Advocating for your child when the school district won’t

“There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.”
-Ghandi

We recently learned that sometimes the very entity you hope is looking out for your child’s academic success can fail you in a big way. Last May, we received a letter in the mail telling us that our youngest daughter, L, was placed in the Common Core Math Pathway. These pathways, which are designated at the end of fifth grade, have been very controversial in our school district because they determine children’s math classes throughout high school.

The Common Core Pathway, or slowest path as it happens to be, does not give the students Pre-Calculus early enough to adequately prepare them for the SAT. We had heard of parents appealing their children’s placement, but my husband and I didn’t give it much thought because we assumed our daughter would place in the Accelerated or Exceptional Pathways. After all, she was just as good at math as her older brother, who placed in the Accelerated Pathway just one year prior, and she had a natural proclivity for STEM—math in particular. As such, you can imagine how shocked we were when we learned that she didn’t.

When we looked closely at her scores, we saw she had an above average score for the ITBS, but she received a zero for the CogAT. We learned that if a student did not score above a certain score on the CogAT, the student was given zero “domain points.” We assumed this must have been the case. Upon further inspection, we learned that L didn’t have a CogAT score at all! You see, she moved in with us from her bio-mom’s house in a different school district in January, and for whatever reason, her old school did not give her the CogAT.

As a result, we appealed the decision, noting it was not a proper placement for her because she did not have an opportunity to take the CogAT to prove her abilities. We told them that as her parents, we strongly believed the next pathway up, the Accelerated Pathway, would be more appropriate for her. A month later, we received a letter in the mail that our request was denied. L would remain in the Common Core Pathway.

That’s when I kicked it into high gear. I contacted the name and number at the bottom of the letter, who I learned was an analyst who served as a “gatekeeper” for the administration on this topic. She was armed with a calm voice and lots of pre-packaged compelling data points—she was the perfect person to walk overzealous parents insisting their child was gifted, off the ledge.

I explained L’s situation and how she didn’t belong in Common Core. Her father and I simply wanted to set her up for academic success, and we didn’t feel she would be appropriately challenged in the slowest pathway, I told her. I asked if L could have an opportunity to take the CogAT and prove she deserved to be in the Accelerated Pathway.

That’s when I was told that the CogAT was not a math test. The district simply used it for that purpose since it was already a State-required test, and they didn’t want to require the students to take another, more appropriate, one. 

It was a “test to identify students who were truly gifted.”

When I asked that L have an opportunity to take the CogAT, she told me only 50 out of 700 students in the entire district scored as high as she would need to score to be put in the Accelerated Pathway, and it was unlikely our daughter would score that high. She recommended L continue in Common Core, and if we still felt it wasn’t a good fit for her, we could appeal again in the spring of L’s sixth grade year. Our chances of approval were much higher then, she told me. If I wasn’t satisfied with this explanation and approach, I was welcome to take my concerns up the chain to district administrators.

That’s exactly what I did.

It took three emails, a phone call, and an escalation email to the Assistant Superintendent before I received a response from the administrator in charge of the Math Pathway Program. I then waited weeks for an in-person meeting, only to be called by her assistant the day before the scheduled meeting to tell me she needed to reschedule for the following month. I told her that was unacceptable. I planned childcare for my baby, and I had already waited weeks for this. She said she had time on her calendar that afternoon, if I could make it work, almost certainly a throw away offer because she knew I likely didn’t have childcare. I said I’d be there. I texted a friend who lived down the street to watch our baby, and I gathered my data and armed myself to fight for our daughter.

The administrator also came armed to the teeth with data. I learned before the meeting that she had a reputation for being stubborn and not changing her mind even in the face of surmounting evidence. As someone who used to brief U.S. policymakers in Washington D.C., some of whom were very difficult customers, I wasn’t intimidated. I diplomatically went back and forth with her for an hour, and I think she found I was a formidable opponent. It was clear she wasn’t expecting a well-educated, polished speaker who wasn’t going to back down when it came to her child’s education.

