Saturday, July 14, 2007

School Interview

After the July 4th holiday Sweet M, Fathersvox and I went to visit a school that he and I had seen in the springtime and thought might work better for M than her current placement.

I had told M that we were going to visit a school that needs a smart girl like her, and that if she liked it — and only if she liked it — we could think about her going there. I told her that she'd have a meeting with a psychologist, and get to see the school (that was what I'd been told).

We kept our family reunion rental car an extra day and drove the 1 and 15 minutes (it's that long a commute, even counter traffic) and arrived a few minutes early for our 10 a.m. appointment. We checked in at the front desk, and then waited in the lobby. We waited, and waited, and waited. At about 10:30 I asked the reception person if the psychologist we were meeting had been detained. "She knows you're here," was the response.


So we waited and waited and waited some more.

At 11 a.m. the psychologist came out to greet us. She spoke first to Sweet M, and insisted on shaking her hand. Okay.

Then she said hello to me and shook my hand. Although we did meet in the spring, I hadn't expected her to remember me.

She said nothing at all to Fathersvox, so I introduced him.

Then she escorted us through the halls of the school. I thought she was giving us a tour, but actually she was looking for a classroom where she was planning on having Sweet M sit in on class. This had never been explained to me. I had simply been told that I would need to drop M off for a couple of hours for her interview, and to be sure to bring a lunch for her.

The psychologist couldn't find the classroom, so we wandered around up and down the stairs until she asked someone for the correct classroom.

When she found the classroom, the psychologist urged Sweet M to go in and join the class.

M folded her arms, and said in that most cartoon-like, sing-songy bratty voice a kid can muster, "Oh NOOOOOOOO, I am NOT going into that classroom."

"But M," said the psychologist, "we even have a desk for you with your name on it."

The cartoon bubble over my head — you know, the one of what you're really thinking — would have read, "Genius. Pure genius. Now you'll never get her in there."

"Oh NO," M repeated, "I am not going in that classroom. I am not going to your stinky school. I have a school I like just fine and I am NOT transferring."

While part of me is cringing, part of me is thinking, "Whoa, M, how'd you know the word 'transferring' -- Great vocabulary! Great usage! Where'd you learn that word?"

At that point the teacher of the class that M had apparently been slated to sit in on came out and said, "It's okay, you're just in time to go to gym with us. You like gym, don't you?"

Now I am doing everything in my power not to burst out laughing. Like gym? What are you, nuts? No, she doesn't like gym.

It went downhill from there.

But the coup de grace of this morning was the moment I was leaving the psychologist's office. She'd suggested that we speak privately. Fathersvox and M were dispatched back to sit on the benches in the hallway. In the private meeting, the psychologist told me, wisely, I thought, that we should work out a transition plan for M -- that sending her anywhere else when she's so attached to her school and would be so angry about leaving -- would be a mistake.

Then she said, "I am not shutting the door on her application, we have rolling admissions, but I think she needs to be prepared for a move." As we are walking out of her office, she handed me a book to read, which left me with both hands full. She opened office door and said, "Believe me, I am not shutting the door on her application" and then she walked through the door ahead of me and let the actual door to her office, a heavy wooden door, slam closed against me. It was such a movie scene that I'd wished there'd been a cinema verite documentarian there to catch the moment. Hilarious. If I wrote this up in a novel, I'd be accused of being heavy handed, but that's actually what happened.

The trouble, of course, is that I am proud of Sweet M for speaking her mind. I was annoyed that I had not been told in more detail what they had planned for her "interview." And all I can say about the one-hour wait without even a perfunctory apology is I guess they are testing either the parents' frustration tolerance or their level of desperation about finding a suitable school.

In the car on the way home we were all sort of quiet, processing what happened. I broke the silence, "Hey M, can I ask you a question?"


"Where'd ya learn the word 'transfer'?"

"Oh, I saw it on a cartoon."

"Wow. Good word. Good vocabulary."

Now if only I could find a school that wasn't like a cartoon.


