How to Leave When it’s Time to Change Schools
When our kids were younger, we made the decision to enroll them in a parochial school rather than a public school. We live in an area that boasts one of the top 10 public school districts in the nation, so we knew what we were giving up. Our choice was largely a faith-based one.
As it turned out, this school was absolutely the right place for our older 2 children. They thrived in the strong academic environment and embraced the religious part of the school culture & community.
But when our 3rd child was diagnosed with severe ADHD and SPD, we learned a tough & essential lesson: the perfect school for our first 2 kids was not perfect for our son. We had to think about changing schools for our child with ADHD.
It's an Agonizing Decision
There was no doubt that the teachers & staff at our parochial school did everything they could to help our then 1st grader be successful. They gave him extra breaks, positive encouragement, and one-on-one attention. The staff was committed. His teacher even gave me her personal cell phone number early on (unheard of in a school environment 8 years ago) and called me with regular updates. But it just wasn't enough.
In spite of their passion and support, the school did not have the resources (and in some areas, the training) to help our little guy. At the end of his 1st grade year, he had already labeled himself as ‘the bad kid:' he hated going to school, he couldn't read at grade level, and he could barely write his name. We had to make a change.
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Fear Can Lead to Success…
I'm happy to report that changing schools was hugely successful for our son. He thrived in his new environment and by the end of 2nd grade was reading at a high school level! He just needed to learn differently. But the decision to switch was one of the hardest ones we've had to make.
Our older 2 kids stayed put and we were afraid they would get teased about their younger brother not making the cut. We worried the school administration would think we were judging the school, we feared our son's religious education would fall by the wayside, and we were concerned he would lose critical social connections with the same age peers who lived nearby.
Thankfully none of that happened.
Over the years, I've coached and guided many parents who are struggling with the decision to switch their child's school. These decisions are often prompted by a crisis at school, or the nagging feeling that their kids are failing on some level and aren't getting the resources they need.
And here's what I've learned: Break-ups are never easy, but you can still remain friends. Here are a few tips to guide your conversations:
- It's not you, it's me: Your child learns differently. I've yet to meet a teacher or an administrator who truly wants a child to fail in school and in life. Chances are, the folks at your current school already know they can't give provide the resources your child needs. Think of it the way we think of our kids EF challenges – it's not that they won't help, it's that they can't.And if you start to feel squeamish, remind them that your child has access to all kinds of accommodations, IEPs, and 504 plans if they attend a public school. Many private schools will provide accommodations and success plans for their students with special needs, but parochial schools are not required to provide any type of special education at all.
- Do your research: Switching to a public school may not be your only alternative. I've spoken with lots of parents recently who've made the decision to homeschool for a limited period of time. Many cities now offer charter or private schools specifically for kids with special needs or learning challenges. A lot of these schools provide financial assistance for those who qualify and in some cases your school district may be required to help offset the costs of your child's education if they are unable to provide the resources your child needs. You may also be able to switch to an out of district public school if your designated public feeder school is not a good fit. The Director of Special Education for your local school district is a great place to start!
- Don't Burn any Bridges: My parents taught me long ago to stay friendly with everyone in all matters because you never know when you may cross paths again. It's not always easy to do, particularly when your child is involved, but it's excellent advice. As tempting as it may be to share the negative things that happened to your child at his current school, and to list the multiple reasons behind your decision to switch schools, do not badmouth the staff or the school itself. Sharing your anger and frustration can backfire and lead to future stress for you, your child and your family.
In my experience, the majority of these transitions go really well as long as everyone makes an effort to stay involved and communicate honestly.
If you are struggling with the decision change schools, you might want to ask yourself these additional questions:
- What do I need to know/hear/say to give myself permission to make this decision?
- What's the story I'm still telling myself in my head?
- What's a story that's also true but is more positive and hopeful that I can tell myself instead?
Lastly, and most importantly, make sure your child (and his siblings) know that the decision to change schools does not mean that he has in any way failed. All kids deserve to be taught how they learn best.
For more information about schools for children with special needs, and whether changing schools is important for your child with ADHD, check out these resources or contact your local LDA or CHADD chapter.