Despite the perfect July weather -- weather that should, more logically, be inspiring a blog post about the magic of the all-too-short Canadian summer -- I'm thinking about school.
It's not my life-long obsession with school supplies that's triggered this post, by the way. It's the ghosts of school years past, present, and future.
Let's start with the ghost of school years future, because that's the easy one. (Okay, it's easy if I focus on the immediate future and zero in on my family only.)
I have two kids starting college this fall. I'm busy helping them to fill out the endless stream of college-related paperwork that keeps showing up on the kitchen counter. They're happy, excited, and anxious. I'm mostly happy, excited, and anxious. I can't wait until we can channel the anxiety in a more productive manner -- by shopping for school supplies.
Then there's the ghost of school years present.
I just finished enrolling my ten-year-old son in a fabulous alternative school in our neighbourhood: one that specializes in helping students who have autism spectrum disorders and other conditions that affect learning to get past the issues that block learning so that they can thrive. (That's a horrible sentence, but I felt like I needed to spit it out in one breath. Please forgive me.) Anyway, my son has met a bunch of his future classmates (thanks to a birthday party invite from one of the families) and he's eager to give school another chance. I am, too.
I just wish the services that we're purchasing for him (and not easily, I might add) were available to every child who needs them. Ability to pay should not affect access to services. Isn't that a long-held Canadian value? If it is, could someone please explain to me when, as a society we decided that a user-pay system was dreadfully un-Canadian in health care but perfectly acceptable when it comes to education?
Just to be clear: This user is paying for access to appropriate educational services for her child, out of necessity, not choice.
Finally, there's the ghost of school years past.
We just learned some valuable information about our college-bound son this past week -- information that will hopefully allow him to make the most of his college experience. A psycho-educational assessment revealed that he is both gifted and that he has a functional learning disability in certain areas. The assessment included a summary of comments made on his report cards from kindergarten through Grade 12. As you move from paragraph to paragraph, you can see his enthusiasm for school fizzle out and behavioral problems emerge.
I remember a conversation I had with a school official, back when my son was in Grade 8, right after another one of my sons (who was then in Grade 6) had just been diagnosed with a learning disability. I asked the school official if my oldest son should also be assessed. The school official told me that there were only so many assessments allocated to each school each year; and because my son wouldn't be one of their students next year, they didn't want to use one of their assessments on him. Besides, he wasn't a priority case. His problems were behavioral -- not the result of a learning disability or anything like that.
I'm still mulling over that conversation many years later, thinking about opportunities lost and the kids who ultimately pay the price for lean-and-mean educational budgets. Quotas and kids don't make a good mix. When a kid needs access to services, that kid needs access immediately. It's a concept that the power-brokers in our society seem to grasp brilliantly when they're allocating budget dollars to the zero to age six developmental bracket, but it's a concept that gets erased from the blackboard the moment kids move out of that favored funding bracket and head into the early school years.
Again, I'm left wondering why.
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I watched the most inspiring documentary ever (well, the most inspiring documentary I've watched recently) last weekend. It's about two teachers who decide to re-introduce a theatre program to a sports-focused inner-city school, with amazing results. If you want to feel good about learning and life, I can't recommend OT: Our Town highly enough.