Boarding School for Jake?

By Barbara Schilling Hurwitz  the author of the adventure novel, PANDU, now available for a sneak peak inside at Amazon.com

 

 

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Chapter 7

Obstacles to Progress

Progress is an uphill road with obstacles always cropping up to challenge success. Beware, be ready as a parent, coach, tutor, the Jake Pullman’s in your life do stumble. Bad habits are hard to break and new behaviors may be more resistant to form.

DON’T GIVE UP!

I reminded myself of this when I received the email from Jake’s Language Arts teacher. She began in a formal letter addressed to me, his parents and the school principal, “I am concerned about Jake’s lack of progress and his ultimate ability to pass 5th grade Language Arts.”

Oy, my heart sank. I knew the phone would be ringing, and I wasn’t ready to address Jake’s mom when the phone call came.

“Yes, I got the email. No, I was not aware that he had failed the unit grammar test, the latest literature comprehension quiz and had not yet submitted the essay due last week. I wanted to settle her angst, but this was her son and she was rightfully upset, but just possibly for the wrong reasons.

Why was this happening? Could Jake be over programmed, unable to commit his effort to school when his only commitment was to atheletics where he was rewarded with high praise for his achievement, where he spent positive time with his dad? Was she angry with me because I didn’t yet make the problems go away.

“My husband is ready to fire you!” But she was not ready to quit. The past few weeks had been so much happier. “The family wasn’t fighting. No,they had not yet had their family dinner, but that was because…. ” I saw she was prone to excuses too.

“This is not a magic,” I told her. “It takes time and great effort to change patterns of behavior. That only happens with consistent support. Yes, Jake fell off the wagon, but he can get back on. Things will turn around, but the key here is patience.” (Another one of my mantras.)

When I met with Jake that afternoon, he was not his usual smiling self. With his head hanging down he answered the door and mumbled a few words, “sorry….disappoint…” It sounded like a rehearsed apology. I let it pass and trotting off to the kitchen said, “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get started.”

The homework folder with the attached assignment sheet was just as we had left it. Nothing new added and the folder was empty. “What happened?” I asked shaking out the empty folder. Jake just shrugged, but I smiled. “Well, there’s progress. No excuses.” I stifled my laughter  recognizing the grasp for any positive signs rising from this abyss.  “Okay, Jake. You tried your way to be successful,  it didn’t work.  Then I came in and we changed to my plan, and we can see that’s not working so well either. What do you think we should do now?”

He shrugged again. I tore a piece of paper from my note pad and handed him a pencil. I looked at my watch. “Okay, 5 minutes, let’s see how many ideas we each can come up with to turn this situation around. I set the timer on my watch and counted down. “5-4-3-2-1, write.” I felt his eyes following my pencil while his body remained motionless. At least a minute passed before he picked up the pencil and began to write.

When the timer beeped, our eyes met for the first time that day. I smiled. “So what do you have there?”

Jake bashfully covered his words and said, “Nothing.”

“Nothing? It took a lot of time for you to write nothing. Okay, I’ll go first. Number one, drop one basketball team.”

He shook his head about to cry. “That’s the only thing I do good.”

Well, I couldn’t help silently correcting, but instead I said, “Maybe so, but it doesn’t have to be that way. How did you get so good at basketball? Were you innately talented and intuitive or have you worked to build your skills?”

He shrugged.

“Your turn. Give me one idea. It’s just between us. No one’s listening.”

Jake stuck his head in the paper as if legally blind. “I could go to boarding school.”

He was not the first student to have suggested that option, words mimicked right out of the mouths of an angry parents, but it still made me squirm inside. I raised my brow and nodded. “Yup, I guess that is an option, but will that change your work habits?”

“I don’t know, but my parents’ll be happy to be rid of me.”

Hmm, I nodded and said, “My turn. Set up a regular after school study time at school with a teacher or student advisor.”

“I take the bus, so I couldn’t do that.”

“Is that a flat out rejection or just an excuse? Because I could arrange the transportation.”

He answered with only another shrug.

“What’s your next idea?”

“I don’t know. This whole thing’s stupid. I hate school. I’m only there because I have to be there, and as soon as I’m 16 I’m going to quit.”

Whoa, that was really unexpected. “What are you going to do then, Jake?”

“Move out. Make everyone in this house happy.”

“Okay, well until then, we’ve got 6 years to fill. I’m hoping we can use them advantageously. I want to come see you play basketball with the big leagues some day, but I’m guessing you’ll need at least we high school education to get there. So can we try to make the best of this time and work together?”

