A Sticky Subject: What If Your Child’s School Is NOT a Fit?

A Sticky Subject: What if your child’s school is NOT a fit?
by Tanya Anton


Between December and January this year I worked with four separate clients whose children, for one reason or another, were really struggling in their respective schools. These students had issues beyond some of the typical school adjustments such as adapting to differing teaching styles, navigating personality conflicts, developing organizational skills or learning how to put more focused effort into classwork, which, ultimately, can all turn out to be great “life lessons” or opportunities for growth.

But in all four cases, these were soul-crushing school worries that kept these kids – and by extension their parents – up at night, unable to cope, and super stressed-out that the school they were attending was not the right fit even after months of trying to make it work. After in-depth consultation and discussion, and much to everyone’s relief, we were able to facilitate mid-year transfers for all of these students.

Folks, there ARE other options. Always, there are options.

In this crazy city with its range of public school choices, there is always something we can do to support a child. And yes, even after the lotteries. Even mid-year. Especially mid-year if your child is truly miserable. We can figure something out!

While it’s true that some schools are completely at capacity or even over-enrolled, many are not. Many are under-enrolled, or have a few open seats due to attrition, that last-minute shifting off another wait list, or to a move out of state. Some programs never quite fill to capacity, and some will just make an exception for an exceptional kid in an exceptional circumstance.

Bottom line: a child’s school life should not be filled with misery and dread. Or the endless grind of homework. Or the constant fear for their safety. Or the stress that comes from a deflated social bank account. Especially when you watch these issues start to chip away at that confident, well-adapted child you know and love who used to love school.

Sometimes students can hit a rough patch in school and as parents it’s our job to try to determine what’s really going on and just how serious it is. Is there social drama? Does your child need extra support in certain subjects? Is your child unchallenged or bored, so then starts acting out? Is your child over-scheduled and needs to let some extracurriculars go? Is your child being subtly (or not so subtly) harassed, or ostracized? Is the school culture not a fit? Is it too big? Too small? Just. Not. Right?

It can be tricky to determine what exactly is going on, especially as students transition to middle or high school because that’s also the time they tend to pull away from parents in favor of their peers. But parents, this is NOT the time for you to pull away too. This is the time to get even closer. Do your best to find out what’s going on. Try to get them to open up, but in a gentle, non-pushy way. Monitor their afterschool activities, texts, instagrams, class planners and homework assignments. Set up a meeting with their teachers, the school counselor, the magnet coordinator, or even the principal if you feel you have to, to find out a) what’s going on, and b) what can be done about it.

No school can provide all things to all students, so it is important to weigh and dissect the specific issues and challenges against the more positive aspects of the school and see how it does on balance, especially taking your overall priorities into consideration. When weighing your decision, it’s helpful to note things that can change, things you can support at home, and things that probably won’t ever change. In the end, it all comes down to fit and the well-being of your child.

Either it’s a good fit, or it’s not.

And at a certain point, when you’ve exhausted all your school resources and things have gone from bad to worse, you might want to consider making a school switch. I know we did. And the other clients I helped place. And believe me, we’re all happier for it!

7 Signs Your Child’s School Is Not Working:

Your child is:

  1. sobbing at the thought of facing school
  2. dragging, won’t get out of bed
  3. refuses to get out of the car curbside at school
  4. has a sudden drop in grades
  5. isolating behavior, not reaching out to friends or participating in school activities
  6. apathy, avoidance, loss of interest or the desire to learn in school (esp. when previously a very upbeat and curious learner)
  7. changes in appearance, grooming (or lack thereof)

It doesn’t make sense to stay in a not-so-great situation just because you fear making a change. Or you worry about losing your points. Or where they’ll go to middle or high school if you leave your current school. These things can all be figured out.

If your child is struggling and you want to discuss the situation further and explore your options, please let me know and we’ll schedule a consultation. I am here to help. Completely confidentially, of course.

API, AP What?

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

May is typically the month where students spend up to two weeks testing their knowledge of grade-level standards. Standardized testing is mandated for all public school 2nd through 12th graders as part of the No Child Left Behind Act former President Bush signed into law in 2002. Test results are used to calculate each school’s Academic Performance Index (API) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Schools are required to progress up 5 points every year and meet all target demographics in the school, which, if not met, can come with steep consequences.

That API score, or overall school test score, is one of the first things parents tend to look at when considering a school for their child, but is it the best way to measure a school? Is a high score all it’s cracked up to be? Does a lower score mean the school is no good? What does that API number really tell us?

API scores tell us how students performed on a series of tests over the course of a couple of weeks the previous spring.

But test scores are NOT indicative of the quality of a school’s educational experience. For my elementary school parents, they merely measure how a group of students, (last year’s 2nd-5th graders), tested in that particular week of spring testing in the subjects of English Language Arts and Math, with some 5th grade Science.

Test scores do NOT tell you what kind of teaching is going on, what the learning environment is like, how effectively teachers communicate and interact with the students, if the school fosters positive social-emotional development, or if students come away with a sense of curiosity, a love of learning, or long-range comprehension which becomes the base with which to scaffold deeper meaning and higher knowledge.

Test scores do NOT indicate what other subjects and enrichments students are exposed to, if they are given opportunities for hands-on learning, exploring alternative learning modalities, working in teams, mentoring or accelerated differentiation where needed, or if instead, students are grouped and repetitively drilled in the basic test subjects of English and Math — sometimes referred to as the “bread and water” of public education.

I have seen parents pull their kids out of high-performance schools that may look better “on paper,” (scores in the upper 800s to low-mid-900s), when the actual classroom experience turned out to be stressful, repetitive, and threatening a child’s innate love of learning.

Dianne Ravitch, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind in George W. Bush’s Department of Education, says she now feels that it was all a big mistake. 

“The basic strategy is measuring and punishing,” Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. “And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there’s a lot of cheating going on, there’s a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it’s actually lowered standards because many states have ‘dumbed down’ their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are.”  Full story.

Sure, we all want our kids to be able to read, write and do their arithmetic, but is that where the majority of the focus should be?

The best way to get a feel for a school, more than just looking at test scores, is to get on campus, take a look around with your eyes and your gut instinct, meet the people involved, ask questions, and have a direct personal experience there. Scores can only tell you so much.

© 2011 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.