Part 1-Chasing the Dream: When School Choice Seems Like the Only Option

They say the cobbler’s children have no shoes and that’s a little how I felt when it became apparent that our daughter had a reading disability, difference, gift or however you are most comfortable hearing it described. While I’ve personally had to work really hard to simply be adequate at many things, nothing has ever come easier to me than learning to read and write. In second grade, I remember hiding behind the bookcases in the back of the classroom to read and avoid math and other subjects that were less appealing to me at the time. Surely my daughter, whom I had read to incessantly, would also be a good reader. Even though she’s adopted, my constant reading must have marked her in some way- not the case. At least in the context of being the precocious reader I was expecting.

age 4 writing her name for the first time
Isabella writes her name for the first time.
Writing Isabella
At the age of 4, it is not unusual for the letter B to be backwards.

Wondering How to Dream

Our daughter reads emotions better than I could ever hope to. If being dyslexic really is a gift then perhaps one of her talents is that instead of reading words she can read people. She would be great working a room at a convention. She is athletic, artistic and mechanical. She is social and talkative when she wants to be, but she can’t easily read words. She just can’t. Because she can’t read words, it’s hard for her to believe that she is smart. When most of the world does something with minimal effort that’s so hard for you, it’s difficult to believe you can achieve. So, when the headmaster of a private school for reading disabilities/differences asked us why we wanted our daughter to attend his school, my answer was twofold:

1. The neuropsychologist who provided our independent evaluation specifically recommended two private schools for language disabilities, and, naturally, we chose the one closest to our house. OK. Perhaps we put a little more thought into it, but we had heard good things about the school, and it seemed to be well thought of by the dyslexia community in our area.
2. We want her to dream about her future!

Dreaming about what you want to be when you grow up seems little to ask, but how can our daughter dream when she perceives herself as less than her peers in so many academic areas. As parents, the message we are hearing is that a traditional middle school and high school will be challenging to get through, and her diploma options could be limited. She could be like some of the more famous dyslexic people like Richard Branson, Henry Winkler  or even Cher, and break through all of the barriers and overcome the obstacles, but we’re not willing to bank on it. Those beautiful people are really the exceptions.

I don’t think my daughter really knows how to dream anymore. It ended by third or fourth grade when the academic gap became apparent. Right now, the only way we can teach her to dream comes with a cost.

Cher is a great role model as someone who has overcome a learning difference and become a major success.
Cher is one of the most famous celebrities with a reading difference.

The Hornet’s Nest

Our daughter goes to a private Montessori school with services at a public school. We love the Montessori school, but, in fact, we are public school advocates at heart. Yet for many reasons, the public education system just never worked for our daughter. I have not entirely given up on it, but sometimes families like ours need other choices for our children to be properly educated. Our daughter has a severe reading difference, and a neuropsychologist pointed out to us that she cannot easily learn in a traditional school environment. Even so, we are not carte blanche for school choice. It is way too complicated of an issue to present as black or white. Like other families in our situation, we are just singularly focused on getting an education for our daughter that will allow her to dream, and we are unwilling to accept that we have to pay for it.

The Cost of the Dream

So, our family, along with many others, carries the torch of the dream, often resulting in gut-wrenching and wallet-emptying choices. Stay tuned for Part 2 to read more about the cost of the dream.

Reading Progress & the Launch of Teach My Kid to Read

Progress, progress, progress. The overall impression from the tutor and some of the administrators is that our daughter progressed at Camp Dunnabeck. Mostly we hear that she is making incredible progress, but we simply need to hear the word “progress” to be relieved. It has been years since the word progress has been used relative to reading skills without the terms gradually or inconsistently preceding it. Progress. She is improving. She can get better. She can strive. We can hope. She is not just artistic, creative and athletic. She is smart-period. We never had doubt.

Bella flying
Isabella at age two is flying over the ocean.

It’s time to go home. It’s time to figure out school for next year. It’s been six weeks of commuting and staying in rental properties in remote areas with mixed WiFi and cell service. For these past few days, we are in a studio, basement apartment two miles from the camp. It is Hudson River School of American Landscape painters breathtaking, but so secluded. I’ve had a fever each night along with aches and pains in my neck and shoulders. I’m ready to go home. I miss Tiana. I miss our cats. School starts in less than a month, and we haven’t figured out what we are doing. It’s time to make a decision. A decision doesn’t mean we can’t change paths, but we need to make a decision.

millerton view
The view from our studio apartment near Camp Dunnabeck.