I didn’t want to hear any more of Jake’s suggestions as I knew we were heading down hill. I’d heard enough to get the drift. “Okay, Jake, what I see is a two fold problem. One you struggle with reading which for the most part makes academics other than math calculations challenging. Two, you struggle with organization and time management. I’m guessing you don’t really want to go to boarding school and you don’t want to give up any basketball time. So here’s my offer..

1. We’ll set up an after school homework coach to meet with you at school if the school doesn’t already have an after school homework club. You’ll work for approximately two 30-minute segments with a 10 minute break in between.
2. We will arrange for a reading evaluation to determine what needs are to be addressed by the school. (I believe an IEP needs to be set up, but will wait for the results of the evaluation.)
3. You’ll continue to use the study period to meet with teachers and complete assignments.
4. You’ll continue with basketball as scheduled unless it interferes with the homework plan.
5. You will continue to meet with me once a week to build skills, review progress and tweak our plan.

“What you do about school is your choice, Jake. Your parents can hire tutors, we can put homework coaches in place and get school support, but ultimately, it’s up to you. I’m confident you can be successful if you choose. This is the only plan I see that can work at this time. We can tweak it as we progress, but for now…this is it. You think about it. Share it, discuss it with your parents and get back to me.

Jake was speechless as I packed up to go. I reached for his hand, and smiled when he looked up. “We can do this, Jake. Just let me know if you want to.”

I called Hs mom  on my way home. Keeping my promise to Jake to hold our conversations in confidence, I shared only the parental advice I had given her before. “The most important thing you can give your son is unconditional love and support. He’s only ten years old. Tall and muscular for his age, but don’t be fooled, a sensitive little boy is hiding behind that facade.”

 

Note: Jake Pullman and his family are all fictitious characters. Their resemblance to any persons is only coincidental.

 

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The Jake Pullman Story Continues

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CHAPTER 6

EXCUSES

Before returning to Jake, I checked in with his teachers for a progress update. I was pleased to hear that he was still excelling in PE, and with the help of his math teacher, all back assignments had been completed. He was up to date. The science teacher confirmed the research project was underway with class time spent in the library, but she wasn’t sure how much work Jake had completed, and a 1-2 page typed biography of his scientist was due at the end of the week.

In language arts Jake was behind. The class was reading The Giver, but he apparently he was not. As a result he failed 2 comprehension quizzes, and more than likely was unprepared to write the essay also due at the end of the week.

I had my work assignment mapped out when I rang the bell again. And I was thinking about it when I rang again. And again. Grrr, I grumbled shuffling the load of supplies I carried to one arm and reaching for my cell phone with my free hand. I punched in his number. No answer. But by the fourth ring, when I saw him pass through the basement doorway, I sensed our honeymoon period had passed.

While we followed our same path back to the kitchen table, Jake dragged his backpack and droned on with assurances that his homework was done. I didn’t respond. Instead I pulled out four stackable plastic files from a large plastic bag and asked him to label each one, one with his name and the others with each of his brother’s names. We organized the loose papers on the table into the files and stashed the junk mail in a separate round basket I pulled from my supply bag. Jake actually liked the organization and vowed to introduce the new file system to the family.

Next, it was time to check the homework folder. I had to bite my tongue as he rambled defensively. “I did my math at school, and for the science project the teacher is giving us time to work in the library, so I left the packet in my locker…”

Finally, my piercing stare, my silent reprimand, caught his eye and the chatter ceased, for the moment at least. He suddenly remembered the science packet in his backpack, and happily it appear while he explained, “….because the bell rang and I couldn’t find my folder, so….”

“Stop, Jake. What’s my mantra?” Sadly he looked puzzled, and I had to hint with the first syllable, “Org…”

Organization is the key to success,” he shouted over me.

“Right. I know it’s hard to break old habits, and it takes time to build new ones, but no more excuses. Just admit you didn’t do it, and do better next time. I knew admission of wrong doing was challenging for Jake, and he wasn’t quite ready to go that far. But he looked surprised, relieved by my calm response when he hadn’t performed as expected. I’m guessing a history of scolding may have led to the litany of creative excuses his father refers to as lies.

I was pleased to see the research progress was in pretty good shape, illegible to me, but he was able to read his notes. He knew nothing about the 1-2 page biography due at the end of the week. And he had already given up on the language arts reading assignment. Of course, I had not.

An assignment book would be just another parcel to misplace or forget, but he needed something reliable on which to record and check assignments. So together we created an assignment page and taped it to the front of the homework folder. He was to record all assignments and their due dates, even no homework was to be marked with a NO HW. I made a mental note to inform his teachers and solicit their help in building this good habit.

The reading, he told me, was a problem. He didn’t have the book. “…lent it to a friend who forgot to bring it back….” And before I realized Jake had pulled out his cell phone, not to call the friend, but his mom to have her pick up a copy of the book from the library on her way home from work.

“Whoa, stop, no, this isn’t her responsibility, and actually I have a copy of the book for you right here.” I pulled out the last item from the depth of the plastic bag, and held the book in the air. He hung up the phone.

TIME MANAGEMENT
We divided the number of pages he had to read (112) by the number of days (3) he had to complete the assignment, leaving one extra day for writing the essay. We marked each day’s reading (27 pages) right in the book with a post-it note, and I saw Jake visibly relaxed. The overwhelming total number of pages no longer looked so daunting. The book was to remain in the pocket of his homework folder so he’d have it for class, his free study period and to bring back home again.

After marking the assignments on the month-at-a-glance calendar, Jake stood back on smiled. “Yeah, I can do this,” he said. And I knew he could.

Enough about school, time to head upstairs to our hard labor.

A few pairs of dirty basketball shorts lay on the bedroom floor, but for the most part his room looked the same, ready for the next phase. We temporarily stashed the box with the “elsewhere” items in his closet where Jake thought they’d be well hidden, and attacked the box holding items for his room only. One by one we pulled out shoes, clothes, books, sports equipment and separated them in piles. Dirty clothes went to the wash, books on the shelf, shoes and sports equipment to the shelves in the closet. When Jake seemed to have the process down, I suggested he finish the task on his own before my next visit.

I couldn’t leave with the unfavorably scented “elsewhere” items still in the closet. The box mostly contained dirty dishes, silverware and cereal and snack boxes. I knew he’d had enough, but pushed him to drag the box down to the kitchen, where I loaded the dishwasher and closed the open food packages, and he returned them to the pantry. Finally the box went to the trash. Jake felt good, proud, excited to share his new room with his mom. And I was pretty confident she’d respond with the right reward, a smile and praise. Maybe even help to maintain order.

We reviewed his responsibilities while I noted mine, and parted once again, each of us feeling relaxed and accomplished.

THE CONTINUING JAKE PULLMAN STORY

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Chapter 5

Today after two chimes of the doorbell, I watched through the front door glass panel as Jake raced down the stairs and slid across the polished wood floor to let me in. Probably finishing that cleaning he was to have completed before my arrival today. But glad he didn’t want to disappoint me, I kept my thoughts to myself and mirrored back his smile.

We settled ourselves back at the kitchen table where the same old papers remained and a few more had been added to the neglected stack. Jake answered my routine questions with the usual fine, good, yeah. Basketball game tonight, homework was already done and his new homework folder was working well.

Familiar with the old adage, When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, my invisible antenna raised. “So let’s have a look.”

A few tattered papers peeked out the top of the green folder Jake pulled from his binder. Stuffed in the To Do side was a large packet with the details for a new long term science project. The Finished side held three math worksheets, one finished, two untouched. I chose to start with the science project, which Jake claimed to have received without any instructions. “The teacher just gave it out and said she’d explain it later, but there was a fire drill and when we got back to the class, we had to go to lunch.”

Hmm, really. For warned of Jake’s challenge with forthrightness, I thought we might be playing Truth or Lie, but if so, I credited his creativity and put my doubts aside.

Knowing long term projects with pages of instructions can be overwhelming to students, I wanted to ameliorate any angst by scanning the packet, looking for key elements and breaking it down into small doable sections with intermediary self-imposed due dates – thus introducing the second element necessary for success – Time Management. While Jake found this to be most unnecessary, his resistance was no match against my insistence.

The directions read, each student was to pick a scientist from a list provided, research their biography and at least one major accomplishment. They were to share the results of their research with the class through a PowerPoint or personal interview with the scientist. Presentations were to begin in three weeks.

We ran down the list of scientist’s names and Jake marked his first, second and third choices in preparation for class the next day. Then we moved over to the month-at-a-glance calendar and marked the project due date. We agreed to divide the time for research in two parts, biography and accomplishment – leaving one week for each phase. We added those dates to the calendar. This left Jake one more week to work on the presentation, which he had already decided would be a PowerPoint. He was quite confident the plan left him “more than enough time” to complete the project, while managing daily homework, test preparation and basketball commitment. I had some reservations, but hoped with all my heart he could do it.

