Our 12-year-old son is in 7th grade in a local yeshiva (there are quite a few yeshivos in our neighborhood) and not doing well at all.
We are considering changing his yeshiva mid-year as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice, as you do not know him (or us, for that matter). But can you help us by sharing with us which questions we ought to be asking and answering when making this difficult decision?
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
Last Week, we discussed the following two questions parents ought to explore before making the decision to switch their child’s school setting:
- Which mechanech (educator) knows my child best?
- Which Rov knows our family best?
In this column, we will talk about other questions to consider:
- Have we explored all possible reasons for our son’s lack of success in the current setting?
- Is the difficulty he is experiencing a one-year phenomenon or does it follow a pattern of poor performance over a number of years?
There are many reasons why a child underachieves in a particular school setting. But they can be broken down to 3 basic categories: a) the shortcomings of the school he is currently attending, b) educational or social challenges that your child may have, or c) poor chemistry between your child (family) and the current school.
I would encourage you to begin by focusing on the second of the categories – your child’s learning and social profile – as understanding that component will help you address the other two segments more easily. I say this because it is not uncommon for parents to switch their child’s school only to find out later that the issues that complicated their child experience in the initial school followed him/her to the new setting. (A similar pattern often manifests itself with ‘retention’ – having an underachieving child repeat a particular grade hoping things will improve in ‘round 2.’ Recent studies indicate that in a significant percentage of these cases, the problems are merely kicked down the road and not solved at all.)
Start by thinking back to the past few years of your son’s school experience and ask yourselves if there were any signs of the problems he is currently having. Keep in mind that children, like adults, rarely change their learning styles and/or personality traits. We hope to improve the weaker points of our overall temperament – but our DNA doesn’t change.
I encourage you to explore the learning profile of your son in order to better understand the challenges that he is facing this year. Is he a visual, auditory or textual learner? (Please review these 3 columns I wrote on learning profiles, “Different Strokes – Part One, Part Two, and Part Three and bear in mind that I only addressed the main learning patterns as there are other, less known styles such as kinesthetic learners.) Does he have attention issues such as A.D.D.? (Click here, here and here for columns on ADD). Does he have impulse control challenges?
Answering all of these questions will help you understand your son better as you try to engage in a forensic analysis of what is really going wrong this year. Having this information will also help you develop the ‘medical records’ (see last week's column) that you can share with individuals whose advice you may seek in deciding if you ought to switch schools or not.
Finally, I would strongly suggest that you get an educational evaluation from a credentialed professional. Most school districts in the United States offer free educational/psychological assessments of students – including those who attend non-public schools. Your child’s principal or the director of special services can, in all likelihood, direct you to the appropriate office to arrange for an evaluation to be done. If you are finding it difficult to access district services, consider contacting Mrs. Leah Steinberg, Director of Agudath Israel’s Project LEARN (Limud Education Advocacy and Referral Network). LEARN helps parents navigate the path from determining that their child has special education needs to obtaining the services that they are entitled to by law. Mrs Steinberg can be contacted at (212) 797-9000, ext. 325, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
Next week: Some more questions to explore:
- How well does our child adjust to change?
- Are we open – really open – to exploring the way we parent our children?
- Are our hashkafos in sync with the school we are considering? (For that matter, are they in sync with the school he is currently attending?)
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