When I tell friends my 14-year-old daughter is graduating and shopping for the right dress was an ordeal, the common response is, "We never made a big deal about graduating from middle school when I was a kid. High school was the only graduation we celebrated."
That was my experience, too. But I was a "neuro-typical" kid, who easily mastered reading and loved to write. My daughter and the kids in her middle school are all "learning challenged" and struggle with dyslexia, discalcula, disgraphia, short-term memory disfunction and some social dysfunctions.
Most of her schoolmates have heart-rending stories of their early years in public school, or even private schools. Their learning differences were not understood and they were made to feel stupid or weird. My daughter struggled to master the alphabet in public school kindergarten, and was the only child in her class who could not read simple sentences.
I volunteered in her class and noticed the other kids reading eagerly. Puzzled that my daughter, who was so bright and articulate, couldn't keep up, I got her a tutor. However, the problems persisted into second grade with a litany of efforts to get tutors and an Individual Education Plan from the public school. My daughter was humiliated on a daily basis, as the teacher had the children read aloud. It wasn't until a neuro-psychologist assessed and diagnosed her that Oakland Unified placed her at a school that specializes in teaching kids who learn differently.
I am so proud of my daughter. She still finds reading difficult and it may never be the source of pleasure for her that it is for me, but she has worked hard to get to where she is today. She has progressed in all the areas she finds difficult, that had seemed impossible five years ago. She will have earned her graduation certificate, as her education has been anything but routine.
With a Perspective, this is Joan Cardellino.
Joan Cardellino lives in Oakland and her daughter graduated on Monday from Raskob Day School.