Cat’s out of the bag

We are leaving tomorrow for a long weekend getaway with the kids– to a “farm resort,” where you stay on the farm and help with milking the cows, collecting eggs, etc. The kids are really excited. Tonight we told A that on Saturday we will also be stopping in to visit a boarding school that is near there. (This is actually the purpose of the trip, but we wanted to take the focus off of the school visit.) His first reaction was to tell me that he wasn’t going to visit it and he isn’t going to boarding school. I told him, as per the school’s director, that visiting doesn’t mean he will be going there. He seemed ok with that at first, but started talking more about it and wanted to know what the chances are of him going there in September, etc. And adamantly telling me he was not going to boarding school.

I am trying to down play it and tell him we don’t know much about the school and will all find out more on Saturday, and that we would never send him unless it was a fabulous place. I am hoping to get him to visit without much of a struggle.

A few weeks ago David and I took a drive to New Hampshire to visit two schools- The Hunter School and Hampshire Country School. We ruled out Hunter, as the students seemed lower functioning, and the administration didn’t seem to have a solid position on much. “Maybe you can skype with him- we never did it but I don’t see why you can’t.” “We are thinking of starting a horseback riding program.” “We have a points system now, but maybe that will change.”

A two hour drive to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border brought us to Hampshire Country School (  I prepared myself to rule out this school too, but instead, we were greeted by six of the most enthusiastic, energetic happy 10 and 11 year old boys I had ever met! We were brought into their classroom where they all jumped up and started talking at once when D and I entered. They wanted to show us a Mad Lib they had been working on. I expected the teacher to reprimand them for standing up, talking out of turn, etc. Instead, she gave a big smile and joined in on their excitement. D and I looked at each other and we both knew this was it. A would fit right in.

We spent a long time speaking with the director, Bill Dickerman, about the school and about A. We were so happy to hear that a Hebrew tutor could be arranged, and that there were other boys also studying for their Bar Mitzvahs- and some even have them at school! Bill told us more about the school’s philosophy –if A were to rage and break things and tear Bill’s office apart, they would work through it. If A tried to sneak cigarettes into school, he would be on the next bus home. “We set the bar high here. At a typical special needs school the bar is very low and the students reach it. At a typical college prep program the bar is very high and students are expected to meet those demands. Here we have high expectations, but we know the boys won’t always reach them.” “A will probably always be a difficult kid. He will always have slow processing. But here he will flourish. He will be recognized for all his strengths.”

There is no therapy. There is a full school day where traditional subjects are taught in non-traditional ways. They are structured but flexible, taking the time to adjust for lack of attention or someone going off on a tangent about their special interest. After school the boys play on the rural 1500 acre campus- there is canoeing, farm animals, strategy games and FISHING. Lots and lots of fishing. We are told that what goes on after school is at least important as the school day.

The school accepts middle school boys who have a higher than average IQ who, for reasons related to ADHD, NVLD and Asperger’s, are unable to be successful in a traditional classroom setting. Abe’s psychiatric history is typical of  the boys as well.

There is no medication. I was initially scared, but realize that the stability we have gained was from the structure of therapeutic environments like Meridell- not necessarily the medication. In fact, all the meds have had such negative side effects, I now look forward to the day that A will be med free- for the first time in almost 4 years.

I have spoken to a few other moms:

“This was our last resort. I wish it would have been our first.”

“My son has FAR exceeded our expectations in just one year.”

I heard the story of one boy who has a history, like A, of school refusal. One day the boy decided he wasn’t going to go to school while at Hampshire. First he spent about an hour in the dorm. Then the headmaster came in and invited him to have breakfast. After breakfast the teacher and the boy’s classmates came to the dorm and declared, “If you aren’t coming to school, then school is coming to you!” And the lessons were taught in the boy’s room until recess. After recess the boy forgot he wasn’t going to school and returned to the classroom! This is what we dream of for A.

We have had to contain our enthusiasm for a few weeks. We didn’t want A to know about it until we were leaving for the visit. Now he knows. On the one hand I am so excited for him –this is an opportunity of a lifetime. On the other, my heart breaks for him. He is only 10. He wants his mommy and daddy every night. It feels like a fast way to grow up. Bill has reassured us that Abe’s dorm parents will read to him at night and will comfort him when he is sad. He also told me that A’s attachment to me is actually a great sign that he will soon LOVE his new school and become very attached to people there.

The car is packed and we leave at 5am…


5 Responses to “Cat’s out of the bag”

  1. Judy T. Says:

    Good luck Lucy. I hope it goes great. The school sounds amazing. I think it will be just what he needs! Be brave!

  2. h. Jaffe Says:

    Lucy, I wish you everything good for this weekend. You are a great mom and I hope and pray that it will be what your family deserves.

  3. Laura Says:

    Lucy, this sounds like an amazing opportunity for A, I can’t wait to hear about how the visit goes!

  4. Po Says:

    Love all of you guys! I know this is the right thing to do. You and D are awesome parents that you are making this happen for A. So proud of you and happy to be such good friends.
    Hugs and kisses,

  5. ida Says:

    Lucy – you mentioned that you would email me information about resources. I have not yet received this email. I await your response. My phone no. again is 718 258-0355, if you wish to call. Thanks so much. My address is 1549 East 21 Street, Brooklyn, NY 11210.

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