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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Oh, executive functioning, why oh why are you required to get through middle school?

On the upside, we do have a very elaborate plan of action in regards to locker decor – there will be a mirror and a chandelier, I am told…How to remember to bring home our work and books, the plan is less solid.

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Blitzen really wants to be independent – when it suits her.  There have been some disagreements about when she will be ready to take public transportation by herself.  She knows what to do and where she is going. She also gets distracted easily and then flustered when confused or anxious.  My biggest fear is that she will miss her stop and then be too anxious to get help until she is full melt down and panic mode.  So we’ve been trying create independence with a safety net.

Last week, Andrew and I let her walk up the hill from the subway to camp by herself. And by ‘by herself’ I mean that we stated that we would follow her (it is several blocks) but not talk to her or give her directions. We would just be a block behind her (we could still see her) and she could call back or come back to us if she needed anything. Well, don’t you know our adorable little Blitzen walked backward almost the entire way – chattering at us in a loud voice – about everything going by and her day ahead. That kid cracks me up.

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Blitzen struggles with money.  Some of it is being a kid. Some of it is a lack of math skills. Some of it is a basic lack of understanding about how we relate to the world – and by we, I mean Andrew and me.  Everyone manages their money differently, so be it.

Blitzen recently got very angry at me because I never spend money on fun stuff, I only the pay the bills.  According to Blitzen, I am always so worried about buying food and paying for our apartment. Take a look at my Amex bill, I spend plenty on fun stuff.  But she is correct that while I do like to pay those bills on time, I am fortunate enough not to be ‘worried’ about it.   I was talking to my mother about this and remembered a story from my childhood where my darling brother, when told that we didn’t have enough money for something, patiently explained to my mother that she could just use a check.  So I get it that kids don’t get money.

It is disheartening though, picking up on the thread about Blitzen’s often negative and worry filled interior life, how often Blitzen assumes the worst.  We talk about money in a very appropriate way with Blitzen — we are rarely concerned about it but we do explain about budgets – in theory, at least, the amount of money going out can’t exceed the amount coming in.   Going to work is important so that you can get paid. Paying your bills on time is  a responsible thing to do. But she has equated our discussions with worry – I understand why, of course, but it is yet another thing that I do wish I could get her to move beyond.  This also gets mixed up in her brain with the storyline that tells her that if I am spending money in one place, she is not going to get what she needs or wants. It is very hard to get to the point where, in this home and this situation, paying the rent does not equal taking money from you, paying the rent means having a safe place for us to live and making good on a commitment to landlord.  It helps us, as a family.  So hard, these things.

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First day of camp, awesome. Second day of camp, in the world according to Blitzen, was a lot like the Game of Thrones (which I do not watch but I read the books).  Apparently, there was a plot coordinated by the friends that she made day one because she was popular – there was a kiddie coup, I suppose, in Blitzen’s brain.  They apologized and asked for forgiveness — she is considering it but doesn’t think they really deserve it so she might just make new friends.  People, there are only like 30 kids in her age group at this camp, I am getting nervous she is going to burn through all possible playmates in the first week. And I am also (even at girl drama filled age 11_ concerned that so much of this is just about Blitzen’s negative spin and terrible self-image.

I really really really wish that Blitzen did not assume that every single human(dog, cat, bird, squirrel, taxi and stoplight) that she encounters is out to get her, make her life miserable, take everything that she has, control everything, steal everything, cheat and lie about EVERYTHING. I understand why she feels this way – it is actually a fairly sane reaction given the world that she lived in up until Nov of 2011.  I am sad ’cause I think that she might always feel this way and life is just better and easier if you can, once in awhile, assume the best of others instead of the worst.

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Ok, camp in NYC is just a crazy thing (and by crazy, I mean complicated and expensive).  So Blitzen has 2 weeks at a new day camp this year – she started yesterday.  She was very nervous and surprisingly, pretty in touch with the emotion and why she was feeling anxious.  This morning as we were walking from the bus to the camp, she said, “I am not scared today. I know all the people – the kids and the teachers are really nice.  And you can pretty much do whatever you want.”  Nothing Blitzen hates more than adults trying to tell her what to do.

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A rare bit of good news.  We had an IEP meeting last week at the Department of Education office, and everything went right.  Due process wasn’t trampled.  Laws weren’t blatantly broken.  Best of all, Blitzen’s absurd classification was corrected.  She’ll now have better options if she attends public school someday.

Not to state the obvious, but kids in care are disproportionately diagnosed with behavioral, emotionally and learning disabilities and have epically bad educational outcomes.

Carrie and I work in education and have genius relatives with huge expertise in special ed.  We have a team of education experts through our agency.  We’re persistent, ferocious and well-resourced.  Despite that, it took 2.5 years to change a mistake that everyone agreed was egregious and obvious.

