Preschool Prep: What Parents Need to Know by Jenobia Johnson
As a mom, one of my most important achievements is an academic foundation for my children. Of course, we all want our children to be on the President’s List at an IVY-league university, but the process begins way before college applications. For most, it starts before grade school.
With summer, fast approaching, I wanted to ensure my soon-to-be 4-year-old son was squared away with Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K/Preschool) enrollment. Since I have two older daughters, I was under the assumption that this would be a walk in the park. I was familiar with an assessment test, having the rundown of which schools were an option for me, and having my son added to the roster. Simple, right? Except I didn’t take into consideration the age-old mother mantra, “Every child’s experience is different.”
Jenobia’s son Quincy at 4 years old
On the day of my son’s testing, I had knots in my stomach. My oldest daughter was extremely articulate from a very young age. Enrolling her in Pre-K was about preparing her to engage. She was painfully shy and I knew if she couldn’t grow socially, she would have issues down the road. My second daughter has always been academically advanced and a social butterfly. My concern for her was that, as a kinesthetic learner, she needed practice following protocol in a more structured environment.
All “good” moms know to never compare their children with one another, but I can’t help myself. My son was in daycare for almost two years while I pursued my degree, but he took longer to do the things his sisters did. You know the simple things, like taking three years to master potty training!
As I sat in the parking lot feeling anxious about taking him inside, I kept thinking about the ONE thing that constantly nagged me regarding him…
“How old are you?”
A simple question, that we’ve gone over a million times, yet his response has always been,
“That’s your name. How old are you?”
-Insert pause and blank stare- “I, Quincy, Mom.”
I would then give him the correct answer, show him how many fingers to hold up, and ask again.
“Mom, I Quincy!”
So, I sucked in a deep breath and proceeded into the office to sign him in. I heard my husband telling me not to worry about it, or my teacher-friend chuckle at my silly concerns. I sat at a table and watched Quincy walk away with the evaluator. The room he was taken to was only a few feet away. I could hear the majority of the questions and some of the answers.
But nothing was clearer than when she asked, “How old are you?”
“I want to schedule for another assessment…”
Jenobia’s handsome son Quincy!When the testing was done, she asked to see me in a different room. This part of the process was different, but possibly things had changed since bringing my daughter four years prior. The evaluator reviewed his testing scores, showing he’d gone above the standard in each section…
“However, his self-identification is a little off. He knows his name and that he’s a boy, but he doesn’t say how old he is. Also, he can identify objects but doesn’t know their function. He pointed out a hanger, but could not express that clothes go on a hanger. Because of this, I want to schedule for another assessment that’s a little more detailed to rule out any concerns.”
Now as you’re reading this, you can probably think of a million questions to ask, right?
My mind in that moment went blank.
Not only because I couldn’t wrap my mind around what she was saying, but she also said it so nonchalantly and with no pauses. It didn’t seem like there should be anything left to question or add. She handed me several packets of papers and scheduled a time for the next test. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my car reading over the papers that the information started to sink in. And with information came questions. If he exceeded the standard expectations, what are you looking for? This document that you handed me reviews the Americans with Disabilities Care Act.
You believe my child has a disability?
This other document states that when he takes this test even if the results show there isn’t a disability, it will go in his academic file into grade school, what does that mean?
I was utterly confused about what I’d just agreed to. I spoke with other teachers, and my husband, who is a teacher and just so happened to become Exceptional Student Education (ESE) certified just a week prior to this taking place. Again, since he was already apprehensive about having to assess him in the first place, he decided he wanted to contact the administrators of the program.
Taking it a Step Further
The gist of my husband’s conversation was him asking why Quincy required further testing for “potential ESE placement”. They explained that the only reason that all the children don’t go through the comprehensive testing is because it can be stressful and time-consuming for the children. Also, because Quincy was identified as needing further assessment, if we refused to allow them to test him further, he would not be allowed to join the program. The question about how the next test would go on his record wasn’t addressed at all. In fact, they swiftly told him they would consider his concerns and call him back (which they never did).
The fact that the day after all of this happened we were going out of town, was likely divine intervention. The way I operate, I would have been distraught over it the whole weekend trying to strategize what to do next. But instead, something interesting took place. While in our hotel room and discussing for the millionth time my thoughts, I randomly asked Quincy once again how old he was, and received the same response.
“How many years old are you Quincy?” my husband asked.
Quincy quickly raised three fingers.
Just like that, as if he’d been waiting all along for us to ask the question in the proper way. When we returned home, we received several recommendations, such as private testing that is done off the record, and different schools that accept VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten) through other means. I followed a reference to a private school and went in for an interview. They too required an assessment but assured me it was only to gauge a baseline so his teacher would then be better prepared to attend to his areas of need. When the assessment was over, the teacher expressed he was right where he should be, and in some areas, a little advanced.
Going through this process made me realize that there are several parents out there who aren’t fortunate to have teachers in their circles or one in their household like I do. I wanted to share this experience in hopes that someone will feel more aware regarding this journey.
“You are your child’s advocate.”
Firstly, you are your child’s advocate. If at any time you feel uneasy about something there’s a reason. You have the right to ask questions, voice your opinions, and express your concerns. If anyone tries to stifle that, there is a problem.
Secondly, don’t completely disregard someone’s insight. I did seek a second opinion. Had this school also expressed an issue with how he engages, my next step would have been a private screening or recommendations from his doctor.
Lastly, I attempted to find a national hub for any and every parent to go, unfortunately, education varies from state to state. I’m in Florida, and the original institution I went to only funds two schools in our county for VPK, hence the, “Take the test or he can’t be enrolled”. I could have gone through the Florida Early Learning Coalition (ELC). They offer VPK to whoever applies, and you can then enroll in the school of your choice. But ELC is not everywhere. In fact, it is not necessary everywhere. In Georgia, VPK doesn’t exist. Pre-K is fully funded for the full day of school.
My suggestion is to contact your local school board. Get recommendations from friends. Contact schools and find out their process for enrollment. Consider private screenings and doctor recommendations. As your child’s advocate, there is little space to drop your guard. By asking questions as early as you can, you can avoid rushed deadlines for the impending school year and have the time you need to explore all YOUR options thoroughly.
To find your local Florida Early Learning Coalition office, you can do a search on their website: www.FloridaEarlyLearning.com
If you have further questions for Jenobia, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org