For 9 years we were parents of a lovely baby girl. And just when we thought there would be no more children, were blessed with our beautiful baby boy Josh. Unlike Cole, he was a high energy little boy. Every day I looked forward to his naptime so that I could take a nap too. Being Joshua’s mom was exciting and never dull. He was bright, interested in the world around him and fun to be around. By two and a half, he knew the name of every state and capital in the U.S. And by 3, every country around the world. An avid reader, his thirst for learning was almost overwhelming. So the minute the opportunity became available, we quickly registered him in the local Pre-K Montessori program, housed in our neighborhood parochial school. By age 5 he would start kindergarten at the local grade school, yet unbeknownst to us, things were about to change.
Our local grade school was recognized nationally for its award-winning bilingual program, which Josh would be a part of. As a Latina mom, I was thrilled and knew I could assist him in learning the language. I took for granted that they would “get him,”but instead we were told he was acting out by being disruptive, undisciplined and in some cases violent. Initially, I remember thinking, could he be just having trouble adjusting to the new school and new classmates? At home, he seemed his perfectly happy self. We did talk to him and tell him his behavior was unacceptable. At home, we were disciplinarians and ran a loving tight ship.
While good behavior and habits were rewarded, little bad habits were addressed promptly and with appropriate consequences. As the weeks went by and I would do the daily pick up from school, stories of Joshua not behaving became commonplace. We would talk about it at home, privileges or favorite toys would be taken away, and he would promise to do better to find ourselves in the same predicament the next day. At progress report time we went for our teacher appointment to talk and chart his academic progress, and to my surprise saw one failing grade after another, my husband and I talked about what could be causing the problem? Our bright avid reader was disappearing or at least not showing up. At school, his teacher knew nothing about the bright star he was.
A few weeks later I was contacted by his teacher, as she requested to visit our home. I remember thinking: What’s going on? What is she expecting to see? I guess my spirit understood something ominous would try to grip my son. At the time of this incident children who did not fit into the obvious learning style of the class were quickly marginalized. The child would be identified as a poor learner, “a problem,” would be quickly evaluated and medicated so as to dumb him or her down through medication, and make them manageable. While I was aware of this problem in our public-school system, it never dawned on me that I would be fighting this battle. We talked to Josh and begged him to behave in class or he would be singled out. But as you probably guessed he did what kids do. He continued to be a kid.
The day of the home visit, Josh was his usual self. The teacher visited with her 4 ½-year-old son who also attended the same school. Josh and her son played together while we talked. They watched a little TV, played Legos, and had snacks. Pretty much what I would call a perfectly great played date. His teacher took note of how different Josh seemed at home, the order and peace she experienced were palpable. But just a few weeks later I received a call from her. She wanted to talk to his father and I about having him evaluated and I guess start the proceedings… I was distraught.
The morning of our meeting I called on every prayer warrior I know. Some prayed with me, others would pray while I was at the meeting and cover us that way. I prayed and asked God to cover us and to walk before us and to allow nothing that was not His perfect will to take place.
Upon arriving at the classroom to meet the teacher, she greeted me but seemed rather flustered. She said she would not be able to talk and would need to re-schedule and I asked why? On her way out the door, she mentioned she had just found out she would be laid off effective immediately and was on her way to meet with the Principal to get to the bottom of things. Stunned, I gave Josh a hug and grabbed my things to make my way out the classroom, when her assistant approached me and said, I would be reached by the school’s secretary for a follow-up. As I made my way down the hall, the teacher’s assistant ran after me with a piece of paper in hand and said, “Mrs. Manigault, If I may say so myself, I think Josh might be a little bored here”, and quickly showed me the results to his standardized test scores. Josh tested 3 grades above level for English, writing, and math, our bright little boy was still there… Alive and well, but getting lost in a class where his visual and verbal style of learning was not being considered and his awkward cries for help were being misdiagnosed.
Needless to say, I got him out of there and into a learning environment more suitable for his needs by Fall of that year. Though things improved greatly with a new teacher on hand, I now understood that choosing a new learning environment would require a little more research to find the proper fit for his learning style. Today, I’m glad to say that 17 years later my son the now anthropologist/archeologist is doing quite well. His curiosity, love of learning and ability to recall information was necessary for his life’s work and simply needed to be recognized and honed-in in the right environment. And we thank God it was.
A wife and mother of four, Judith Manigault is the Editor-in-Chief of Link2Us Magazine and Fe-Media.com. A native of the Republic of Panama, she now spends her time between NYC and Chicago IL.