The administrator repeatedly told me that L “needed the gift of time.” She told me she didn’t come to my work and presume to be an expert, and similarly, I shouldn’t tell the experts who made L’s pathway decision how to do their job. I told her the “experts” who sat around the table did not know our daughter like we do. L had only been in the district for two months when this decision was made, and she was missing a test score that was instrumental in the placement decision. Why didn’t one of those experts speak up and say that L needed to be tested in order to make a proper decision? Why was she not given the same opportunity that every other student was given? There was no data that indicated L would struggle in a higher placement, so why not give her a chance?

After my insistence, the administrator agreed to let L take the CogAT. I worked through the analyst with whom I spoke initially to schedule a time for L to take the test. My husband and I crossed our fingers that L would do well enough on the test to be placed where we knew she deserved to be, but we were anxious knowing that the test wasn’t meant to measure math abilities at all.

L came home from taking the test feeling nervous, and we all anxiously awaited her test results. We received a call the following day, telling us L scored a 125, well above a 116, the score necessary to place her in the Accelerated Pathway.

She blew it out of the water!

Not only were we ecstatic, we were vindicated.

We know that if it weren’t for our advocacy and intervention, L would not have had the opportunity to prove her abilities and thus be put in the best pathway for her. It begs the question, how many other children are placed in an inappropriate pathway yet their parents have trusted that the district knows best? Or simply aren’t a stay at home parent like myself who has the time to ride the district until their child gets what he or she deserves?

The school district’s website says that they are “committed to preparing all students to meet their highest potential.” This, unfortunately, wasn’t our experience.

Telling us that the test was for children who were “truly gifted” and that L likely would not score as high as she needed to score was unacceptable. Do not tell me my child is not gifted. Do not tell me my child can’t do something. Give her a chance. She will show you what she can do.

We strongly believe we should never count a child out without giving her a chance to prove her abilities.

I sent this feedback to the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent. If they don’t know when and how they’ve failed, they can’t improve.

I also sent this feedback to the administrator who sat across the table from me earlier this summer and insisted my daughter was not ready. That she couldn’t do it. I thanked her for helping us drive home an important life lesson to our daughter—do not let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something.

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To the stepmom bringing home her first baby…

I see you holed up in the dark nursery with your tiny newborn and sore nipples, learning how to breastfeed. You don’t have the option to sit and let it all hang out on your comfy couch in front of the TV like other new moms because you have a teenage stepson and that’s just weird.

I see you biting your tongue and clenching your fists every time your step kids want to hold your tiny, fragile bundle of joy. Did they wash their hands? Why do they need to hold him at all? Don’t breathe in his face! Don’t touch his face! Only touch his feet!

I see you guzzling down the diet soda as you figure out dinner not just for you and your husband, but for your growing stepchildren too. You wonder what it would be like to only have the stress that comes with a new baby instead of also feeling the weight of managing a household of six—the meals, the basketball games, the laundry.

Postpartum hormones alone are enough to make a woman feel overwhelmed, but throw in the complicated feelings of a blended family, and that is MORE than enough to make a woman feel completely CRAZY.

I am here to tell you that you are not crazy. You are going to feel a lot of different emotions when you bring your baby home from the hospital. Some of these feelings may even come as a surprise to you because you have a positive relationship with your stepchildren. You may feel like you walked into the hospital to give birth feeling one way about them and walked out hours (or days!!) later feeling a completely different way toward them.

You may not feel like sharing your baby. That’s okay. You may also be mourning the life you thought you would have – you know, the one where you get married and experience parenthood for the first time with your partner. It’s okay to be sad that he’s already done this before.

