High school and my older adopted child


Marilyn Brulhart
Focus on Adoption magazine

Gayla was adopted from Russia at age 11. Here, Gayla's mom describes how the family navigated teh academic challenges of high school.

Galya spent three solid years at elementary school and, though she was older than her friends and classmates, she neither felt nor behaved out of place. How would the move to high school go?

When it came to thinking about high school, my initial thought was to enrol her in a mini-school program. I felt the smaller format would give her the individual attention she needed. Galya wrote intake exams for two such programs, but wasn’t admitted to either one. In the end, she was accepted at an excellent school, but a very large one. If I had known then what I know now, I would have looked harder for a small alternative program.

Any child with attachment issues, as I have learned from Dr. Gordon Neufeld, needs as intimate an educational setting as possible. Galya can, if motivated, learn well in the classroom and on her own; she can achieve stellar grades on assignments which she can complete in her own time, in a familiar classroom or at home. However, in exam situations she has much more difficulty demonstrating what she knows. As a result, her grades in high school were not what they could have been. Raging hormones and social distractions played their part too, but there were moments when it was obvious she was keen to do well.

Several of those moments occurred at home with her math or biology tutors, whom I had chosen carefully for their engaging personalities and systematic approaches. With her head bent, listening and concentrating so hard you could almost hear it, this was a child who wanted to learn. Meanwhile, a typical comment on report cards was “Not working to potential.” What better way to protect oneself from failure than by not trying? These polar opposite attitudes and behaviours must have been exhausting for her.

After Grade 10, Galya had to do a summer course in social studies to complete the year. That correspondence course really told a tale. She worked on her own happily for hours at a time on the assignments. I was amazed. I had thought such a social child would not do well in a correspondence course. Her assignment grades went from 90% to 95% to 100%. When she did the exam, she came away with a bare pass and a 60% or so in the course.

Hitting such a barrier can be very frustrating for children who have undergone the loss of the primary caregiver. They struggle with feelings of inadequacy in many areas of life, and school is a big one.

Galya did graduate from high school, and not just barely; we are very proud of her for that achievement. She wants to attend a post-secondary program of some sort, and she most definitely has the ability. If we can convince her to get a learning skills assessment, which would make her eligible for alternative modes of assessment, I am convinced she will fulfill her potential.

Galya is already making strides in that direction, but it’s not easy. In order to get on with her life, she needs to recognize and deal with the burden of loss she carries from her early life. On the other hand, she needs the maturity to be able to handle that reality. It will come with time.

I feel sure that the grounding Galya received in her primary education, where, at our insistence, she had stayed for two extra years, as well as the more problematic but still successful secondary completion, will prove to be a solid foundation on which to build her future.

Marilyn Brulhart is an Instructor, English Academic Preparation, at Douglas College.

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