Saturday, July 7, 2012

Kat Tales

Originally posted: 5/22/12

Our youngest is Katherine, or as her older sister named her when she was 3, "Kat". She's a ray of sunshine with a bubbly personality and smile that lights up a room. She's also impulsive, persistent, and very persuasive. And like the sun which is always nice to have around, sometimes you need a little shade. More on that later.

At age five, Kat went to Kindergarten on a big yellow school bus all by herself. We were homeschooling Emily and James at the time so she was the only one in public school. This didn't seem to bother her and she enjoyed school. The following year she entered first grade along with her brother in 4th and sister in 5th. We knew this would be the only year that all three children would ever be in the same school together. This arrangement worked out pretty well for the family. James's academics improved greatly now that his vision had improved. Emily struggled to keep up with the pace of the class, although her grades were also good. And Kat always seemed to be working "just below grade level" but it was nothing really to be concerned with. She had both friends and "frenemies", a budding gymnastic career, and plenty of birthday invitations and play dates to keep her calendar full.

The following year we moved from Chicago to Florida. We moved into a small apartment (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 5 people) next to my parents. Our plan was to spend one year saving money and researching where we wanted to live. James and Katherine would go to the same elementary school I went to as a child (a short walk up the street) and Emily would go to the new middle school that was modeled after the one I attended. It sounded good on paper but the reality was not so. Turns out the middle school hours conflicted with Emily's gymnastic training and the car line to drop off/pick up wasted more than an hour of our day. We withdrew after a week and began Florida Virtual School at home. James settled into his new routine fairly well. He wasn't overly impressed with the kids as they were disrespectful to the teachers but he did like PE which included a running incentive program that he excelled at. Kat's first week or two started out okay but quickly went downhill once the reality of sitting at a desk all day with no recess -ever - kicked in. She made one friend in the class who moved a few weeks later and struggled to connect with any of the other girls. Her schoolwork remained "just below grade level". Every day she told us how much she hated school. She didn't want to go and begged me to homeschool. I really didn't see this as an option because we had a very, very small apartment with Emily home who needed our constant help in addition to having all my curriculum somewhere in a storage unit. I couldn't imagine it working. By the end of November, Kat started to show physical signs of the stress she was feeling inside by way of an overactive bladder. The specialist we saw assured us this would go away in its own due time. Over Christmas break I prayed about what we should do. By the time it was over I felt very strongly that she should stay home with us. James continued the year at school by himself and somehow we managed to homeschool Kat and Emily in very tight quarters. By about April or May of that year, Kat's bathroom issues went away on their own.

Our final move brought us to the East coast of Florida. With a home purchased, our stuff unpacked, and a nice new friend for Kat living next door, we were starting to feel settled. Our local public elementary school went up to 6th grade, so we enrolled both Kat and James. This school had an A+ rating, nice neighborhoods all around, and good teachers (from what we had heard). Kat wasn't excited about school but liked the idea of a new backpack, supplies, and new clothes well enough to give it a try. Her teacher ended up being very nice and even attended our church. Aside from the earlier schedule (we were up at 7:00am to be there by 8:00am) we had high hopes for a great school year. So what happened?

At our first meeting to discuss Kat's progress, her teacher pointed out that since she was 'homeschooled' she had a lot of "gaps" , "social awkwardness", and "distractibility". Apparently she was unable to "stay on task", "know what supplies were needed for a task", and "keep up". We pointed out that she had been a public school student most of her short life and we only homeschooled her for a few months. Apparently we must have "screwed her up" in that short time?? We choose to swallow our thoughts on the subject and focus on her work which continued to be "working towards grade level". As the year progressed, her dislike for school grew even more intense. She hated homework (and we did too since we were sitting with her doing it!), she hated getting up in the morning, and she hated "sitting in the building all day". I can't say I could blame her. Still we encouraged her to stick with it. We had prayed for this school, teachers, and friends for so long we just knew God would be faithful. We helped her study time and time again only to find that she had done poorly on a test. We tried to help her "learn how to study". We tried backing-off of her work and allowing her to 'fail' if she chose. Sometimes we got her up early to study and other times we let her sleep so long we were almost late. Eventually she started complaining about her eyes not being right. We took her to get them checked and was surprised at the findings. Although her vision could be improved, it was not her greatest problem. Her impulsiveness, distractibility, and "colorful personality" (the doctor's way of describing her) might be a larger problem than just her eyes. This is the kind of behavior that really sticks out once you put a kid in a desk all day and force them to read and write when they have no desire to do so. He reminded us of something we knew from the year before. When a kid feels stress, it's only a matter of time before they start to show physical signs of a problem. In this case, her visual system was starting to show signs of breaking down. His advice was address the stress and wait on the eyes.

We considered pulling her out right then and there, but FCAT's were just around the corner and although we don't like the testing obsession that is pervasive in school these days, we couldn't help but wonder how she would do. We decided to give her the best chance at success by removing as much sugar from her diet as we could, instituting an earlier bed time, and making sure she had plenty of protein for breakfast and lunch. We notice an improvement in her temperament by a little but not by much. The final two months went by and now we are into the last week of school. Our final meeting with the teacher on Friday revealed an interesting finding. Although Kat still struggled in reading, writing, and math there seemed to be a trend in good test scores when she was told that the test didn't really matter. When there was no grade involved, she did just fine... she's an average 3rd grader. When a test mattered, she found a way to do poorly on it. Interesting. According to the teacher, she is no longer "socially awkward", "can organize her supplies", and "has made great progress fitting in". All that means to me is that she's "institutionalized".

Kat's going to be a challenge to homeschool, there's no doubt about that. She'd much rather play or swim or watch TV. There's a big part of me that wants to give her her childhood back and allow her more time to do those things. The other part of me wants to help her "catch up and get ahead". My goal is to try to balance the two. But like I described earlier, Kat's got a persuasive personality that can wear you down to the bone. We pray it will be a great asset to her as she learns to use it for God's good purposes. In the meantime, she's as bright as the sun.... something you always want around as long as you can get a little shade from time to time.

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