Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Saving Santiago

One of the advantages of learning to speak Spanish a long time ago is that I now can communicate freely with the cleaning people of the Washington world. Including Morena Henriquez, who cleans my office at the Census Bureau. We have struck up a wonderful working relationship over the last few years. She cooks delicious Hispanic food for me and I serve as her advocate in matters that involve reading or speaking English – from paying a parking ticket to getting her furnace replaced and not being ripped off to most recently trying to help her son Santiago.

Santiago is a sweet, well-mannered 11-year-old boy who already repeated 3rd grade, but is currently reading at only a 2nd grade level. For years Morena has been hearing how much everyone loves Santiago but not getting much more information about his learning disability than “He’s just a little slow.” They always blame it on his English language deficiency. But Morena has noticed that he can’t remember anything he just read in either language 5 minutes later. There is something else going on here.

I took off from work this morning to accompany Morena to Santiago’s current school to try once again, this time with Ms. Burns, the special ed teacher. His last testing was 3 years ago. They seem to have lost the detailed results, but from his score of 50% on the reading comprehension section, this problem has been around for a while. When I lobbied Ms. Burns to re-test Santiago immediately, she pushed to wait until next November when his 3 years were up. It was obvious that she was treating him as a generic “slow learner” and had not a clue as to why he couldn’t read or remember. With a little cajoling and pressure, Ms. Burns finally agreed to bring up Santiago’s case at the April meeting of the committee that meets once a month to determine whether he could be re-evaluated sooner. I also asked about the independent testing that was mentioned in the parents’ rights brochure. Unfortunately even though the school is billed as an ESL school, it seems woefully unable to deal with parents who don’t speak English.

I came back to work and immediately called my friend Linda, who is a psychologist who works with college students who have learning disabilities. She is seeking out someone who will test Santiago outside the P.G. County school system and try to really diagnose his problem. If anyone can find a solution to this, it is Linda.

I seem to be taking on Santiago’s cause as my personal crusade. It would just be a shame to let this sweet little boy become another victim of the educational system without every really dealing effectively with his as-yet-undiagnosed problem. I am determined not to let that happen!

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