Thursday, August 23, 2007

Older Child Adoption Series- Dealing With Education Decisions


Hey there! I have had MANY mommies and daddies ask me about my opinions on schooling for older adopted children. In April I wrote an entry about our process of deciding how to educate Zoe. I thought I would re-post it and add to it a little.

When we were in the process of adopting our sweet Zoe I was a little obsessed about the best choice of school for her. I was so nervous about making sure she would be able to catch up with the other children and not feel like she wasn't smart just because she was a little behind the other kids. I researched DOZENS of options. I visited quite a few schools. Finally we went through an interview process and enrolled Zoe in a spectacular Christian school. She was supposed to come home sometime between April-July of 2006. We just knew she would have several months to learn English and bond with us then she would start a part time schedule. JUST PERFECT RIGHT???

Well.... as many of you know that is NOT how things turned out. It took us 5 months of waiting to finally get DNA because of slow lawyers and complications at the US embassy.We passed through April, May, June and their was no sign of Zoe coming home. In June we found out we had been kicked out of PGN and thrown into a rectification process for a minor clerical error. When we were kicked out we were told that because of these complications we should not even expect our Zoe home for Christmas.

For weeks I was devastated. All my visions of Zoe home for the summer and Thanksgiving and Christmas were melting away. I was worn thin emotionally and financially. The thought of another Christmas in the Marriott in Guatemala just "playing" family almost broke me.

I called Zoe's school and literally broke down crying as I explained to the unfortunate soul answering phones that Zoe would not be there in the fall. They were amazing and supportive and told us they would welcome Zoe when we were all ready.

As we prepared to go on a long awaited 2 week trip to Disney World in Oct 2006 our hearts were breaking. We had planned this trip for Zoe and Kaitlyn. We had booked it when we just knew July was a worst case scenario. ALL the grandparents were going. It was supposed to be a special bonding time with all of them.

Now here we were 3 months past our supposed worst case scenario and no end in sight. Then without warning we received a call that our Zoe had been released from PGN! It was crazy and unexpected and WOW! We were only two weeks from Disney and we really thought there was no way she would make it but we had to be ready.

All of a sudden things started FLYING! We got the birth certificate and final signature within a couple of days. We got everything ready for pink and took it with us to Florida. Sure enough... we were walking through Epcot when we received the call to come pick up our daughter. Her pink appointment was in 3 days!!!! I jumped on a plane and got our girl and brought her back to Orlando on Nov 1st.

Her first night in the US was spent in the Magic Kingdom. We didn't do much. Just the carousal and seeing some princesses were enough for Zoe at that point!! Yet just the gift of her being there- of seeing her hugging Mickey Mouse- it was more than we could have hoped for a month before that.
I called the Christian school and enrolled Zoe for the next semester. As we got to know Zoe better I realized that a classroom setting was more than Zoe was ready for at that point. She is so smart but was deathly afraid of making mistakes. She would literally break down weeping if she thought she was about to get a wrong answer. She had never even set foot into a school and hadn't even learned how to spell her name till she was in foster care. I realized that putting her in a group setting in that fragile state could be a huge mistake for our little one. I talked to our social worker and she whole heartedly agreed with our decision.

In fact our social worker told us that she was greatly relieved. She said that in her many years of experience (she has been in adoption for MANY years and is awesome) the majority of attachment issues happen when adopted children are immediately placed in full time care or school after coming home. Her opinion was that when it is possible it is highly beneficial for the child to have as much time as possible at home with a parent. As an adoptive mom this has been my experience as well when speaking with other adoptive parents.

Of course there are many children who will cope well with the transition even when placed in care. What I am saying as that WHEN I have heard of people having trouble (which is rather rare) this was usually the circumstance. In fact I have seen children immediately bond when removed from full time care and brought home when they would not bond for a year previously.

Knowing Zoe's personality we felt it was especially important to keep these statistics in mind. She is very sweet and tender hearted. She is easily intimidated and at that time had very little self confidence.

