Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quick Break from Trip Posts - Justice Updates!

I have to take a quick break today from posting about our trip because some exciting things are going on around here and I can’t wait another week to share them!!!!!!!!! Yesterday was a BIG day for Justice! First of all, we had our court hearing to ‘re-adopt’ Justice under Iowa law. Basically re-adoption in our state will give Justice his official name change, permits the issuance of a state birth certificate, and also ensures that Justice is entitled to all of the rights that he should have as our child under U.S. and U.S. state law. If you want to read more about the purpose of re-adoption there is a good explanation here . So, we pulled into the new Nevada Courthouse and wouldn’t you know it, we had direct confirmation that we were in the right place: Jake took the stand on behalf of our family, summed up our adoption story, and answered all the legal questions. The judge noted that he had read through all of our Ghanaian social welfare forms and adoption documents and he said, “Adoption was a great choice for this young man, and now I can see a bright and successful future ahead for him.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Yesterday was also another big event in Justice’s life….he was accelerated up to 1st grade where he will remain the rest of the school year!!!! Over the past few months Justice’s kindergarten teacher had been noting that he was really excelling in his schoolwork, so she had recommended him to be tested for grade acceleration. The ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher had him undergo numerous literacy tests (reading/writing) to see what level he was at, and his scores showed up at a high 1st grade level. Last week we were asked to come and meet with some of the school staff to discuss moving him up a grade. We met for about an hour with the school principal, the ESL teacher, his current kindergarten teacher, and what would be his 1st grade teacher. Up to this point we had only shared Justice’s adoption story with his kindergarten teacher, so it was great to be able to share Justice’s background with the rest of the school staff. We all were in agreement that Justice seems to be around the age of an 8 year old. We also felt that given the educational strides he had been making that he would successfully be able to adjust to this grade change. We also all felt that developmentally this would be a smart move for him as well….he needs to be with peers closer to his actual age. We had a great time meeting the ESL teacher and she walked us through each of the testing packets that she had administered to Justice.

It’s pretty interesting how they do these tests. For example, for one section he was shown 3 pictures and 1 sentence in words. He had to match what picture went along with the sentence - which means he had to be able to recognize/read at least a few of the words in the sentence. On this part he got every single answer right. For the writing test there was one part in which he was told a word and then he had to write the word. Again, he was able to sound out and write each of the words almost perfectly, and these were not easy sight words! There were only a few words that he missed and his ESL teacher noted that he spelled/sounded out those words as he says them currently (for example he has trouble saying ‘r’s so he often inserts an ‘l’…like for the word pray he says play) so even though his answer was wrong, the spelling made sense because of how he pronounces the word. They went through the entire reading and writing testing packets with us, and I can’t remember all of it, but I found it pretty interesting how they assess reading/writing skills in children who are just learning to read and write! It’s pretty cool. There was also an oral section of the exam which he answered great on too. The ESL teacher noted that there are a few vocab words he doesn’t know yet just because he hasn’t experienced them here yet….for instance he was shown 3 pictures of pedestrian symbols. He had to pick out which picture showed the pedestrian not to walk. The correct answer was a picture of a hand being held up in the stop position, but he selected the picture of a person walking. His ESL teacher noted that even when he answered wrong, his answers still made sense according to what he knows. She was really encouraged and spoke very highly of Justice.

All of the staff members noted 3 main things about Justice that are an encouragement to them that grade acceleration will be a great move for him:

1) He has a strong desire to learn. Each of them talked about how intrigued he is to know and understand things. He asks a lot of questions and shows a high excitement for education. This undoubtedly is because of his impoverished background. He really knows in his heart that school and education are a huge opportunity….this is what every child in Ghana is told growing up. To him education has never been free or just a given part of life. In Ghana the right to a good education costs a lot of money and must be earned. I think he carries this mindset with him still, and I hope it doesn’t ever fade!

2) He is driven/motivated. He excels in all of his classroom work. His teacher noted that he is always the first one done with assignments, and they are always done correctly. She said he shows consistent qualities of focus and determination and it seems these must be a natural part of his personality. :)

3) He is a fast learner. He catches onto skills very quickly. In moving up to 1st grade he will be slightly behind on some things, but each of the staff noted that because he picks up on things so easily he will have no problem catching up.

We also talked about how, obviously, Justice does not fit in with the kindergartners…physically or mindset wise. The staff noted that his thought processing is much beyond that of a kindergartner, and that he has a more mature way of thinking. Apparently once a week the kindergartners pair up with 3rd graders to work on reading. Justice’s kindergarten teacher had been noting how he seems to fit in easily with the 8 and 9 year olds. She said that he acts much more natural around them than he does when he is with the kindergartners. The staff did note, however, that Justice’s social/emotional development is very lacking/behind, as I have posted about before. This is something we’ve noticed at home too, and hopefully once he is surrounded by peers closer to his age, it will aid his growth in this area.

It was exciting to talk with the ESL teacher. She wants to start working with Justice about 20 minutes each day to catch him up even more on his reading/literacy. She was pretty blown away that he hadn’t even been speaking English for a year yet. She kept saying, “It’s pretty amazing.” After our meeting we talked with the ESL teacher for a bit longer. She told us how she really tries to preserve her student’s nationality when she works with them. She noted that she has many friends from Africa, even a church friend from Ghana, and she will delicately try to work some of those cultural things into her time with Justice. We also were able to chat quickly with her about his hesitancy/sensitivity to anything that triggers his memory from Ghana. She said that this is really common with many of her ESL students, not even just the adopted ones. She said it is a common find to observe the students pretending like they don’t remember their native language. She is also the guidance counselor for the school, so I think she will have some unique ways to help Justice embrace the journey he has been on. At the end she said, “I just want you to know, I am in this with you. Over the past few years many children of different nationalities have come to Ballard. And they are all God’s children…I am so happy to be able to help teach them. I really love Justice and I am so encouraged by how well he is doing!”

All of this to say, I am still glad that we originally started Justice in kindergarten. It is much more exciting to be moving him up a grade level rather than if we would have started him higher and then needed to move him down a level. Starting him in kindergarten has allowed him to progress more naturally, and not only has he caught up, but he is now ready, and has the confidence for more challenging curriculum. This is likely not the correct scenario for every older adopted child, but for Justice it has worked well. I’m excited for him!

Oh, and one more thing…..Justice got to test for his orange belt in taekwondo this past weekend!!! We will have the official word on whether or not he passed later this week. Here he is breaking….the black belt holding Justice’s board wasn’t quite ready for the amount of force he gives off as you can see by the picture! But he snapped it in half easily on the next try when the board was held steady! :)


Jody said...

What a great GOD story! Love this post.

kendra said...

AH, I'm sitting in my multi-culturalism education class, and I am SO IMPRESSED that they are incorporating his culture in the classroom! SO NEAT!

Bonnie said...

Love this!! When my mom immigrated at age 12, she was placed in the equivalent of preschool/kindergarten class to begin. She graduated high school at age 19 after accelerated learning. In fact, she was the fastest manual typist in the entire school--an impressive accomplishment for someone who was still learning the language. I love a great success story!