Stephanie Fuhs shared her reflections on how school closures gave her son a fresh start. Stephanie is an Assistant School Leader at KIPP Bessie Coleman Academy in Jacksonville, FL. She has been working in education for over 12 years and is passionate about ensuring kids have a strong start in their earliest years of learning. She is also the proud mom of two amazing kids with whom she loves taking on random Disney trips and pizza dates!
From Spring Break to School Closures
I still remember picking up my son from school the last day before Spring Break. That Spring Break never ended for so many of us. When the whole world quickly learned to adapt, from mastering Zoom meetings to creating our own makeshift classrooms in our homes. 2020 has definitely changed our world.
It is so easy to get caught up in the challenges of this year and the many losses we have faced, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the positives that have come out of this very different year.
For many, the move to virtual school and quarantine was an insurmountable challenge. For our family, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. A disguise we have only recently been able to appreciate.
“For our family, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. A disguise we have only recently been able to appreciate.”
Going Back a Year
Let’s start at the beginning. Last year, our son, Maxwell, was formally diagnosed with autism level 1 and severe ADHD. This official diagnosis came with a 20-page report that specifically outlined reading and school would be a clear challenge for Maxwell to overcome.
I remember reading that report and crying. My husband and I are both educators, school was our thing. Education is something we value dearly and we were determined to make sure our kids had the best we could offer. We decided to put our faith in the system and trust Maxwell’s school. We soon learned that even though we both knew quite a bit about special education, we definitely were not equipped to navigate the system alone.
Maxwell’s Kindergarten school year was a mess from the start. He was assigned to a self-contained classroom with other kids on the spectrum, but this was a disaster. He struggled daily and even managed to be suspended multiple times. The school soon decided to reassign him to a classroom for students with behavior disorders. We quickly found ourselves in a battle with the school, bringing in our own district advocate to help us find a better solution. Every day we prayed Maxwell would make it through the day let alone learn anything. Then March arrived. Everything shut down and we were forced into quarantine. The world stopped and for once we actually had a moment to breathe. My husband and I knew we needed to capitalize on this gift of time.
“My husband and I knew we needed to capitalize on this gift of time.”
We divided up homeschool. I tackled reading instruction and he tackled math. We both tackled behavior management. We did a hard reset on a lot of bad habits Maxwell had developed. I did a lot of reading and research on autism and the best ways to support his unique abilities. I learned some of the “bad” behavior Maxwell would demonstrate was actually one way he would cope with stress. We also discovered that Maxwell had developed major anxiety around school and academic work, despite actually being really smart. Working on school became a weird balance of holding his hand, frequent positive affirmations, and pushing him to persevere through the challenge.
Like many families, we had some good days and some not-so-good days, but for us, we recognized this was an opportunity we would never again get. We had our ups and downs, but through the experience,
our family learned a lot. Maxwell learned that he was very smart and that it is okay to make mistakes. My husband and I learned to trust Maxwell more. We all learned that we have to take a step back and give each other grace.
Saving Max’s Future
Don’t get me wrong, quarantine and homeschooling was the biggest challenge I have ever faced as both a parent and an educator. However, for Maxwell, it saved his future. Confident that he could be successful in a different placement with the right supports, we were able to move him to a general education setting this school year at a new school. We also made the decision to repeat Kindergarten so that he could start fresh at his new school. Our biggest goal was to keep Maxwell’s confidence high so he could see success at the one place he always felt like a failure–school.
As we prepare to end the second quarter of the school year, Maxwell is finally flourishing. School is a source of joy and happiness, even if we have to wear masks, social distance, and give air hugs. He still has his moments, but they are few and far between. His good days definitely outweigh the not-so-good ones.
2020 continues to be a strange year for the world, but for us, it will forever be the year that we are eternally grateful for. It was the year that let us get our son back. It was the year we learned that being quarantined at home could actually be an opportunity. Sometimes there really is a light in the dark.