But mama, it will get easier. Your hormones will gradually level out. Your baby will become sturdier, and when you’re ready, you’ll let others hold him so that you can do things like brush your teeth and wash your hair. Now that’s a benefit most new mamas don’t have! Oh, and remember how you were sad that your husband has done this before? Now you are thankful that you have a partner who already knows what to do and is comfortable with a teensy tiny baby.

Not only will you start to find a groove, but you’ll also find sweet moments of joy. When your stepson makes your baby giggle like no one else can. When you find your 11-year-old stepdaughter is more nurturing than you ever knew. When your 14-year-old stepdaughter steps up and shows leadership. When they fight over whose turn it is to change the baby’s diaper or help with his bath. When you’re all on the floor, cheering him on as he takes his first steps. When they come home from their bio-mom’s house and can’t wait to see their baby brother.

I won’t lie to you. Blended families are no joke. It can be a lot to juggle, especially when bringing a tiny human into the mix. But I am finding that in between the moments of chaos, they can also be wonderful. The bond between siblings transcends DNA and in our case, a several year age gap, and it really is something special to witness.

So hang in there, Mama Bear. You’ve got this.

 

4 Parenting Things I Swore I Would Never Do Before I Became a Mom

I’m only nine months into this whole parenting thing, and I’ve found myself doing things I said I would never do. Turns out, it’s a helluva lot easier to have opinions from the outside looking in, but when you’re here, in the trenches of motherhood, you do what you gotta do.

 1.  Co-sleep

“We should just put the crib in our room,” my husband said. “He’ll be in here most of his first year anyway.”

“No way,” I said firmly. “I will not be one of those moms who let her baby sleep in her bed.” My sister was one of “those moms,” and I vowed to be different. We would sleep train our baby as early as possible, and we wouldn’t give in and pick him up when he cried.

Fast forward to now. Baby A is almost nine months old and still sleeping in our bed.

And do you want to know something? I freaking love it. Sure, some nights are difficult, and sometimes I want to punch the moms that post a photo of their 6-week-old baby on Instagram with the hashtag “12hoursandstillsleeping.” But every morning when Baby A wakes up between RM and me, happily babbling and smiling, we soak it in. We stay in bed just the three of us for an extra 15-20 minutes and sometimes longer on the weekend. It’s our favorite time of day.

This is what works for us. Turns out there are some benefits to it as well. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable saying that without feeling anxious that I need to sleep train him soon or his sleep will be ruined forever or God forbid be pegged by moms in the Cry It Out Camp as being weaker. How about none of us judge each other and we accept that we all do what we need to do to get through these early years.

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Crazy hair after coming out from under the breastfeeding cover at Anthony’s restaurant

2.  Breastfeed in public

Early on in our relationship, RM and I were on a double date at Olive Garden (hey, I know it’s not real Italian food, but those breadsticks! Am I right?!) with a guy from work and his wife. Midway through dinner, she began nursing her newborn under a cover at the table.

“You guys don’t mind, right?” Our friend asked.

“Of course not,” RM quickly replied.

I bit my tongue. Afterward, I told RM how uncomfortable I was when she nursed her baby as she talked to me. Couldn’t she feed her in the privacy of her home before dinner so she wouldn’t be hungry when we were out?

RM simply said, “You’ll feel differently some day when we have a baby.”

Another point for RM. Again, I realize how judgy and naïve I was pre-baby.

First of all, I had no idea that newborns literally eat ALL THE FLIPPING TIME. I remember feeling like all I was doing those first several weeks was nursing Baby A. The only way to avoid having to nurse in public would be to never leave my house! And that obviously wasn’t an option if I wanted to keep my sanity.

The more I nursed Baby A the more my breasts felt utilitarian and functional—not sexual or inappropriate at all. I will never stop being amazed at the human body and what it can do—growing a baby and then providing nourishment and strength through breast milk. Incredible!

I’m happy to say Baby A enjoys nursing wherever we happen to be when he’s hungry while I enjoy a slice of humble pie.

