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Friday, October 24, 2008

A Happy October Surprise

Junior and his mom and I went to first quarter report card pickup and teacher conferences at Golder College Prep this afternoon. Before we left, Junior told me he was nervous. "What if I got bad grades?" he wondered aloud. "If I get bad grades my parents won't let me out for Halloween." He's hoping for an Xbox for Christmas and bad grades would really mess up his chances at that, too.

Junior's mom was teasing him about his bad case of nerves in the car. "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" she asked him, smiling. When she wasn't teasing, she told me that she's seen a very positive change in Junior since he started at Golder. "Es muy hombre," she said. "He's very manly." I see it, too--he's matured some. Most importantly, he's stayed the nice boy he was before he hit puberty. Meanwhile, Junior's mom is really worried about Picasso, Junior's buddy who is now drifting away. "He's not listening to his mother. He doesn't care about his life. All he wants is to do graffiti," she said.

Junior had told me before today that he was working hard on improving his grades. His first couple of weeks were a little rocky. He had trouble remembering where he was supposed to be when and earned a slew of demerits for tardies and things like forgetting the socks for his gym uniform. He did get busted for talking in class, which to me is more serious. His advisor told us he's stopped earning so many demerits and they even offer chances to have some of your detentions come off your record if you can go two weeks without earning any more demerits. Junior might be just about ready to do that, now that he knows how things work over there.

Once we got his notebooks organized, I hadn't heard from him in a while about homework. I was hoping that meant good news. According to his report card, it mostly did. His overall GPA is a 2.45 and his worst grade was a D- in civics. I felt bad about that because I didn't stay on top of him enough about his work. He did his assignments, his teacher said, but sometimes it was clear he didn't understand the question and other times the quality of his writing was too weak to pass the assignment. That we could have worked on, but he didn't call me and I didn't nag him. He's been good about not bothering me because he knows I'm busy, but that's a course I could actually help him out with.

Overall, however, he did much better than I was afraid he might. Academically, I've been very afraid the work would be way too challenging and he wouldn't be supported. I was pleasantly surprised tonight to see that's less the case than I expected. There are co-teachers in his math and English classes and they just created new support classes for kids with IEPs. Each class--one for math and one for reading--has fewer than 10 students. The reading teacher said he'll be checking their progress quarterly to see if they've mastered enough skills to move back into the regular class. I don't know whether Junior will always need that kind of support or not, but I wanted to press them to see if this was intended as a warehouse or if it's a real effort to help them ramp up their skills. From what I heard tonight, I think it's enough of the latter to appreciate what they're doing, though checking in regularly with them to make sure they keep pushing him still seems like a good idea.

Social studies (civics) and science (physics--they do physics first) don't have co-teachers so I'm not surprised that's where he got his worst grades. His health and PE teacher was the most strict with him of all of them. She gave me a good idea--she was saying he needs to be reading aloud every night to improve his English. His six-month-old brother needs someone to read him a bedtime story. Junior is nominated. He says he'll do it. I think we should tell his teacher after he's done it for a couple of weeks. That would be a great two-fer; I've been thinking for months about how somebody needs to be reading to Junior's baby brother regularly in both Spanish and English.

The special ed case manager told me Golder never received Junior's IEP from Chavez. At this point, they would just as soon re-evaluate him as go through the hassle of trying to track down his IEP. Junior's mom was fine with that. Based on the lack of useful information I saw in Joey's IEP, I think re-evaluating Junior would tell us much more than his existing IEP would, wherever it is. I got most of his teachers' emails and some phone numbers. He's working out a plan to stay after school regularly and get help, especially with civics and maybe with physics, too.

Interestingly, I asked Junior today while we were waiting to speak to one of his teachers which of the 8th-graders on our block would really benefit from a place like Golder. "Oldest Brady Boy," he said right away, which is what I was thinking, too. "Maybe Peter Pan, but I don't know," he said, which is also what I was thinking. Peter Pan is supposed to come over tomorrow and talk to me about what high schools to apply to.

Man I wish they had cousin preference, not just sibling preference, in these lotteries. Oldest Brady Boy really needs a good school, and some of his cousins go to another of the Noble schools,
Rauner. Junior said he was talking about going to Curie but he probably can't get in with his current grades. From what one of his sisters told me, I don't think his grades are very good. But he's a good kid and smart--he needs to be someplace where they will get him to stop playing and focus. I bet he would grow a lot at a Noble, the way Junior is.

Afterwards, we stopped at Burger King to celebrate. That was where Junior wanted to eat. His mom doesn't really like hamburgers. Maybe next time we'll go back to Ocean Buffet.

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