Vermonters for Better Education
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AVOIDING A FIGHT
"My son is now in college; my daughter is a junior in high school…My children both thrived in elementary school, were good students, participated in sports and music, and had many friends. They enjoyed learning and admired their teachers…
"Everything turned around in 7th grade. The public school has an excellent reputation for its support of the arts. Interestingly enough, my son is a music nut and has been since the age of four. The music teachers recognized his ability and challenged and engaged him. That was the only positive experience he had there.
"Within a few months, he was quiet, socially withdrawn, and had stomach aches. He was being physically and verbally abused by a group of students in eighth grade. One kid spit on his shoes, and another punched him in the stomach. He was slammed into lockers when he walked down the hall. He hated getting out of the car in the morning as he had to walk through the student lounge to get to his locker and this was apparently the hang-out for several of the kids who didn't like him. In addition, students were dealing pot outside in sight of most students and in some cases, inside the school. I spoke with the assistant principal about these instances on more than one occasion and didn't get much of a response other than......this is a big school, with lots of students, we can't be all places all the time, etc. And on it went.
"My son commented several times that he couldn't get over the general lack of respect within the building, particularly how bad the language (swearing) was and how the teachers didn't do anything even when they observed very inappropriate behavior and language.
"During the summer between 7th and 8th grade, my son was out of town and one of his long-time friends and class-mates called. I asked him what was happening…to my son.
"…He told me that he once saw a kid pick up my son and throw him on the ground…He told me that my son was just going to have to become more physically aggressive and start punching people back.
"So, I spent the first 12 years of my son’s life teaching him it's not okay to hit people and if someone hits him, he should report it to school administrators. And I spent the rest of that summer teaching him that if a person hits him, he should jump on him, and punch him until they back off.
"This was not the education I hoped my son would get. That fall, the inevitable happened and though the physical attacks stopped, the overall school climate continued to deteriorate…During that year, he decided he would like to check out a nearby Catholic school (the family is not Catholic). He enjoyed his visit there, but had to consider the challenge of travel, new friends, and the lack of a strong music program which was his passion…The decision was his.
"When I picked him up after school one day in early June, he announced that he made up his mind to go to the Catholic school. When I asked him why, he told me that he observed something at his public school that day that finalized his decision. He was walking down the hall during change of classes, when one the students yelled to a teacher in front of him (we'll call the teacher John Smith) ‘F--k You John Smith,’ to which the teacher replied, ‘Same to you buddy.’ My son said though his music teachers were great, music classes would occupy a small part of the day and he didn't want to spend the rest of it in a place where people talked and acted like that.
"My son transferred to the Catholic school and attended school there for three years (where he did quite well)…
"I neglected to mention that
during my son’s situation at the public school, I was appointed to the
school board to serve out another member's term and was re-elected twice,
serving five years…" Name withheld upon request
SAVING A SENIOR
"Our son attended our local school, and had a reasonably good time of it. His sister, three years younger, managed somehow to get connected to a group of friends who dragged each other down, challenging authority, refusing to join in the academics, mocking athletes, scorning the extra-curricular activities, and heckling the ‘straight’ students as ‘jerks and jocks.’ She was bored to death, in fact, and the school's
consistent response was to dilute the demands they put on her. I was worried that she would not live long if she stayed, but my wife felt that we should give the school a chance.
"At the beginning of her senior year, she came home with her schedule. Where was French IV? Where was Advanced Algebra? A flurry of phone calls ensued. Sorry, my daughter was a little late last spring in returning her forms, and the classes had already filled up. It seems that Juniors had been allowed to fill up these Senior required courses. Could she take these courses at a neighboring school, where places were
available. Sorry, nothing we can do, said the school.
"So I called my old Prep school, the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Was there any such thing as getting a needy student in at the last minute? Well, maybe. An interview was scheduled the next day, we drove down, the assistant headmaster telephoned a girl whose roommate had dropped out over the summer, and found a bed for our daughter. Classes at Berkshire started four days later, and so we scrambled around, got everything ready, found financing, and took her down.
"On our return, there was a message from the guidance counselor (at her old public school). Where is our daughter? She has not been in class this week.
"When we explained what we had done, all kinds of people from the school called. Couldn't we work things out? Can we give the school another chance? No.
"At Berkshire, she took a science course, which she had successfully avoided here. She was required to read 12 novels and dramas in her literature course, exactly 200 percent of what she was missing here. She was found profoundly deficient in basic algebra, and we hired extra tutoring to get her up to speed at Berkshire. She was in two school plays, helped out the cheerleaders, and made some wonderful and continuing friends.
"When we recount to her some of her escapades while she was living with us now ten years ago, she shakes her head and says, ‘I think I was completely crazy back then.’ If we had not been able to give her a completely new start in schooling, I find my vision of her life very depressing.
