Thursday, March 22, 2012

Waiting to Fail

Something is dreadfully wrong with a school bureaucracy that does not proactively try to keep students from making damaging choices, academically or socially.  Unfortunately, that's how many schools  function:  their bureaucracy (and lawyers) want a paper trail of documented negative incidents before they'll seriously consider providing extra services for a student who's at risk of hurting himself or others.  They react, instead of anticipate and guide.  While I understand that the schools want reasonable justification before they commit valuable and limited services, it's also maddening to have to wait for a student to crash and burn before they get the help they obviously needed long before that crisis point.  This so-called "wait to fail" policy makes no sense at all to me, but it's entrenched in many, many schools, including my local school district.  Parents and teachers, administrators and students find themselves in an uphill battle to get help before a student has gone so far down a negative spiral that they will have a much harder time succeeding in school and in life.

Why the rant?  I spent half an hour on the phone with Safety Guy's primary counselor at school this morning.  She's awesome, but we both know that her hands (and teachers' hands) are tied regarding how students are disciplined, and regarding what services she can offer to help students who are struggling.  Safety Guy has been teetering on the edge of making all sorts of bad choices for the past couple months, and waiting for him to crash and burn before he receives help is just NOT an acceptable option for my husband and I.  Safety Guy is ASKING for the help; he KNOWS he needs it, and he WANTS to succeed, but he's stuck in a downward spiral.  I am not going to sit around and wait for him to "fail" before the school steps up and does what they should have done months ago.

Academically, Safety Guy continues to need help with his math skills.  There's money for our school district to help students who need tutoring, but the catch is that it's designated specifically for the middle school.  Safety Guy is one grade up from the middle school now, so he's not eligible for that assistance (and in any case, there are income eligibility requirements that would disqualify us).  Our district also cut summer school for the junior high last year, and will not be offering it this summer either.  So, no math help for Safety Guy through the school over the summer.  We'll have to look into tutoring or some kind of online or software practice program to keep him going, or he'll lose a lot of ground over the summer. 

Socially, Safety Guy is constantly on the brink of losing his temper at the students who have bullied him all year.  He has, in fact, yelled at several of them already, using highly inappropriate language at times.   He has worked so hard to do what his counselor and teachers have told him to avoid or defuse situations where someone is picking on him or annoying him, and he feels like nothing he's done has actually worked to his benefit.  He feels like he's still the target, and he's fed up.  Adding to this feeling of persecution, he has great difficulty leaving things alone, and he tends to hold on to things and get mad about them again later.  He's the "rules police" and gets bent out of shape when other kids won't follow those rules.  Consequently he's always on edge, and ready to tell the rule-breakers and bullies what they should do.  It's that "third parent" syndrome we've run into before, so common in kids with Aspergers:  they see no reason why they shouldn't have equal authority with the adults in their lives, and they don't understand why others won't listen to them when they're obviously "right."

In spite of his best efforts, there are a number of kids in SG's classes that just won't leave him alone, or who are equally unable to let go of a verbal exchange and feel that they too must have the last word.  These other students have been reprimanded many times by teachers, but they keep doing things to set Safety Guy off on purpose.  (Although to be fair, sometimes SG is primed and ready to jump verbally on anyone who gets on his nerves, whether he's their primary target or not, and he's been guilty of going off on kids who didn't need to be reprimanded, and certainly not by him.)  Safety Guy is discouraged, frustrated and angry, and neither his counselor, his teachers, nor I can blame him.  "Why should I bother letting the teachers handle it?  They don't do anything, and those kids just get away with it and do it to me again!"  He doesn't see that the teachers' hands are tied and limited in the discipline they can hand out, and that many of the kids do not have any kind of strong parental role models or discipline, and thus no real incentive to change their ways. 

I'm at the end of my rope, doing my best to help him understand the consequences of his actions and words, but feeling like I'm yelling down a well.  All I get are echoes, but no tangible results.   Heaven help us, there's another 12 weeks of school to come.  Am I waiting for him to fail?  Absolutely not.