April 28, 2011

Periodically, I like to take a break from the sweets and healthy vegetarian fare and give you updates on my sweet son Graham.  Just this year, he has learned to ski, swim, and ride a two-wheel bike.  There were times when I wondered if he would ever do any of those things, let alone all three.  We are proud parents.

I went in to his school recently to amend his IEP.  IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan, and each student with special needs has one.  Graham has met a lot of his goals that were set last year, and we just needed to draw up new goals and adjust the amount of time he spends with the resource room teacher and the speech therapist.  Graham is doing incredibly well in school.  He is learning to read, do addition and subtraction, and, as he always has in his short life, he is bringing joy to peoples’ lives.  The librarian in particular thinks the world of him – the enthusiasm Graham shows for books makes him happy.  The principal told me that he is delightful and that any teacher would be lucky to have him in their classroom.

Graham is attending our neighborhood school.  It is public, it draws from the area surrounding our house.  The permanent structure is under construction but when the school moves into that building, in the fall of 2012, it will be a very short walk from our home.  We did a lot of research last year and looked at several private schools and a parochial school.  What we found is that Graham would be best served in our local public school.

Recently, the school board made a decision that spells disaster for us.  With pressure from the neighborhood, the school has been designated a “language immersion” school.  This means that all children will spend every morning learning math and science in either Spanish or Japanese.  Immersion meaning that those languages will be the only ones spoken in the classroom for half the day.

What does that mean for a child who has a speech delay?  A child who tries with all his might, but who struggles with English?  A child who has been getting speech therapy since the age of 22 months?  It means that he cannot go to his neighborhood school.  It means that his neighborhood school, a public institution meant to serve the people in the neighborhood, those who reside in the area, does not serve our child.  Is this discrimination?  I think so.

I went to a meeting recently with other parents who are unhappy with the decision.  The goal was to let a school  board representative know how this decision affects our children.  It was an emotional meeting.  A woman, seven months pregnant with her third child, told of her typically developing child older child and her younger child with Downs’ syndrome and how they would not be able to attend the same school.  She was devastated as she was counting on the older daughter being able to look out for the younger.  Another woman, herself an immigrant and personally thrilled with the immersion decision for her own child, told the school board that her heart was breaking for the parents of special needs children and how unfair this decision was.  A kindergarten teacher who had taught special ed for seven years, told of her desire to teach all children and spoke of the importance of a diverse classroom, especially in a public neighborhood school.  Graham’s resource room teacher stood up and said that she has twins starting kindergarten in the fall and she wants them in a classroom with all kinds of kids, not just typically developing ones who are capable of learning math and science in another language.  A man wondered about the children who will be diagnosed with special needs later in their schooling – where will they go?

It all did no good.  The decision is made.  We have to find another alternative.  We are fortunate in that Graham’s wonderful resource room teacher is moving to an “option” school that will focus on technology.  She suggested even before the language immersion switch that this new school might be a good place for Graham.  Now it is our lifeline.  We applied during the open enrollment period and now we wait.  If he does not get in to that school, he will get bussed to another public school where the resource room teacher has the reputation of being lazy and very old school.  At this point in Graham’s life, the resource room teacher is almost more important than his actual teacher, so this prospect terrifies me.  But he can’t be in a classroom using another language for half the day.

I also wonder about Spencer, who will start kindergarten in the fall of 2012.  Although he is typically developing, I don’t like the idea of language immersion for him either.  I fully support foreign languages being taught in our schools, just not immersion style.  Will Spencer be able to get in to the option school?  Is there sibling priority?  If not, I will have kids at two different schools and that just makes me dizzy.

So, we wait.  We worry.  I remember being pregnant with Graham and being so worried about him.  I had had some bleeding about mid-way through my pregnancy and he sometimes seemed to be small for his size on ultrasound, and I was just so desperate to know that he was all right.  I remember saying to someone, “I just want him to be born so I can stop worrying.”



  1. I totally agree with you. I don’t see how the immersion style of language teaching helps you learn either the language or math/science. I can see how this would really hamper Graham. I am sure the option school will work out and will be a much better fit for him.

    Comment by matt — April 28, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

  2. Oh Dana, I’m sorry you’re confronting this. Public education in our country is just a giant cluster%^*& Our neighborhood school has a language immersion program but it’s not the only offering. We’re actually considering enrolling Nuni in the program for K, but we won’t enroll her in the school if she doesn’t get into the (lottery enrolled) program, because the performance is so poor. So frustrated at our collective options.

