AP NEWS

A new school year, a new beginning for TJ Bell?: A Greater Cleveland

August 10, 2018

A new school year, a new beginning for TJ Bell?: A Greater Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Like most 10-year-olds, TJ Bell is excited about the coming school year as he peruses the pile of new clothes, shoes and school supplies his mom purchased for him in anticipation of next week’s first day of classes.

He is also nervous.

The jitters aren’t the normal concerns most kids have of whether his teacher and classmates will like him.

They come because last year, TJ struggled through the fourth grade at the neighborhood charter school he attends. TJ was known as the “bad kid.”

He is hopeful his new teacher and his classmates will let him make a fresh start.His mother, Jennifer, is cautiously optimistic as well.

Diagnosed with ADHD, TJ was suspended for nine days during the last school year - mostly for talking in class and hitting other children. TJ is bright and started the year academically on track, but as the school year drew to a close, officials told his mother he was falling behind the other kids in his grade.

His mother says that’s because he is not allowed, according to the school’s policy, to bring classwork home when he is suspended.

A single parent, Jennifer struggles to support TJ and two older daughters on her salary as a nurse. So, enrolling her son in one of the costly alternative schools that specialize in children with behavioral problems, is out of the question. So is any kind of paid specialist who would work with the school, and the family, to find other methods for dealing with TJ’s outbursts – allowing him to stay in class.

Jennifer has spent hours doing her own research on TJ’s condition and knows fidgeting helps her son to focus and control his impulses - a point she has brought up several times in meetings with his school counselors.

But last year, the school was slow to respond to Jennifer’s pleas for help. They even suggested she look for another school for her son. But Jennifer says keeping TJ, and his sister, in the same school is crucial – both emotionally and logistically.

During the summer camp TJ attended while his mom worked, he was active all day, or allowed to stand or lounge on the floor during the quiet activities. Because of this, TJ has become a different child – one with a relaxed demeanor and who chatters happily about his day at the dinner table.

Armed with this new information, Jennifer has already met with TJ’s new classroom teacher and the school’s new counselor, to tell them the difference it has made for her son. They have promised to go through TJ’s academic and health records and develop a plan to help TJ deal with his impulses.

“This is the first time I have felt like I have someone who has listened, and is willing to work with me,” Jennifer says.

“I know, from my own research, that simple measures have made a difference for other kids. I just want my son to have an education and I am hoping they are sincere about working with us this year. If not, I don’t know what I will do, but I will continue to fight for what’s best for TJ.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly