Sunday, June 10, 2012

Success at the School District

Sometimes all you need is a win.
Photo by David Castillo Dominici

I know that I am very fortunate to live where I do, and I’m also fortunate enough to have a good rapport and relationship with the higher-ups in my school district.  Thanks to my work as a freelance writer, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the director of special education at the middle school level and discuss, as neutral colleagues, the role of the school district when it comes to preparing IEPs, monitoring results, interpreting those results, and finding ways to work around legal and financial barriers.  Thanks to this, I feel like I have an understanding of what is going on behind the scenes and behind closed doors. 

I also feel like, thanks to these conversations, the people who make the decisions view me as someone whom they can trust and not a stressed out parent who is likely to start yelling and demanding the impossible.  Putting aside my “parent of special needs child” hat to have these conversations has proven not just helpful when gathering information for articles, but also information for myself that I can use to help E. get the tools he needs to be successful.  There’s a mutual respect there, and I am extremely grateful for it.

I think that respect, along with my own tenacity and assertiveness, had a lot to do with what transpired this past week.  For quite some time, we’ve been discussing the possibility of a move to a therapeutic school environment for E.  Of course, getting the school district on board was proving to be challenging, considering that they would have to be the ones paying for it.  As usual, it had to be proved that E. was “failing” in his current environment; we would have to try pretty much any practical solution before this kind of option would be available. 

We continued to document data.  One of our biggest allies turned out to be E.’s para-educator, who collected tons of useful and relevant data, much of which leaned in our favor.  When E. began responding well to an incentive program created by his case manager (and one of his favorite teachers), we put the therapeutic placement option temporarily on hold, but it was never completely off the table.

Last Monday, I received a phone call from Dr. R., the director of special education.  She was calling to give me first word of a new program that was going to be implemented next year, specifically to help the kids who were in E.’s shoes.  A classroom was being set up at one of the middle schools that would serve as “home base” for the eight kids who were going to be the inaugural students in the program.  The classroom would feature a teacher who is a specialist in autism spectrum disorders along with two paras.  Each kid selected for this program was a high-functioning child on the autism spectrum who has been troubled by behavior and other mental health concerns (i.e. the “alphabet soup children” as we like to call them here).  These kids were also believed to have a strong potential for success at the high school and even college level with the right behavioral and educational support in place now.  Each child will proceed at their own pace, getting help as needed, and will learn the curriculum in whichever way best suits their own individual learning style.  Eventually, the goal will be to begin transitioning the kids to the mainstream, even if it’s only for five minutes a day.  They see some kids as staying in the classroom all day and receiving all their instruction there, while others might attend a general ed. class long enough to receive the main part of the lesson and then bring their assignments back to the other classroom to work on them and receive support.

The tools needed for the kids to succeed will all be available.  Items like small spaces or weighted blankets and other items will be necessary for those who need a break.  Computers for doing work will be available, as will hands-on projects to work on math, language, science, and more.  Additionally, part of their daily curriculum will be social skills lessons.

I feel like they brought the therapeutic placement option to us.  I can’t wait to see how E. does in this program, and I’m excited to be a part of the solution. This classroom is serving a crucial need, and I hope that other school districts are taking notice.

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