The first year he was here things went very well…for the first half of the school year. He even joined the football team. He practiced hard, but didn’t get to play in a single game, which was very disappointing to him. Then over Christmas and into January he had a huge growth spurt and his medications went out of balance and he started having major problems with his anger and his attitude. He would be like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; calm and polite and then something would set him off and he would go into rage. He wouldn’t even remember most of what he said or did during those times and it was often very bad. He was losing his temper often both at school and at home. His psychiatrist kept adjusting and adding and subtracting medications, but nothing was working. He was suspended multiple times for fighting, cussing teachers, and various other misbehavior. The school really was trying to work with him and I can’t fault them at all. The assistant principal and I became well acquainted and I hated to get the phone calls from her because I knew James was in trouble again. He was even suspended the last full week of school. Somehow he managed to pass, but it was such a horribly stressful time on all of us. We just didn’t see how we could do it another school year but we were also very afraid he was heading down a path straight into the criminal justice system. His doctor continued adjusting medications and his mom searched and searched for a Boy’s Ranch or some residential program that would take him. She couldn’t find anything because of his diagnosis and history of violence – the fights he had been in. One medical-type program would take him, but it was only for 90 days and it was going to cost over $25,000!
But then we noticed over the summer that he was calming down and not having the anger outbursts. Cheryl and I talked and prayed about it a great deal. We decided we would try for one more year. We drew up a contract for him that listed out all of our responsibilities and what we expected of his behavior. We told him that if he didn’t live up to this agreement he would have to move back home and back to the school he so intensely disliked. He agreed.
This school year has been fantastic! Every meeting I have had with his teachers they have praised him for his behavior, how hard he tries, how polite he is and how he is one of the students they can send on errands because they know they can trust him to go do it and come right back. One teacher said she had read his file and knew of his reputation and was hesitant to have him in her classroom. She said she thought maybe they had the files mixed up because the boy she saw was nothing like the kid she read about.
Last fall he again joined the football team, practiced hard and played on the defensive line in every game for every defensive play. He is now close to six feet and weighs over 200 pounds. James has also worked hard on his academics, especially his reading. Texas has state exams students must pass at certain years in the spring in order to move on to the next grade. This year he had to pass the reading exam and math exam to move into high school. We figured he would pass math, but we were concerned for the reading, even though he would get three tries, including one last try over the summer. At the beginning of the year, he tested at a third grade reading level. He was in remedial reading with a super teacher, Ms. Lisa Smith, who taught him various strategies to use when reading to increase his comprehension. Last month was the reading TAKS test. He came home all excited because he was sure he did well and thought he might have even gotten to the “commended” level on the test. We were hopeful, but also afraid he was going to be hugely disappointed. Actually, Cheryl was more confident than I as she had been working closely with him with reading (I help more with math). She would read his books ahead of him, have him read a couple of chapters and then she would quiz him about what he read. She could see that his comprehension was rapidly improving. A few days after the exam, I had a progress meeting with his teachers and relayed what he said after taking the exam. They were also concerned he was going to be disappointed and wanted me to stress to him that he still had two more chances to pass the test. About a week after that, James called from school. The test results had come in. He had only missed three questions! He was one away from the “Commended” level. We were all so excited. His teachers were excited and I think perhaps shocked. He kept saying he knew he did well and he used all his strategies he had been taught, even though he didn’t have to. He taught me not to doubt him.
We have seen him work hard on his behavior here at home, too. Things that would set him off last year, we see him stop and think things through. A couple of times we have seen him be quiet and just simply withdraw from the situation so he can calm himself. For the entire year there was only one time he became angry here at home and it was one morning with me. He didn’t go into any rage, but did leave angry – like any normal 8th grade student might. That night when he came home he apologized to me.
So why am I telling you all this? Obviously we are very proud of him. Last week we got a letter in the mail that informed us he was going to be getting an award on Friday night, at a ceremony before the school dance. He had already asked if he could go to the dance and we had given him permission. When we asked him what kind of award, he said he had no idea. When he asked his teachers, they told him he had to wait and find out. We were excited but also a little skeptical. We thought it might just be a certificate that all kids would get. James even said he wanted to get a suit to wear. I had a jacket and shirt that fit him and we bought him a pair of matching pants, new tie and dress shoes. We were hoping he wasn’t going to be disappointed.
When we got there we were handed a program and it had a list of honorees. We could tell it was not every student, but the program was “Academic Achievement Awards.” Hmm, we still couldn’t figure it out because we know James’ grades aren’t that high. He is passing, but certainly not all A’s, or even close. As the program progressed they announced what the next awards were and then we pretty much knew that was how he was being honored. He received the “Rock Star/Shooting Star” award. It was for the most improved male student! His team of teachers had voted for him for this award. I thought I would pop my buttons with pride. How wonderful for his teachers to recognize the great effort he has been putting forth this year. I doubt they will read this, but I would like to recognize the team of teachers he had this year who worked so well together to help him.
Reading Title 1 – Lisa Smith
Mathematics – Rose Holly (also his advisory teacher who helped keep him organized)
Language Arts – Heather Byrd
US History – Elizabeth Tagge-Quigg
Science – Debra Manganaro And two teachers not part of the organized team, but who also helped him:
BCIS (computers) – Matthew Perez
Boys Athletics – Joshua Barnes
Also a big thank you to his counselor, Mike Mohr and mentors Steven Gradney and Jami Evans. Mr. Gradney wasn’t even assigned to him and yet he went out of his way to help and encourage James. A very special thank you to assistant principal Cynthia Ottmers, who is the kindest lady I ever met who can hand out sanctions to the kids and have them understand she is really doing them a favor! She really cares for her kids. There are many others who played a role in James’ success including last year’s teachers, the office staff, the school nurse and the attendance lady, Tonie Moya and some I have probably inadvertently omitted. All of these folks are under the very capable leadership of their principal, Mr. Anthony Watson. Thank you, thank you, thank you all!
Of course, James is coming back to live with us again next year as he begins High School. I have to have someone to mow my lawn. Congratulations James, for your great effort and your accomplishments this year.