How the Socialization of Jason Improved When He Became a Home Schooler
Jason came to me through a fost/adopt program when he was five years old and about to start kindergarten. This is the story of his education, first in schools and then at home.
Jason was a Sociable Person Since Before I Met Him.
Had he not been, I might never had made his acquaintance.
On the day I met Jason I had recently been laid off and was between jobs, so I had more time to work in the yard. Jason was a foster child next door. He was four years old. When he approached me the first time I was working in my front flower bed. He asked me what I was doing. We conversed for quite a while, and for a four-year-old he was willing to talk about pretty deep subjects. Not much small talk passed between us that day. He told me he was a foster kid, that he had a sister named Sarah who lived somewhere else, and his dad was in jail. I learned he missed his sister. I know a lot of adults who would not get to that personal a level in the first few minutes of conversation.
Jason was an appealing child, and he began to join me almost every time I worked in the front yard. One day I invited him in and he talked to me in the kitchen as I was preparing dinner. He would ask how different vegetables I was chopping up tasted and I'd give him bites. I was surprised he actually liked raw bell pepper. After that he came over almost every day for visits, and when I began a new job he was panicked when no one answered the door. A definte bond was developing. In less than a year my husband and I had gotten our foster care license so that Jason and Sarah both could come live with us. That happened in August, right before school was to start.
Since Sarah was 9 and couldn't read yet or do simple math, it was determined that she would remain in special education when she transferred to our school district. Jason started kindergarten in a regular classroom with about 30 others within two weeks of moving into our home. Sarah had to be bussed to another school. In this article I will concentrate on Jason because the children were so different from each other. I have told Sarah's story in more detail elsewhere.
When Jason entered school I told his teacher he was adjusting to a new home and that I was not sure he was ready for school yet. I asked her to let me know if he was having problems so that I could bring him home, let him adjust to his new surroundings, and then start him the next year. I also became a parent volunteer in his classroom twice a week to help during reading. During this time the teacher never gave any hint there was a problem -- until November, when she said he was going to flunk kindergarten.
I knew Jason was very bright and very curious. As we walked home from school together every day he would sing the songs he had learned during circle time and tell me about his day. According to the teacher, he would rock back and forth on the rug during circle time and was not getting anything out of it. I couldn't see Jason repeating kindergarten, so I told the teacher I would pull him out of school and start him again next year. Instead, she suggested he be tested for special education. We really resisted having him labeled that way, but allowed the testing. Then we had a conference with the teacher, the principal, the psychologist, and the head of the special services, Dr. Calvin, whom we later hired as Sarah's therapist. They all agreed Jason was very bright, but had learning disabilites that required a smaller class size and more individual attention. We finally gave our consent, since Jason had often been picked on by his older ex-foster brother (who still lived next door), as well as by some of the other boys. He was still pretty scrawny, and his feelings were easily hurt. After being abandoned by his mother and being moved to several different homes, rejectiion probably hurt him more than many others. We decided Jason woud start his new school right when the new semester started.
That's how his social worker had him pegged.
Since Jason and I had been carrying on long conversations since the day we met, I was very surprised when his social worker told me he was non-verbal. I had also seen Jason talking to and playing with children in the neighborhood, and I had once observed him out of my window verbally comforting a younger child who had hurt himself. (He had no idea I was watching.) That was before Jason came to live with me. I also knew he talked to my neighbor, who was his then foster mom, and her other adopted and foster children. From her (and later from Sarah) I learned he had often wandered away from home whenever he wanted to go somewhere, a habit my neighbor was trying to break him of. At least she knew he could usually be found at my house. Before he was put into foster care, he often escaped Sarah's watchful eye and roamed around his neighborhood. Once a policeman had to take him home.
How then, could he have been labeled non-verbal? It seems there are certain people he did not enjoy talking to, and social workers were in that category. He never did seem to believe they were trying to help him. Perhaps he associated them with unpleasant life changes. Even when he was older, he hated talking to them.
