As I sat there in the bleachers on that June afternoon, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement and jubilation. This was, after all, a high school graduation and I was there because my son Michael was graduating from high school.
It was an event, until four years ago, I never thought I would be a part of and as I sat there throughout the ceremony, I reflected over the past thirteen years of Michaelís education.
Michael was a very hyperactive child with severe attention span deficit. Kindergarten at our neighborhood school was the logical place to start and so off he went along with his twenty-five classmates. My concerns for his well being and normal progress were deep but I labored under the assumption that the school had experience in these matters and that they would be able to handle any problems that might arise. I was wrong! It soon became clear that they did not know what to do with him and he was spending more time in the principalís office than he was in the classroom. I did not know it at the time but this was to be a way of Michaelís school life until he reached high school.
It soon became an impossible situation, between the relentless taunting and teasing from the other children and the school trying every means of discipline that nothing was working.
Being a very strong believer in public education, I found it very difficult to consider the private sector but Michaelís education and well-being were of the utmost importance and an alternative had to be found.
The alternative was a small local private school and Michael started there in his second grade due mainly to a wonderful teacher who seemed to understand him. Michael still recalls her with fondness and often states that she was the first teacher who liked him. It was a better place for him and I felt more comfortable but again the principalís office once more became his own private classroom. Socially it was still very difficult for him but differences were more readily accepted here which made it better for Michael.
However, this was not to last and the school was tired of "handling" Michael and had completely run out of ideas for disciplining and nothing was working. In fact, things seemed to be getting worse. So, in the middle of his 6th grade, they informed me that I would have to remove him from school. It was a devastating blow and almost impossible to explain to Michael. After all, he couldnít help the fact that he found it impossible to sit still in class nor could he help being disruptive. It did not help at all to have almost every teacher he ever had tell him every day that he really could behave if he wanted to and that the only reason he was disruptive was because he wanted attention.
In the middle of the 6th grade, I was once again faced with the problem of finding another school where his behavior would be understood. However, for the several weeks that it took for me to look, Michael did not attend school at all and his formal education simply ceased.
The answer this time was a brand new school that had just opened a few months prior. There were other children like Michael there and the principal had three hyperactive children of her own also with learning disabilities. The principal asked me if I would be a teacherís aid in the kindergarten class and so every day Michael and I commuted to school. It was more difficult to actually see Michael in the principalís office every day than to hear about it but by now, our choices were very limited.
On Michaelís behalf, there was never a day that Michael refused to go to school and I was often overcome by his courage and hope that each day would be better for him.
After a year or so at this school, I began to notice that Michael was in the principalís office less and less. His activity level had diminished somewhat at home but I was astounded to see it had also lessened at school.
By the time he was ready for high school, the situation had improved to the point where I was able to consider public school. His option of going to public school again had never been a possibility and his higher education had always been a constant worry.
Suddenly, the end of summer was upon us and Michael had to go to school somewhere. Should we take the plunge and try public school?
Could he handle it? Could the school handle him? I discussed my concerns with Michael and he said he wanted to try. His exact words were, "For once in my life, I want to be normal." After hearing this, I had no choice but to give him the chance.
The first year was not easy but it is not an easy year for many freshmen. But he never once saw the inside of the principalís office and with the help of a special education class; he was able to graduate from high school on that beautiful sunny day in June. When his name was announced and he walked across the stage to receive his diploma from the principal, she didnít even know who he was!