3.  Make my own baby food

This sounded way too crunchy and hippy to me. I planned to buy the pouches. When would I find the time to make baby food anyway? Fast-forward a few months to when I became a Stay At Home Mom and realized A. those pouches are pricey and B. I actually have time to make baby food.

So I dusted off RM’s food processor and started pureeing away! It’s been fun to try various combinations and watch Baby A experience new foods. We still buy pouches to grab and go—and because sometimes I don’t feel like making food even when I’m home—but I try to occasionally make our own purees to save money and do our part to help the environment. As it turns out those pouches may be organic, but they’re not so eco-friendly, according to this Huffington Post article.

I learned that making your own food isn’t crunchy and hippy at all—it’s just sensible.

4.  Take my baby to a restaurant

How rude of people to take babies to restaurants. Can’t they get a sitter? So disruptive! Why are they even going out to eat? Stay at home with your baby.

Man, I was a B.

As it turns out, when you have a baby, you still like to eat at restaurants. When your baby is tiny and needs to eat every few hours, it makes the most sense to just bring the baby with you. He’ll probably sleep most of the time anyway!

When Baby A was only a few months old, we took him to several nice restaurants. I was always a bit nervous going because I was afraid of getting the stink eye from strangers if he disturbed them—you know, people like me who thought there was no place for babies in restaurants.

Then I decided to stop caring. I needed to get out. If for some reason he was extra fussy, I would take him out of the restaurant. Thankfully, he always quietly slept or nursed.

Now that he’s a bit older and louder, we probably won’t take him to quiet dinners at fancy restaurants as frequently, but you can bet your ass we’ll still be going out to dinner. Instead, you’ll find us enjoying a basket of bottomless fries at Red Robin.

Baby is Coming.

We’re all aware that winter is coming… but did you know that BABY is coming?!

In honor of the upcoming season premiere of Game of Thrones… I present you… our GoT-inspired pregnancy announcement.

We are SO excited to announce the upcoming arrival of our first baby together–a baby boy!

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Moving On

Selfie in my African garb ;)
Selfie in my African garb 😉

Today is a day that I will never forget. I am moving on from a career that has shaped my entire adult life. In some ways, it was a difficult decision to make, but in other ways, it was the easiest decision of my life. As many of you know, RM and I have been living separately since we’ve met and even since we’ve married. We spend a TON of hours on the road—he put 40,000 miles on his car last year alone. Not only have we HATED living apart, our current jobs require frequent relocation, oftentimes overseas. Our time in the Seattle area was set to be up this year.

We’ve decided together that it’s time to put down roots for our family, so today is my last day at my current job. RM also has a new job. No more distance. No more moving.

While I may be closing the door on this career, I’m so excited for the one I am about to begin. I feel incredibly thankful that I’m able to put my family first while also continuing to develop professionally.

I made a video to encapsulate how I’m feeling today. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey!  Click here to see the video!

 

The Comeback

Hello. Hi there. It’s me. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? My apologies! We’ve been a little busy over the past several months. Here’s what you’ve missed…

We bought a house. A real, grown-up house! Can you believe it?

We renovated said house. In THREE weeks. Apart from having lice for several weeks last year, this might have been the most stressful time period we’ve been through as a family! We all spent hours—no, days scraping FIVE layers of wallpaper off the walls before we painted. That’s one layer of wallpaper for each decade, in case you were wondering. The kids worked hard, and we are so proud of them. Don’t worry—we weren’t using them for child labor, not officially anyway 😉 #2 worked so hard that we rewarded him with a trip to iFly to indoor skydive! It was a great way to further enforce with the kids, “when you work hard at things in life, you will be rewarded.”

Moving to the new house meant saying good-bye to friends with whom we had spent the previous year building relationships, which was sad, but it also meant we would say “hello!” to lots of new friends in the Snoqualmie Valley. As a bonus, the “old” friends aren’t that far away, so we can still see them, just not quite as often.