Just learning to function in a safe family has been a huge thing for Zoe. Learning to speak English has been a huge thing for Zoe. Learning to not be afraid to make mistakes has been huge. Being allowed (and forced) to think for herself has been a huge thing for Zoe. Learning to read in English, learning to write in English, learning Math at an advanced rate.... these things were going to be so much anyway. We had to be careful not to overwhelm her.

The most important thing for Zoe was to BOND with us. Learning to be a part of our family is infinitely more important than her multiplication tables. We know that each child is different and respect each family's decisions for their children. Parents know their children better than anyone. It was our job to know Zoe.

For Zoe we knew that her first year she needed to be with us as much as possible. Just like a newborn she needed to learn that we would take care of her and she could trust us. We knew that she needed that kind of security before she could have the courage to take off on her own. So we decided I would home school for this semester and she would go to school next school year if she was emotionally ready. Again the school was completely supportive and wonderful. (did I mention I adore them???)

We decided these were our goals.... Zoe would do two years of Math curriculum in 8 months. She would be fluent in English. She would be able to read on a beginner first grade level in 8 months. She would be able to write simple sentences independently. She would be able to receive instruction and correction without weeping. She would be able to fail without fear. She would be securely bonded to our family and confident in herself.

I am so proud of our girl. We accomplished every one of those goals except the Math. We are still working on the second year and getting there. She is amazing. I am just so proud I could bust!

Doing all this is easier than it sounds. Anyone who has taught knows that there is a LOT of time spent in the school day shuffling and waiting and so on. If you have only one child to teach you can get things done 10 times faster. There is no extra review because some of the kids don't get it yet. There is no 20 minute bathroom breaks before lunch while you referee fights in the bathroom and make sure everyone has washed their hands. We don't have to take attendance or file through lunch lines.
So you can see that our school does not take near as much time as a traditional classroom setting. It usually takes us 2-3 hours a day to do her seat work. Then we do the art, music, PE and so on in lots of fun ways after we are done with our busy work. Recess is whenever we get done... PE is bike riding together to do school in the park or playing basketball or jumping on the trampoline. Yes, PE is also climbing all over the huge nets and bridges at Sea World or swimming.

We are also doing a year round school schedule. We do not usually take traditional holidays. She did not take a spring break and will not take a traditional summer. We take breaks whenever we need them as a family. We do school every week. We just don't do it in the same way. We do two longer days together each week. On those days I instruct and help Zoe in learning new skills. Then two days a week Zoe does her independent work with my help if she needs it. (she practices her reading, writing and math games) Usually one day a week we do a field trip and she does some work in the car. The car is actually a great place to do school. I just ask lots of math questions or she reads to me. It works out great!

At the point I wrote this post in April Zoe had been in school for just 4 months. She had completed her first YEAR of math!!! Now she is halfway through the next year. She can count to 100 by ones, 2s, 5s and 10s. She can count backwards from 20. She is learning to tell time and count money. She can add and do simple algebra. (10=6+x) She can communicate almost anything she needs to in English and understands 95% of what we say. She can read on a beginner first grade level. She can write simple sentences. (Although the spelling will be bad!) She has gained so much confidence that sometimes she doesn't seem like the same child! She is becoming very secure in our family. I just love seeing the process!!! What a few months can do...

So NOW Zoe is in school. YAY! This time she is really ready to be there.

This school is what is called a university model. That means that you take classes just like you do at college. Elementary students take classes 2 days a week. Middle and High school students take classes 3 days a week.
You enroll your child in whatever classes you would like them to be in. You have the option to let them take some at home and just test out of them to get credit in older grades. Classes are offered by level- not just by grade. So if your child excels in math they can take a higher level of math. If your child struggles in reading they can take a lower level.
The children are not all the same age in each class similar to college. (of course many of the kiddos will end up together in the traditional 1st class or 2nd class)
On off days the elementary children do their busy work at home with a parent. Their school time is spent on the core teaching and major projects. This schedule also allows the school to use one facility for all their students which cuts cost in half!
Zoe's tuition is less than half of what it would be at a traditional private school. Great news for us!! Plus, I think it's great that Zoe will get to have a school experience and friends but we will still get to spend extra time with her. I plan on sending all of my kiddos to school there.

