When I say I grew up in the public school system I mean it. My aunt has been teacher of the year in her district in Dallas so many times she uses her awards as wall paper.
But it was my Nana, an elementary school secretary for 29 years, who really made me feel like public schools were my home.
My mom worked, so every day after school Nana would pick me up from my elementary school across town and bring me to work at her elementary school where she was the secre-tary. I even remember the smell of the printer ink and fresh pencils. If they bottled that smell I’d buy it in bulk.
I have such happy memories from my time spent in that school.
Every day Nana would give me 50 cents, and I’d go to the teacher’s lounge for a Yoo-hoo chocolate drink. I’d bring it back behind the desk in the front office to do my homework, and I felt like I should have had a VIP badge.
I was a star pupil in elementary school, but it didn’t last. By sixth grade I felt like I just didn’t belong. My squeaky clean grades were tarnished, and I started to believe I was just “bad at school.”
This was also around the time my younger brother started school and was a golden child, be-loved by all, and a high performer. I adopted my role as the class clown and the band nerd, and I stuck with it until graduation.
I trudged through until I got to college. My mom constantly told me to “just pass,” and I’d be fine. And somehow she was right. Once I was setting my own pace and studying things that interested me I was back to my straight “A” status. I graduated college with honors, and I got into a career field I loved.
Then when I had my kids I found myself back in school as a volunteer. My girls went to a lovely preschool that was everything I could have dreamed of. Kids roamed freely indoors and out-side exploring art and dirt and nature. They sat in the grass under trees as teachers read them stories, and they took piles of wood and made forts and stages to perform plays they made up that day. They had an entire station dedicated to messes with an endless supply of baking soda and cups of colored vinegar.
My kids learned that blue vinegar and red vinegar were the perfect ingredients for purple potion, and a pinch of baking soda caused the whole thing to erupt.
They didn’t drill the alphabet or run flashcards, but I could see those little minds opening to the possibilities of the world around them. It was pure magic. They adored preschool, and they flourished.
So I knew they’d be ready for “real school” with no problem. And for my youngest it wasn’t a problem at all. She’s so brainy that her second grade teacher is trying to find fourth grade work that might challenge her.
But “real school” hasn’t been easy for my oldest. In kinder, Sunny would hide under her desk and cut her clothes when she couldn’t cut out the letters on her page. We soon figured out she had something called sensory processing disorder, which basically meant my little super-hero could hear more and feel more than other kids her age.
I have a hard time even calling it a disorder because when harnessed correctly, it’s what makes her the magically sensitive creature she is.
We harnessed those powers with occupational therapy, but as the years progressed the public school system I’d grown to love didn’t love her super powers. Her school was wonderful, but as much as they tried to accommodate my little quirky bug, there are only so many variations of that round public school hole. My square peg just didn’t quite fit.
Now that she’s in fifth grade, the edges of that little square peg are very worn. She’s still doesn’t fit into that neat little round hole — and now she knows it. At our last parent-teacher conference, her teacher brought the receipts for the things I’d been suspecting. My kid was wearing down.
“Sunny is stupid. And this is proof.”
Sunny had written it on the side of a math test she’d taken and failed. I’d been doing math homework with her for weeks, and any concept I went over with her she got within a few minutes. I knew she struggled a little, but I had no idea she was this lost.
Her teacher revealed that Sunny cried most days in class, and she saw the spark leave her a long time ago. It was a knife in my mama heart.
The school psychologist told us she saw a lot of red flags for auditory processing disorder, and an audiologist recently confirmed she was right. But she also confirmed that as good as the public school system is, it’s not for every child.
My little square peg had been begging to be home-schooled for a long time, but I just thought she was being dramatic and wanted to do school in her jammies. But after endless meetings with school administrators and her teacher, I realized it was the only option we had. That round hole wasn’t going to change. So our plans had to.
Tomorrow is our first day of this new adventure, and I don’t really know what to expect. We’re doing virtual school, but some days she may get a social studies lesson at a city council meet-ing, and others she’ll be working on math skills during a budget workshop. Either way my first priority is to help her rediscover a love of learning. So I’ll stock the fridge with Yoohoo and give it my best shot.