When Education Hits Home
This post isn't about my students or my preschool or even me as a teacher. This post comes from me as a Mommy. With my daughter's permission I want to share a bit of her story.
Maya is a biracial 7 year old living in a white home through the miracle of adoption. Her birth story is riddled with hurt and challenging circumstances of which I do not have permission to share. But difficult as they may be they have made my daughter who she is. When Maya's anxiety is so heightened that she feels shortness of breath, or she holds her hands over her ears just because of the noise of the blender, or the fact that she has never slept through the night in her life, I steal a line from my dear friend and say. "It's part of her recipe".
I started La Casa Grande Bilingual Academy because of Maya. She had preschool in her own home for 2 years. I then homeschooled her for Kindergarten. When it came time for first grade I thought to myself, I think I'll leave grade school to the experts. After all, my expertise is early childhood. So once we started talking about "real school" I became very intimidated. You see, my own story is one full of self-doubt, constant second guessing, and extreme fear of disappointing others.
I toured and interviewed what felt like every school within a 30 mile radius of our home. I understandably was very picky when it came to my daughter's education, but I finally did come to my choice and we enrolled her. Her first grade teacher was amazing! I have said repeatedly that if we could have hand-picked a teacher for our girl, we couldn't have done better than who we were assigned.
Second grade however has been a completely different story. Now before I go further, some of you readers know where I live and know of which school I am referring. This post is not intended to be a bashing of any particular school or much less of any individual. I also want to say that I have heard from many, MANY teachers both personal friends and through social media that this has been the most difficult year of their entire careers.
As Maya entered into second grade I realized she had a significant deficit in reading. I asked for early intervention and a possible individualized education plan. I was laughed at and testing or screening were never done. Obviously, I was not being taken seriously. During parent teacher conferences I realized throughout the conversation that the teacher had no idea which child she was conferencing about. I do not blame the teacher. When my child is one in a class of 28 other students and resources are so few, I can imagine any type of personalization is difficult. Maya's dad and I also began to realize that she was not being taught some of the basics of what we would have thought common place. Science and Social Studies were not given any time in her school week.
Then came the hardest part of all. Maya experienced in one year more bullying than I expected her to experience in all six years of elementary school. Kids were unbearably cruel and she came home crying more days than not. She was yelled at by the adults for things as simple as getting a drink of water, and holding her pencil the "wrong way." Then she was the victim of direct racism that could not be overlooked or explained away. Maya already deals with anxiety but the bullying got to the point where she was begging me to not go to school. Maya already deals with a sleep disorder but the bullying got to the point where she was unable to get even the basic rest her body needed. Maya's personality was changing right before my eyes. She was tired and grumpy and irritable all the time. Our entire family dynamic was suffering as a result of these circumstances. Even our weekends did not provide respite as we seemed to spend them worrying about the upcoming school week. I knew our situation was far from perfect but I didn't know what I could do about it. I had already spoken to the teachers and principal.
And then I did something I probably should have been doing all along. I listened.
I stopped and I listened.
When my young child was sobbing and asking me to please not send her back to school, I listened. A mother knows her child. These were not the cries of a child trying to get out of doing something she finds unpleasant. These were the pleas of my baby and I am supposed to be her safe person. So I listened. With the help of the book pictured below, some incredible friends, a trusting husband/baby daddy, and countless articles and other research I decided the best choice for us was to take control of Maya's education.
Akilah S. Richards in her book "Raising Free People states: unschooling is a curiosity-led approach to learning without testing and predefined curricula. Unschoolers see learning as an organic by-product of living and being a child. Children follow their interests and parents offer resources, which can include direct instruction and books, for their children to pursue, exploring what they enjoy.
My friends and husband also played a huge part in this decision. Cheering me on and encouraging me as the avalanche of self-doubt came my way was a huge piece of the puzzle. Recommending this book, and telling me, "You are an educator and you are educated!" or "Your child is so lucky to have you." and even "You're one smart bitch!" is the push I needed to know that I am capable of this and we are going to succeed farther than we did before. I have always been very intentional about maximizing learning opportunities wherever we may be with my preschool students. I am now adjusting that to include my second grader as well.
Sadly, I know peers and others will continue to be mean to her and say unkind things. It still happens to me now and again. Worst of all, I know she'll be the victim of racism again in her life. I know I can't keep my child in a hurt-free bubble. But for now, I can protect her from a system that was not created for her.
We recently returned from a trip to Kauai. She learned about dolphins by watching them swim next to our boat. On our way home we visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial. She learned loads about American history that day. I'd say we kicked off homeschooling/unschooling for this new semester well. So here's to listening to my child and a successful and educational 2022!
Keep learning and keep playing! Oh and please keep listening!