Thursday, August 19, 2010

Starting School

Henry has an early September birth date and children here are eligible to enroll in public school kindergarten if they are five years old by September 30 of their entrance year, which means that if Henry starts school on time he will thereafter be among the youngest children in his class, if not the youngest. In New Orleans’ highly competitive process for charter school enrollment he needs a year of pre-k to prepare for kindergarten and next summer he would have to pass a test designed to determine whether he is developmentally ready. So we have this dilemma: is he ready now to start down this path?

We are about to find out since Henry is set to begin a regular pre-k program next week at the Newcomb Nursery School, joining an all-day class mostly full of little children also heading to kindergarten next year. None of them, except for Henry, have special needs. Last week we took him to visit the class and of course he immediately rejected the whole idea. He had a rare total meltdown, clung tightly to his mom, and desperately pleaded to go home. But his teacher, an obvious veteran, held firm. She gathered the other children in the class around him, began to read a story above the sound of his sobbing and made it clear that the story would continue for the next 10 minutes and then the class would go outside to play. She was true to her word, although Henry was equally persistent. He calmed a bit when we all lined up to go outside and his tears stopped once we entered the play yard. Outside he quickly found a slide to climb on and then he was smiling.

A little to our surprise, we saw that Henry did not seem to be younger in a behavioural sense than most of the other children in the class. We can understand only about 60 percent of his speech at home and this will be a greater challenge at school. But his speech is improving with therapy and at least theoretically should not alone impair his readiness for school. As it happens, Henry likes to talk. At home he busily chatters on his favorite themes and proudly emphasizes the words and phrases he knows he has mastered. One unfortunate example of late is "be quiet," but the number of other successful phrases he is connecting in clear sentences is increasing. He is shorter in stature than many of the other little boys in the pre-k class, but he is built like a defensive end. Not quite four years old, Henry can count to ten and recognizes most letters in the alphabet. And his personality, his unshakable innate sense of humor, and even his tears are noticeably informed by a set of hard experiences that none of his classmates have had to overcome. Nothing remotely close. Sure, he is different, but not necessarily in a lesser way.

So look out Newcomb Nursery School. Henry is going to give it a try.

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