Back to the table and the two math worksheets. Truly a master of creative excuses, I stopped Jake 30 seconds into the continuing fire drill saga and suggested he get out a pencil and see how much he could complete before my timer rang in 20 minutes.

I was impressed by his ability to stay focused and let him work an additional 10 minutes to complete both worksheets.

“Good job,” I rewarded him as he returned the finished papers to the folder. “Now there are those boxes upstairs awaiting our attention, right?”

“Right!” Jake raced ahead and took the steps two at a time. Proudly swinging open the unobstructed door, he shouted, “Tada!”

Wow, I was truly amazed. The stench of rotting food and sweat infused athletic clothes remained, but the bed was covered now only by a rumpled blanket and a pile of colorful pillows. For the first time, I could see the entire floor. “So your carpet is blue.”

Apparently not yet reading my response, Jake studied my face before joining me in laughter. “Great job! Stage one complete.” I suggested we move on to step two and asked if he could guess what that was. Knowing Jake’s penchant for being right, I suggested he use his nose before answering.

He inhaled deeply and shook his head with uncertainty. As though he’d lost his sense of smell, he looked at me with raised brows and answered with a question. “The trash?”

I helped him lug the box down the stairs and out to the garage trashcans. Back upstairs I opened a window to exchange the lingering odor with some fresh air before we stripped the greying sheets from the bed and took them to the laundry room. Although clearly pleased with the progress, my next suggestion that we remake the bed was met with wide eyes and vehement shaking of his head. “Come on,” he raised his voice, “that’s the maid’s job.”

“Not today,” I said leaving the room in search of the linen closet. I returned with a fresh set of sheets and a stack of neatly folded colorful pillowcases. “Sniff,” I said putting them under his nose. He did, but only the look on his face spoke his discontent. He stood in the corner of the room and watched as I shook out the fitted bottom sheet and spread it across the bed hoping his responsibility or shame might kick in, but the only movement he made was setting his arms akimbo. Not the message I was hoping for. I looked up and as gently as I could I said, “Jake, I am not the maid, and I did not create the mess. If you’ll recall, one of my goals was to lead you to independence.” His arms unfolded but his feet held firm to the floor. I continued making the bed, and chose my words with care. “Before you can have a staff take care of your unwanted chores, you must earn the privilege and appreciate what it is they do for you.”

Finally his eyes met mine. “You mean, I won’t always have to make my bed?”

I nodded. “Just earn the privilege.”

Jake was unsure his parents would agree and I really wasn’t sure either, knowing how poorly they’d followed my first and only requirement, once a week family dinner. But I must have offered the right words of encouragement because he opened the top sheet and spread it across the bed. I bit the inside of my cheek and swallowed my words watching him make perfect hospital corners. He caught me staring though and smiled, “Boy scout camp,” he explained.

We stepped back to admire the work. Jake looked proud but refused to admit it. With another job well done, I would have loved to cart the box containing the “elsewhere items,” mostly dirty dishes and silverware, to the kitchen, but instead I called on another successful mantra of mine – Always leave while you’re having fun. Jake was happy and I was too. Time to pack up. The box would be there when I returned.

THE JAKE PULLMAN STORY CONTINUED

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CHAPTER 4 – Our First Session – Organization

I arrived 5 minutes early, excited to get started with Jake. The doorbell chime was followed by none of the chatter I heard on my initial evaluation visit, only silence. I waited and rang again. Still nothing. A bit disappointed, I reached for my cell phone and dialed Jake’s phone. Yes, he has his own cell phone. An issue I might have to address at a later time, but now I just needed to find him. I knew his parents were at work and the little brothers were not home either. Through the side glass door panel I could see Jake come through the basement doorway with his phone in hand and a warm smile on his face.

“Sorry,” he said pulling open the door. “I already finished my homework, so I was down the basement.” I knew this was code for playing video games but chose to reserve that conversation for a later time as well. I wanted to begin on a positive note.

“Great,” I told him. “Let’s get started then.” I suggested he bring along the backpack he was about to step over and headed toward the kitchen.

“Okay, but I told you I already did my homework,” his voice trailed behind me.

