The latest thing that I am tormenting myself about is the decision as to where to send CD for kindergarten. My sons both went to a Jewish private school for their elementary years. While the school is too religious for us, the parent body for the most part are just as non-observant as we are so it hasn't caused much of a problem. The school provides a really good education and has been, for the most part, a very nurturing environment. For a while, I assumed that we would send CD there too. Our local public school happens to be very good but the class sizes are much larger than the ones in the private school and they don't have all the technology and multi-sensory teaching tools that the private school does.
CD does not do well with new authority figures. There are also some pretty predictable sets of circumstances that set off an act out/shut down (fight or flight) response in CD. In pursuing the admissions process to the private school I have been not only unimpressed but extremely disappointed in the way the school has responded to me in my communications with them. The admissions process includes having the child play with a couple of other children while being observed. CD will likely do fine with that if she knows a parent is right outside the door. She loves playing with new friends. After the play, however, she will be expected to go with a learning specialist for a pre kindergarten academic evaluation.
Here is the summary of my interactions thus far:
Q: If my daughter has difficulties separating, can a parent come with her for the evaluation?
Q: My daughter has some stranger anxiety. Can I come in a couple of times with her so she can meet the learning specialists before the evaluation?
A: No. We have many shy kids, the learning specialists are great.
Same Q to the principal (she knows my family for ten years): Can I come with my daughter to visit a few times. . .
A: No. We can build in a few minutes beforehand for play. We cannot allow you to bypass our admissions process as it is important that we get to know your daughter.
Q: If she doesn't do well with cooperating with the evaluation, will she be given another chance?
I assure you, the emails have way lengthier attempts on my part to explain that I WANT them to get to know my child but it is not my child that they will get to know if they expect her to simply go to another room with an unknown adult and be expected to answer questions. We have been in many evaluation situations. Her rate of cooperation has been 0/0. She won't answer questions. She won't even tell the audiologist when she can hear something. Not even while sitting on my lap. We have also been at birthday parties where CD is expected to take a turn on a trampoline while a staff member of some kid gym place structures the turn taking. We have been to CD's dance class presentation. She can't participate. Her anxiety levels are too high. Her brain senses a threat, however not real, and her body responds in a protective way. When the eyes of an unfamiliar adult are on her, she freezes. If she is forced to interact she will become hostile.
I avoided labeling stuff to the admissions director and principal. I don't need my daughter labeled as "PTSD" before she walks into the school. Labels tend to stick. So I called it "stranger anxiety," it sounds less scary and it is something very common in preK kids.
After several attempts to be heard, I finally wrote an email to the principal and laid it out there. My daughter is not a shy new applicant. She is a trauma survivor. If the goal is to get to know my child, my job as her parent is to help you understand how to best get to know her. I explained that if you saw her in her current school you would see the real CD. If her admissions is dependent on whether or not she can leave with a stranger and show them what she knows, we'd better discuss this. If this will lead to her rejection from the school, this is something we should know beforehand. I think I made myself clear in that final email. I have been trying to recover from the rage I have been experiencing surrounding this experience and not allow myself to hate the whole school over these communications. I am having a hard time. The principal has since left a message on my home number (after I specifically gave her my cell number) and said that she was a bit taken aback by my email, that she thought that she was being helpful and can we talk.
And then the public school system. I wrote about my experience with the child study team. They interacted with my daughter like they have children telling them that they are mean and ugly every day of the week. Yesterday, now that the kids are back in session, I sent an email to the public school principal and asked her, if when she has a chance, could we talk. I, maybe, spent three sentences on why I wanted to get to know the school better and wanted to know how we could work on a transition plan to minimize CD's anxiety.
She wrote me back, on a Sunday, within TWO HOURS. She would be happy to meet with us, show us around the school and answer any questions that we have. She understands that the transition to kindergarten can be very difficult for many of the children. Oh, and how does January 17 work for you and your husband?
There is something I just can't shake about all this. The private school preaches "Tikun Olam," the name I use as a blogger. This is not a school that focuses on Jewish rituals and rabbinic law, it focuses more on humanism through a Jewish lens. Tikun Olam is a Hebrew term which refers to a belief that each person has an obligation to make the world a better place in his or her own way. So here my husband and I go and try to do a little tikuning of our own, but low and behold, there is money to spend on a million dollar renovation of the school but apparently money ran out when it came to increasing the school's ability to work with children with anything outside of zero emotional challenges.
I hope that I fall in love with the public school.