Thursday, August 21, 2008

Home 4 Weeks Today

We spent the day gearing up for school. Well, actually we already have our gear, but we had to go have the kids ESL tested and registered. The district said we needed to register the kids for school through the ESL office and have them tested. I can't say I was anywhere close to being impressed with the lady we worked with for ESL at the district, but I think the school will be a good fit for us this first year in school and we will see from there on out. We spent the whole morning at the testing office where a very slow secretary registered the kids for school. I have no idea why she filled out the paperwork instead of allowing me to do it. She even circled that the kids were "black" on all three forms! Hello! They are sitting right in front of you. I don't necessarily think she was the best fit for the job. She tested the two older kids with this ridiculous test that they could not understand. I had already explained to her that they were mostly only conversational in their English, but she insisted (must be mandatory) that she ask them these questions. I tried to listen in a little and she was asking things like, "Which tree is the tallest?" Yes, they picked that right up in their first weeks at home. ;) Well, at least they know what trees are. I have no idea what all she asked them. The air conditioner was running too loud.

I was mostly frustrated and racking my brain for private schools that might still have availability (and contemplating homeschooling) when she told me the two older ones by law needed to be in grades 3 and 2. Apparently Lily could be in kindergarten, but Julian who is exactly one year older and Sophie who is a year and two weeks older than him were too old for 1st and 2nd grade. Ah, the logic of it all. Luckily the principal of the school was able to override the district's "by law" placement and thank God for answered prayers, he did. I just would not feel right about sticking Julian in 2nd grade. In Ukraine you don't start school until age 7, so he has had no formal education. Poor kid would have been even further in over his head. 1st grade curriculum will give him some room for catching up, as long as I give him lots of help at home. 2nd grade would have been overwhelming and I am afraid that his frustration would have caused him to act out. That is just the way he is wired. We are working with him on that, but I want to give him what he needs educationally and if the public school would not have offered it I would be looking elsewhere or homeschooling. For Sophie I want to give her another year of childhood. I certainly can't give her anything back from her past, but I want to give her the extra year to be a little girl, build friendships and trust, and give her confidence in her academics. I know that she will do well in school because she did very well in Ukraine in school. She is really bright and thinks about all kinds of things. She is very neat and efficient in her work. Like her siblings though, I want to let her regress a bit from where the law says they "should be" academically, even if it means she will be a few months older than the oldest kids her class. Who cares? Thankfully not the principal. :)

So, on to the good stuff. We went in this afternoon and met Lily's teacher. She seems wonderful and loved Lily the second she said hello. Apparently the love was mutual because Lily who has stayed up late at nights worrying about school smiled and said hello and walked down the hall like she owned the place. That's my girl. I was so happy for her. I know she will still be anxious to start on Monday, but she really took her fears and looked them straight in the face and said, "Nyet by-ooz," even if she is. Oh, I just know Lily will love kindergarten. She is so ready. She loves practicing writing, "reading" books, and singing songs. I don't think the first week or two might be as easy as today was, but it was a great start. She may be the only kindergartener to have lost all of her front teeth already though!

Can't remember if I blogged this or not but there is a little girl in 2nd grade who is from Russia. Her family moved here a couple years ago and she speaks fluent Russian and English. The plan is for Sophie and Irina (the little girl) to get to know each other so Sophie can have someone at school to answer questions, etc. Irina is friends with the three second grade girls on our street so I just know that Sophie will get along with her too. Unfortunately it didn't work out that Sophie and Irina are in the same class :( but apparently Irina has a little sister starting kindergarten and the principal purposefully placed Lily in class with her. Lily has talked all afternoon and evening about how she will be able to tell Yana when she doesn't understand something and Yana will explain it to her. We have never even talked to this family, but I think our girls are going to be friends! In kindergarten here you only go to school the first week on two of the 5 days. Lily's teacher put her on the same days as Yana so they will get to know each other when there are only a few other kids around. Isn't that fantastic? I am so happy for Lily as I watch her confidence grow. We will see how dance class goes tomorrow though... ;)

Anyway, we went back later this evening to find out about class placement for the other two and I think they will be just fine as well. So here are the pictures!

We pointed out things like where the bathrooms were and how they should ask the teacher to use the restroom. This one has Sophie showing us which bathroom the girls should not use and the next one shows the girls headed toward the correct one. Anyone who knows us well will know these little hams are a perfect fit in our family.