I once knew another boy who, when he was five, was much like Jason. He was in a happy home he was born into, but he saw no reason to talk to teachers. His mother told me that he was on the playground when she went in for her parent-teacher conference. When he came in to ask his mom a question, the teacher was flabergasted and she admitted she didn't know he could talk. It appears that some adults are unable to admit that a child just has nothing to say to them, so they don't say anything.
Ever heard the term "peer pressure"?
When a child is not sure of himself socially, he is very susceptible to peer pressure. He wants desperately to be liked. If, on top of that, he is a small child, he is also suceptible to physical and verbal bullying. Jason's ex foster brother, who was the second-oldest of my neighbor's adopted children, was this kind of bully. He had been abandoned at a railway station in Korea because he was physically handicapped. It's easy to see why he was not well-adjusted. He had gone to the station with his dad, who excused himself to go to the restroom or something, and then he left his child and never returned for him. If he was mean and wanted to get back at the world, it's no wonder. Later on he caused my nieghbor and her family much grief.
I will call this boy JJ. He delighted in getting the younger children in the neighborhood, Jason among them, into trouble. We lived on a cul-de-sac, and there were lots of children between 3 and 10, all younger than JJ, who lived at the end of it. I remember one day after Jason was with us, when JJ was sitting in a circle with Jason and two other younger boys in the dirveway across the street. Then TJ left in a hurry and tattled that the boys were playing with matches. I don't need to tell you who had supplied the matches and got the boys playing with them before he left to tattle on them.
Another thing he did to Jason and the younger kids was to try to separate them from any money they might have by selling them worthless things he had talked up to them and made them want. He had been forbidden to do this by his mom, who always nixed the deals and gave the money back when the deals were discovered, but this is the kind of influence JJ was. He also teased Jason unmercifully when adults weren't nearby, especially at school, telling Jason his foster mom hadn't wanted him, knowing full well it wasn't true. He was miserable, and wanted other kids to be miserable too. Jason was not the only person at the school who teased Jason and tried to make him feel bad. He was teased because JJ had let everyone know he was a foster child and that his dad was in jail. Although Jason liked his teacher and what he was learning, school itself was not happy experience because of this negative socialization. One reason we didn't mind having Jason moved to another school was this unhappy experience.
Has Your Child Ever Been Bullied at School?
New School Brings Different Socialization Problems
When Jason started his special education class at a new school, the children were being bussed in two different directions. I would often pick them up in the afternoons, since Jason's bus ride was longer than desireable. He was doing well academically with the extra attention, and we still read to both children at home. Jason had also started soccer, though he wasn't very enthusiastic about having so much time taken up with practice. He still preferred just playing in the neighborhood. Sarah was enrolled in competitive swimming.
At this point in his life, Jason looked at every acquaintance who didn't pick on him as a friend. He accepted everyone who accepted him, and wanted to visit and play with his classmates. Fortunately most of his classmates were not conveniently located for these play sessions, since the new school was in another town. Many of the children in his class had some very bad habits we did not want Jason to imitate. Their reasons for being placed in special education were much different than Jason's, and many of their behaviours were socially unacceptable. For this reason we did not encourage contact outside of school. He got along well with the children, who were probably glad he was kind to them when many at the school weren't .
Toward the end of that school year, Jason's teacher told me his test scores were too high to keep him in special education and he would have to go back into regular classes at his neighborhood school. You might expect this would come as good news, but it didn't. You see, there were only two first grade teachers at the neighborhood school, and you had no choice as to which your child would have. One of them had the reputation of hating any boy who was not academically superior and making their lives miserable by berating them and using a lot of sarcasm in front of the class. As a protective mom who had known this woman had left better adjusted and more secure children in tears and hating to go to school, I was not willing to take a 50-50 chance on getting his woman as Jason's teacher. When I picked Sarah up that afternoon, I spoke to her teacher about the situation and she told me to talk to Dr. Calvin, who was head of special services and knew both children, since she was also privately Sarah's therapist by now.
The next day when I picked Jason up, I mentioned to his teacher that Jason's scores had also been high when he was placed into special education and that I would speak to Dr Calvin. Before I had a chance to do so, I got a call from the head of special education saying he'd do anything I wanted. I told him I wanted Jason to stay in special education, where he was thriving, and that I wanted him moved to the same school as Sarah. That's what happened.
