Back to School: A Parent’s Perspective

September 21, 2020

Even during the pandemic and with students across the country learning from home, in school, and in hybrid situations, countless families documented the first day of school by snapping pictures. Photos flooded social media as proof that school had officially begun. Most often this is a celebration of children moving up a grade, but advancement in grade levels is only one of many achievements celebrated by Green Chimneys School. The start of the new school year in a special education setting is a time to begin again. Our families work with a team of experts to update Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) as well as revisit therapeutic goals. For some students in our Residential Treatment program, the start of a new school year may align with their own readiness to return home and attend Green Chimneys School as a day student. This is an achievement not as readily seen by the public eye, but it’s an accomplishment that signifies the great work of the child and all those who support them.

In mid-March, when some families of residential students opted to have their children return home and learn remotely, Green Chimneys flexed to deliver curriculum and provide therapeutic services virtually. One Green Chimneys parent recently shared her experience with both navigating the unexpected return of her son and the partnership which helped them both succeed. This September, her son started his first year of high school. He also began the school year as a day student. Big steps, indeed.

Parent Perspective

When the COVID-19 shutdown began in March, and families all over the country began remote school and remote work, I could not stop thinking about the thousands of parents who, like me, were bringing home a high-needs child from a residential education setting. In the big picture of a national health crisis and economic fallout, these very specific challenges seem small and invisible. But for those of us bringing home kids with emotional disorders, behavior difficulties, and other issues, it was a really big deal. Our kids are in residential settings for good reasons, and bringing them home meant testing a delicate and possibly unworkable home situation. My own son came home mid-March from nearly three years of various therapeutic boarding schools. He had been at Green Chimneys since October 2019 and was making tremendous progress, and I didn’t want anything to disrupt his hard work. Yet there we were: he went from being away to being home 24/7 in an unexpected, unplanned-for blink of an eye.

I am a single mom who works full time. Bringing J home brought up a lot of emotions. I was thrilled that he was home … panicked about how he would handle it … extremely worried that he would revert to old ways and old habits … overwhelmed by having two kids home 24/7 … working remotely while trying to make sure the kids were engaged with their remote learning. And, of course, trying to manage screen time (and failing most of the time). As every parent knows from their own situation, it was a lot.

Enter Green Chimneys staff. I heard from at least one person at Green Chimneys every week, usually more. From J’s social worker, the social work supervisor, the dorm staff, his teacher — everyone made themselves available and present, even amidst their own family life challenges. No one could solve any problems, and I didn’t expect them to. What they did was listen, brainstorm, empathize, and more listening. I felt like they really knew J and genuinely cared about him, and their check-ins and their presence, albeit virtual, made me feel less isolated and more confident that we would come through the lockdown successfully. J struggled during those months of remote learning, but he tried. Not only did he get through it, he earned his goal of last year: changing from residential to day student.

As we move to the next school year and return to school in person, I’m excited for J to enter high school and shift from the residential to the day program. Getting to these successes, which I could not have imagined a year ago, took a ton of work and patience. The Green Chimneys staff was integral partners in helping J reach these goals. They gave both me and Jacob their care, their support, and their confidence in his abilities. I am so grateful, and looking forward to partnering with them going forward.

~ Robin White, Green Chimneys Parent