Afterward we treated ourselves to Mexican food. Yum! I must say the children are very well behaved, despite the way they photographed. :) They know all the rules for dining out and restaurants and they usually spout them out on the way there before I get the chance. Hand motions and everything! Too funny.


Courtney said...

I love the updates! Can you believe you've been home for a month? Doesn't the time fly? Just wait until you've been home for 8 months--rejoicing in the amazing accomplishments and wondering when some of the other stuff will fall into place. ;)

Julie said...

I cannot BELIEVE it has been 4 weeks! Wow! What a blessing that the school is working with you on placing the kids. I am sad that Sophie didn't get in the same class as the Russian-speaking girl, though. I am much more nervouse for HG to start school than she is! I am grateful that I got 4 months with her...but it's still not enough for me when I think about Kindergarten.
Have fun at dance today! :)

Diana said...

They are so cute! I'm glad you're still blogging, too.

From a mom who's been there and done that and still doing it, you were absolutely right in pushing to get your kids retained a year. But, it's probalby best the private school idea didn't come to fruition. :-) We attempted a charter school with our newly arrived children last year. They promised us the wind and everything looked perfect on paper, but in reality, it was a disaster! They were back in public school, with my adopted son getting the services he needed within 6 weeks.

One thing I STRONGLY recommend is insisting (with great passion) the school test your kids in areas such as cognative functioning, speech, adaptive functioning, IQ, etc. What I didn't realize when I first got home is that truely BY LAW (under the federal "no child left behind" and IDEA acts) the school is required to administer these tests in their native tongue. They'll give you all sorts of run-around about it, but it's their job and they know it. There are also several non-verbal tests they can do as well.

But, it will be a long time (at least a year or two or more) before these same tests will be accurate if they are administered in English. That's too long to wait if your kids need extra support in some areas. For example, if they test speech delayed in Russian (very common for PI kids), they will likely also be speech delayed in English once they transition. Things they "should" know in Russian, but don't yet...or issues related to ARND (also common in EE kids, even without physical markers) or other learning delays may also show up. You can also have them do tests in social and behavioral areas if these are a concern to you. In a nutshell, the earlier you can catch any potential issues, the earlier you can start interventions and set up IEP's for them, which quite honestly, they will likely need just by virtue pf being PI, language transition and lack of education.

The trick is, though, you need to act quickly, and possibly very quickly on this. My son refused to engage with anyone in Ukrainian when we were home 6 weeks, which is also about the time he started rapidly loosing it. By then, it was too late to push to do the testing in Ukrainian. He wouldn't have cooperated! Where all your kids speak Russian and probably do to each other as well as kids at school, they may retain theirs a little longer. But once they start really transitioning, they will do it quickly.

This is all stuff the schools don't want you to know. It is something you will have to push them on. You can "load your guns" by doing some research on the internet. A search with the key words "[name of your state] special education laws" shoud provide you with all the info you need.

Reality is that there are 13 different classifications for special education. Knowing what I do about PI kids from Ukraine, it is pretty likely at least one of your kids will meet one or more of these criteria. PLEASE don't take that as any offense or a slam on your darling kids. It just means that there are 13 different avenues you can look into to help them catch up and learn in ways that will work best for them. The schools can be brutal, especially on "unique" kids, which our IA kids are. There's no way for them to get around ELL at this point, but believe me, they're banking on you not knowing about all the other stuff.

Better run get my kids ready for school. There's a link to my blog in my profile and a link on my email on my blog if you have any questions.

Anonymous said...

I love reading up on all your progress as a family. It's so wonderful seeing how happy he kids are! We look forward to seeing pictures and reading your updates everyday! Melody sits on my lap and looks at the pictures. I'm teaching her how to say all their names:)

Kathy and Matt said...

Your kids will do beautifully in school. It sounds like you have a good principal who focuses on the need of the child, not only the "rules".

I think you'll be amazed at how quickly they start picking up English being around all the other children and in class. We had Leeza start preschool about 3 weeks after returning home (at her request). She loved it and even though she couldn't communicate much, she picked up the language like a sponge. Between preschool and her big sister, she's now quite the little chatter box (6 months home).

Congrats on how well everything is going for your family!

AmyBee said...

Hooray for your Gumdrops starting school! I'm very pleased for you that the principal agreed with you on their placement. Isn't it fun that we both have kindergarteners this year? Hopefully, Lily will take to it as well as Maddie has and you'll have a little chatterbox telling you everything about the day she just had!

Tonya said...

Sounds like things are going really well over there:). I'm sure that being in school will really help their aquisition of English.