In 2014, we decided to hold our son back in school to repeat his first grade year. We’ve just completed third grade in 2017, this is an update on our overall experience in school retention.
Once upon a time there was a boy. He was as handsome and sweet as the day is long, and disruptive in a classroom setting as all get-out.
When he started kindergarten, he was just shy of 5 years old. In big-time hindsight, that would have been the parents’ first clue, but upon the advice of his pre-K teacher and the school’s readiness evaluation, the parents decided to go ahead and enroll in kindergarten.
Kindergarten was a bit rocky, but nothing that couldn’t be explained away by age-appropriate behavior and getting accustomed to the school environment. The boy was sweet and he did try.
He got several dings on the color-coded behavior program at school. But he hit his stride towards the end of the school year so he was moved on to first grade.
The boy’s parents loved him very very much and did their best to help him in first grade, but he struggled a lot. Things started to progress into more of an academic focus after kindergarten and it was hard.
Things happened that were beyond age-appropriateness. He got lots of notes home and meetings started happening to find solutions to help him succeed.
There were lots of talks at home and new approaches in the classroom. But in the end, the academics suffered and the boy couldn’t show his potential, which showed up in grades and confidence amongst older peers.
What Should We Do?
He hit a stride at the end of his first grade year, but the parents had a difficult choice. Do they let their child continue to stay behind in his abilities most of the time until he catches up at the end of the school year?
Will this pattern continue on for the rest of his school career, or should he hang back another year now to find stable footing? Is it worth pushing and pushing all year to the point that everyone is continually stressed?
The parents hoped all summer for a big change but the needle did not move. They made the then-agonizing decision to repeat first grade. They were worried about the psychological damage, possible teasing and the stigma of being held back in school. And they carried the guilt of making wrong choices in the beginning.
But in the end, they knew what they needed to do.
First Grade Times Two
The school was a big help in making the boy comfortable as he did a victory lap in first grade. He got a new teacher, new classroom and the school was already changing to a new curriculum that year, so it was all new stuff. (To be honest, even if it was all the exact same stuff, the boy missed so much it would have all felt new anyway).
He also discovered he was not the only one doing a repeater. He had a few familiar faces in his class which was a big help. One child was retained under similar circumstances, and another because of health reasons.
We all forged ahead, and the mother was was so worried that her child would be scarred for life- sang loudly in the car all the way home after her very first parent-teacher conference where her child received flying colors. He was soaring!
He made several easy friends with kids closer to his age that carried over. Which was a different experience from his first few years. One year (and newfound confidence) can make all the difference.
The boy’s second grade year went very smoothly. He had occasional notes home, but nothing alarming. Things had come a long way during the school day, getting work done in class and most of all, his confidence.
He started bringing home papers that were consistently good, especially in Math and Science.
May 2017, The boy just completed his third grade year. The mom and dad have no doubt in their minds that repeating first grade was the best decision they possibly could have made.
The mom was initially afraid that he would be scarred for life. But other than a few off-hand mentions of the class he was supposed to be in (the year he repeated), he doesn’t seem affected at all.
The parents know that he is exactly where he is supposed to be, and reacted with such pride when he got his STAR math test scores back. He tested in the 99th percentile nationally for 3rd graders in Math.
Mom knows that there are many ways to measure the gifts of a child and is hesitant to brag on academics. But given the circumstances, is proud to share this one time.
The Moral of the Story
Never be afraid to do what’s right for your child.
My mind flashes back to a conversation I had with a fellow mom at a Mother/Son school event when I sheepishly told her we were going to repeat first grade. She just looked at me and said “You’re going to hold him back now?”
…I didn’t throat-punch her but I sure considered it.
I get the stigma. How you worry what people will think of your child and how that in turn, reflects upon you. I own my mistakes. There are things I would have done differently in the beginning, knowing what I know now.
But I loved him the whole time and I helped him. I’m not perfect and neither is he. But dammit we’re here and we’re happy.
Yes, we held him back. And it was absolutely the right thing to do.
My Dearest Son,
I’ve been proud of you every second of your life. Every second.
I was proud of you when you weren’t doing well in school, and I’m proud of you now that you are completely kicking butt in school. (Kicking butt is better.)
You did all the work and all the growing and the victory is yours.
I look forward to seeing all of the wonderful opportunities that come your way. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. We love you and we’re proud of you always, no matter what.
More about our journey in school retention:
- Repeating First Grade (background)
- Repeating First Grade, Part 2 (first day of school update/comments from others with retention experience)
- Repeating First Grade, Success! (update on the last day of school)