There was never any question that we would send our daughter to public school. We were living in a small, diverse urban school district, and we hoped that our daughter would get accepted into one of the magnet schools of our choice. She didn’t. We had a choice. So, we enrolled her in a private Montessori school with the intent of moving back into the public school system the following year once the lottery re-opened. We never had the chance.
Once our daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability, she was ineligible for the lottery. Matter of fact, we were told that two elementary schools offered reading services, and she would be enrolled in whichever one had an opening. We decided that staying in the private Montessori school was the best decision. It wasn’t easy, but we had that choice.
After several years, our daughter was not making adequate progress in the public school system. A private school for language differences was recommended. I wondered if we could use our 529 college savings plan to pay. We couldn’t. The funds were only eligible for higher education. If we didn’t do something now, higher education was moot.
For families like ours, using our 529 education savings to pay for a specialized school is a solution. It is an imperfect solution as it leaves out the many people who are unable to put aside money in a 529 to save for their kid’s college education. For the general population, there is concern that it creates a broader class gap in education, and this is valid. So, it is with mixed emotions that I embrace this piece of the Republican tax overhaul. I see it as a short-term solution for families like ours who have documented proof that the public school is not working for them, and private, specialized schools are necessities. For everyone else, I’m not sure. #Dyslexia
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.
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.
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.