Most primary schools (or elementary schools, as they are called in the U.S.) have some form of “rewards program”.
There’s usually a “student of the week” reward where students get to take home a small trophy or a stuffed animal in younger classes. Sometimes the reward is “looking after the class mascot”.
Why Should Any Child Be Left Out?
With school years running for upwards of 30 weeks and class sizes in between 15-35 students, your child should be eligible for this honour at least once per year. Most teachers are pretty good at making sure that every student gets a turn but some are either very poor record keepers or are blissfully unaware of the consequences of their choices.
Then there are the bigger awards; student of the term and citizen of the term. At the school my sons went to for the seven years from kindergarten through to year six, there were two such awards per class, four times a year.
That’s eight awards per year and a total of fifty-six awards over the entire school period. There is no reason why any child should miss out – and yet they do.
Kids with Isms Left Empty Handed
While we had friends who seemed to get these awards over and over again, my eldest child missed out entirely and my youngest would have too had my wife not had words (on several occasions) with the teachers and principal.
Discussions with other parents of kids with Isms made it clear to us that we were not alone in this regard.
In my younger days, I probably would have argued against the idea that all kids deserve rewards, suggesting instead that rewards needed to be reserved for particular achievements.
My experience as a special needs dad has changed me. I now have a much better understanding of the purpose of these rewards and the impact that they can have, not only on your child’s self-esteem but also on the general emotional well-being of their families.
These are not rewards, they are “encouragement” – and to deny them to the students and families who need them the most is simply “bullying”.
Every Child Deserves Recognition
Every single child needs to be recognised for their contributions, struggles, achievements and perseverance.
A few years ago, my wife and I sat in a hall full of graduating kids and watched in horror as they gave out, not just the final awards but also a whole swag of unexpected new ones. Our son had never received a single high-level award in his entire seven years of school but this sudden influx of awards had our attention. Could this finally be the day?
Over the years at that school, we had been through hell and back, lost some close family members, gone through the whole special needs diagnostic process hand in hand with the school and used more than our fair share of tissues in some of those parent-teacher meetings. My wife and I had helped out at the school more consistently than many parents; enough that most of the teachers knew us all by name.
My wife had gone to great pains to ensure that the teaching staff knew that our son hadn’t received any awards. We were hopeful that he would receive something but my heart was breaking for him as my wife cried her tears of pain in the chair beside me and we saw that while he still sat sadly in an increasingly vacant group of seats, half of his classmates had been rewarded – and that they were the same kids who “always” received the awards.
The principal announced that a “farewell mass” would follow and my wife jumped up and led our boy out. She made it clear that we weren’t going to stay for more torture. We took him to McDonald’s to celebrate the end of his primary school years and to reassure him that he was “student of the year” to us.
Advocating for All Kids
We sent a letter to the principal, who responded with excuses but also a promise to try to do better in future and we started dropping gentle reminders to the education team about our youngest son.
One year later, with a new team involved, the teacher told my wife to stop asking and that “it will happen”. I don’t think that we believed him but we gave him the benefit of doubt. We decided that if it didn’t happen by the end of term, we would lobby like crazy.
Finally, last week (on the second-last opportunity for such awards) we got a call to say that our son was receiving an award. It was such a momentous event for us that I took some time off work.
Rewards Mean So Much More to Families and Kids with Isms
As we sat there and looked at the other proud parents, I noticed something rather sad. Many of the kids receiving awards were the same ones I kept reading about in the newsletters. Their parents were present but were pretty blasé about the whole thing.
My wife and I however, had great difficulty holding our tears back throughout the awards ceremony. This was a very big deal for us. When we saw our boy get his reward, there were tears in his eyes too. Clearly it was a big deal to him as well.
As a parent, it’s sadly your job to ensure that your school is keeping adequate records and to lobby for your child and any other “forgotten children” if they reach the last couple of years of their school lives and still haven’t got the recognition that they deserve.
Remember; these awards aren’t for academic prowess, they’re for recognition and encouragement and as parents of kids with isms, we know that our kids have to work much harder than their peers simply to keep up.
Surely they deserve a little recognition and encouragement for that.