not including those extraordinarily difficult toddler years), despite some extremes (impossible conflicts, playing with electronics for hours on end). It's hard to know if we're in denial or if we're just among such a well-behaved demographic that Gabriel stands out. Gabriel's teacher kindly assuaged my working-parent guilt that lack of time together contributes to his issues, but she said laughing, "No, you really do have a difficult one!" That made me feel better.

I was glad Julian's teacher was there. She was there as a note-taker, but I think all this gave her a really really good picture of Julian's life. She already knew that Julian's older brother was a big presence and huge influence, but hearing about him from all his teachers formed a complete picture. I do try for Julian not to be lost in the fray, so I was glad his teacher heard first-hand what he's up against.

Everyone agreed that next year, the boys' classrooms should be as far apart as possible. I'm confident the principal will think carefully about which teacher will best suit Gabriel for 4th grade, when class size jumps to 30. And while they may all dread another Doudna child at this school, I'm looking forward to some redemption when Katrina starts kindergarten!


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