The kids love our new home, and RM and I couldn’t be happier with it as well.  It is the perfect mix of cottage and cabin with a wonderful view of the mountains. It’s been fun to combine all of our things to make a cozy, warm home for our family.  The list of things we still need to finish seems to be never-ending, but I’ve been told that will always be the case.  “Welcome to home ownership,” they say 😉

We’re so excited to spend our first Christmas here! I’ll be updating the blog as we celebrate the holidays. Stay tuned!

How Marrying a Single Dad Has Impacted My View of Father’s Day

IMG_1372This year, Father’s Day means more to me than it ever has before. You see—this year, I am married to a man who is HANDS DOWN the most wonderful father I’ve ever known. You’ve probably heard that before, but it clearly wasn’t true until now. Obviously.

Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself ending up with a divorced man with three kids, but I have to tell you—I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure, our life is often pretty complicated as we have several schedules to coordinate and regular interactions with a woman with whom at one point in time he was in love and began a family. Ouch—that one hurts to think about. However, with those complications comes the incredible blessing of being with a man I have more respect for than I could even remotely begin to explain to you.

One of the first things RM talked about when we met was his kids. His cubicle at work was decorated with photos of them and pictures they had drawn for him. His face lit up when he talked about them. Even though I knew that dating a man with kids was a HUGE deal and wasn’t sure it was something I was prepared to take on, I couldn’t help but be drawn to his positive and sweet spirit (not to mention his dashing good looks), and so much of that had to do with seeing what kind of dad he was.

There is a reason why women hit on men with babies at the grocery store and can’t help but say “aw!” It ignites something biological in us. I’m going to go pre-historic for a moment and say, that at a certain level, our cave woman is looking for that provider. We want to know that a man will be a good father. That he’s going to stick around. So often when we’re dating, we have to imagine what kind of father the man would be. Well, lucky me; I didn’t have to imagine it. I was able to see it firsthand.

You’re probably wondering at this point—what are the things about RM that make him such a wonderful father? Well, here it goes…

He makes a concerted effort to show each of the kids attention and ensure they feel loved.

He has developed a relationship of trust with them, in which if he says the words, “I promise,” the kids understand that is the real deal. Daddy doesn’t break promises, and neither do they.

He teaches them life lessons like what it means to build credit, how to manage money, and how to compromise and solve problems amongst themselves.

He gets up early every Saturday morning to make the kids a special breakfast. And if I’m still sleeping, he serves me breakfast in bed.

He teaches them about the Gospel and encourages them to pray.

He doesn’t expect me to jump in and do everything for the kids, like I’ve heard so many men do to their new wives/stepmoms of their children. He allows me to be as involved as I want to be and respects that sometimes I need time to myself.

He teaches the kids survival skills. They know everything from how to start a fire to how to fend off an attacker.

He knows the exact balance of when to tell them to buck up and when to let them cry on his shoulder (even when they’re not really hurt).

He rarely raises his voice, and if he does, the kids almost always listen immediately. (Okay, sometimes they have to go to their rooms.)

Despite being pulled in several directions, he gives 110 percent to ensure everyone’s needs (including mine) are met—even if that means putting 40,000 miles on his car in only a few months.

He encourages the kids to play outside, and in the past two years, I’ve only seen the kids play a video game ONE time at our house. That was two weeks ago, and it was a really old version of Pac Man. 😉

While he sometimes puts movies on for the kids for the long drives, the majority of the time, he prefers to talk to them to hear about what’s going on in their lives and spend quality time with them.

I could go on, but I’m guessing you get the picture. So why am I writing this? Well, I have a confession to make. I’ve been racking my brain over what to give RM for Father’s Day, but I’ve realized it’s this. I need him to know that even though there are times when I get frustrated or tell him that I need more time sans kids, I am more grateful for the father that he is than I’ll ever be able to relay or show in some gift I pick up from the store.

RM, I am so proud to call you my husband. Happy Father’s Day.