That next year went very well academically for Jason. He was in a 1-3 grade combination class, and his teacher knew how to motivate him with extra attention. He was soon doing everything the third graders were doing. (But still, that was special education third grade) He had no problems with his classmates, but Sarah began to have a lot of problems with hers when her teacher went on sabbatical and was replaced with a man. That left a very attractive Sarah as the only girl in a fourth grade class, and the boys made her life miserable with comments such as how they'd like to "lay" her. The principal said she couldn't control what happened on the playground, that the teachers couldn't see and hear everything, but she would put Sarah in a reading resource room after the female aide in Sarah's class went home before the last period. I made up my mind then to look for a private school the next year.
Socialization was better with more supervison and growing social skills
It was a lot of work to find a new school that was not too difficult academically for Sarah, whereas Jason was able to work at grade level if he had enough attention. We finally found a Lutheran school that filled the bill, and I was able to help out in Sarah's classroom and get to know the children in her class. One of these was to become one of Sarah's friends and her mother is my friend to this day. We became very close to this family, even though they had no children Jason's age. They had a dog, and that was good enough for Jason. The children, including Jason, usually spent Halloween together, and our families also made a tradition that still lasts of spending part of Christmas Eve together.
The Lutheran school closed at the end of that year and I had to go school shopping again. I found another small Christian school that was just right for the children and they both made good friends there. In their their third year there, Kosta was working on contract in Seattle and when we were visiting him while on Easter vacation, he needed surgery and we needed to stay and help him. We instantly became home schoolers. We rented a house and took full advantage of the educational opportunities offered in and around Seattle, and we learned a lot of geography on our several trips back and forth to attend end-of-year activities at the children's school. By this time it was 1988 and we had officially become a legal family in 1984 while at the Lutheran school. We were all looking forward to our home school adventure.
Social Opportunities Offered to Our Children Through Home Education
Some were structured. Some were not.
Since the children's last school was very supportive of home education, they allowed my son to join the school scouting program, even though he was not still a student at the school. I was happy about this, because this made it possible for Jason to still socialize with boys whose parents had similar values to ours. We knew we could count on the scout leaders to work on building character along with outdoor skills. Jason was also active in the youth group at church, and we had joined the local chapter of our home school support group which had regular activities. Other families who lived close to us also belonged to the group, so our children could arrange to play together from time to time. Mostly though, Jason's socializing was pretty unstructured.
When Kosta had left for Seattle, our family was separated by the miles, and Jason was missing having a man to do things with. He soon met one around the corner from us, the same way he had met me. He'd seen a man working on fixing something in his driveway and asked about it. I was soon hearing a lot about Terry. Terry was a fireman who lived with his wife on the corner two blocks away. He was home a lot during the day because of this and was usually working on a car, boat, trailer, or other interesting project. He let Jason help him. (Yes, we had gone to meet Terry and his wife, and they had passed our scrutiny. ) He became one of Jason's closest friends, and gave Jason his first lawn mowing Job. Terry didn't have any children, and Kosta had to go to Massachusetts on contract the next year, flying back and forth about once a month for a weekend. I was glad Jason had a man's inlfuence.
Jason also loved it when one of Kosta's friends who had turned to gold prospecting when he'd left the aerospace industry came to visit us every few weeks. He loved to sit and listen to Floyd's adventures of finding and processing gold and living without leaving a paper trail. When we took our mother-son trip to Sacramento during Jason's last year, one thing he insisted on doing was panning for gold in the Sacramento River.
