Friday, September 22, 2000

A word in Spanish

I knew things were going too well this year. My special-ed daughter is in a mainstream class, without an aide, doing well with only a round-the-clock study effort at home that is exhausting her poor mama. She remembered enough to get a B on a reading test, an A on a spelling test, a 100% on a social studies test. She’s happy, the kids appear to be friendly toward her, the teacher has been sending notes home to tell us what to study, and not complaining that my girl is a drain on her resources.

Math, English, Science--she’s getting along quite well, all things considered. But then there’s Spanish.

The foreign-language program in our city is still in its early stages, gradually complying with the state’s mandate to teach languages to kids when their brains are young and sponge-like, not later when their heads are full of rap lyrics and plans to shoot the student body. Only a few schools are currently giving the language lessons. Our old school didn’t. Our new school does. My daughter, who only started speaking English at age 5, is now being presented with Spanish words which mean nothing to her. (Better than English words that mean nothing to her, of which there are plenty, but still.) The other third graders have been learning this stuff for a year or more. She hasn’t. She’s clueless. And when she’s clueless, she cries.

I heard about this not from the teacher, and not from her, but from our new child-study-team case-worker, who called all concerned to find out if we wanted an aide for our daughter because she cried. (To what, tote tissues?) I’ve been explaining to all these people since the beginning of the year that if you give her work she is unfamiliar with, and she doesn’t know what to do, she will cry. If you give me the work ahead of time so I can show it to her at home and she is not surprised in the classroom, she will not cry. It’s so simple. It’s much simpler than putting an aide in the classroom. The teacher has sent me a few notes and a full set of textbooks, but not the sort of detailed advance warning I’d hoped for. And apparently the Spanish teacher hasn’t been clued in at all. Would it be so hard to send home the Spanish worksheets so that the language-disabled girl who has never had Spanish before will not be broadsided by them?

I’ve been requesting meetings since the beginning of the year, too, and everybody’s been too busy. Now that there are tears on the table, though, we suddenly need to talk. And I’ll have to make a decision. Do we want her to have an aide? (No. She is enjoying being like everybody else.) Do we want to demand that, as a classified child, she be released from the Spanish requirement and sent to do something else during that time? (Maybe. She still has such grave deficits in English, I hate to give over any brain cells to another language. She’s pulled out for speech twice a week, and maybe the speech therapist could switch her sessions to coincide. Or maybe I could request the resource room teacher work with her during those segments.) Or do we really want her to be like everybody else, and stumble through her language lessons? (When she cried, one boy admitted that Spanish made him nervous last year, too.)

I’m inclined toward the latter, though I think my daughter would just as soon give the whole thing a skip. But it’s not going to go away. As long as she’s at this school, there will be Spanish, and pulling her out now will mean that we have to pull her out always. So perhaps it’s time to get a Sesame Street Spanish tape, and find a teach-your-child Spanish workbook, and get cracking. There is some hope: After going on and on about how she doesn’t know Spanish, my daughter did manage to sing a little song she’d learned in class. It took a little time and some salvaging of my rudimentary junior-high-school Spanish to figure out what the heck she was saying, but we finally got it: “Buenos dias! Good morning! Como estas? How are you? Buenos, gracias. Very well I thank you. Y tu? And you?” Or something like that. As I said, my Spanish is rudimentary. But she is learning, emotional outbursts or no.

So I’ll go into battle to get some Spanish early warning, and I’ll hope that keeps her from panicking. I’ve told her a million times that it’s really much better to say “I don’t understand. I need help.” than to burst into tears. But desperate times call for desperate measures. This time around, I’m just going to teach her to say “No habla EspaƱol.”

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