"Mom, I'm not ready for this test. Can I stay home and study for it, then make it up later? Please?"
I hugged him hard, told him to just do the best he could, and sent him to school. He told me later that he almost cried and felt sick to his stomach just before the test. He said he thought he wrote a great introduction, but couldn't write anything else.
Little Man is struggling with school this year, and we aren't too sure why. It's almost as if he totally forgot everything about this program and what is expected of him over the summer. He spent a week crying that he was stupid and he couldn't do the work associated with it, and that he wanted to quit and go back to his old school. He took a couple of months to adjust last year, but the program was new and he didn't know anybody. This year, he has friends already, he's done this for a year already, he should know how to do this.
For some reason he's too embarrassed to speak up about things that are a struggle through no fault of his own. He can't read cursive, and all the teachers' assignments and comments on papers have been in cursive. It's totally not his fault, his home elementary school doesn't teach it until fifth grade, but his program elementary school teaches it in third. I had a conference with his teachers and mentioned that, so they switched to writing comments in print, and I gave him a cursive cheat sheet that he can use to decode his assignments.
In the conference we also mentioned his overall anxieties and his feeling like he's stupid. The teachers confirmed that most kids in the program feel that way, because they spent years being the smartest in their schools and now they are in a group of their peers. They also confirmed that he's more than capable of doing the work and the mistakes he's making are careless, like not labeling math answers or failing to show his work when that's expected of him, or not putting the proper headings on his paper.
Executive functioning is a problem for him. He's disorganized and he's never been all that great at writing down his assignments. He hasn't mastered the art of taking notes. His handwriting is atrocious. He feels overwhelmed and just shuts down, deciding he can't do the work at all, rather than being motivated to work at those things that are difficult.
None of this is a great surprise. His father and I had huge issues with those same skills. Heck, even now, don't move one of my piles or I'll have no idea what's going on. I have tons of sticky notes and a highly detailed, paper calendar that I would absolutely die if I lost. Neither his father nor I did our homework reliably, at least not til college.
He wants to take the lazy way out. This program has a crap-ton of homework every night, including long-term projects and reading time. They're interesting projects. But who enjoys homework? His teachers confirmed, not even the most gifted of the gifted kids.
So we're pushing. We told him we'll take him out of the program when and if his teachers and we decide that it isn't the right place for him, and only then, not a minute before. In the mean time we'll teach him how to read cursive, how to write himself notes to keep track of things. We'll ride him, within limits, to do his homework, but he's going to have to learn to be more independent and do it himself. We'll help him find study buddies who reliably write down their assignments who are willing to help him when he forgets, and want to study together for tests.
And when he doesn't study, like he did with his social studies test, we'll let him fail, even when he gets on the bus near tears because we won't let him stay home. When he doesn't write down his homework assignments, we'll make him take the zero. Because he will learn so much more about life much more quickly than if we let him take the easy way out. Getting an easy A at his home elementary school in a program that doesn't challenge him, even if it's easier on us, won't send the right message about the rewards of hard work and rising to the occasion.
Even if it's hard on our own hearts, and we let our own tears fall once the bus pulls away.