Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Power of a Positive Environment

Between February and June of this year it was proven to us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what kind of extreme power lies in a positive school environment.

I'll use 2 children as examples:

Child #1

- feels anxious and overwhelmed all day at school (when he is able to attend)
- wakes up every morning with severe stomach cramps due to anxiety over school
- has to be encouraged every morning to "just try" to get ready for school
- has many mornings where his anxiety is so intense he cannot get out the front door
- has had such severe panic attacks over going to school that he has thrown up in the front hall before ever leaving the house
- missed 6 months of school in Grade 5 and attended sporadically (at best) for the first few months of Grade 6
- was unable to participate in school sporting events, outdoor activity days or school-related field trips, and stayed home on days when these events were to to take place
- has taken anti-anxiety medication since the age of 7 for a diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- had difficulty making and maintaining friendships
- was picked on mercilessly by "friends" for being open and honest about his anxiety symptoms and what made him nervous and anxious
- had average marks, at best, and was consistently told he was not putting in enough effort

Child #2

- jumps out of bed every morning excited to go to school (Yes, really!)
- sits at breakfast every morning and talks my ear off about all the cool things he is going to do at school today
- is regularly at the door ready to go before I am
- has not had a full-blown panic attack in 4 months
- knows what to do and who to speak to when he is feeling anxious.  And when he does this, he feels supported
- he trusts in his teachers and his friends.  Something he has never experienced before
- makes sure I email the teacher about extra work if he has to take a sick day from school
- made me deliver a science project to the school on a sick day so it would not be handed in late.  It was that important to him!
- has, since February, participated in a school ski trip, a regional track meet at York University, a salmon-release field trip, a school oratorical competition, the annual Spring Concert, an outdoor Sports Day, the annual field day/play day, etc, etc, etc.
- uttered the statement "I wish school could keep going through the summer"  Wow!
- received his Second Term report card (first one from new school) with nothing less than a B- and glowing remarks from all of his teachers
- is excited about Grade 7 and all of the clubs and activities he plans to join
- and last, but most certainly not least, IS OFF HIS MEDICATION!

Child #1 and Child #2 are the same child.  Less than 5 months apart.  Child #1 existed in my home for 6 years.  Child #2 emerged in February.  I could cry with relief!

It is so very basic.  Trust, encouragement, support, kindness.  That's it.  

That type of environment has always existed within our home, but we struggled to find it in the public school system.  Despite a principal we loved, who did everything within her limited power to do right by my son, that environment was elusive.

He struggled.  He cried.  He failed tests.  He vomited.  He was scared.  Of everything!

And when I felt I had done everything within my power for the past 7 years, and had cried myself to sleep enough times to flood the house, a call came.

A call from someone within the public school system who had worked closely with my son.  Someone who knew he was struggling and that the broken public system was not enough for him.  She suggested (off the record, of course) that I look into private school.

And so I did.  If you have ever met me you know that I do nothing half-assed, especially when it comes to my kid!  I researched, I made calls, I surfed the web, I attended expos and open houses.  And I did it.  Finally.  I found the trusting, encouraging, supportive, kind environment that my son so desperately needed.

Teachers who want to be there.  Who will talk to parents, answer emails, attend meetings, send extra work for problem areas, correspond with tutors, give up their breaks to help a child who is struggling.  Teachers who know that every kid is different and every kid needs different things.  And class sizes that allow them to do that.  To teach, and nurture, and really get to know, each and every student that walks into their classroom.  The kind of teachers that my child needs to have.  Always!

I do believe there are teachers like this in the public system as well, but I have seen with my own eyes that even the good teachers in the public system are so overwhelmed by their class sizes that a lot of great teachers with good intentions are not able to be the kind of teachers they wish they could be.  (Please don't send hate mail.  Just my opinion.)

And so Child #1 has become Child #2.  Medication free.  Happy.  Enthusiastic about learning.  Dedicated to his education.  Excited about the future.

And so thank you, to everyone who has been a part of our new-found private school journey.  Thank you for allowing Child #1 to come out of the shadows and become the amazing human being this mother has always known him to be.

From the bottom of my heart.....thank you!

~ The Lazy Gourmet

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