Monday, November 30, 2015

Jack's Path

We‘re on the airplane now taking Jack to Montana Academy. MA is a therapeutic boarding school 30 minutes from Kalispell. He’ll be there for a year, at least. While there he’ll learn how to be a good student, at least in the context of the American school environment. He hasn’t been that for a long time.

So, why is Jack going to a therapeutic boarding school? Let me set it up.

Jack is the younger of my two children. He’s 15 years old and very bright. When he was in his early grades at the Friends’ School in Boulder, Colorado, he displayed exceptional intelligence. He was verbally gifted, always able to communicate and relate well with others, including adults. He also grasped concepts easily and showed an enthusiastic curiosity. He presented himself as a leader, to the extent that one can in first and second grade, despite his diminutive stature. Academically things seemed to be headed in the right direction. A real “the sky’s the limit” story

When Jack was in third grade we moved to the Vail Valley so I could take a job with the Vail Ski and Snowboard School. While Jack’s older sister Kate adjusted easily to her new surroundings, Jack struggled. He showed resistance to the move beforehand and after the fact. His new school, Red Sandstone Elementary, is structured in the traditional format. The teacher, under-paid and less skilled than those at Friends’, stood in front of the desks, lined up in neat rows, and delivered the day’s lessons. A worksheet or two supported his or her efforts and on they went. This brand of teaching didn’t support Jack’s borderline ADD profile.

The first signs of trouble appeared in the form of resistance to going to school. In the first couple of years that we lived in the Valley, Jack woke up with “symptoms” of illness several times a month only to recover fully by the afternoon after having stayed home for the day. The work was simple, he could complete the homework easily, he was happy – we weren’t concerned.

Socially, things weren’t much better. We were living in Minturn, a town a couple of miles down valley and two miles off of I-70.  This isolated him geographically. There weren’t kids in the neighborhood with whom he could go out and play. His small stature also made him a target for bullying. Some of the people in the Valley are working so hard to stay there that they lack the time and sensitivity to guide their kids towards being compassionate friends. The youth sports programs are very competitive because people that move to Eagle County are competitive. Jack was treated with a mean spirit even by some of the kids on his teams.

By fifth grade Jack’s disconnect with school had reached the point that we had him tested for intelligence and learning deficits. It didn’t make sense that a child with such obvious intelligence could be struggling so much with school. The tests results showed Jack possessed a very high IQ, some degree of ADD and an apparent weakness in his executive functioning. Though he is smart, very smart, he has a difficult time putting information in order. I’m not sure I fully understand the problem so explaining it isn’t easy. Simply put, Jack didn’t want to engage in school because the energy required for him to so was enormous. Knowing that he was “smart” but not feeling able to succeed was crushing his self-esteem. The downward spiral had begun.

Please give;

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