Here's a little background. DS is coming up on the end of 5th grade. I held him back between preschool and kindergarten because his motor and social skills were a bit slow and he was already suffering some self-esteem issues.
Fast-forward to 3rd grade. At this level, the kids are asked to do more independent work. His math grade started slipping. 4th grade was more of the same. Two months into 4th grade, I asked the principal for a meeting to figure out how we could help him. He said the Student Improvement Team met one day a week, and they didn't have any openings until after Christmas break. Break comes and goes, and still no word. I kept contacting the school, and kept hearing back, "We don't have any available meeting times." I never did get that meeting. I just helped him at home as much as I could.
The first day of 5th grade, I walked into the office and asked for a meeting. The principal was unavailable. I didn't hear back from him that day, or the next, so I went in again. I finally got that meeting. We came up with a plan to help DS with his major issues, and decided to give it until the quarter was up to see how well it worked. It did, for a while. The main problem is that once he started doing better, the teachers dropped the support. Things like filling out his planner (they don't give them to kids at this age in our school, but it's an easy way for me to see what he's working on and to communicate with his teachers): my son can't remember to do that on his own, every day.
The really scary thing happened a couple weeks after the follow-up meeting. I got a call from the principal, and he told me my son had talked to the school counselor about committing suicide. I just happened to have a doctor's appointment scheduled for that day and took him in early. The doctor talked to him and determined that it was not a kid just saying something they didn't understand. My son had a plan. At this point, I'm sitting in the doctor's office bawling. They had a long talk, and made a plan to keep in touch. (Doc is a family friend, so that part was easy.)
It turns out, my son had been getting bullied at school. When he came home, he would tell me stories about what happened that day, and they sounded much the same as they had the year before. The difference was that his two best friends had moved away, so he didn't have a peer support system. He would tell the teacher or playground attendant what had happened, and they would deal with the other child. But DS did not know the bully had gotten in trouble. He thought nobody at school cared or would do anything to help him. This lead to another meeting, so that the principal could explain school policy and that any bullying behavior would be dealt with. I made sure to get him talking as soon as he came home, and if a red flag came up, I called the school.
It was a turning point, of sorts. He was much happier at school, but his grades plummeted. Instead of communicating with me when a problem came up, they let it drag out for close to three months before THEY called a meeting. His math teacher wanted to hold him back again. There was no way I was letting that happen.
I got a referral for the best child therapist in my area. I told the school that I wanted them to test him for a learning disability, just to rule it out. They said he didn't fit the criteria, but they did it anyway, because I got the school counselor on my side. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and started on medication and therapy.
I just had another meeting with the school yesterday to discuss the results of their testing. His teachers reported that he is doing much better. He is showing a lot more control of himself in everything he does. One teacher said if this turn around had happened a few months earlier, he would have no problem catching up. I told her that if I had had these meetings the year before, when I first asked, he never would have gotten so far behind in the first place.
We are finally on the right track!
So if your child is having problems at school, here is my best advice.
1. Write all communication in letter form, and make sure it's dated. Keep a copy.
2. Get to know the school counselor and other people who have regular contact with your child.
3. If the school does not respond in a timely manner, write to the superintendent, enclosing a copy of the letter to the school.
4. If the problem is bullying, look into resources for the school. My state has a program where people go in and teach the teachers and administrators how to deal with bullying. I didn't know about this program until his therapist told me about it. The CDC has one for high schools.
5. If you suspect something is wrong at school, it probably is. Talk to your child, his/her friends, teachers, playground attendants, and anyone else you can think of.
6. NEVER GIVE UP!