    Comment by Kate @ Savour Fare — April 28, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

  3. Oh, I so feel you on this one. The non-profit I work for is solely dedicated to the inclusion of children with disabilities and other special needs in community life and reading your story pains me. It fuels my fire though, so I am so glad you shared it. I also believe that the neighborhood school, where siblings can attend together, is most often the best case scenario for inclusion. Your sons are gorgeous, by the way.

    Comment by Torrie — April 28, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

  4. Dana: I’m so sorry. This is truly maddening. To make schools more and more specialized is a disservice to everyone. Currently, the “it” concept is that language immersion is the golden ticket to success in life. Leaves out everyone who just wants good, solid schools.

    Comment by Jeanne — April 28, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

  5. I am so glad to hear that Graham is doing well. The language immersion program sounds awful. I consider myself a product of messed up Washington State curriculum approaches and hate to see them doing it again to more kids. When I was in school the latest approach was ‘new math’ a smashed up mix of geometry, algebra, and calculus that just didn’t work. I have struggled with math ever since. I cannot fathom trying to learn math or science in a foreign language.

    Comment by Phoo-d — April 28, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

  6. I am local, and I know the school you are talking about. Perhaps you already have, but might I suggest you look at Green Lake as an alternative if you don’t get into the Option school you applied for? Both my kids went there, (daughter is now a 7th grader but my 4th grader still goes there). There are lots of special needs kids – both developmental and physical – so every kid sees kids of all abilities and they interact on a regular basis. It’s a small school as well, so each kid receives the attention they need. We also have an outstanding parent community that raised $100,000 at our last auction that pays for things like staff and swimming at Evans Pool. Anyway. Just a thought. Good luck to you.

    Comment by Chris @ Foible and Folly — April 28, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  7. ((Hugs)) I am so sorry you have been saddled with an additional worry for your sweet boy. I cannot understand why the public school system feels they should make immersion an all or nothing for this school. We have begun homeschooling this year, and I feel that Aiden is benefitting from it. His unique personality made me fear what would become of him in a traditional school setting. I sincerely hope that Graham is able to attend the new school his Resource Room teacher is moving to.

    Comment by Kathy — April 28, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

  8. First of all, that smile on Graham’s face could be a beacon for a sailor lost at sea. Even in shadow, it manages to radiate light.

    Second, I support you in your efforts to champion what’s right for your family. I hope you find a solution that, in the long run, fully meets Graham’s needs. Hang in there, friend.

    Comment by cheryl — April 28, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

  9. I am actually so incredibly repulsed by this idea that it’s insane. I think that across the nation it’s been proven that MOST kids struggle with literacy in English and I truly think that immersing them in another language for half a day is just going to confuse them and make things harder. Math and science are very technical and to be teaching them wholly in another language? Ridiculous.

    And i hate the idea of it segregating out kids with special needs. I think it’s way more important that kids learn how to interact with all types of members of society than that they learn how to speak Japanese. So frustrated for you Dana.

    Comment by Joanne — April 29, 2011 @ 12:00 am

  10. I’m a public school teacher in Michigan and it makes me so sad to hear stories like this. I’m frustrated because people who don’t know education are the ones in charge of telling us how to do better. Teachers know best what works and what doesn’t. Our governor is about to completely re-vamp our entire state’s approach to public education, including unlimited charter schools and reducing funding to already disadvantaged schools. There’s so much work to be done in our country to address this issue and everyone has an opinion because everyone has gone to school. Your story is one of many frustrated parents and is unfortunately too common. I wish you and your handsome boy the best of what your community can offer. Sometimes I just have to read “The Onion” website (and your recipes!) to stay optimistic about the world.

    Comment by Ali — April 29, 2011 @ 12:03 am

  11. What I would worry about is ok, yes, they are going to change and do the immersion thing. Then, who is to say a few years from now they realized it is not working out so well and you get new administrators in power and they say CANCEL PROGRAM. MOVE ON TO PLAN X Y or Z. I agree with Ali, the teachers are the ones that know what works. Politicians and bureaucrats do not, yet think they do. That is a dangerous belief to have.

    Comment by Vivian — April 29, 2011 @ 12:55 am

  12. Oh yes, most importantly, just keep loving Graham and Spencer as much as you do. I know that will never be changed nor interrupted by the administrators in your district.

