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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Placement in School for the Older IA Child

I admit I needed some outside support. For the most part, it was a totally selfish decision. We were out to prove our children to be brain-dead, pure and simple.

The three in question were the latest arrivals: those who had been here 15 months, five months, and five months. In our mini-Moscow of a home setting, these three were most resistant to learning the English language: why bother?

I’ll tell you why!

Off we go to the Office of Bilingual Education, another world in more ways than one. Located in one of our city’s worst ghettos, broken or boarded windows here and there, it is sufficiently inspiring to impress upon our kids: comply with the homeschool educational process… or end up here.

Perfect. I had hoped for a torture chamber or stretching rack, but with budgetary cuts these days….

Our oldest son went through the same testing a few months after he arrived in the US about five and a half years ago. He knew nothing at the time, having never attended school in Russia. We started with the a, b, c’s and 1, 2, 3’s and came up to grade level within three years. He was now at home studying trigonometry, while the other three follow me into the bowels of the earth.

My goal was for them to undergo testing which would reveal how abysmally academically behind they are. The girls, meanwhile, were out to prove that they are fully functional English speakers after five months under my tutelage, which, sorry to say, could not be farther from the truth. A little reality therapy would go a long way to curing any misconceptions.

We begin with the tester introducing herself to Mashenka and saying, “How are you?” to which her mouth drops open and her eyes glaze over.

Wonderful. Mashenka knew this and suddenly had “lost it”. She lost the ability to say one word, any word, any phrase in English. Right on schedule. Where was my defibrillator? I could scream, “Clear!” and apply them to her brain. Nothing like underwhelming those she needed to impress and heading straight into fight or flight mode. I ponder whether Mashenka, age 11.5, poses a flight risk as she is led away, deer in headlights.

The hours pass. Sashenka, age 9, insists on reading aloud, very loudly, and mutilating every short and long vowel this side of Vladivostok. I sense my face turning bright crimson under such scrutiny as employees walk by and security cameras no doubt record our every move. It doesn’t help that the school must be heated to 95 or 100 degrees, and the kids keep repeating, “ZHAR’kah!” even as I instructed them not to. Sashenka is taken next, with Mashenka never returning….

I ask about the older girl.

“She’s pretty much finished,” notes Rachel, the tester. “It looked like she wanted to take a few extra minutes and since it’s not timed for the English….”

“Feel free to tell her to wrap it up,” I whisper. “This is one of our issues: she thinks she can take as long as she wants for any schoolwork. I’m hoping that she’ll get the idea that school is often timed, particularly with tests. And without some urgency… we could be here all day-!”

She chuckles and nods understandingly., while another tester comes to lead Pasha away to start with the math portion. He smiles angelically, ready to charm anyone within a 2,000-mile radius.

“How old is he?” the Indian man asks, looking over the boy’s shoulder at his math problems.

“He’s 13, but he received a very substandard education in Russia. We had to start afresh one year ago,” I explain a bit.

“Okay, we give him test for 13-14-year-old. He very smart boy. He doing math now.”

Really, I had no idea. If the man looked closer, he would see that the celestial being in front of him was nowhere near his intended grade nor age level. The gentleman heard nothing I said. And I speak English. They could give him a test for a 20-year-old for all I cared, but if he tested at half of that, wouldn’t we all be wasting our time?

Another fellow approaches to discuss the Parent’s Handbook.

“If you need help with school lunches, it is the right of every student to eat lunch,” he informs me, obviously on auto-pilot.

I look around for the hidden camera crew playing a joke on me. Public assistance for free lunches? Okaaaayyy….

The girls come back one by one, Sashenka first, since she did only English testing. Mashenka at last wanders in, dazed from both math and English.

“Mama, how do you spell Papa’s name?” is her first question. I know something is amiss. I have filled out all the paperwork on parents, address, birth language, and more. She must have misunderstood.

“The lady told me to spell his name,” she insists.

“Why would they say that?” I press.

“She said to write Papa’s name-!”

Right. Probably just before the little green men said to follow them into their spaceship….

Four hours after starting, the director comes to speak with me. The other employees are scoring the tests to prove how pathetic my children are. I will do my part to confirm the same.

“Our situation is this,” I level with her, “we are not part of the normal immigrant population,” whatever that may be these days. I’m thinking if I might not be mentally-lapsed at this point, too. “English is just one of our problems. They received practically no schooling in Russia. Sashenka can’t even count from one to twenty… in Russian.”

“I understand, and although we normally place the student according to their age, we could place these children back one grade,” she offers.

I thank her and discuss why we homeschool and why setting them back by one year might still be the equivalent of placing a kindergartner in a Ph.D. program. They would be lost beyond all comprehension.

“I mean, what are our alternatives? If we put them a grade behind, how does that work? They sit in a classroom, drive the teacher nuts by their blank stares, and then an ESL teacher would pull them for an hour or two of English-?” I ask.

“You’ll basically be teaching them every night,” she agrees, noting their education’s major missing pieces, similar to a puzzle of a clown missing nose, big feet, and wild hair, “and you would be helping them to understand the homework. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone suggest that the children be put into Special Education. They’re not stupid, they simply have educational deficits.”

By agreeing to this plan, my role would morph from homeschooling mother by day to homeschooling mother by night. No doubt I would do more than help them with their homework, I would be doing 99% of their homework. Thanks, but no thanks.

The more we chat, the more the kids are ready to pass out. It’s a full 2-3 hours after their normal lunchtime. Sashenka the younger slips lower and lower in her seat, now practically prone. Mashenka the elder approximates a zombie. Pasha starts to twist in his chair, when he’s not whipping his head around every other second to see who’s walking by in the hallway, which is usually a Special Education student, causing them all to think that a similar placement is awaiting them with children who moan, groan, and shriek intermittently. I wonder if they place the Bilingual Office so close to Special Ed for a reason.

At last, we receive the test results. The percentages span from half of their target grade level to a third of their intended grade level. Not bad for starting from scratch just a few months’ previous. Not great when they still have so far to go.

“Who is Benedetto?” one Hispanic tester inquires.

“My husband.”

“Why is his name on this test?” he wonders, and sure enough, it’s Mashenka’s.

“Good question,” I resist telling him about the little green men.

“Give them time,” the director urges. “It may take them three years or so to come up to speed. And if you decide to place them in the school system, if one year behind does not suit them, I would be willing to make an exception and allow them to be placed two grades behind. This is a special case due to their previous circumstances,” she sums up.

I could kiss her. At last, someone who listens and “gets” it. A professional educator who believes that homeschooling the children, at least for the time being, is in their best interests. The testing allows me to see exactly where the gaps and deficits lie and how to craft a program even better suited to their immediate needs.

We check-out with the gun-toting security guard manning the locked front door.

“You’re still here?” she asks in amazement. “I thought you’d be gone hours before. How did it go?” she says in the kids’ direction.

“I guess not too well from that reaction,” she smiles.

They stand there in silence, still shell-shocked from the full battery of tests, of which they knew very little, while blood sugar levels plummet from a lack of food. We need our free lunch now.

“Oh, they’re okay,” I assure her. “They don’t really understand much English right now… but soon they will.”

Soon they will. But until then, our spaceship awaited to transport us safely home.



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