Glad he had picked up the bag without  further discussion, but I made another mental note. On the table were the same papers I’d pushed aside three weeks earlier with some additional junk mail, children’s drawings and old school work scattered about. No indication of a family dinner enjoyed there yet. Another note to self.

Like Mary Poppins with her bottomless satchel, I began slowly pulling out supplies while trying to maintain a casual conversation, but with each new item, Jake wanted to know, “What’s that for?” I just smiled and held up a hand encouraging him to wait while I kept the conversation going.

Finally, after sufficient enticement, I was ready to begin. I explained to Jake there are three essentials to building success, Organization, Time management, and Focus Time. Today the plan was to direct our attention to Organization.

Moving my supplies to the side, I asked Jake to show me his completed homework. He didn’t know I had already checked the online assignment board and was up to date with his progress. He pulled his broken zipper binder from his overstuffed backpack and began rummaging through a variety of miscellaneous papers stuffed haphazardly inside, all the time trying to assure me, or himself, what he was looking for was there. Finally, he paused remembering he’d left the homework paper inside his math book which was in his locker since the work was done at school.

“Uh huh, (silent note to self) and the vocabulary assignment?”
“Oh, I just saw that. Wait.” And he began rifling through the papers once again. “Yup, here it is!” He proudly held up the wrinkled, illegibly written paper with no name, date, assignment title, nothing.

“And how do you know that’s it?” I couldn’t help but ask. Remembering Jake’s struggle with penmanship from the writing sample he had written for my evaluation, I reserved comment on legibility until I was ready to focus on that.

“Cause I just did it.”

I slid a green two pocket folder in front of him and shared my favorite mantra: “Organization is the key to success. Say hello to this green folder. It’s going to be your new best friend, so take good care of it and take it with you wherever you go in school and back home again.” This was to be his homework folder. All handout assignments were to go inside the left pocket and finished work inside the right pocket. With some reluctance he accepted the idea and labeled each pocket, In and Out. Then he filed his vocabulary assignment on the right side and chose to keep the folder in the front pocket of his binder that he brought to every class and home every day.

Encouraged by his good decision making, my reward of praise was accepted with a broad proud grin on his face.

Next, while unfurling a large, blank month-at-a-glance calendar, I reminded Jake of my mantra: Organization is the key to success. I wanted him to eventually hear those words in his sleep. With some guidance from me, he was able to fill in the calendar noting sports practices and games, appointments, tests and a long term projects. I noticed signs of writing fatigue – the stretching of fingers between adding new words to the calendar. Another mental note of something to address at the appropriate time, but not now. We chose a good place to hang and the calendar where he would see it every day and be able to add to it as new items arose.

“Great job!” I high-fived him, and his smile told me we were building the necessary bond to help make my plan successful. Jake was happy to take a short break before I introduced our final activity for the day. We played three rounds of Jenga, and although he was good, he was not yet able to beat the “Jenga champion of Bethesda.” I like to play fair and make students rise to a challenge, and I think Jake appreciated that too.

Last item for the day. I asked Jake if he’d mind helping me get some things from my car. Happy to help he followed me outside and together we dragged three large cardboard boxes up to his bedroom. The door was closed and he was reluctant to open it. I assured him I was ready for the worst, and it was a good thing I was. The room looked like a hurricane passed through with the windows left open! Clothes, papers, books, dishes encrusted with dried up pizza filled the floor. The bed was buried beneath an avalanche of clothes and sports equipment, and I wondered where he slept, but again reserved comment. Instead I asked him to repeat my mantra which  he instantly fed back to me through some laughter.

Organization is the key to success. Guess I got a ways to go.”

“Sure do, but that’s what I’m here for. We’ll begin at the door and you can do a little each day until everything is in order.” To start, all he had to do was separate the items into the three boxes. One was for items to keep in his room, another for the things that belonged elsewhere in the house, and the third was for trash. That seemed doable to him and we started the task together. Once we had a path down the center of the room, we looked back to study our progress. Once again I congratulated him. But now it was his job to get the rest cleared before I returned on Thursday (3 days later). He was fairly confident he could manage on his own and was even excited to surprise his mom when it was all done.

Finally, we returned to the kitchen, added RC, code for room cleaning to the calendar each day. I made some written notes including items to be addressed at later meetings (cell phone, video game time, family dinners, binder, backpack, written assignment headings, and handwriting) And I  packed up my materials while Jake packed up his and set the backpack beside the front door, ready to go the next morning.

It was a good day. We had made good progress and parted friends.