Niksmom said...

Wow! Incredible that you were treated with such condescension and shabbiness! (BTW, what was the book she gave you?) Kudos to sweet Miss M for not only the vocabulary expansion but for expressing her feelings.

If the way you were treate is indicative of how the school handles other important communications/interactions, maybe it's just as well.

MothersVox said...

You know, Niksmom, I thought it was a little odd. But then I realized that it's all part and parcel of the problem of having private schools be the only settings that seem to have half a chance of meetings our kid's needs. New York private school culture is notoriously icky and rude, and this is just another example of that.

Sadly, I think that the person we met with would not even have had the foggiest idea of how she behaved because, frankly, who's going to tell her? Everyone needs a spot for their kid, and there are a hundred kids like mine for every spot at a school like this one, so no one is ever going to call her out on acting like this. So you're right -- just as well. Or, as my friend said, "Whoa, if that's how they act before they get your more than $55K tuition, how do they act afterward?" Unfortunately I can't tell you the name of the book or I'd be ID'ing the school. ;) Names changed to protect the innocent -- there are any innocents!

Niksmom said...

Ah, yes, the cloak of anonymity (did I spell that right? Looks funny...). Well, as I am not in a position to send Nik to a private school at this point, and certainly not in NY (we're in DE), I don't mind not knowing. :-) BUt I'm still P.O.'d for you and Sweet M! (And Dad, too!)

MothersVox said...

That should read "IF there are any innocents!"

VAB said...

Good vocabulary indeed. That is an awful lot of money to be asking in my humble opinion. It's just under three times what the most expensive special needs schools charge where I am.

I think you dodged a bullet on this one. If this is a school where they don't know that some kids do not really like not knowing what is going to happen next and do not like surprises, or that some kids don't like gym, and where they are not well enough organized to be able to prevent hour long waits, how well would they be able to meet M's needs?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the school doesn't have a clue about autism and the effectiveness of proper treament of children on the spectrum.

kristina said...

You could say that M was interviewing the school----and it sure did not live up to its "reputation."

Anonymous said...

MY GOD! I AM SHOCKED! what a horrendous experience! you describe it beautifully! i read it while allternately laughing and shouting angrily into the air. i LOVE how strong and direct sweet M was. good for her! how outrageous of them not to clearly prepare you and sweet m for what the visit would entail. such insensitivity and near disdain for you all. and the gym comment! HA HA HA! and the desk with her name on it! fluffy would have died. the slamming of the door was the coup de grace. they were painfully unaware. how could they possibly present themselves as able to tune in to each individual child and find the best way to educate them?

Anonymous said...

And this is a school that purportedly deals with special needs? How could they not know that it is critical for you to prepare Sweet M for what the visit will entail? And how could they just expect her to walk into a classroom like that? "Incompetent" is a good vocabulary word -- perhaps Sweet M should learn that one, too.

I hope that you find the right placement for her. This school sounds stinky! Keep your chin up. The right spot is out there.

The evaluation at the private school I sent Sweet W to was a true eval. He was to come back for a second day and walk around with a class for part of the day. They told me I could leave - but it would be better to bring a book and stay, because you really never know if they will be happy in a class without a lot more preparation than just having been to the building once before. This place was PERFECT. Not only did he stay in the class the whole time, he LOVED it. They let me follow around and watch through the observation windows. He was happy. They handled everybody so very well, including W. It can go VERY differently and very well. I hope that happens for you and Sweet M soon. (of course, we had to take out a Sallie Mae loan to send him - it turned out to be worth it. I shall be paying from my estate.)

Anonymous said...

I cannot remove the smile from my face, it's recognition. I've been there. How liberating to see progress in your child when the "professionals" miss their mark!
Once I took my non-verbal son to a play therapist (she was hailed as the guru for relationship development). My boy was simply 'jello' in the room. He did not respond, week after week. One day he stood up,picked my handbag,took my keys, handed them to me and motioned to the door. What communication!