That afternoon’s homework didn’t seem different from any other. My 3rd-grader responded that he had already done his homework in class, just as he had done almost every day. Most days he never unzipped his book sack. On a few occasions, he would remember at bedtime some form I needed to sign or some math pages he needed to complete. This was not the work ethic my husband and I were accustomed to from him. He was sloughing off the diligence he had built over the years.
He simply wasn’t being challenged. It was no one’s fault, really, but some factors contributed. My husband and I are both teachers and combat summer slide, having our kids spend a few minutes every day reading and extending learning at home. It’s always been part of our summer family culture, mainly to maintain some form of routine and sanity. When our kids would take a liking to a subject (history for our oldest, writing for our second, and art for our third), we would foster that interest with activities. We didn’t realize how much our work in developing our oldest’s love of learning was ironically hurting his work at school.
He knew better than to neglect work at school, and behaviorally he had no issues. But it was clear at home that something was different. He was different. His work habits were suffering, but he was maintaining well enough to remain responsible. Still, for someone who boasts that he “love[s] a challenge,” he was losing his characteristic eagerness and drive.
If the problem were that he wasn’t being challenged enough, then the solution was to challenge him more. However, that’s easier said than done.
My husband and I are typically hands-off parents, but something had to be done. We discussed our options. If we wanted education catered specifically to him, then homeschooling would be the most ideal option. However, there were many drawbacks to that model for our family, not the least of which was one of us quitting our job and losing a necessary income in a family with four children. That prospect was out. We can’t afford private school, not that a private model would innately be superior to his public school, where he was already involved in many pull-out programs and extensions.
Fellow educators, we would never ask his already-taxed classroom teachers to cater their instruction, curriculum, methods, and activities entirely to our son. Though differentiation is part of the job, expecting teachers to change their approaches to that degree of specificity is impractical and unfair. After trying out additional learning at home after school and seeing how positively he responded (increasingly eager and inquisitive) we pressed forward. Still, it became a semi-homeschool model with us scrounging for the material.
We came back to the root question: “How can we advance his learning while working within the parameters of a public school model?” My next question to my husband surprised us both: “What if we grade-skipped?”
Until I became an educator, I thought teachers identified prodigies early and advocated they be moved on up in the ranks. We learned a great deal in our process, particularly that parents are typically the ones who initiate the conversation, which usually manifests itself in a School Building Level Committee (SBLC) meeting, just as a discussion about necessary accommodations is handled. The committee, with district personnel, administrators, teachers, and my husband and I as members, deliberated about whether this was the best course of action for my son. We met a few times, focusing on all aspects of education, from test scores to potential social concerns. I was pleased that everything was brought up: his high reading levels and his (very) low height for his age, his maturity level and the timing of his birthday, and foundational curriculum components that he would miss and gain.
After his final test scores came in over the summer, the principal of the school he would skip into told us she believed from his data that it would be in his best interest to advance a grade. This was a gift, as my husband and I were still very much on the fence. From early in the process, we decided to make our son part of the conversation, as it affected him directly, and he was mature enough to understand. When we heard from the principal, we asked him a final time if this was what he wanted.
It was fitting that he made the final decision. Since then he hasn’t looked back and has thrived in his new, challenging environment. He uses a planner and does homework and studies and struggles on assessments and works for his grades. He is vice-president of the 4H club and runs cross country and plays soccer and was nominated for Student of the Year. More important than his success, though, we’re thrilled to have found a compromise that marries our love for public education and the needs of our child.