Wednesday, October 19, 2005

New Hope for Santiago

Back to the saga of Santiago, my little 11-year-old Hispanic friend who can’t read. For all my good intentions in the summer, my last interaction with him was to read with him after a trip to the library to get him his own library card. It was during that reading session that I began to see how bright Santiago is and how possible it might be for him to learn to read if just given the right set of tools.

Last year Santiago had attended a school that seemed pretty dysfunctional to me. In response to pressure they administered a battery of tests toward the end of the school year that confirmed his reading problems, but then they offered no source of remediation over the summer. They made no effort to summarize the meeting where they presented the results of the testing to his mom and me. Nor did they bother to transfer any of his records to his new school this year. There was clearly no one at this school who could speak Spanish fluently, despite the fact that it is an ESL school!

Santiago’s mom, Morena, asked me to accompany her to the new school today to meet with the team of people who are responsible for his (special) education. I was expecting the same cast of characters as I had met at last year’s school with the same levels of bad attitude. As we were waiting for our appointment, I began to form quite a different opinion of this new school. The halls were clean and quiet. When the children (who were all in uniforms) came by, they were smiling and seemed calm. When children moved through the halls as a group, they were nicely in line. What a different picture!

When the special ed specialist greeted us and addressed Morena in Spanish, I breathed a sigh of relief and knew this was a much better place for Santiago. At the last minute before leaving for the meeting, I had taken a copy of the testing results from last year. It was a good thing, since the new school was not even aware that the testing had been done! Santiago’s teacher brought samples of his work, which demonstrated Santiago’s math ability and confirmed his trouble in reading (decoding). In just a short time, they seem to have gotten a good sense for what he needs. He is getting several hours a week with the special ed specialist and just one other student, a big improvement over the large group instruction last year.

The school agreed to provide me with some resource ideas for tutoring Santiago, including a list of the 100 most important “sight” words. I hope I can actually do this on a regular basis, especially now that I am finally convinced that he is in an acceptable educational setting. I really hope this child can learn to read before the allure of other ways to be popular diminishes his urge to learn.

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