"Sometimes the only way a
school can help a child is to send that child to a different school… "
Bruce P. Shields, Wolcott
AN EDUCATION FOR "THE WHOLE CHILD"
"I have two children. One is a freshman at college and the other is in first grade. My oldest graduated from (a Vermont public) high school and was in the top 3 percent of her class as well as nationally. My first grader is in private school.
"I cannot tell you exactly when and how we came to the resolution that our desire was to go with private school the second time around. After watching and listening to my oldest child (who was very popular with students and staff) and seeing her life in a public school controlled by too much money and not enough value-based education we new we could not watch it again for another 12 years. This decision did not come easy…But we needed an educational setting that worked with us as parents and not against us. Not that the public system worked against us deliberately…by the time the kids are in the 5th grade we started to feel disconnected from the system as parents. The feeling was we were kept at arms length in the middle grade years…
"For our youngest we chose a private school for the focus on kids, education and the concern for the whole child – meaning emotional, educational, moral and spiritual development. I might add that we do not attend church on a regular basis but do feel some guidance from that area in life is important to children. A school where it is accepted to say the pledge of allegiance, or to say a prayer for thanks. A school where there are rules and not kids "sucking face" in the halls with adults walking by them. A school where kids having money is not everything and the competition for clothing and pierced body parts and makeup are the not the priority of the day.
"Don't misunderstand me, my oldest child is more than a parent could ever ask for and she came through the public system in good condition, but…We find we are now in a situation where the school works with us to parent the whole child. Not a school that has its customers in bondage because the parents have no choice. When a school knows that it can only attract students based on being competitive, you will get the best possible product for the best cost…" Name withheld upon request
TUITION TOWN SUCCESS
"My wife and I live in (the tuition town of) Elmore and …we enjoy the ability to choose our school after sixth grade. Until that time we must send our kids to Morristown or Elmore.
"Our son (who had a reading problem) chose to attend Craftsbury Academy
and it has been entirely the correct choice for him. He is now a high school freshman and is doing well. He will finish his school days in Craftsbury and is currently on a college-bound track. Of course, we must transport him the 20-30 minute trip to and from Craftsbury. But I must say that the Wolcott School District has been incredibly helpful. After approaching the School Board, they allowed our son to ride the Wolcott bus from Elmore to Wolcott and then , because Craftsbury sends a bus to pick up tuition students from Wolcott, he rides the Craftsbury bus on to school. All the school officials have been very supportive of OUR CHOICE.
"Whether Craftsbury will be the cat's meow for our daughter, who is currently in 5th grade at Morristown, remains to be seen.
"Our daughter does enjoy the many extracurricular activities available in the larger Morristown system. We felt, since she is not being particularly challenged academically, why not partake of voice, drama, band, and whatever else she desires? After sixth grade we will once again have our choice…
"My wife and I are totally for school choice and some kind of funding to
follow the student. We tell our representative every chance we get…. The current choices available exist only in towns like Elmore….J.B. McKinley, Elmore
SEEING HIM SMILE AGAIN
"My son was at the Underhill I.D. school. His report card in November indicated he was doing well: 2's and 3's on his remedial reading report card and a very upbeat message from the teacher. She said ‘he's not my worst student, but he's not my best student, either.’ I thought as long as he's happy, I don't need a rocket scientist in the family. Two weeks later at a Thanksgiving holiday dinner put on by the school, this same teacher came up to me and said the school counselor would be calling me…
"I agreed to the testing because I wanted to be a good parent and see academically where things were going wrong. I also hired a tutor to help my son in his reading. The school performed an Achenbach test on my son which a) he was too young to qualify for and b) wasn't geared for ADHD as much as for severe emotional problems. They said he was severely depressed, said he wanted brothers and sisters…and he thought the school and myself thought he was stupid. I asked the special education teacher if she thought the pressures of their daily behavior chart and the negative notes home from the teacher had anything to do with his depression. She said no, she had lower-performing students that did not have the ‘emotional element.’ The psychologist encouraged the use of Ritalin which I had already tried with my son in first grade. The doctor overdosed my son and he had a horrible episode. He also developed a tick, so medication was not a choice for us.
"The following Tuesday, I called the principal and told him we were going to North Country Christian Academy… When I went to the school that night to pick up Tony's things, his desk and locker were already stripped like he never existed. There was no emotional investment in my son; I stood in that classroom and cried.
"I did not want to label my son a special needs child when I really don't believe he is one. So far, he's scored A's and B's on his spelling tests and is making good progress in math with the teamwork of the school and his tutor. It's too early to tell if this will be a success story or not, but seeing him smile at the end of the school day and not having relentless reports of bad behavior have really been a relief to this family.
"Unfortunately, I was dealt a severe blow yesterday. My son can no longer participate in the YMCA afterschool program because he's no longer a student at Underhill…" Sarah Spencer, Underhill