Today we told Bryn and Ari's teachers that next term they are starting at a different school. Apparently, they were surprised, but they shouldn't have been.
Our boys have been at this primary school since January 2007. When we enrolled Erik and Lukas it was with trepidation, but also optimism. Trepidation because we had planned to homeschool and felt that formal education was always going to be a compromise between what our children needed and the 'greater good of 400+ students'. This has been the case for the past 8 years, but Erik and Lukas were both extremely happy at the school, socially, and so even though we asked them regularly if they would like to be homeschooled, they never took up the offer.
There were often run ins with the school, particularly over our financial constraints. The area in which our primary school is located is an area of financial affluence, but we are not a financially affluent family. There were times when we couldn't afford book packs before the start the school year, or school camps or incursions or excursions, and while not making allowances for this, the school also often made us feel like an inconvenience when they had to find alternative accommodations for our kids while the other kids were on camp, or doing swimming etc.
But our older kids were happy with their community and their friends, so we stuck it out.
For Bryn and Ari the social aspect of school has not been as fruitful. Both boys have struggled with making friends, in different ways. Both boys are able to make friends, but also seem to be attracted to, or attract, dominant, often manipulative personalities into their friends circle. For Bryn this has meant a lot of sadness, but also some poor choices on his part as he's tried to navigate impressing his friends. For Ari this has meant that to play with one of his friends, who is as energetic as him, but also quite lovely, has meant also playing with a child who is in his face all the time, and will hit him if he doesn't comply with that child's wishes. Ari has struggled with anger over this situation, feeling frustrated and powerless.
A year ago, we asked for Ari to be moved to a different class, as we felt the dynamic which was developing in his class was not to anyone's benefits. We were denied that request with the standard, 'If we moved every child parents asked us to move, we'd be forever moving children around.' I'm sorry, but there is moving a child so they can be in a class with their bestie, and then there is moving a child because of toxic relationships occurring in that class - these are not the same thing.
We were told strategies would be implemented. For a while, things seemed a little better. Then one day Ari was pushed over in the playground and fractured his wrist. We accepted that that was an accident and said nothing more about it.
This year has been one of great upheaval in Ari's class. One of his teachers left at the end of last year to having a baby, and was replaced by another teacher who was also pregnant. Subsequently, that teacher has had many days off sick, and there has been a succession of substitutes who don't understand the dynamics in the class and don't look out for or head of trouble. I guess substitutes are only invested in the day they are actually in the classroom. They are place holders until the real teacher comes back.
Consequently, Ari has been extremely distracted in class, particularly this term. In the playground, he has been targeted for being small over and over again. When he retaliates, it's a mark against his reputation, and obviously we don't support him retaliating, but with no proper intervention or prevention in place, I understand his frustration. I feel so sad for him, and angry too.
We asked for a meeting to discuss the possibility of moving him again. That was a week ago. This morning his teacher still hadn't heard back from the vice principal. This is endemic of a school philosophy which does not put the well being of its students first. I realise those are strong words, but what other conclusion can I reach.
Perhaps it is that we do not pay voluntary fees because we cannot afford them?
Certainly, this primary school is in the business of business. The fees for the school our kids are going to be going to next term is half the size of the school they are currently at. The offer more to the students in terms of student oriented programs (two art shows a year, a writing competition, an industrial kitchen to cook in, a choir to sing in), but only charge half as much. They invite their students and families to make use of the school grounds on the weekends and in the holidays, while our school strictly forbids students to enter school grounds unless they're attending a program at the school. Our currently school forever has its hand in parents pockets, but when a parent asks for something in return, they are faced with a wall of silence - or worse, on one occasion I left a message with the vice principal that I needed to speak with her, and when she rang me, after I said hello, she literally said, 'It's Mrs X, what's the problem now?'
If asked why we're leaving, my answer will be simple, 'We're fed up.'
Still, I feel sad. I had thought all our children would go to this school, and all of our children would have an unbroken experience of primary education. We've weathered a few storms with this school, but ultimately, even though Ari is a very bright child who is doing exceptionally well, academically, we feel his social interactions are being ignored and this will be detrimental to him if it continues. Bryn will also benefit from moving away from mostly toxic friendships and hopefully making much more healthy friendships at the new school.
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