This is Michael in Kazakhstan in 2007, studying. They use small notebooks, about the size of our blue books, and pens or pencils. He had never seen a binder until he came here. He had never done a project. He had only learned a few words of English.
However, despite having to repeat first grade [due to family issues] in second grade he was reading books in Russian on a 4th grade level. I spoke to several of his teachers in the orphanage and they all said what a smart guy he was. I already knew that, but it was nice to hear. They all were thrilled that he was being adopted. There was no future for him in Kazakhstan.
Below, Michael in his school uniform in Kazakhstan
Michael came here to America in early May 2007. He only knew a few words of English. He spent the first few weeks talking mostly just to his sister Alesia, in Russian, and to me with Alesia interpreting. Then in July she went to a church camp for a week, and he transitioned to English very easily -- which was fortunate since I was working full-time and he was with Granny all day. Granny speaks no Russian.
Michael started third grade in August 2007. Even though he was 11, I wanted him in that grade because he had only had two years of school in Kazakhstan and I knew putting him in the age-appropriate grade would defeat him. He would be too overwhelmed. We lucked out and he got a wonderful teacher in 3rd grade, Mrs. Moore.
He was so smart and knew so much English after only 3 months in America that he didn't have to go to the ESL intensive course every day for 6 hours, which Alesia had to do. It's a great thing, teaching kids with no English the basics, but he didn't need to know how to say "I need to go to the bathroom" or other useful phrases. He already knew them. Mrs. Moore didn't treat him any different than the other third graders but he wasn't expected to keep up with the kids who already spoke English. He observed and learned, but got X's on his report card instead of grades.
Of course, he owes a LOT of his academic success to his grandmother, who tutored him every day.
Above - Granny and Michael in Myrtle Beach in summer 2007
At the beginning of his 4th grade year he was tested out of 4th grade because he knew most of the material, and he was put in advanced 5th grade class. That teacher was a disaster and we had to go to the school a couple of times and argue but he finally got transferred out of her class and into a better 5th grade class, where he flourished.
In 6th grade he won the Outstanding ESL student award for all the Henderson Middle School 6th graders, and he tested out of ESL, after less than three years.
High School was not a happy time for Michael. He just was never happy with the long days, the kids who were disruptive, or the teachers who weren't great. He frankly had better teachers at the middle school. DeKalb County was struggling and there was a shortage of good teachers. The school was also in transition and didn't have its act together. There were a lot of fights, for instance.
The Gateway to College program seemed like a great solution to the problem of Michael being bored in high school, and annoyed by the kids who weren't interested in learning. The idea of him being able to finish high school while taking college level classes, with help, was awesome. He told me yesterday that in his last Lakeside History class, his sophomore year, the teacher couldn't control the kids and there was so much pandemonium Michael couldn't learn in that class. He likes History, too.
When we were told a few months ago that the Gateway program was ending, it was a shock and Michael and I were both upset. He began to not care about his schoolwork, and just sort of slid sideways in terms of motivation.
I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out what to do. There didn't seem to be any good options. Michael certainly didn't want to have to return to high school, after a year of taking classes on a college campus just a few hours a day.
One of Mike's friends just said offhandedly one evening "Michael can just get his GED. It's an easy test." I got so upset I told him to leave my house.
In my mind, the GED was not a good option. There was a stigma. However, Michael continued to spend more time on x-Box than on schoolwork and he was failing two classes. I couldn't reason with him. Finally, I told him in early April that he might as well withdraw from school rather than just fail.
I felt very dejected by saying that. I have a master's degree. My parents both graduated from college and my dad had a master's degree. We are a family that values education. Let me tell you, there has been a lot of sadness and tension around here for the past few weeks. I HATED to see my incredibly smart son floundering and upset.
Finally, I spoke to Michael's Gateway counselor last week, an incredibly nice man who clearly cares about his students, and he agreed with Michael that he should just try the GED tests and see if he could pass without taking prep classes first.
Two days ago, Michael took the English and Social Studies portions of the test and passed. Yesterday, he had to take the Math and Science portions of the test. He was VERY nervous. He called right after the testing was over and said he thought he had failed. I waited a few minutes and checked the website.
I was so happy, I cried. I texted Michael and told him the happy news. I told Mother. Mother cried. Michael was elated when he got home a little while later.
I had thought the GED was a terrible idea, but now I see it's a blessing. Michael is done with high school and can now look ahead to college.
Michael went to see his Gateway counselor to tell him the happy news. He is going to help Michael register to take a class this summer at Georgia Perimeter College. Hopefully, I can find a way [grants or scholarships or loans] to help him go to GPC and take some classes in the next couple of years. GPC is merging with Georgia State, and I am even hopeful that Michael can get a degree from Georgia State one of these days.
Prayers are answered.
Michael is a changed guy. His whole personality and outlook have brightened 1000% in the past 24 hours.
Thanks be to God!