Drop­ping out of school

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED - Dara Squires

Last year my son hated school. I mean he re­ally hated it.

It tore us apart: his ha­tred and my in­sis­tence that he at­tend. And none of it was aided by the school ad­min­is­tra­tion, who didn’t ad­dress our con­cerns and con­stantly ha­rassed me about him be­ing late.

He was late be­cause he re­fused to go. He was late be­cause he was cry­ing. He was late be­cause he was scream­ing and tantrum­ing and mad. He was late be­cause as I lit­er­ally dragged him out of bed, lit­er­ally shoved his clothes on him, and lit­er­ally pushed him into the car, I scraped him with my fin­ger­nail or bumped him with my el­bow or hurt him in some way. I hurt him and there was no way I would let that go with­out an apol­ogy and a hug and re­as­sur­ances.

Last year, we fought ev­ery day, or Mon­day to Fri­day, at least. And a lot of the time I blamed my son — for his stub­born­ness and his de­fi­ance and his in­abil­ity to make our dayto-day life less stress­ful.

It was stress­ful. I was late for meet­ings or ap­point­ments. He was late for school. We were be­ing judged. And there was no way around it; no so­lu­tion. I couldn’t get my son to co-op­er­ate; I couldn’t make him happy; and I was frus­trated and ashamed.

This year I dis­cov­ered the so­lu­tion. The so­lu­tion was to stop blam­ing my son and my­self. The so­lu­tion was to put him in a dif­fer­ent school: a school where the prin­ci­pal didn’t in­sist on lock­ing the doors at 8:30 on the dot or roam­ing the hall­ways at 8:25 sternly telling chil­dren to get into their classrooms, but in­stead en­sured there was al­ways some­one to greet the chil­dren warmly at the en­trance and leave the doors un­locked an ex­tra 15 min­utes for the oc­ca­sional SNAFU in time­li­ness.

Ob­sta­cles in the way

You see, last year, even if he got to the school­yard in time, he didn’t al­ways make it to the doors in time. And if he didn’t, he had to walk all the way around the build­ing and wait at the front doors to be buzzed in. Then he had to wait for a late slip. So, while on the one hand he was be­ing rushed to class, on the other hand he had a lot of ob­sta­cles in his way if he made the slight­est mis­take.

Can you imag­ine a work­place where if you’re just 10 sec­onds late you’re locked out and need to ask per­mis­sion to come in? And ev­ery mo­ment you wait for that per­mis­sion is more money off your pay­cheque? Would you be happy in such an en­vi­ron­ment?

There was a lot more go­ing on than that: un­ad­dressed bul­ly­ing, un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, un­fair and im­bal­anced treat­ment of stu­dents, and an over­all feel­ing that no one was lis­ten­ing to him. I had that same feel­ing, too. And yet, for some rea­son, per­haps be­cause I felt my abil­ity to par­ent prop­erly was be­ing ques­tioned, I didn’t see the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween my feel­ings and his. I tried to solve it at the fam­ily level, by putting more pres­sure on him and by try­ing to strate­gize so­lu­tions in our morn­ing rou­tine. But the prob­lem re­ally was at the school level.

How can I be so sure? Be­cause this year my son loves school. He’s the first one ready most morn­ings. Even the other night when he stayed up late and fought go­ing to sleep and wasn’t easy to wake in the morn­ing — once he was awake he was dressed and the first one out the door. There’s less in­ter­per­sonal con­flict in his class­room. His teacher is a trea­sure. The home­work is much less de­mand­ing of his time and abil­ity to sit still, but equally de­mand­ing of his thought pro­cesses. And I’m not haul­ing him out of bed and force-dress­ing him while plead­ing with him to stop be­ing so dif­fi­cult.

Sys­tem a prob­lem

The prob­lem wasn’t my son. The prob­lem was the sys­tem. But the scary thing is, if we hadn’t moved and been re­zoned, he would’ve stayed in that sys­tem and I would’ve con­tin­ued both blam­ing him and feel­ing like a fail­ure my­self for his ha­tred of school. I let the out­side pres­sure from an un­co­op­er­a­tive and dif­fi­cult in­sti­tu­tion af­fect our fam­ily dy­namic to such a high de­gree that if he had con­tin­ued at the same school for another three years he would’ve likely dropped out or given up be­fore high school.

Our chil­dren need guid­ance, dis­ci­pline, and en­cour­age­ment. But some­times what they re­ally need is for us to say “this isn’t your fault; this isn’t my fault; this sit­u­a­tion sucks and I’m tak­ing you out of it.” In the end, what’s more im­por­tant than tardy slips and even an ed­u­ca­tion is our child’s sense of self­worth. I hope that be­tween my ef­forts and that of his new, en­cour­ag­ing school we can re­build my son’s.

I know we can, in fact, be­cause I see it hap­pen­ing be­fore my eyes. What I’m wor­ried about is the par­ents who don’t have the abil­ity to switch schools or pull their child out to home school. I’m wor­ried about their chil­dren and how a sys­tem gone wrong early in their lives can af­fect so much more than their math skills.

I’m wor­ried that in our quest to make our schools more in­clu­sive of stu­dents with dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties we’ve for­got­ten that they also have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, strengths and weak­nesses and teach­ers are stretched too thin to ad­dress it all.

And I’m wor­ried that our schools con­tinue to be po­lit­i­cal en­ti­ties with power struc­tures in ad­min­is­tra­tion that ri­val the House of As­sem­bly. What re­ally wor­ries me is that this new “Su­per board” will only worsen ex­ist­ing is­sues. Our chil­dren de­serve a top-notch ed­u­ca­tion and tax­pay­ers de­serve an ef­fi­ciently run school sys­tem, but most of all we need a safe and car­ing en­vi­ron­ment in which to fos­ter our chil­dren’s growth — whether that be at home or in the school.

— Dara Squires is a mother of three who writes from Cor­ner Brook. She can be reached at darasquires@gmail.com

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