A Parent’s Hope for the New School Year
By: Wendy Grove
This week, I am writing not as an education professional, but as a parent. My daughter is the child that made me a mother for the first time. Last week, she turned 11 years old, and I want to tell you about her. She is brave, creative, artistic, smart, stubborn, self-centered and difficult. She likes singing songs, watching anime, reading Percy Jackson books, snuggling with her two dogs, swimming and showing off her new polka-dot tennis shoes.
My daughter is in special education where she gets help learning because she has dysgraphia. This is a learning disability where her brain does not translate her ability to tell you a story or read a book into writing with a pencil. She cannot spell or write words, sentences or paragraphs like a child her age is expected to. In addition to this learning disability, she is diagnosed with extreme generalized anxiety. Her anxiety is with her everywhere, not just in specific situations. Recently, as a fifth-grader, she received a brand new diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. This means she struggles to pay attention, especially during instruction. She also has been identified by her school district as gifted in science and accelerated in math, reading and social studies.
In less than a month, my baby starts middle school. A new school. A new social situation. A new routine. New teachers. A lot of new kids. My heart is racing just listing all the new things coming for her. I wonder, how will she do with all that newness? My daughter has an individualized education program (IEP) that gives her academic and social supports. Staff from the middle school met with me, and the IEP is in place and ready to go when school begins. They told me she will be supported and wrote down how and when and who will provide the support. I want to believe this so badly. I remain hopeful, but my mother’s heart wonders if she really will be okay. Really, I wonder if she will be more than okay — I want to know if she will thrive. Will my daughter thrive in middle school with everything that makes her so uniquely her?
In partnership with her school’s educators, I am trying hard to make sure my child gets to be her best self, even on her most difficult days. I am sharing this with you because I want you to know us. I want you to hear my hopes and dreams as an educator and as a mother. I hope that by sharing my story, I can encourage other parents to partner with their schools to ensure their students’ success.
Maybe you have a child going through a similar transition. Maybe, like me, you also are tired. And, maybe you have not had a great experience at the school or with a person who works there. But, let me assure you this: educators care. They became teachers, principals and school counselors because they want to help kids. They genuinely want success for our children. They want our children to feel safe and supported in their learning. For these reasons, I must believe that she will thrive. I believe her teachers will spend time getting to know who she is as a student, so they can help her achieve her goals. I also know my role in this is important, as a partner, communicator and a support to both my daughter and her teachers.
I want to encourage you to think about what kind of partner you have been, or could be, with your child’s school. What beliefs do you have about teachers based on your experiences? Whatever the past experiences have been, this year is a fresh start. Take time to tell your child’s school about your perfect baby girl or boy. Tell someone there about your concerns and what you hope for your child. Be brave. Use your voice, and be confident that you know your child and your contribution to his or her success is critical. Be present. Be open as a partner with your child’s school. Trust in the educators’ knowledge and experience and to the underlying goodness of their intentions to do right by your child. You’ve got this! We parents can do this! Together with the schools, we can positively shape the experience of school and make sure our kids thrive.
Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.