Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who goes to Summer School?

Children go to Summer School for all different reasons? Sometimes it's for enrichment. Many of our second language students are here this summer listening to English every day - singing, laughing, learning. What a difference it makes when they've had that extra enrichment when they come back for the new year. Some students that come are really strugglers and need the extra time to master the grade level skills. Some have actually missed skills and have holes that need to be filled.

But the students that I am teaching this summer are here for other reasons. They all made a 2 or 3 on the Reading FCAT but they all failed Reading! They are here for grade recovery. How does that happen? What do these children have in common?

They each came with story. Ronnie (names changed) blows up like a frog every time he's corrected. You can tell he has trouble with authority - any kind of authority! His mom came with him the first day to tell me that he didn't get along with his teacher last year (no surprise there!). Jamie openly admits he simply hated his teacher and refused to work for her (I just had to ask him how that worked for him since he's the one in Summer School and she's enjoying her vacation!) Sammie is passive aggressive and simply doesn't do what she doesn't want to do. She's not openly defiant, just doesn't do. Tries to slip around when the teacher's no watching to do what she wants. Trouble is this class is too small for her to get away with it! Her mother came with her the first day too to tell me how unfair her last teacher was and how Sammie shouldn't have failed. According to her mom, it was ALL the teacher's fault. Chris makes up for his insecurities in reading by being the class clown ("Is pooproom a compound word?" he asked recently). Ian came the Friday before FCAT and just hadn't had time to assimilate to the new school and expectations before he got his first grades.

Most of these children openly admit - even with false bravado - that they did not do homework last year. A little sullenly they also admit that there was no one at home that worked with them daily - no one seemed to really care until the Fs came on the report card.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, each one in this group comes from a broken home. Some are living with a single parent. Others are living with a parent and step parent. Some are shuffled between families. This became apparent as we made connections to an early story we were reading and each of the children in turn talked about his or her life situation! I was surprised to find that it was true for every single child in this class. That is certainly not to say that every child of divorce is doomed to Summer School, but it was a hard fact in each of these children's lives.

Almost all of the kids have difficulty raising their hands before they speak and most of them have plenty they want to say - they really like being the center of attention - and don't really mind if it's negative attention! When I first walked into this group of angry,sullen kids who didn't want to be here and came with a truckload of bad habits, I wondered how in the world I could turn any of them around in six weeks. In a normal year, it takes six weeks just to establish rituals and routines, but with this group I needed to work fast if we were going to make a difference. After some trial and error and some pretty tough days, we are, three weeks in, finally working more as a team. That's not to say that bad habits don't rear their ugly heads every single day with at least one student. I've had to seek out every single parent to help make this work and I've had to have many individual conferences with each child quietly in a corner of the room to let each one know that I care and that I am willing to do whatever it takes to make this experience different. We are almost through with class clowns and angry huffing and fabricated boasting ("I was in Alaska yesterday." "I go skydiving after school every day.") Finally, we are beginning to function as a team. The children (and even in 3rd and 4th grade, they are still children) are beginning to laugh naturally and ask for help when they don't know the answer instead of pretending that they are too smart to ask. They have finally realized that they are all in the same boat and that we will all be better off if we pull together instead of all pulling in a different direction and going nowhere. They have learned that it is safe to take a risk within these four walls. Just as it always is, it's first about relationships. You cannot teach a child until he knows that you care and are interested. That never changes - no matter the age.

So now... let's see if we can get some more reading strategies into these children so they can quit faking it and go back to their home schools as stronger and more confident readers!

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