    Comment by Vivian — April 29, 2011 @ 12:58 am

  13. I’m going to have to say that I take umbrage at the use of the word “discrimination” in this case. I do not believe that the school or school board is purposely trying to treat your darling son in an unjust way. It is unfortunate, to be sure, that your neighborhood school is changing. You are in an overwhelming and unpredictable place with regard to the education of your children and you can’t imagine how the change will work out in a positive way. Let me assure you, you will find a good fit for your son, for both your boy, you will.

    We moved to Salt Lake City, Utah three years ago from little old Anacortes, Washington. In Anacortes, we basically had no choices, but the schools were all fine. Here, we have a lot of choices, but not all of them are right for any given child. The first year here, my three children were at a neighborhood school together, but it became apparent that it was not the right fit for all of them and so now they are all three at different schools. Sure it’s more complicated, but the comfort I take is in the fact that they are all at places where they should be.

    I am sorry that what was working for you is no longer what you get, but I want to assure you that you will figure it out and all will be most well.

    Comment by Rachel — April 29, 2011 @ 2:52 am

  14. What a disappointing decision by the school. Hoping for the best for both your boys.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — April 29, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  15. Thanks for the up-date! I’ve really enjoyed your blog and am enjoying the conversation happening as a result of this post. Well done!

    Comment by Jess — April 29, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  16. I am thinking of you, I know how hard the waiting can be. He is a great kid, Beck and I were just sharing with Royal today how much Beck enjoyed meeting Graham. It was so sweet how Graham instantly wanted to play even though they had just met, such a sweet kid.

    Comment by Kirsten — April 30, 2011 @ 12:13 am

  17. It would be good if they made the immersion track optional so that some kids go to those classes and some kids go to regular English classes. But I highly disagree with everybody that said normal kids would have a hard time learning scientific subjects in English. In Turkey, a considerable percentage of students go to schools that teach math and science in English, some all the way from 5th grade, some in high school. And most universities offer their entire curriculum in science and engineering majors in English. All of my friends have learned fluent English and very good science this way (I’m in engineering). The Turkish student’s math level in 8th grade is much higher than that of an American student’s in 8th grade. (I went to elementary school in the US) Math does not depend so much on natural languages, it is a language of its own.

    Comment by Merve — April 30, 2011 @ 1:57 am

  18. Very FAIR and WELL written, Rachel! You must know and care for your children well in order to have them at 3 different schools, knowing what suits them the best.

    And Dana, I’m sorry you have to go through all this hassle. But knowing you, I know you will figure it out and all will be well. ((hugs)).

    Comment by Midori — April 30, 2011 @ 5:13 am

  19. Dana, I am so sorry, this is terribly upsetting, I am sure.

    I never had kids myself, and my experience with teaching (in the US) is limited to college level. I know this won’t bring you any comfort, quite the contrary, but even at the college level bad decisions are made, sometimes with good intentions.

    in my humble opinion, the main problem with all drastic changes is lack of flexibility. That often defeats the good they are trying to bring.

    I know you will surf through these waters, but I imagine it is not easy at all…

    hang in there, a warm hug going your way

    Comment by SallyBR — April 30, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

  20. Dana, this is my first visit to your site and I have enjoyed the experience immensely. I am sorry to hear about the difficulty you are having with the neihborhood school, but I beleive that everything happens for a reason and this may turn out to be the best think for you and your children. Having recently experianced the difficulties involved with special needs children (my nephew and his wife stayed with me for a year and thier twin boys have sever autisum) I know that a structured routine is important so I hope you are able to find an equitable solution soon. Gods speed.

    Comment by Michael — May 2, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  21. What a nightmare. Just as a 20-something reading about this, it seems like an illogical thing to do to any student. Just wait until those children get to college, and they are in Chem lab, and the only words coming to their heads are Japanese words. How confusing! Knowing a foreign language and being fluent is a gift, for sure….but why would you want to be learning something else completely new and challenging (like science), that you are going to need to do well in English in, in college? College and high school are difficult enough, without a language switch! Are you kidding me?!? It sounds like they are setting these kids up to be at a disadvantage when they get into college (where students are measured in timed exams!) and in the real world. At that point, students will have to be incredibly gifted to keep up.

    Comment by bobcat — June 3, 2011 @ 8:41 am

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