Back to our Montessori School. Isabella loves her school. We are fortunate in that with all of her learning challenges relative to reading; her confidence is still intact. At her darkest, she shouts out that she is dumb, but most of the time she is OK. When I ask her where she wants to go to school this fall she says she wants to go back to her current Montessori school. It is familiar, and she feels safe there. They make great efforts to teach her, but it is not a school for language differences, nor do they have multi-sensory reading services delivered with fidelity. It is just a good place with lots of committed teachers that do their best to encourage each child’s strengths. Our daughter needs more than that. She needs specialized services so that she can grow up to be independent and have the necessary life skills to follow her dreams.

Multi-sensory services with fidelity should be offered in every school. Most schools are not set up to deliver those services, so the solutions and costs fall to the parents to figure out, or not.

Solutions and advocacy. I have spent my career creating content for different learners. Some of my time has been devoted to creating content for non-traditional students, but most of my time has been focused on traditional or what some call neuro-typical learners. Creating so-called traditional content is not where I belong right now. I’m tired of just talking and listening. I need to be part of a plan or the action. It’s cheesy, but being up here surrounded by all this natural beauty has given me the strength and courage to share our story.

Teach My Kid to Read. I hope to grow Teach My Kid to Read into an organization. While that is being figured out I will continue to share our story and stories of other families. Continue to follow us to see how services work out this fall, and to learn about other topics related to reading and learning differences. If you would like to get involved with Teach My Kid to Read contact me at: marion.waldman@gmail.com

Home School? Private School? Why the School System Doesn’t Work for All Kids

The upshot of the neuropsychological assessment is that our daughter should go to a school specific to kids with language disabilities or we should consider home schooling. I apologize for the semantics as I usually say reading or language differences, but this is how everything was presented to us, and this is the beginning of our story. Whether it is a gift, difference or disability can be debated with input in another post.

HOME SCHOOLING?
I was totally floored by this suggestion, and certainly not proud of my judgmental, knee-jerk reaction, but once I saw the price tag of the recommended schools, and the way our lives could be altered, I became what my old corporate vocabulary used to term “guardedly optimistic.” Now, it’s not that I think home schooling is awful. There are kids that could thrive in a home school environment, and for some families, it is a great choice. Look at Sawyer Fredericks, the winner of The Voice. There’s a mature guy. For us, though, home schooling is not a natural or a good choice. Our daughter is social and athletic. She lists eating lunch with her friends as one of her favorite subjects. She thrives being around her peers, and it would be a crime to remove her from a more social setting.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS FOR LANGUAGE DISABILITIES
My gut tells me that the best solution for my daughter is a private school for language differences. Why a school for language differences? She wouldn’t be stuck with me all day, and she would be around other smart and gifted kids with challenges similar to her own, and most important, teachers that know how to teach to dyslexics. Why is it so hard for kids with language/reading differences to get access to schools with teachers trained to teach them? Parents of kids with hearing or visual impairments don’t fight to be taught with sign language or Braille-as far as I know. Why are multi-sensory curricular interventions a fight?

So, in the best scenario, we consider a school for language differences. Here are the challenges we face:

1.The nearest school is an hour and twenty minutes away.
2.The annual tuition is challenging.
3.Our lives could be irrevocably altered.

While a school specific to language disabilities is a great recommendation there’s the issue of our life in a car. Assuming she will participate in extracurriculars, she will have a crazy, long day, and I will be in the car for potentially six hours unless I park myself somewhere in the vicinity of the school, and hang out all day. When would I run? What about our dog? But hey, this is about our daughter and her future.

Then there’s the issue of cost. Unless we win Powerball or Mega Millions, yes, I’m willing to give that a try, we may as well throw our retirement plans out the window. My spouse and I will be paying back the tuition or recovering from our depleted savings until we die or ultimately through all of our assets and savings. The logical solution is that the school district will pay, and I’m willing to take up that fight, but logic has never been my friend, and I’m tired.

Finally, there’s my spouse. While our daughter could easily adjust, with minor complaints, to life in a small town, how would we get through the next seven years being apart? My spouse needs to stay in her job for five more years before she can retire so how would we make that work? Rent a place near the school and then come home on weekends? Buy a house halfway between her job and our daughter’s school? The dog would come with us, but what about the cats? Any choice rocks our world, but there comes a point where the sacrifice is the difference between seeing our daughter thrive versus barely get through middle school or high school.

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
So, knowing we need all the information we can get to make a decision, on Friday we spent a few hours at The Kildonan School, a private school in Amenia, New York, for kids with language disabilities. Stay tuned!

Kildonan admissions
Our daughter goofing off by the admissions building at The Kildonan School.