Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Russell Sprout, a Tale of Four Schools part II.

Roll on Junior High School. As parents we did all the usual stuff: talking to teachers; talking to school counsellors; talking to special needs teachers (I don’t know about overseas but here they usually are responsible for planning for kids at both ends of the spectrum). Same stuff different school.

Then we moved interstate (for Deb’s career) and tried it all again. The school Lu went to in Canberra had one of the best reputations in the Territory. For a moment things looked like they might be better, the school seemed to be listening. They put Lu in the advanced maths class and agreed to support her with an IEP.

The problems started again almost immediately. The school took the attitude that Lu needed to ‘prove’ herself in class before they instituted much of the IEP. Lu, already disenchanted, went back to resisting anything they suggested (as I said above she can be her own worst enemy). She also raised a legitimate point: ‘I have proved myself already. I have played an intellectual sport for my State and Country. I always do well in any test. I am not going to play “the good girl” for them in class.’

The school threatened to drop her from the advanced maths class for not completing all her work. Lu responded by pulling her finger out for five minutes and scoring 100% in the next few assessment tasks, then she went back to her usual tricks.
In that second year of Junior High a couple of things made school more bearable for Lu. For the first time she began to make some real friends at school (her best friends before had been in the chess community and she related better to adults than kids in general).

I suspect the other kids had grown up enough for Lu to find them more interesting; and she had also matured in outlook and was more prepared to take people as she found them.

The second glimmer was her second semester science teacher Mr Collins. Mr Collins is a geologist who came late to teaching when he felt the need for a change of pace. For the first time ever Lu had a teacher with whom she ‘clicked’. He recognised what he was dealing with and took the most flexible approach so far. First he provided interesting, different extension work (not simply an extension of what the class were doing) and he gave her space to do it in class. He did insist that she completed her part in groups, but for individual tasks he was happy for Lu to demonstrate she had the concept and then move on to the other material he was providing her.

Year 9 and things went back to almost where they had been. Lu lost Mr Collins (just because he wasn’t teaching Year 9), although he did keep in touch. Fortunately, she still had friends so she wasn’t quite as unhappy at school.

Lu rowing her Uncle Ian, Avon River, UK 2005 (Lu age 11)

By now we had pretty much given up on ever getting what Lu needed at school. We still went in to bat for her at every opportunity, but we didn’t really think things were going to change much.

Deb’s career then brought us here to Victoria. So Lu started at another school. Again we went to see the school staff to explain what Lu needed. To be honest we expected more of the same.

At this new school, like the others, Lu was expected to meet with the staff who were responsible for planning an IEP. As usual she and we went through what her experience with school had been to date.
The response from staff was quite relaxed, ‘OK you are going into Year 10, but why don’t we put you into Year 11 maths and physics and see how it goes.’

There were not the usual warnings about having to perform or she would be dropped back. They did say that she needed to be aware that Year 11 subjects counted to the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education which decides university placements) and that it would be up to her to decide if things were going OK with that.

Their emphasis was subtly different. Firstly there was no ‘you will have to prove yourself’ statements; this was really helpful because they are a red flag to Lu. Secondly, they were putting the responsibility on her. At other schools the line had always been that if she didn’t meet their requirements THEY would move her. Here it would be her decision.

The result of that different approach has been profound. For the first time at a school (other than with Mr Collins) Lu has felt they trusted what she was saying.

Now it may be that as well being intelligent our girl is growing up. But Year 10 was a breeze (in comparison) for Lu. Again she has made friends, while for the first time she has found the academic component bearable. It is not all plain sailing (she still gets bored), but she makes an effort now. Even with the subjects that are not her favourites she aims to not only complete them but to do well.

Then perhaps the biggest surprise our Lu has ever given us. At the end of term last year Lu said, ‘I think I’ll take a break from chess for a while. I want to be Dux of the school in year 12 so I will have to take it seriously.’

Lu age 2, it was this face that peered over the edge of a chessboard and asked "Can I play too?"

I was gob smacked. I briefly wondered if our daughter had been abducted by aliens. Lu putting school before chess! Inconceivable a few months ago.

I am not being so naïve as to believe Lu’s problems with school are over. She has nearly two years of school to before she completes her VCE at the end of Year 12 (the Oz school year is from February to November).

