What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Do you remember the first time you held your child? It might have been moments after birth or it may have been the day the adoption was finally completed. I remember the first time so vividly for both of my children. I had never seen anyone so beautiful, so wonderful, so full of promise.
I suspect all parents feel that way when they first meet their child. Sometimes that promise is fulfilled in just the way we expected. And sometimes it’s not and we start off on a journey of daycare expulsions, teacher conferences, evaluations, IEP’s, phone calls home, tutors, perhaps even hospitalizations. We fight desperately to help our children live out our early hopes for them, all the while helplessly watching as the light seeps out of their eyes, as they become fearful and anxious, defiant and angry, or maybe just sit quietly in the back of the room, no longer willing to try. WE believe in them! Why won’t others?
When do you give up on a child? When is it too late to help her? I wonder that every time I read a news article about a young person who finally explodes. Could someone have helped the child before he grew up to do something horrible? Did anyone try? Do we just decide that bullying is a developmental stage that we as adults have no control over? Do we just keep giving a child more of what’s already not working? When do we decide that accommodations are better than remediation, that a child will never learn to read or write? A parent of one of my former tutoring students was told her seventh grade son didn’t have the cognitive ability to learn to read and so there was no sense wasting resources on him.
The students who have applied to JRA have parents who haven’t given up on their children. They may have given up on their schools or a diagnosis or a program, but they are ready to try again. They believe strongly that their child deserves dreams too. And every child I’ve interviewed wants so badly to learn. I asked a child if he had any questions at the end of his interview. “Can I come tomorrow?” he asked.
I have spent a couple of hours with a child psychologist whose face lights up as she talks about teaching empathy, impulse control, and social skills that help a child feel better about himself and better able to function in groups. On our board, we have an occupational therapist who is equally passionate as we discuss ways to help each child feel comfortable in their own bodies and in our space. An amazing arts teacher and I stand in a parking lot for an hour talking about what she’s done to reach kids who have given up. Someone else agrees to do a parent session on executive brain function deficits and how that can help us better understand our kids and not place unrealistic demands on them. I see the wheels turning in the mind of a wonderfully creative puppeteer as we discuss a presentation about ancient Egypt. Our reading tutors have over 70 hours of training, years of experience, and a history of success with some of the most challenging children. And I’m regularly reminded by a wise woman I’m blessed to know that love for each child is not an option but a requirement.
No one person can be all things to these fragile and intense children. And as we reach our two-thirds goal for enrollment, I’m always on the lookout for those dream weavers who can help the light come back into these children’s eyes. I want just the right group of adults who can surround the kids with support, remediation, excitement, joy, and hope. And to my delight, those people are there and they’re excited to help in whatever way they can.
Just Right Academy, Inc. is not a business. It is a group of people on a mission. We are not exclusive. At least a fourth of this first year’s class will be either full or partial scholarship, and I hope that will always be true. We accept these students without fear of not having enough. We are an incubator for dreams, and our board and I visualize abundance that will surround these children with the people and resources they need to dream once again and to become who they were meant to be.
This week we have reached a milestone: we are officially a 501(c)3 (pending) nonprofit corporation and can accept your donations. I hope you will give and give generously. There are dreams at stake here. We see too often what happens to dreams deferred. But dreamers CAN see their dreams fulfilled and therein lies joy. And I believe that joy also comes in helping others reach those dreams.
Oh, and the kid who “didn’t have the cognitive ability to learn to read”? In three years he went from being unable to read one syllable words to reading on a twelfth grade level. We read Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring together, complete with J’s political commentary and historical comparisons. When my time with him ended, he was mainstreamed into a tenth grade English class and had an A average. Someone gave up too soon, but his mother didn’t. And she was right not to.
Donations in any amount can be mailed to PO Box 3523, Chapel Hill, NC, 27515, and will be applied to the tuition of a child who is hoping this will be the school that offers the support and help he or she needs. Thank you for your support.
Years ago, my sister and I worked as state volunteer coordinators for a presidential campaign. It was a close race with lots of candidate visits, and our job was to take a list of jobs and find the volunteers to do those tasks. There were invariably more jobs than volunteers, and so we always fell short. One day I was so disappointed in the number of people we’d turned out that I slipped outside and cried. One of the top guys in the campaign found me and asked what was wrong. I told him, ending, “I guess I’ll always be a C student!”
He started laughing and told me about his college chemistry course where he never made above a 70% on a test, but ended up with an A. “The work was so hard the professor had to grade on a curve. And that’s true here too. You’ve earned an A. And because you didn’t know there was a curve and kept trying for an A anyhow, it’s an A+”
The truth is, most of life does grade on a curve. Plenty of people who smoke don’t get cancer. Fast food restaurants sell lots of unappetizing and unhealthy food. Many people will choose bad coffee over no coffee. Some parents (ahem) let their kids sleep in their next day’s clothes. Many of us sing badly with great enthusiasm. A wrong turn may take us someplace much more interesting. Constantly striving for perfection is exhausting and counterproductive; we can’t make an A in everything, so we settle for good enough where it doesn’t matter too much.
And there are plenty of places where it does matter. I want a solid A when cleaning a bathroom. Pepsi is not the same as Coke. There is no wiggle room in how one treats the waitstaff in a restaurant. You always strap your children in their carseats. And good enough is not good enough when teaching intense children.
These aren’t kids with whom one can “wing it.” Every lesson, every transition, every boundary needs to be planned out and followed religiously. Every positive behavior needs to be noticed and commented on. Expectations need to be clearly stated and adhered to. The teacher can’t raise her voice or back a kid into a corner.
As we complete preparations on our building, finish our nonprofit paperwork, gather materials, plan curriculum, and interview students and staff, we are aiming for a true A. The aesthetics and orderliness of our space will help our students feel calm and secure. We must start with an interesting and challenging curriculum ready, one with a place for each of our unique learners. All materials must be in place and the gecko settled in his new home. Our staff must be prepared to work together with a common purpose and common strategies.
This is the part I find so exciting. The right people keep showing up, class A teachers, great students, Cheetah the gecko, board members, and people who have things to give, from as far west as Boone and Ashe County. There is no need to grade on a curve when you are going for the very highest standards with kids who have very little margin for error.
With something this important, I want an A. But I continue to find and enjoy those places where C work suffices. I discovered today that one can take a linen top and pants straight out of the washer and put them on wet. It cooled me down in the hot car quite nicely and was totally dry and wrinkle-free within ten minutes. This wouldn’t be a good idea in the winter, but what a time-saver on a summer morning! My mother would be appalled. But here’s a case where I’ll take the curve and save the A for something that really matters, like kids.