Jason also had plenty of friends in the neighborhood who were near his own age. He'd met them while riding his bike in the neighborhood. One became his closest friend, the one Jason would have named as best friend. Another also became significant. I'll call him D. D was a foster child about two years older than Jason. His foster dad was a teacher at a local high school and a mutual friend knew the family well, so I knew Jason would be well supervised there. Jason was gifted with mechanical aptitude and loved building things and working on hands-on projects. So did D. Although Jason had lots of friends, D did not. Jason was his only friend that I know of. D was difficult to get along with and tended to pester people. He was very insecure and, like many children who have been in and out of the foster care system for years, he was manipulative and difficult for his foster parents to handle. Jason was able to understand him and accept him, and the two built things together, including what we dubbed "the Hart cart" to be pulled by a bicycle, and a tree house in our back yard. If D's pestering became too annoying, Jason would just bring that play session to an end, calmly, and they'd play again on another day. Besides these two friends, Jason had a couple more from the youth group and they went back and forth to each other's homes or went to ride bikes together. With yet another friend he enjoyed computer activites. We are still in touch with that friend, whom Jason was spending more time with in his last years.
Home education had given Jason more opportunities for desirable social interaction than he'd had when he had to spend six hours of at school, another hour going to and from school, and another hour or so doing homework each day. That left little time for family life or play with friends on weekdays. Home education was individualized, so the lessons didn't take as long to complete. That left more time to play with friends or pursue special interests. Jason also had more time to explore on his own before and after his lessons.
He was extremely interested in construction, and there was a lot of it going on around our neighborhood. Every morning about 6 he would jump on his bike and ride over to the nearest project, where he would sit with the men and talk to them while they drank their coffee before starting work. Some even let him pound in a few nails until one sad day the foreman said he couldn't do that any more because of liability issues. After that he could only spend coffee time with them, but he still asked a lot of questions and learned a lot.
One afternoon he came home from a bike ride especially excited. Seems he had connected with a geologist on the contruction site who had told him there was a fault under it. He also brought home some clay from the site the geoloigist had given him. He had asked a lot of questions and had learned a lot more about geology than I had yet taught him. Now he was really interested in it because he saw what it had to do with real life.
We Learned More about the Success of Jason's Socialization Later, After He Was Gone
He got along well with people of all ages because he was really interested in them.
There were many of Jason's friends I knew about. There were many more I did not find out about until Jason's memorial service when he died in 1991 at the age of fourteen. He had evidently met and formed relationships with many adults while on his bike rides. He must have had his rounds, knowing who would be working outside at what time, and he probably stopped to chat a few minutes with each of his friends he found outside as he rode by. We heard from some of these at his memorial service. Some things we didn't know until after his service, which was attended by over 400 people, many of whom were adults we had not met. We do remember Terry standing there in tears. He later told us the content of their conversations, and they were not just small talk. They were man to man and heart to heart.
We also heard from the mother of one of Jason's friends at youth group. She said that most of the young people ignored her and other adults, but Jason would always come by and say hello to her in the car when she had come to pick up her daughter.
It was a couple of weeks later we got a letter that was addressed to the name of our church -- just that. It had gone to the dead letter office and had somehow got to us from the church. It was from another of Jason's adult friends. He'd been out of town during the memorial service and hadn't known of Jason's death. Somehow they had the local paper in the car on the way home and his wife was reading it to him. When she got to the news storry about Jason's death, he first wouldn't believe it was that Jason. When his wife confirmed it after seeing the picture, he said he had to pull over to the side of the road because the tears were blinding him. He lived not too far from Terry and D. We found out from D's parents where he lived and went to meet him and thank him for his note.
After Jason's death, D coudn't handle it. Terry tried to help D with his grief and took him on the boat ride he had promised both the boys, but Jason didn't live long enough to go. D later joined the miitary. A much younger boy Jason sometimes visited on Sunday afternoons also mourned, saying Jason had been his best friend.
After Jason had the extra time home education allowed him, he was a caring friend to many of all ages. The time to develop a strong bond with his family and to meet and choose friends with common interests rather than just those he saw at school made his socialization more like what he would encounter in the real world of work later on. He had learned to carry on conversations in depth with his peers and with adults both. Though I am sure he would have been social even had he stayed in school, he would not have had the time for such diverse interaction with all ages. School definitely would have cramped his social style and stunted it by limiting his opportunites to meet the people available only during the time he would have been in school. I see no way his socialization would have improved by being in school.