Making the Grade: Educating Liam

September 12, 2016 adopting a boy, Education, ESL, older child adoption, public school, September 2016 Feature - Back to School 0 Comments

It’s September which means school is back in session. And this month at No Hands But Ours, it’s all about Education. From IEPs to OT, from homeschooling to Early Intervention, we’re covering the gamut of educational topics and how they relate to the unique needs of the children who have joined our families through adoption.


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Our son Liam has been home just over a year and one of the questions people ask us the most often is about his school experience and progress.

He was seven and a half years old at adoption, and we decided to place him in 1st grade. He was a little older than most of his classmates but had received very limited schooling in his orphanage. We had a friend who taught ESL (English as a Second Language) in another local school, and she tutored him over the summer to prepare him for the classroom environment. She focused on letters, numbers, taking turns, and following simple commands.

We already had great experiences with our kids in our neighborhood public school but had considered other options such as private school, homeschooling, or a local charter school that incorporated Mandarin. We ultimately decided to try public schooling first to see how he reacted.


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When I went to register him, our principal shared with me that she had adopted from China and offered to let me choose his teacher. I chose a teacher who had taught one of our biological daughters, and I knew would be very nurturing and patient.

Liam had been home about two months when school began last year. I was very nervous leaving him the first day, but he seemed eager to be there. We were able to communicate with him that we would be coming back at the end of the day.

The first couple of weeks were challenging as he found the rhythm and routine of how the school day worked. His language was very limited, and he spent much of the day just making sure he could meet his basic needs like getting to the bathroom and refilling his water bottle. Once he knew that he had access to those basic needs, he became more comfortable and able to learn. I also sent him very familiar foods in his lunchbox such as rice or noodles with vegetables so that lunchtime was a comforting experience. By the end of the year, his appetite had expanded, and he was just as happy getting a Lunchable or peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

As he started to receive help from his new ESL teacher, his language skills grew and he could participate more in class. His classmates welcomed him in, and he started to make friends. In addition to ESL, our school offered help from the reading specialist so that he could begin to catch up on his reading skills. They also brought in our school counselor temporarily to work with him on social skills such as sharing and being a good winner and loser.

We had an additional challenge this year as I’m a National Guard member and was deployed for half of this school year. I tried to stay as connected as possible through email and Skype, thankfully my husband handled all the teacher meetings and homework.

Despite this additional challenge, Liam has gone from speaking no English to basic reading and writing this year. He’s still behind but making steady progress. We had an end of the year meeting with all of Liam’s teachers, and they reported that he is performing above grade level in math.


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I’m deeply indebted to his incredible team of teachers who have worked tirelessly to get him to where he is right now. Over the summer we have been working on 2nd grade workbooks and reading every day together to get ready for another great school year!

I know that this is not every adoptive family’s experience. If this experience had not been in Liam’s best interests, we would have tried other options. We know that we are very blessed to be in such a supportive public school district. We believe that this is a team effort and every part of the team needs to be working together to support Liam’s educational needs.

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