“I don’t understand.”
Those are the words I heard night after night from my second grader, Philip, as he stared at his unfinished homework. Since his ADHD diagnosis, Philip seemed unable to tell me or his teachers what he wasn’t comprehending. The second he struggled, he’d zone out and give up altogether. His teachers, eager to get him on track, asked him, “What are you struggling with?” But he would just shake his head in defeat.
Despite the constant effort and support from his teachers and principal, in the spring of that year, they told me that Philip had failed. He would need to repeat the second grade. We’d talked about this possibility before, so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but now we needed to accept it. The truth was, he needed more time with the material. He needed to learn how to ask for help.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult for both of us at first. I was so nervous to tell Philip that I asked his principal and teachers to join me. I didn’t know if I’d have all the right words to tell him, and I wanted him to hear it from his support team — from all of us.
He cried when we told him. “But, Mom,” he said, “What will the other kids say when they find out I’m not in the same grade as my twin sister?” He was worried they’d make fun of him. He was worried he’d lose his friends.
It was heartbreaking, as a parent, to see him like this. Philip’s tears, and the thought of my twins in separate grades, were almost enough to make me falter.
“Every child works at a different pace,” his principal assured me. “I’m confident that with an extra year and our support, he’ll be right where he should be.” And so I pushed on, determined to do anything it took to get him back on track.
When most schools tell you that your child needs to repeat a grade, it feels like a punishment. Like they’re wagging their finger and saying, “Your child failed; better luck next time!” But that couldn’t have been further from the truth at SA Union Square. Every day, his teachers were ready at pickup to give me an update on Philip. They and members of the school’s leadership team called me frequently to discuss strategies for his progress. It was never, “Here’s what Philip is doing wrong.” It was always, “Here’s what we’re seeing; how can we work together to solve this?” This wasn’t punishment — it was a decision made out of love and with Philip’s long-term growth in mind.
Then, Philip’s grades started to roll in: 82. 88. 92. 100?! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
His teacher, Ms. Feinstein, couldn’t believe it either — Philip seemed to have come alive in class. “He’s a super student,” she told me one afternoon. Her eyes lit up as she told me how she witnessed Philip transform from an unmotivated, uninterested student to a fully engaged one — how now, he always shows his best effort and truly cares so much about learning. Importantly, when he doesn’t understand something, Philip asks for help.
Philip’s new nickname is “The Helper.” He is friends with the entire class and wants to help each and every one of them succeed. He is the first to volunteer to help organize the marker tray or books and set up the classroom for the following day. He frequently asks the other kids if they need help organizing their seat sacks, or if they need help cleaning up after snack time. If someone is confused on an assignment, Philip raises his hand and offers to explain his thought process to help his friend understand.
“Above all, he really wants to make his classmates feel better,” Ms. Feinstein said. “He brings so much joy and kindness to our classroom each day.”
One day when we got home, Philip immediately sprinted from the front door to his room. “What’s going on?” I asked in surprise. I followed him, tentatively opening his bedroom door. What I saw shocked me: My son, still in his SA uniform, was sprawled in the middle of the floor over his open textbooks, completing his homework with a huge smile on his face. When I called him to dinner a half hour later, I asked him what homework he had left to finish, as was our normal ritual. But instead of his usual response, he looked at me proudly and said, “Mom, I’m done with everything. And I actually understood it this time.”
As a parent (and a busy one, at that), I know how easy it is to pick the school that’s closest or most convenient for our children. But Success Academy reminds me just how important it is to do the research and pick a school that’s going to have your back and be there for you when things get tough. When Philip was diagnosed and struggling, I thought I was alone. But Success Academy told me that they pride themselves on partnering with parents. They told me that their doors are always open. They told me they’ll always have my children’s best interests at heart. After seeing my son’s transformation, I can confidently tell you that they mean what they say. I was never alone. He will forever be better because of that.