Monday, November 12, 2012

School Project meets Adoption Reality

At the adoption panel we attended a couple of weeks ago, one of the themes that several parents brought up was educators that are not sensitive to the needs of our kids. We have children who have not been part of our families since birth. There will always be unknowns in their lives and too many times educators seem oblivious to this truth. There were multiple examples shared where kids were put on the spot and singled out unnecessarily because of their adopted status. Projects are assigned that our kids just cannot complete because their lives do not fit the typical family narrative. We found ourselves shaking our heads because many kids do not fit the typical family narrative and what is the value in these types of projects?

We came up against one of these projects in Gaelle's grade 2 class. Now our situation is a bit unique because it's obvious our kids are adopted. And it's obvious they have not been in our family since birth. The educators should think about the impact of some of these questions on the kids. Parents should be given advance notice and offered the opportunity to alter the projects. We were given neither so it was up to us to make it work. After the fact, the teacher did say that Gaelle did not have to complete the project if it made her uncomfortable. Well, that's not really an option, is it? Let's just single out one child. If you know Gaelle at all, that really isn't an option. She does not want to be excluded from anything and that's how that would seem to her. 

She has courage and she will do what she is asked. If she doesn't know the answer, she will make it up.

Gaelle had to complete a timeline based on her life which was broken into 4 parts; baby, toddler, pre-school, current. She had to write a few sentences about herself during each stage and include a photo about herself during each stage. The earliest photo we have of Gaelle is at 18 months. Not exactly a baby. However we do have a photo of her in a crib where she is baby like. We adopted from an orphanage where volunteers have been very generous putting their videos on Youtube so we have seen lots of videos of the Baby House to correspond with the photos. It's possible that some of those videos even have Gaelle in them, but we haven't been able to identify her. But she gets the idea of her life at that time.

When the teacher assigned that project he didn't have any idea what kind of photos we had or knowledge we had about her life. If it had been Peter, he wouldn't have any photos of the first 3 stages. He will never have the baby photo for the graduation slide show. He will never have the baby photo for the work place "match the baby photo with the employee" contest. Somebody's idea of team building. 

As it was, the project created quite a bit of anxiety for Gaelle. We had 3 weeks to work on it, so we took our time and completed it in small chunks. She chose the photos. What could she do as a toddler? I came up with suggestions that toddlers can do and she chose the ones she liked. She practiced presenting it to me and then she handed it in. 

She was one of the last kids to present. That upset her but I'm sure the teacher did it to make her feel more comfortable. After the presentations to the class, each child was asked 3 questions from their classmates. Only 3 in total.

Gaelle was asked, "Where were you in your baby picture?" 
Answer, "I was at the Baby House."
Question 1b, "What is the Baby House?" 
Answer, "It's where children go when their moms can't take care of them." 
Question 2, "Where were you in the toddler picture?"
Answer, "I was at the Baby House."
Question 3, "Where were you in the pre-school picture?"
Answer, "I was at my home here."

When Gaelle's project was returned her teacher was very kind with his remarks and Gaelle was thrilled with the result. I got a very good insight into exactly how the presentation must have gone. Gaelle read her presentation to all of us over and over again. She lined up her animals and read it to them. Over and Over. She was all characters during that presentation. She was the teacher giving instruction and calling on kids to ask questions. She was Gaelle giving the presentation and answering the questions. And she was the classmates asking the questions. I felt as thought I was there. 

I've been reading the book, The Whole-Brain Child which has a great section about story telling and the power of story telling to heal. When a child goes through a traumatic event, walking the child through the event and allowing them to retell it in their own words, then adding words  and questions to add layers to the story is healing. Children should retell the event repeatedly until they feel secure and then they will be able to move on.

Without being prompted, that is exactly what Gaelle did. She retold the story of her project over and over again. I think it helped her feel more safe and secure as she relived it. She made it. She got through it and she survived and thrived.

Is there value in that type of project? I see the point the teacher was trying to get across. Development. I see the point of making it personal for each child. Describing themselves during each developmental stage made it more interesting and relevant. 

I just wish the teacher would have given us advance notice. We could have headed off any potential problems before rather than after. 

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