|My beautiful teenager, Lee.|
I'm an American, my ex is South African, both of us native English speakers, living in a country whose national tongue is a language that is not English. To make this less complicated, I'll refer to the locally spoken language as Elvish.
Growing up in the US, my mom spoke to us in Elvish at home, so that we grew up bilingual and more or less fluent in both. But though I speak Elvish, it is not as comfortable for me to speak as English, and I wanted my home to be a place where I'm fully able to express myself and have no language barriers impeding on my relationships. Additionally, my ex and I both agreed that it would only be beneficial for our kids to speak English in addition to Elvish. So we made the decision to make our home an English speaking one.
We assumed that, even though we were homeschooling, because society all around us speaks Elvish, my kids would pick it up through osmosis, and through hearing us speak in Elvish when out of the house, but when that didn't happen, we decided to send our oldest two, Lee and Ike, to a local school that spoke Elvish, when Lee was in first grade and Ike in preschool.
It worked. Sort of. Lee acheived a basic level of fluency in Elvish, but Ike did not. Ike learned only one word in Elvish the entire year. This set the stage for us finally discovering that he has autism; he had no language delays with English, but the language delays were profound in the second language. From when he got his diagnosis, he ended up in a school for kids with autism that had a lot of one on one instruction with speech and many other things, and they helped him more or less catch up in Elvish. (He's still not mother tongue level fluent, but he's very much improved.)
Lee's grasp of Elvish improved somewhat over the years, but not enough. As we were homeschooling him, we put a lot of effort on working on his Elvish, watching movies in Elvish, speaking Elvish around the house, going to youth groups in Elvish, but while his spoken Elvish was fine enough to manage, it never really got up to par.
There's a homeschooling approval board in this country and they were fine with us homeschooling in general, but gave us problems about the kids being behind in Elvish. I tried arguing with them, telling them that we can homeschool our kids how we want, and there's no law against us raising English speakers here, and that I could send my kids to schools locally that spoke English and that's totally legal, so why should it be a legal problem for us to homeschool in English?
They didn't buy that argument and kept on causing us problems, and then they said they'd only give us legal permission to homeschool him once we do a psychodidactic evaluation to rule out any learning disabilities. I fought this for a while, because I knew he didn't have any learning disabilities, and its not legal for them to require it, and I didn't have the cash to pay for it.
But eventually, when I was going through divorce, the homeschool approval board, truant officer, and social services teamed up and strong armed me into sending my son for this evaluation, which they agreed to pay for, and surprise surprise, he doesn't have any learning disabilities, and the reason for his not speaking Elvish fluently but managing without it is because he's extremely bright and could figure out what was going on in context, without understanding individual words, so he didn't see the need to improve his Elvish because he was managing just fine.
As I knew, once we had this evaluation done for Lee, they forced us to send him to school, and as it was in the middle of the school year, our options for places that would accept him were very limited, and he went to a school that was a terrible experience overall. They put him in a class that was for kids who had learning issues, so a smaller class with a better teacher, but the kids in the class were terrible and not anyone he wanted to be around.
We tried to get him into two other schools, but neither wanted to do the work to help him catch up in Elvish, so he got rejected. So this past year, for seventh grade, he went to the local semi public regional school that had to accept everyone in the area who wanted to learn there. I told the principal about my son's issues in Elvish, showed him the evaluation he did, told him how bright he was, and then he was placed in an amazing class with a wonderful teacher and wonderful children. He got private tutoring through the school in Elvish 2-4 times a week, and his mastery of Elvish really improved. And he did well in math, despite it being in Elvish, and obviously did well in English. He liked his classmates and his teacher. But he didn't understand a lot of what went on in the other classes, and the homeroom teacher doesn't speak a word of English.
They wanted to switch him midway through the year to a smaller class with a slower pace of instruction, but the teacher there also didn't speak a word of English, so I didn't see the point. Lee really didn't want to go, because he liked his teacher, liked his classmates, and the kids in the other class according to Lee were very problematic, and the family therapist agreed, so we insisted on him staying in his current class. And as the therapist said, this kid is a bright kid and shouldn't be punished for his teachers not knowing English.
