Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Saffron and School

In all the busyness of the past couple of weeks, I neglected to write about a two big events in Saffron's life.

Saffron had a somewhat disturbing experience at school.

She had walked down to the first grade hall one morning to deliver a letter to Ruby. On her way back, she noticed some candy on the floor below the backpacks outside another first grade class. That class was having an Eat-a-Read-a-thon, and lots of kids had treats in their backpacks. Used to cleaning up, Saffron bent over, picked up the candy on the floor, and stood up to head to the nearest garbage can down the hall. Just then the teacher came out of her class and accused Saffron of stealing. Saffron tried to explain in her broken English that it was on the floor, so she was cleaning it up. All the teacher heard was floor, and she responded that she didn't care if it was on the floor--it was still not Saffron's, and she was still stealing.

She then walked Saffron up to her own class, told her teacher what happened, said they better tell Saffron's mom, and that they should inform me Saffron needed to be taught not to steal--all in front of Saffron.

A while later I had a feeling I should go over to the school and get Saffron for a minute. I found her on the playground, terrified that she was in "trouble." It's the first time I've ever heard her use that word. She was afraid I would be mad, and begged me not to tell Steve or anyone else. She was afraid she would be kicked out of school. I walked into the faculty room where Saffron's teacher was eating lunch, and asked her what happened. (Saffron loves her teacher.) She told me the story, defending the other teacher and telling me she (the teacher) had said it very nicely. I must admit, I was surprised she hadn't defended Saffron.

I wanted to say "I don't care if she said it nicely!! She was out of line and couldn't have been more insensitive!" What I did say very frankly was, "Well, this is a girl who was beaten at just the accusation of stealing in Ethiopia, more than once, so I can promise you she would NEVER steal." I couldn't find the other teacher, but wrote her a note telling her the same thing, that Saffron would never steal and had been beaten for even the accusation of it before, but that she was used to cleaning and did this automatically, and that Saffron was very upset and sorry about the encounter.

Saffron was afraid to go to school the next day. I let her stay home one day, but sent her back the second day. What was really upsetting to me about the whole thing was the shear insensitively and bias of it. This was the first experience we have ever had of the girls being treated "differently." I'm quite sure the teacher would not have handled the situation the same way if it had been another second grader. I felt she had jumped to a mental conclusion that Saffron would be more likely to eat off the floor than clean off the floor. Besides that, I'm surprised a teacher didn't take into account her knowledge of Saffron's recent adoption and poor English in making accusations. All of the teachers know Saffron's situation. It doesn't take much forethought to imagine how upsetting this might be to a child in a new school, and how gently it could have been handled by watching to make sure Saffron walked to the garbage, or taking the candy from her kindly to throw it away yourself. To assume she has no understanding of theft seems to me the least logical response. That's why it seems like a tainted response.

We got over the above experience just fine and it is not the reason for this second experience. But it did alert me to the fact that Saffron could benefit from more personal understanding at school.

Fast forward a week, and Willa's "energy" was driving me a bit crazy. I started to think I'd like to put her in more days of preschool. I toured one small Montessori private school that has pre-school to sixth grade. I was impressed with the small numbers, and the sort of non-grade-level approach that allowed each student to go at her own pace.

That night at homework I was trying to teach Saffron how to borrow a one in subtraction. Through our struggle I realized she didn't truly even understand the basic concept of subtraction. She can do it in life--give you three of her toys--but on paper she couldn't tell me whether or not you could take 9 away from 5. Between that and trying to teach her to read, and Jasper and Ruby feeling frustrated because they needed homework help, I was flooded with that familiar feeling of being overwhelmed. Suddenly, I thought of the new preschool. Rather than feeling like she wasted six hours at school to then come home and be taught by me, she could get one-on-one help and learn all day! I knew she loved her teacher and class, but could never get the kind of one-on-one time she needed in a public school. Our first goals had only been socialization and English. But now that those were well on their way, it seemed she was no longer benefitting from school.

This was a Wednesday. I talked to Steve that night, and we started Saffron in her new school the following Monday. She was scared, but so desperate to learn faster that she was willing to try it. So far the change seems to have been a great success. She is in a class of ten with only two teachers--she just walked in and I asked her how she's liking it. "It's good! I'm learning very a lot English, and reading, and minus, and take away," she says. She is one of the three oldest students in her (six- to nine-year-old) class, so she no longer has to feel behind all the time.

Because Steve just received a bonus we were going to use to pay off adoption debt, this is the only time we could have afforded this school (around $500/month:{). We were able to hold back some of the debt payment to set aside for school payments. (Needless to say, we are NOT enrollig Willa in the preschool right now.) I didn't realize how much stress I felt about Saffron's learning situation until we changed it. Hooray! I now have one extra place to drive every day, but one less major concern to carry. I'm SO SO grateful this all worked out.


Big Bahama Mama said...

I love Montessori and am glad it's working out for you and Saffron. Poor kid--I assume Mean Accusing Teacher didn't apologize, either.

Kristin said...

first off, that 'teacher' who accused her of stealing needs a good backhand.
second, my kids were in a Montessori Charter school in Cedar and I LOVED IT. The method is far superior to public school. If we could afford it, mine would be there too. So glad it worked out for you, and her. She'll do really well there.
have a great time in Ireland!

Jennifer said...

Thanks for posting. As a mom, I understand the concern and worry about our children and their education and socialization. It is nice to hear others perspectives and solutions. My Lindsay (9) is more comfortable in small groups of friends, rather than many girls together. It is a struggle when she comes home sad from not playing with others at recess. So, again, your thoughts are always appreciated as I gain insight into my own parenting challenges.

Emily said...

"Saffron and School" kept showing up on my blog list, so I knew this post was coming soon. You told me the generalities of these stories, but not the details. How maddening that Saffron was treated with assumption! Have either of the teachers apologized? To Saffron? Utterly insensitive. Three cheers for personal revelation especially for those we are stewards.

mabeybowman said...

i just wish i could be there to give saffron a big hug for her bravery. i'm also so chuffed for her new school situation! hooray!

Sovic Clan said...

Good for you for listening to your "Mother's Intuition" and checking up on her at school. How upsetting that must have been for her, and what a relief she must have felt to see her mom shortly after.

Yay for the new school!!

amydear said...

That teacher makes me livid! I'm so glad you found a better solution for Saffron. I hope it continues to work out.