Now as a parent I have experienced two totally different schools in HISD, a Vanguard recognized school with all the resources a school could want and a neighborhood elementary with not even enough resources for a school nurse.
When my then husband and I decided to stay in the city we knew that our future children's education depended on the Magnet and Vanguard program and if our children would be accepted in one of these. When our daughter was accepted into the Vanguard program I was ecstatic. The fact that she got into our first choice school made it even better.
Our first choice had been Oak Forest and a lot of thought had gone into that choice. One of the reasons I chose it was because it was so diverse and I thought the teachers were also diverse. At least that was according to the Report Card on the Schools published in the Houston Chronicle. Sure it meant driving out a little farther every morning and afternoon but I felt like it was worth it and it was. Our daughter did really well in her years at Oak Forest and excelled in all subjects. I know the education she received there had a lot to do with where she is now in middle school.
The school has great parent involvement and they give a lot to the school, in both time and money. I just took for granted all the things Oak Forest has. They have a nurse, a beautiful library, a librarian, an arboretum, a science lab, a computer lab, an art teacher, a music teacher, a band teacher and so much more. I thought the world of Oak Forest.
That is until I had a son that wasn't in Vanguard. I was so excited when he was accepted on a sibling transfer so that I didn't have to drive to two different schools. He would get to attend a great elementary school with his sister.
It wasn't long before the concerns started. They started in Kindergarten and escalated in first grade. It wasn't until second grade that the terms ADHD and Asperger's were used to describe him. I had started seeing a child psychologist who agreed that Seth was probably ADD but when I mentioned Asperger's to him he was outraged that the teachers and assistant principal would use that term so loosely. I agreed, until I had to see a different doctor for medication to manage the ADHD.
This doctor asked me right off the bat, "Has anyone said Asperger's?" When I finally accepted that my son probably had Asperger's, which is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was too late for my son's future at Oak Forest.
When I went back to the doctor to ask him if he could give me a diagnosis of Asperger's he told me, "The school district will test him for you. That's what your taxes pay for. They will diagnose him and they will make accommodations for him."
So even though it was the school who brought up the term ADHD and Asperger's first, they didn't tell me this. I guess they thought I should figure it out on my own. By the time I could request that the district test him so he could receive the official diagnosis from HISD the school year was ending and it was a lot easier for the principal to say, "DENIED" on his sibling transfer due to too many behavior and disciplinary issues. Besides, they justified it, his sibling wasn't attending any more.
Welcome to the flip side of not having what the schools consider a "model student." He wasn't important enough because he wasn't a student who helped them with their test score average and thus how much money they would receive from the state. My daughter was that kind of student.
The great great irony in this story is what happened next. I didn't fight Oak Forest even though one of the moms was outraged and told me I should. I figured why should I stay at a school that didn't want him.
This school year my son is attending a much smaller elementary school adjacent to our neighborhood. It is not Vanguard or even Magnet. It doesn't have anything that makes it stand out and probably gets lost in the shuffle of the many schools in HISD.
But when my son started attending this school I saw such a dramatic change in his grades and in his behavior. Granted he was on medication regularly now but he also has two awesome teachers that get his off the wall sense of humor and quick wit. They learned how to channel his boredom to drawing and always provide him with paper and pencils to draw. They have just been great. Yes, they got started a little slow at the beginning of the school year because he was new and they didn't really see any challenges right away since he was doing fairly well in school.
When the challenges started, especially towards the end of the school day when the medication was wearing off, the school took action, especially the Assistant Principal, Principal, and the Special Education teacher. It only took one semester and a couple of challenging episodes for the school to have him tested by the district.
The district found that he does not have any learning disabilities and is in fact reading and doing math at 4th and 5th grade levels while in the 3rd grade. His challenge is staying focused and not getting over stimulated by too many children or getting upset. Now he will receive accommodations if needed when he takes the STAAR test and other standardized tests this semester. Meaning he can take the test in a smaller group if necessary.
What's the point of my story? That this school, with all of its limited resources, is the one who took action and made things happen. This elementary school does not have A NURSE, a library, a librarian, an art teacher, a science teacher, a lab, an arboretum and there is no toilet paper in the restrooms. The teachers allocates a little toilet paper to each child when going to the restroom.
A school like Oak Forest with all its resources was able to send my son to the Principal's office a hundred times, suspend him, write him up and suggest that he had Asperger's but not once did they inform me or educate me that I could have him tested by the district. It was obvious that they wanted to have a big enough paper trail so that they could justify denying his transfer. They wanted to wash their hands of the "challenging" child who didn't help their test scores.
It took the smaller school with the limited resources and the disproportionate funding to take action. When telling this story to a friend today I likened Oak Forest to a beautiful woman with no soul and Jefferson an ugly duckling with a big heart. As a parent that is how I feel and I'm sure that there are many parents out there who feel the same way.
What I want to do here is to educate parents and make them aware that this kind of situation does exist. You can have one child in the Vanguard program with no problems and then you can have a child with special needs and you won't receive the same attention at the exact same school.
I also want to make parents aware that there are schools out there in HISD that have VERY limited resources yet they do an excellent job with what they have. The question that baffles me is this. Why don't these smaller schools with an obvious need receive more money from the district and from the state?
P.S. Just to clarify. Seth has 2 challenges. He has ADHD and Asperger's. The medication helps control the ADHD but not Asperger's. There is no medication for Asperger's.
Next Post: Why do some schools get a school nurse and a library and others don't?
Part 3 will look at race/ethncity and if it plays a role.