AB's home life was...not so great. When she was present at school, Mom dropped her off quite late. The lack of consistency made her anxious and unwilling to walk into her class. She would follow her sister and stand outside of her 2nd grade class.
Parents...this is important. Drop your kids off on time so that they can start the day and their morning routine with their classmates. Just saying, that helps them a lot.
Seeing as though my first goal was simply to get her and keep her in our classroom, I would accomplish this by any means necessary. I offered her all sorts of incentives. As a child with some sensory issues, she loved playing with sand, Play-Doh, and the bin of uncooked beans (yes, that's a thing). "Want some sand? Great, let's go back to our class and play with sand! "Want to do a puzzle? I found a great Hello Kitty puzzle and it's waiting for us in class!"
It's not as if she was being defiant. It was often as if she was scared and confused. Several times, I found myself sitting alongside the little girl in the hallway of the 2nd grade wing while she would literally fold herself in half. She would sit with her feet together and lean forward with her head down on her little sneakers. I few times I poked my head into a classroom and called to one of my friends who had been in kindergarten two years ago. "Hey, so and so! Could you let me borrow an iPad from the cart?"
Sometimes, I would go to the ladies' room and come out to find her waiting at the door. It was endearing to me, but made me feel like I had a huge responsibility. I picked up all sorts of Hello Kitty toys on my thrift trips. Just little things to use as an incentive for doing school work or for listening during lessons. Her hair had become a tangled nest on top of her head and I wished to take her home and give her a nice shampoo.
A short time later, those knotted curls stopped being a problem. On a Sunday night, I found one of those bagged items at Savers: a Hello Kitty plush with glasses alongside a smaller Hello Kitty in a tutu. On Monday I put them in my drawer of supplies to keep for an emergency. I walked out into the hallway and awaited her arrival.
At first I didn't recognize her. I did a double take as I saw a little girl with a short blonde haircut--it was AB. Dressed in jeans and long sleeved shirt, she looked like a completely different girl. She had no backpack and no Kitty in her arms.
Over the weekend, AB and her brother and sister were removed from her mom's care and handed over to her dad. (I'm guessing that he saw the immediate need for that haircut.) I guess it's a good thing I bought those stuffed cats for $3. Fearing a difficult morning, I presented the kitties in hopes of starting the day off with a smile. She had nothing but the clothes on her back and seeing Kitty must've have made her pretty happy. She held them closely in a tight hug.
A major upheaval in her home life could lead to some setbacks in her progress and behavioral changes. I braced myself for hard times...
But, they never came.
She just kept moving onward and upwards. If this were a movie, this would be the part where AB and I are shown confidently strutting down the school hallway, with some badass song about being awesome playing. Other staff would be smiling at her and complimenting her new look/good behavior/or whatever cat or doll she was carrying. I soaked in the pride of being involved in such a successful turnaround.
I'm good buddies with the school nurse and she said that I was the only consistent thing she's had this year. She even said that I was sort of intuitive of her needs like a mom. Knowing how changing schools would probably be traumatic, our school social worker arranged for transportation to get her and her sister to and from. Another change.
Still, she grew stronger. I modified grade level assessments and found the bright mind hiding within. The kids in class had always wanted to play with her, and she was enjoying playing along. I noticed she seemed comfortable with a little girl I'll refer to as RW. RW is a wispy little sprite of a girl and is also a child with special needs. I used to work with her older brother. Like AB, she knew all 50 first grade sight words, much to the surprise of the classmates. AB's big sister, GB told me that she wanted to have a playdate with RW. The class teacher, Jan agreed that we should foster that relationship. Since AB was doing pretty well academically, Jan and I agreed we should keep a focus on socializing. RW needed help anyway, so soon I was including her with many of the things I did with AB.
AB liked Hello Kitty, RW liked Minnie Mouse. I would motivate them to work by searching for images on my phone of the two characters which had something to do with whatever we were learning.
During those difficult times, when I mourned my loss of Jesse, being with these kids made me feel better. Jesse died on Tuesday and I returned to school on Thursday. The night before, I prepared costumes for the next day's theme. It was spirit week and Thursday was twins day. I had previously asked AB if she wanted to dress as Kitty and Mimmy (do you know that Hello Kitty has a twin sister?). Overhearing my question, RW jumped in and said that she want to join. Triplets it is.
They loved their cheap costumes. I just loved them. To be continued one more time...
Want to see how I did that shirt?
Brb on my long-ass story.