School is starting; where did the summer go? For anyone with children, the year does not begin on Rosh Hashanah or January 1st, but rather, the first day of school. I have come to realize that the first of the year is a very relative term.
I took the opportunity to visit with In the City Camp this week at their Weber School campus. I questioned why In the City Camp was located outside the city of Atlanta. Not surprising for Georgia, the Atlanta Public Schools begin on August 1st, and In the City Camp was housed at an APS building and they needed it back. In the City Camp moved all of its activities to Weber for the final weeks- that is quite the demonstration of determination. Most important, the kids were having a ton of fun in their relatively new environment.
Why does Georgia school begin so early? I have asked many a politician and no one has given me a solid answer. Some people have suggested it has to do with agriculture, but starting school earlier doesn’t really provide any relief at harvest or planting time. I personally believe it has something to do with football, specifically football practice. My belief is augmented by Georgia laws that were enacted to ensure coaches could not begin practices any earlier than August 1st, thereby preventing schools from opening even earlier; but, not one person has been willing to confirm my suspicion. Whatever the reason, it still feels like summer, it stays light until after 9:00 pm and it’s hot and humid.
When I was in elementary school, I don’t recall Dyslexia or ADHD as being prevalent, and maybe we didn’t know as much about either of these conditions. Interestingly, another difference from my generation was the pace of learning. I learned the alphabet in first grade and learned to read Run Spot Run in second grade. My kids (four girls with the youngest two in college) learned the alphabet in pre-kindergarten. Some were reading in kindergarten and all were reading within the first few months of first grade. I cannot help but wonder if there is any correlation. If we are pushing our kids from the playground to a learning environment/school one, two and even three years earlier, are we creating anxiety that didn’t exist? I have no doubt that some young kids pick up on the alphabet, or even reading, at a very early age, but clearly some kids still want to be outside kicking a ball. Could this anxiety be causing more cases of ADHD or even Dyslexia? I do know this, none of my kids were ready to go back to school the first or second week of August. To them, it was still the middle of the summer, and three out of four of my kids had various levels of ADHD and Dyslexia.
My family was very lucky to have a first-grade teacher with extraordinarily good training involved with their education. Woodward Academy North has a first grade teacher, Nancy Winfield, that taught two of our kids, including my oldest. Ms. Winfield, who has training in special education, and specifically Dyslexia, spotted the signs of Dyslexia in my oldest daughter within the first few months of first grade. We couldn’t have asked for a better gatekeeper. She suggested we have her tested. (As a small plug, Dr. Leslie Stuart turned out to be a fantastic triage psychologist for ADHD and learning disabilities like Dyslexia, a problem for which we had not even the slightest indication or knowledge at the time.) Without Ms. Winfield’s recommendation, she may never have started down the path of treatment. Having a teacher like her, at the crucial time of first grade, was key to the real growth of all of my children. Not only were we, as parents, now on the lookout for all of the kids, but she also spotted the signs in our next child in her classroom a year later. Our oldest ended up graduating from Washington University of St. Louis and my daughter, and we, owe Ms. Winfield a debt of gratitude for that achievement.
As we push kids to learn more at a younger age, parents must be more vigilant. I hope that teachers take on more responsibility for spotting trends that might not be noticed outside the classroom. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and navigating early education, anxiety and ADHD is a formidable task.