Let’s save the big conversations about American education for another time when we’re ready to consider institutional racism, economic violence, adultism, corporate influence, our desire to separate Children Destined for Success from Troubled Kids and the anachronism of 19th century factory-model schools in an information age.  But are there little things we can do to support kids in care long before we succeed in reinventing public education?

Blitzen has had many addresses and attended many schools.  Her records haven’t moved with her.  Can we encourage school stability for kids in care?  Can we better share access to records from school to school?

As foster parents, Carrie and I were extremely limited in our ability to access due process and remedy errors, negligence and incompetence.  Any time we made requests or appeals, the first response was a variation on “Only the birth parent can request that.”  Eventually we’d always get Blitzen’s mom’s signature, but it became a way for the DOE to delay, postpone and avoid action. Can we make it easier for foster parents and social workers to advocate for kids?  Does anyone have policy fixes that we should be supporting?  (I assume the Annie Casey Foundation has recommendations if I look carefully enough.)

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Practice, practice, practice. Or not so much, if you are Blitzen.  She joined many other NYC 4th graders in the opportunity of a lifetime – a giant recorder concert at Carnegie Hall.  She was very excited, she had been talking about it for months and pretty much never practicing her recorder.

The big day comes and Blitzen falls asleep mid-concert. I kid you not.  How anyone could fall asleep while 300 4th graders screech make beautiful music on the recorder, I cannot imagine.  The little boy next to her tried in vain to wake her up but no luck.

When I asked her about it she said, ‘I didn’t sleep through everything, just the talking parts.’  Ok, apparently there was to be some educational component to this music festival?  Hmmm – maybe more recorders next time, less chitchat.

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I’ve mentioned before that Blitzen has an incorrect diagnosis on her IEP.  If she is going back into the public school system, we must have it changed, we must.  So, Blitzen has to be evaluated, again.

We had a plan, it was – as you might imagine – thoughtful.  But carelessness and inattention rule the day, and a 24 year old intern was sent to do the delicate work of ensuring educational opportunity for Blitzen – work that we were told would be performed by a phd with years of experience dealing with children of trauma.

The young eager do-gooder thought it wise to begin her discussion with a distrustful, traumatized, resistant child in care with low self esteem by peering into her big fat file, rattling a few pages, glancing up and saying, ‘So, it says here that you have a history of tantrums, how is that going?’  Then she started prattling on about how this was all going to finally help Blitzen do well in school.

The senseless whippersnapper really should have just said – Oh, I see in this file that is kept by a bunch of white bureaucrats so that they can write down lies about you and your family and then share the information with whoever the heck wants to look at it, including me a total stranger that you have never laid eyes on before, that you are not only very dumb but also a very bad little girl.

Well, as you can imagine, this interaction really relaxed Blitzen. She was eager to please and ready to do her best work with the understanding that this person was here to engage her and guide her, here was someone that could see that she is a creative, talented, smart, curious child, here is someone that clearly has no hidden agenda that would endanger her or jeopardize her precarious place in the world. Here was someone that she could trust. Rainbows and unicorns magically appeared and all was right in the world.

OR perhaps Blitzen was sucked into the vortex of fight or flight* by her hard-wired, survival driven synapses and overactive adrenal system that resulted in 2 hours of drama, hysteria and very very little ‘evaluating’.

Are you crying or are you screaming? I cried, Andrew screamed (Andrew is not really a screamer but he has a look that is really loud and capable of withering a person completely). Blitzen has another appointment, in a place that she is comfortable in (her own school) with a professional.  But I fear it is too little, too late.

* in Blitzen’s case, we should really call it fight AND flight – she is amazingly capable of doing both of these things simultaneously.

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Andrew and I have both experienced, in the last 36 hours, that look.  That look from ‘professionals’ associated with Blitzen’s case.

That look that says ‘you are troublesome foster parents, you are making my life difficult by demanding that we do all that we should which is way more than we feel that we can.’

That look that says, ‘Oh, we’ve written your child off (not that we in anyway consider her to be your child) and you should too.’

 

That ‘When this was all headed for adoption, you were committed, passionate, model foster parents that we begged to speak on panels, rally new recruits, participate in city-wide ad campaigns. But now, you are a pain in the ass and we’re tempted to just accept false allegations against you so we can make you go away quicker’ look.

We’ve both experienced that moment when it has become crystal clear that this child is going back into a social system of grinding poverty, family dysfunction, racial and domestic violence, a broken and battered educational system that is really just a pipeline to prison/welfare dependency/homelessness/teen pregnancy/addiction, where she will be lost. And sadly, the look in their eyes says ‘we simply don’t care.’

I am sure you all are familiar with that look.

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Blitzen is teaching a special course at her school again – she is working with the music teacher and teaching a group of 2nd graders how to write songs.  Blitzen is quite the lyricist, by the way.  I am sure that no one is surprised by that.  I can’t wait to hear the future hits this group produces.

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