Tuesday, October 02, 2007

not just treading water anymore

sometime soon, I am going to take the time to post about Ciarra's new teacher, Mrs. C, and maybe even some of the incredible things she has written to me in our communication notebook. The notebook is something we have in the IEP, and have had for years. Until this year, however, it has not ever been anything more than an occassional tool to tell me what is going on in Ciarra's school life. This year, in so many incredible ways, is different. THIS year, we have Mrs. C.
Don't get me wrong, Ciarra has been blessed with teachers who were wonderful, caring, awesome people who did their best to make her school life the very best it could be. But there is something different about Mrs. C, something...awesome. Mrs. C is a former Special Education teacher now teaching a regular 3rd grade class. 15 kids (perfect!) who think she hung the moon. I am starting to believe it, myself.
I am still trying to wrap my head around the things she says about my daughter. Intuitive, remarkable, insightful, honest takes on what she thinks is best for this child of mine. I fought hard for Inclusion this year. At first, I was told it couldn't be done, that our school doesn't really have what it takes to make it work. They were wrong. Initially, they wanted to put Ciarra in the special ed room more often, to mainstream her versus including her. The difference between the two is subtle, but very real. Inclusion means the child is in the regular ed classroom for the vast majority of their day. mainstreaming means they are technically a "Special Ed kid", who is sent into the regular classroom for things like gym, art, music, and lunch. Mainstreaming is not what I wanted for my bright, funny, engaging daughter. But it is, in effect, what she was having up until this year. She was pulled out for 2 plus hrs every morning for reading and math, went from there straight to lunch, then recess, and then electives/specials. In the afternoons, she was pulled out for therapies, Speech, and OT. Her actual classroom time was nowhere near what I had believed it to be. I believed she was included, but she really wasn't.
At the end of 2nd grade, we had our IEP. I came into it knowing how little actual class time Ciarra had. I had seen for myself the many things she missed out on, for instance phonics. She is a STRONG reader, missing things like phonics with the class made no sense. Her schedule seemed to have no rhyme or reason. Why Spanish, for instance, for a kid struggling badly enough with English? Could that time not be used for speech, so she would lose less classroom time? The answer, I was told, was no. or, to be more accurate, "Ciarra couldn't handle it", "We can't teach her the things she needs, what will she work on?" "We don't want an aide sitting there doing the work for her." All very valid issues, when you get right down to it. It would be tough to make true Inclusion work, but it was her right, it was the law, and it was the right thing for her. Now, HOW to make it happen? I needed the school to believe, in themselves and in Ciarra, too.
The first thing we did was call in Maine's Disability Rights Center. They had an attorney work with me to figure out what I wanted, what barriers there were, and what steps needed to be taken. They sent an Advocate to the IEP meeting, and she made some wonderful suggestions. The school initially wanted to "wait and test her early in 3rd grade to see where things stood." That meant starting the year in the Special Ed setting, not in a classroom. Not with her peers. I voted "no". The Advocate suggested we get an evaluation by the Center for Community Inclusion, a group that helps schools make Inclusion work. The school wanted to hold off till this year, I fought to have it done right then, at the end of 2nd grade. In the end, I won. On virtually the last day of 2nd grade, a man came to the school and spent the entire day watching, making notes, observing Ciarra. He met with her teachers, the Special Ed Director and teacher, and he met with and listened to me. In the end, his report would point out all the great things they were doing that would facilitate Inclusion, made some great suggestions, and some poignant observations. Among them, that Ciarra was loved immensely in her classroom, met with a hug upon arrival, and enjoyed being there very much. He also noted that she did very well listening, and that she was definitely a candidate for Inclusion. With every word I read, my shoulders puffed up higher. She could do this. WE could do this. But...would they?

(more to come, soon!)

1 comment:

ParenteauFamily said...

Michelle,
Thanks for you comments on my blog. I enjoy coming to your as well. I love reading what might possible in the future for Breanna. You guys fill us with so much hope and inspiration. I hope we meet someday:)
Cindy