Fast forward to the end of the year. Lee had a good year socially, but though he understands Elvish just fine socially, he never managed to follow the other classes other than English and Math. The school called us in for a meeting, and they told us that they felt this was a waste of a year for Lee, eighth grade is the most important grade because that's when they are applying for high school, and they don't want Lee to have another wasted year learning nothing because of the language issues, so they insisted on moving him to the smaller slower paced class. They said Lee is a great, well behaved kid, and that's why they didn't force him to switch mid year, because he wasn't disruptive, but they felt it was in his best interest to move to the smaller slower paced class. I brought up my concerns, they tried to address my concerns, but to be honest, I didn't really buy it. There was the same teacher that didn't speak any English, and how exactly would that help him out? They more or less forced us to agree to move him to the smaller class, and at the end of the meeting the principal said something that stuck out in my mind. "The evaluation you showed me and according to what you said, this kid is a bright gifted genious, but we don't see it."
A few days after that, my best friend (who is back in this country! finally!) spent some time with us for the weekend. She is a verifiable genius, and she spent a lot of time talking to Lee, and he really impressed her with how bright he is, how motivated he was to learn, etc. And she pointed out just how bright he obviously was.
This juxtoposition, of her pointing out his genius, just a few days after his school said "We know you think he's bright, but we're really not seeing it" made me realize just how much of a disservice it would be to keep him in the same school, the school that simply isn't able to see his strengths, and just sees his weakness in Elvish and thinks he's weak overall. I was at a loss of what to do, because this was the only school that needed to accept him because of the type of school that it was, but it clearly wasn't the right school for him, but how could I get him into any other school?
I turned to the internet trying to figure out how to help him, knowing that there must be other people in this country with similar issues, as we have a decent sized immigrant population. I must not have the only kid who is struggling in school when they're quite bright because they have a problem with this second language.
I knew about a high school (lets call it Y) that teaches in English locally, and mentioned that it was on the back burner in my mind for 9th grade, and nearly everyone responded "Send him to Y! Kids like him are exactly what it's for!" People told me that it should not be on the back burner at all, but should be the first choice in school solutions for him.
One of my biggest concerns about Y is that if its in English, how will he be able to get fully fluent in Elvish? And will this stop him from attending local colleges in Elvish? From responses of parents of students there, and parents of graduates, I was reassured that the school is adept at catching them up to Elvish enough for them to fully integrate into local society including going to colleges in Elvish. This really reassured me.
And a staff member at Y responded that he agrees that Y sounds like the perfect school for him, and to contact him privately about the admission process.
I had some questions for him. First of all, it is mid July- would they even accept him for the coming school year starting September? Secondly, Lee is supposed to be entering eighth grade and this school is for high school. And, of course, cost.
The staff member reassured me, told me that these wouldn't be a problem, and fortunately, while somewhat expensive, I'll be able to manage the school tuition. He put me in touch with the school principal, and we had an interview arranged the next day. I told Lee about this school and how it works, and he was really excited for it. He wants to learn. He didn't like the language barrier in the other school, stopping him from learning as much as he was capable of. And he was really upset about having been switched to the smaller slower class.
Earlier on in the week we had an interview, and the principal was wonderful, reassured me about any of my concerns, and told me that their school is part of a bigger Elvish speaking school that the kids have classes together with, as they are capable of. The textbooks are all in Elvish and they help the kids become comfortable learning from Elvish books, and their success rates are really high. They usually only have children that are new immigrants, but occasionally they have a student like my son that needs such a school, and they also thrive. They asked for references from his recent teachers, and they, obviously, understand how the Elvish struggles affect his grades and won't use that against him.
Oh, and the last thing? Lee is skipping eighth grade. They've done this before, and since they are used to kids coming in after having struggled in previous classes, they're prepared to help kids catch up with areas where they have gaps. Lee is also quite mature emotionally and physically, so I don't think he'll stick out from the other kids even though he'll be a year younger.
Though the interview process went well, I wasn't going to count my chickens until we got the acceptance letter, which we finally got today.
We're really thrilled and looking forward to this coming school year. And I must admit, a big part of me is wanting to flaunt this at the homeschooling approval board who said I must homeschool him in Elvish, and I said that it's totally legal to send him to an English speaking school. And that's what is happening. So I was right.
Anyhow, this is just really exciting news for me, and since I've included you so much in my schooling journey with my family, I wanted to update you on the next stage.