Finally, Tasha of Heidenkind's Hideaway commented "Just get her into a good uni and she'll do fine. :)" For me these are words of wisdom and I have hung on to an idea like this for some years now.
Fortunately, even if Lu has a meltdown again and gives up on school the her VCE result is by no means the end of the line. One thing the OZ education system does really well is providing alternative paths into Higher Education. Open University and Adult Entry are just two of the options for her down the track (hopefully they won't be needed), in the end it will be up to Lu.

But for the moment at least, things are going well.
The reason for the change? In Lu’s words, ‘They have shown me respect and trust, so I can show them some.’


Michele Emrath said...

Wow. That face in the window! How you must treasure it and keep it with you always. What a road you all have gone down, but what a strong child! You are so blessed. I know I am reading it all at once, so I have the happy ending, but it really is a miracle of a story. She persevered. And she will do it again at university--wherever that may be.

One question, what is 'Dux?' That one got me. Otherwise, I followed right along. :)

I don't know if we have the same future ahead, but we have a young chess player in our house, too. My son is 4 and wants to play all the time. He can tell you what moves will be made two or three in advance, and he can beat me--though I am no chess player. So we'll see...

Thank you for sharing this very personal story. I read them both together, but am just commenting here.


Alyssa Ast said...

Wow, your daughter sounds like an amazing young woman!

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Also wondering what "dux" is. Awesome for Lu that the new school managed to click the right buttons. She reminds me of my sons and will likely love university. Great conclusion to the story - love a happy ending!

Lisa said...

How heartbreaking it must have been for you to go through all of this. Is it possible in Australia for kids Lu's age to begin taking college level classes? We have several options here for that--there are Advanced Placement classes that the kids can take in the school, they can in their last year pick up a class from the community college that counts both toward their regular school credit and will count toward university. They can also start picking up university level classes online. The trick is just to get the kid to the point where they can choose these things before they have fallen too far behind.

Al said...

Hi All,
A couple of you asked what “Dux” is. Well oddly Oz is quite old fashioned and traditional in some ways. “Dux” is Latin and means “Leader” it is short for Dux Litterarum which means “Academic Leader”, it is a title given to the student of any given year graduating with the highest mark.

Hi Michele,
I picked that photo because it is about my favourite of Lu as a little ‘un (as you know I take a lot of photos and she was/is photogenic). I think it is a happy ending, but as you say Lu is very strong. I think she will find her own way what ever that is.
Your little one must be very clever. If you listen to Psychologists and Neurologists it is theoretically impossible for children at 4 to play chess, let alone plan ahead, so you are dealing with one smart cookie.
My other two are very bright as well and they were either happy or content at school. Hopefully your young fellow finds enough to interest him and gets the right teachers.

Hi Alyssa,
She is a very amazing young person. But then I am biased :)

Hi Deb,
I suspect she will love Uni when she gets there. I didn’t like school but I loved most of my time at Uni. I love a happy ending too and I am just relieved we seem to have found one.

Hi Lisa,
It was heartbreaking and frustrating beyond belief.
Yes, there are options for kids to take Uni subjects at school. (Our system is a bit different to yours, after school kids go straight to Uni where they get a bachelors degree, postgrad study happens at the same Uni).
Lu is looking at picking up some next year because she will finish part of her VCE this year (she is a year ahead in Maths and Physics). She is also thinking of taking advantage of a lighter load to concentrate on her other VCE classes to give her a better chance of Dux the year she graduates from school.
I think she would be better moving on, but I am surely not going to talk her out of the other option if she has finally decided school is important.
Fortunately falling behind has never been a problem for Lu. If she is motivated she can pick things up unbelievably quickly.

Jenners said...

Those photos are just beautiful and so classic.

And I just wish all adults would realize that kids just need respect and trust. It isn't such a hard concept to understand but so few get it. She sounds like a brilliant girl who will do wonderful things in the world. She is lucky to have such supportive parents too!

heidenkind said...

Those are wise words from your daughter--I wish schools WERE built on foundations of respect and trust rather than suspicion and an idea of forcing kids to do things. That never works, especially with teenagers!

I'm happy she's found a school where she can breathe and be herself and learn. :)

Al said...

Hi Jenners,
You are absolutely right, it shouldn't be too hard to get, yet somehow it seems next to impossible to find people who do get it. Hey we do what we can, but it seems very hard just keeping up sometimes.

Hi Tasha,
There is certainly no forcing Lu to do anything.
It has to come from her.
I agree, education should be based on anything other than coercion.
It is a relief that things seem to be so much better for Lu now.