Thursday, May 24, 2012

Educating an Internationally Adopted Teen - Guest Post by Sandy

How do you make wise educational choices when the child you're adopting is already a teen and doesn't speak a word of English?  Today's Guest Blogger, Sandy, shares her story.

(This post is not intended to spark a public school vs. private school debate.  I'm sure many adoptive parents have had good public school experiences.  It's intended to give a snapshot of some of the educational difficulties parents may face when adopting an older child.)

A photo of Sandy's family posted January 2012

I've had several people ask about schooling our children after their adoptions.

Ben was 6.5, and John was almost 14 when we adopted them. If you read our entire blog, I stopped blogging when the children were going to begin public school.

Sandy's son, John, who was adopted from China when he was almost 14

Well, public school was a big, big mistake. Really. if it is at all possible, do not send your older adopted child to public school. First of all, John had to spend a week testing, as mandated by the state of NY and our Federal government. He didn't understand two words of English, of course, so the testing itself was upsetting, confusing and frustrating.

Then, the school decided to place John in 6th grade (age 14--normally 8th grade), and (because of his test results) he was required to take 3 periods of ESL (English as a Second Language) a day. His ESL class was made up of Spanish speaking migrant workers' children, and it was a complete and utter waste of time. I sent in several hundred English/Chinese flashcards that I bought, and I purchased an expensive English language learning program for Chinese speakers that I gave to the school. The teacher basically babysat the kids all day and did not even look at the resources I provided.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that the only English words he learned at school, in the 10 weeks he attended, were profanities. His first full English sentence was to tell his brother to "F off." In addition, John latched on to the kids who would readily accept him, and naturally they were the losers, dealers, and delinquents. John was almost 14 years old upon adoption, but like most post-institutionalized children, he was several years behind socially, emotionally and academically. John looked, and acted, like a 10 year old.

Also, attending school all day also slowed down John's English acquisition. Sitting in a classroom most of the day with kids who did not speak English (and had no intention of learning English) only made John resist us more. In addition, it took away from the time we had with him to establish bonding.

In June, after 10 weeks of public schooling, we called a meeting with the administration, guidance office, ESL teacher etc. I have never seen my husband go absolutely bonkers (he is an attorney), but I thought his head was going to explode when the vice-principal bluntly announced that John would never graduate high school. He'd be 21( and age out) first because John was going to miss 3 core subject classes a day, in order to attend his federally mandated ESL classes. John would not get enough credits to graduate, according to the administrator, in four years of schooling because of the ESL classes. I had to almost physically restrain my husband when the principal said that, by the way, HE was going to make the educational decisions for John, since John was at school 6 hours a day and ultimately the principal is responsible for the child's education and the principal knows what is best.

Umm. No. Sorry. You just happen to work here right now. Our son's education is way more important to us, than it is to you, jerk. You might have him for a few years, but he is our son forever!! And we know him better, understand his needs, and you know virtually NOTHING about children adopted from China, or their needs! I am certified in New York to teach Reading K-12 and English 5-12, so I could at least speak the school's lingo, but the administration was practically trying to bully us!

As I said, I'd never seen my husband go ballistic, but he went nuts when the school told us that they were going to make all the decisions because they knew what was best. And that John would never be successful because it was just too late for him.

The next day I started a search for a private school. Our oldest son (now age 16) has been attending an all-boys college prep school, McQuaid Jesuit, since 7th grade, and at that point I was homeschooling our son who was 10. McQuaid, however, has rigorous admission requirements and costs 2 arms and a leg. And I just didn't feel that I could homeschool a defiant, angry teenager, who didn't know English.

Then, I found Lima Christian School that offers a K-12 program. The school also works with several agencies in Asia (China and Korea) that send students to Lima Christian to master English so that they can get accepted into American Universities. They understand how to work with Asian students, and the other ESL students are highly motivated to succeed. The school placed John in 8th grade, at our request (only one grade below age appropriate at age 14.5), and arranged his schedule so that he had the ESL teacher all to himself for one period a day. He also had a study hall where he was peer-tutored every day. The teachers held him to the same standards as the other students, but did provide extended test taking time when necessary. We received weekly progress reports, and we spent hours with him at night doing homework. The school jumped through hoops to make certain we were happy, and they checked with me before adjusting his schedule or giving him modified assignments.

Now, John is in 9th grade, and he works independently most of the time at the 9th grade level. He maintains a B/A- average. At my request, we continued the one period a day with the ESL teacher. She makes certain that he is "getting" everything. Next year he will join the regular English class and will no longer be considered an ESL student. Ben (age 8.5 now, 6.5 upon adoption) never received ESL classes. He's completely fluent in English, and almost at grade level in reading and writing. Unfortunately, he has forgotten his Chinese.

At the private school we are the consumer...they will adjust the curriculum to meet the child's needs because if they don't, we can find another school! Our son Connor, who was homeschooled, would be in 7th grade in public school because of his age. He is in 8th grade at LCS, because of his abilities, and in 10th grade math and science. On top of that, he has a 95 average too. With a graduating class of 16, the school can be flexible and meet all our children's needs! Hooray!

Sandy's family today.  Notice the addition of two
sweet boys, adopted last month from China.

Thanks, Sandy, for a great post.  I'm so happy that your perseverance paid off, and you found a great school fit for all your kids. 

Sandy has two adoption blogs,  Our Adoption Journey, which tells the story of John's adoption and Petersadoption which chronicles their 2012 adoption of two more boys from China.  Sandy first shared today's story back in December 2011.  Now wrapping up another school year, John has made even more progress.


  1. I would only say that every child and every school is different. Each parent has to make the right decision for their family. I happen to know the blogger (hi Sandy), her son was in the same orphanage as my two older kids. We ASKED that our son be placed in fifth grade when he came home at 12 years old so that he had time to catch up with his language and learn the ropes. He is now in 7th grade and 15 years old. He gets all A's in a very academically rigorous public school, receives ESOL services - 2 english classes one being academic english and one in history. The rest are general ed classes. We are very lucky to be where we are as far as school systems go. He is thriving and happy. We adopted another older child at the same time, who did not have the academic background our son did. So she is further behind academically, but flourishing in public school. Again our school system bent over backwards to accommodate our children's needs. Not that they understood all that older international adoption and trauma means to these kids - but I was there to educate them. I know the school systems in all parts of the US are not as progressive or accommodating, but I would encourage those who don't want to/can't home school or place your children in private schools to research and try to work with your public school. You may be pleasantly surprised. I feel like OUR public school is better equipped to meet the needs of our IA kids than a private school would be. You will find as many different answers to what grade to place and where to educate as there are families out there. Do what feels right for your family and your child.

  2. Thanks Sandi! My adopted son is much younger, and I already was a homeschooler so we haven't had to work with a public school at this point. But I suspected (and you just confirmed) that many parents have found public school situations that work for their older adopted kids. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. WOW, this post made me "crazy", too! I can't believe the public school's approach to this child. Good for you for not giving up!

  4. Knowledge of additional languages apart from the mother tongue helps acquiring better knowledge about history, culture and different technologies used in the different parts of world. Therefore, it will be a wise step to join the online language learning classes.

  5. Having students rewrite the rules in their own words is a great idea that I had never thought of. I will definitely give it a try!

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