Rewarding The Non-Squeaky Wheels In School

by Debbie McCormick
Originally Published: 

Academically, our kids need us to look deeper.

Right now, most kids across our country have completed another school year. Desks have been scrubbed clean, walls have been made bare, teachers are relieved and are ready for a break, and kids have that magical mindset of freedom and fun. Shortly before all this happens, however, most schools go through the ritual of an end-of-year awards ceremony.

Parents across the country know exactly what this entails. It is a quite lengthy event watching awards being presented to students who excelled due to being academically gifted. Each year, the same names are called, and through habit we learn to listen for them. We see the same children as last year, sitting in metal chairs in the gymnasium, who again will not hear their names called. We watch these kids watching those kids as they walk up to the stage to happily grab their paper certificates for academic excellence.

Some of the usual rewards are: spelling bee winners, highest points in reading fluency, best reading test scores, best scores in math, perfect attendance, and prizes of money and trophies awarded by local organizations to the student who was first academically.

However, I really think we need to look past the outer layer of what shows in the test scores and in the grade books. We need to look at that second layer and find those kids who gave more than 100 percent but fell short due to something beyond their control. Should we be looking deeper? I think so.

Just as education standards vary widely across the United States, so do individual school policies. I know there are schools that recognize and reward children with learning disabilities who try really hard during the year. But it is up to each school to decide what behaviors they choose to reward. And we have schools that skip over these kids and only focus on what shows in the grade book.

At a past awards ceremony, I felt heavy-hearted as I watched the usual students walk up to the stage to accept the certificates, trophies and applause. Not just for my kids but for the other 75 percent of kids who also were not recognized for anything special they did that year. This is the deeper layer I am referring to. The wheels that are not squeaky. The wheels that are tired and defeated and hopeless because their efforts are ignored.

We have so many children with individualized education plans in our school system, and they try so much harder than anyone else in school. They cry at night. Their minds are exhausted. It takes them two hours to do their homework instead of the 30 minutes the teacher assumes it takes, and yet they do it, while other typical students are enjoying free time in the evening.

I know this because my son is dyslexic. I know this because I saw firsthand the amount of time it took him to learn and the amount of self discipline, strength and perseverance he instilled in himself at just 7 years old, which far exceeded even what adults would try to tackle when tired at night after a long day.

We need to look deeper.

Where is the recognition for the ones with reading disabilities who still managed, through frustration and tears, to learn 10 more sight words, and even though they are still not reading at grade level, climbed 3 reading levels? Where is the recognition for the children with autism or ADHD who tried so hard to learn and had to overcome the mental chains that tied them down?

What message is this sending our kids? Is it telling them that only the “smart” succeed? Is it telling them that only the “smart kids” matter? That effort doesn’t mean anything? Is it telling them to give up trying because we don’t even notice you?

It is time to look deeper.

I’ve never been someone who thinks every player on the baseball team should get a participation trophy, because playing on the team is fun and recreational. That is the reward. However, when it comes to education and promoting our children’s sense of self, I do think we can do better to acknowledge many kids who deserve to be acknowledged.

Our kids need us to look deeper.

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