Here is Zoe's school schedule.... She will be taking most classes on the second grade level. She will take Grammar 1st grade level.
History-This course will be individual unit studies with students learning about geography, Indians, Texas History, and ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, the Romans, and the Greeks.
Grammar/Writing-The course will introduce students to different forms of writing and provide strategies for developing effective reading, speaking, listening, and learning skills. It will also introduce the six traits of effective writing, prewriting, and drafting guidelines. Course offered contingent on enrollment.
Music- students will have an opportunity to experience an active involvement in exploring the fun of music. Students will learn the elements of music and connect to different music styles through the development of skills. These skills will include singing, playing instruments, creative movement, music reading, and listening. Students will also be introduced to composers of different music periods and various families of instruments. There will be performance at the end of each semester.
Art-Art students will be introduced to the fundamentals of art. They will explore art appreciation by identifying how art functions within our environment such as home, school and other places. Art history will be introduced to enable them to see the progression of art through the ages. The student will produce art in both 2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional forms, using mixed medium of pencil, watercolor, tempra paints, oil pastels, collages, ceramics and printmaking. Some supplies will be provided by student.

We will continue doing Math at home because I am so excited about the math program we are doing together. It's called Right Start Math. It's great!! We will also continue 1st grade Hooked on Phonics and then continue to the second grade level.
I know we still have work to do. The school work takes Zoe about 2 or 3 times as long as it would the average child in her school. I am so glad that she has the foundation to handle the pressure so well. This would have been so much harder if she didn't. Our former quivering leaf of a daughter is now as confident as can be. Yesterday she had to work for hours on things she could not understand. 8 months ago she would have broken down crying and we would have been stuck. It didn't faze her a bit! She just kept trying fairly independently and she did AWESOME! Zoe conquered every single assignment beautifully. She gets stronger every day.
OK well that's it. I've blabbered on enough and I am sure you all quite reading a long time ago!!!! Hee hee.... More than you ever wanted to know. :0) Angel


Emily said...

Thank you so much for sharing all this. It is so helpful as we research what we are planning to do for our daughter. The school sounds awesome.

wareaglereed said...

Great Post!! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with Zoe!! It's so great to get another adoptive parent's point of view on these issues. You guys have obviously followed God's guidance through this process and are doing great with both your little princesses!!

Melissa said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. This is really informative - not just for adoptive parents, but for ALL parents. All of our children have different personalities, needs, etc. Thank you for bringing light to the fact that there are MANY educational options for our children.

burpittyburp said...

AWESOME! Absolutley wonderful all the work that you have done with Zoe. Her school sounds fabulous. Keep us posted:)

jeneflower said...

You are such a great mom! I can tell that Zoe has just blossomed under your loving care. That is a great idea to have specific goals and dates you hope to accomplish them. I should try that.

amber said...

This was a great post. (and I loved the pictures!) Zoe is such a sweetie. You can tell how loved and secure she feels through the sparkle in her eyes.

I love the University school model. I helped set up a homeschool co-op in our community and taught in it for years. We really wrestled with how to structure it and had some similar ideas, but didn't hit the mark like this. I emailed some of these ideas to the lady who is now running it... she is going to be excited about the fresh approach! Thanks.


Pep said...

May I just add - In all my experiences, I have never witnessed a child's personality show itself so beautifully as in Zoe's pictures!

A Special Family said...

What a wonderful school and an amazing teacher Zoe has in you!

I am amazed at the number of peopl who place their children in care straight away. I once read a blog where they were back from China on a Saturday and the baby was in daycare on a Monday....

GDS said...

Now that I think about it, this is exactly the topic that cause me to first bookmark your blog. I just found it so interesting that you had the confidence to make this type of decision. It seems to have been a great experience for you and Zoe alike. Bonding is not just hugs and kisses. It's about camradery, trust, and respect as well.

Keep us posted on how things progress.