Friday, May 30, 2014

You've come a long way, baby!

My son won an award today, and I'm so proud of him! It's especially awesome given his history from birth.

As many of you know, Chris was born in crisis at 24 weeks gestation, weighing just 1 pound, 6 ounces. Read his birth story here and more reflections on his 16th birthday here. His neonatologist said he had a 50 percent chance of survival, and if he survived, he'd have a 50 percent chance of major disabilities. His childhood had its challenges--he didn't talk until he was three, and he had motor delays. As a baby and toddler, he also had some serious feeding problems caused by reflux. He had to start wearing glasses at age 3 because of retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease that preemies get (and that made Stevie Wonder go blind). He didn't even get on the growth charts until he was 3 or 4. The tall kidney doctor wanted to put him on growth hormones, but we resisted. 
When he went off to preschool, he needed some help with social skills, but otherwise he was doing fine. Although it took him longer to learn how to write, he was an early and avid reader. Throughout Chris' childhood, we knew every day how lucky he was--and how lucky we were--that he had not experienced more problems from his prematurity. 

Although he was a strong reader, he began struggling with math in second grade. In third grade, he suffered from a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy (he's since become cured of epilepsy). We knew from a few MRIs that his brain was not typical...most likely because of cerebral edema and low flow to the brain in the NICU. But again, he is luckier than most 24-weekers because he never had a brain bleed.

With his fifth-grade teacher
In fourth grade, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, and in fifth grade, his teacher saw such a gap between his math and verbal scores that he was put on an individual education plan (IEP) for math and organizational skills. I remember being highly emotional during these meetings and the whole IEP process, because as a preemie mom, I so desperately wanted my child to be "normal." 
It's never easy for a parent to hear that your child needs special help in school but in my case it brought up post-traumatic stress. This was not helped when a former friend made some insensitive comments about Chris. I know she was trying to "help," but she was extremely hurtful.

After the IEP began, he started getting extra help at school and we enrolled him in Kumon math tutoring, which focuses on helping kids master the basics and building on their self-confidence and success. That helped him build a strong math foundation, which sticks to this day. In middle school, we navigated the IEP process and hated the fact that each IEP meeting focused mostly on what Chris needed to work on rather than on what he was doing well (getting good grades, great behavior, etc.). I know that any parent with a child on an IEP can relate. 

It didn't help that he had some truly pathetic middle school teachers--one special ed case manager who was completely hopeless and two awful science teachers. Nevertheless, he managed to enjoy middle school and do well with just a few days spent in a study hall and the ability to take standardized tests in a quiet room for extra support. He also experienced some bullying, because Chris is a friendly, enthusiastic young man...not the characteristics that are considered "cool" in middle school. He got good grades overall, and we always felt that a C in math was good as long as he did his best. While Chris enjoyed middle school, I do not have fond memories of that era, at all...but before he left middle school, he came off the IEP because he was doing so well. He didn't need any extra help to succeed.

When we began to think about high school, we learned about Thomas A. Edison High School, which specializes in teaching kids with learning disabilities--specifically ADD/ADHD and dyslexia. It's very small with just 80 students, and the teacher-student ratio per class is about one to eight. It's expensive and has been a financial sacrifice. (With that said, the school does give out a lot of money in scholarships.) We are staunch supporters of public schools, but we felt that this would be a place where Chris could thrive. We knew he would do fine at a public high school, but we wanted him to do well and give him a great start at adulthood. At first he didn't want to go there because he wanted to stay with his friends. It didn't take him too long to settle in though, and he loves the opportunity to do drama and music at nearby Jesuit. By the end of his freshman year, he wrote this letter about why he wanted to return for his sophomore year

Last fall, he was one of two student speakers at the Edison Breakfast, where he spoke about his experiences at Edison in front of an audience of several hundred people. 



Now he's almost done with his junior year, and today we were invited to an awards assembly where each teacher presented an academic award to the top student in each grade. We also attended last year, when we found out that Chris had been appointed as a peer helper, a group that meets regularly with the counselor to help students who are having social problems. He's also served on student council in the last two years. So we expected that kind of recognition again--both great honors!
Student council recognition
Peer counselor recognition
But imagine our shock when his gifted Algebra 2 teacher, Colin Livesey, announced that Chris was receiving an academic achievement award. This is the kid who went on an IEP for math! Even though the Edison teachers are all extraordinary, we've been astonished by Chris' turnaround in math--because of amazing teachers. Last fall in his student-led conference, Chris' physics teacher commented about his strong math skills and how they help him in physics. (Our kid? :)) 
Talking about Chris' achievements
This year Mr. Livesey has been using a new technique for teaching math, and it seems to work extremely well for Chris. Instead of spending the time in class lecturing and teaching Algebra 2 concepts, he makes a video of himself jotting down the equations and lessons. The students watch the video at home and take notes, and then they spend the class time going over the concepts and discussing them. This approach has been highly effective for Chris, and he's been getting As.

Mr. Livesey is one of the most devoted teachers I've ever seen. He also has the Algebra 2 students come in early for an extra half period a few mornings a week, just so they can thoroughly understand the concepts. He also teaches swing dancing and boat building, and coaches the school's ultimate frisbee team. When the principal spoke about Mr. Livesey today, he said that he has recently cut back to 12-hour days and it's his perpetual goal to get to school earlier than Mr. Livesey--he hasn't succeeded yet.

I only wish that I'd had a math teacher like this when I was in high school. I'm embarassed to admit that I got two Ds in high school--one in Algebra 2 and the other in Physics. I didn't have good study skills and the content didn't come easily to me. I don't think it comes easily to Chris, either (he was born to two English majors!), but he works extremely hard and he has an amazing teacher. 
Receiving his award
From not meeting math benchmarks in grade school to being happy with Cs in middle school, it's been a journey for Chris to get to this point. Algebra 2 is the highest-level math his school offers, so next year he's off to Jesuit High School to take his final high school math class. I am so proud of my little micropreemie!! 

1 comment:

  1. Marie, this is wonderful to hear how well your son has done. I, too, stalled out in Algebra/Geometry in high school, getting my only Cs in high school and preventing me from Honor Roll at graduation. I tested high in junior high and even on the PSAT, but I suffered from Math anxiety and never continued past sophomore year. That teacher sounds amazing.

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