THE “D” WORD
GETTING YOUR CHILD THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL
When my daughter got to high school, I went in to see the Counselor right away. I asked what could be set up to deal with the situation of her missing school often. In California, if a child misses 30 days of school, a home tutor is provided. I explained that this is not our case. She would probably not be out in one big block but might miss consistently on and off. I was patted on the shoulder and told we would deal with it when it came up.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long before they understood what I had been predicting. At that point, I was dealing with hostile teachers who felt that just making up the work was not enough. She missed much of the work by not being in class. They kept asking me was she really sick. She looked OK to them. I assured them that the times she was out were indeed valid and that she should be praised for the superhuman effort she made to be there as often as she was.
I requested just pass/fail marks from some of the teachers. Others seemed to understand and gave her extra work she could do at home to catch up. She had to drop math because she was so far behind.
The second semester went a bit better for her both because it was a lighter schedule without the math and because the teachers she had then were aware of the problem and helped her out.
For example: one of the teacher's had a policy that when a child missed class, she was responsible for making up the homework by finding out what the assignment was from other students. This didn't work at all because the other students often didn't have a clue and Dara was out too often. It was the teacher's responsibility to give her the past weeks assignments. Too bad it took a whole semester to get this point across to this teacher.
In hindsight, I see that I had the right idea when I went in to speak to the Counselor to head off problems before they happened, but I should not have let him show me out of the office until we had come up with some solutions. I should have met with the teachers right off and made sure they understood. Partly, it was Dara's own insistence that she could handle it that deterred me, but many of the teachers were very open to helping her out when they understood the problem.
My daughter had a bowel resection the summer before 10th grade. She was in school more, but the problem she had then was that she was up all night going to the bathroom and had a terrible time waking up in the morning. We put her on a late schedule at school and she took some of her classes through a tutoring program in our school district set up for kids who work, where she meet with the teacher once a week and did the work on her own. This has worked well for her.
My best advice to you is to find an ally at the school. In our case, the school nurse went to bat for us. I just decided my child was going to go to high school and they would have to find a way to meet her special needs. Some flexibility and creativity is needed. And it is possible.
I realize this is not exactly a specific formula for how to handle the school situation. While each case probably has its own uniqueness, generally here is what I suggest:
• Talk to the school even before problems arise. Make sure the teachers have information. The CCFA Teacher pamphlet is very helpful.
• Get an ally at the school who understands what the situation is and can help through the red tape. For instance, the Principal told us to talk to the Vice Principal, the Vice Principal told us to talk to the Counselor, the Counselor suggested we talk to the Vice Principal. When we told the Counselor that we'd already been to the Vice Principal, he then sent us to an alternative school in the district basically for kids who often have drug problems at High School. They sent us back to the Counselor. Very frustrating.
The School Nurse said, "I'll take this to the appropriate party and get an answer for you." Got to love her.
• If your local school will not work with you, call the School Board. Find out what your rights are.
• Be creative.
• BE PERSISTENT
Dara was asked recently to write on the subject of the most difficult obstacle in her high school years. I have Included her own words here because I think she sums it up very well.
"The hardest, most difficult obstacle I was challenged with to get my diploma, was that of having Crohn's disease. I was very ill my freshmen and sophomore years, missing over sixty days of school my freshmen year. Life for me in the past four years has been a day to day accomplishment. With every hurdle I jumped, there seemed to be another even larger and even more unfamiliar than the last.
As much as Crohn's was new to me, it was even newer to the school I attend. Having set rules and policies for absences, my Counselor, Principal, and Teachers were not always accommodating.
The constant conflicts were due to a seemingly indestructible paradigm stating that there is one way of operating a school.
As a senior in high school, I can reflect on my efforts and understand; bringing light to people's eyes takes time. I can only hope I have had some impact on how unexpected conflicts are dealt with in the future. "
It is obvious that she has climbed over the obstacles presented and has become a stronger, wiser person in the process. As she takes her diploma, you know I will be one proud Mom.
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber