Kindergarten is great so far

So it has been a long time since I updated. I’m not usually superstitious but every time I started to write this post I felt like I might jinx something…

But here we more than half way through the school year and Kindergarten is going very well. The class (self contained special day class) has nine students and five aides.

One of my biggest concerns was R.’s escaping behaviors. I was worried she was going to walk out the front door of the school and try to find her way home. She did escape starting on her first day of school. There are classrooms adjacent to the recess yard and she instantly realized there were toys in each classroom and she wanted to see them. The amazing thing was, the teacher and aides did not freak out about it , no meeting was called, no outside behaviorist was called in.  The kindergarteners have three recesses a day, and for the second recess the teacher brought some toys outside. Talk about brilliant. Over the next few weeks the aides worked on showing R. all the fun things she could do on the recess yard and now it is not much of a problem at recess. She still does try to go exploring from her classroom, but they seem to be able to handle this.

Her school day is so much more interesting than in preschool. They go to the library, have pull-outs like music and garden. Even the work they are doing in class from the worksheets to the art projects is more advanced than preschool. The SDC class is mixed grades, K-2, but the kindergarteners do the same things that the general ed kindergarteners do and it seems to stay the same as they advance in grades.

R. is going to one of the general ed kindergarten classes for free play each day. I was getting notes that she was “playing” with the other students.  I visited one day, hoping to just spy in the window so I would not distract her. I peered in and I did not see her at all–just groups of kids. So I went in the back door, and there was R–hanging out with the large group of kids. From what I saw she was hanging out more than playing anything. But the general ed teacher told me she puts hats on the other kids, takes turns with marble runs and other toys and that the kids really like her.

And that is one amazing thing about this school, it is not just the teachers who seem to like R., the kids do.  I never felt like other kids really noticed R, beyond her differences and she only had limited interest in them. So this is really an amazing surprise.

R. is obsessed with clapping and getting people to clap, and she has a tendency to grab people’s hands to get them to do what she wants. I was concerned about how this would be taken by the other kids, especially at recess and discussed it with the teacher.  After a few weeks the teacher said that the kids don’t mind at all when R. has them clap, and some girls were taking R. by the hand and running around and laughing.  She told me that there were hula hoops on the recess yard and R. put a hoop on the ground, stood in the middle of it and spun her body around. A bunch of other girls watched and then all did the same thing. So I can say that R. inspired her fellow students to spin!

R. can follow directions so much better. I’m able to have her help with cleaning up her toys and similar tasks.  I discussed this with the teacher and she set up a recycling job for R. where R. and a student from the general ed kindergarten class take a box of recycling to the recycling bin outside. The children have to carry the box together, and work together to lift it into the bin. Talk about the most amazing way to work on joint attention skills, social skills and probably more. R. is super motivated to do this, the aide said that she hardly had to help them at all, they worked it out between them.

February already?

It seemed like holidays, a stomach bug and a cold just wiped out January.  So here we are in February.

R.’s hitting has disappeared.  She is actually voicing her displeasure.  Her most common response is to say thank you and push away with one hand.  I’m sure she means no thank you, because occasionally I’ll hear a no.  She is also saying wait, stop, all done and now.  There is often still crying and screaming involved, but the words are her first response.

She also got an opportunity to spend time in the kindergarten class she has been escaping the cafeteria to get into.  Her PreK teacher made arrangements with the kindergarten teacher (all special ed) to have her students go into the kindergarten classroom for 40 minutes once a month so she can meet with the aides.  I guess this is common in the elementary grades.

R. just loved the classroom and had a good time.  Since her visit, she has not been trying to escape the cafeteria to run there.   They are going to do this once a month.  And if R. is placed in that kindergarten she will have the opportunity to go into the class regularly.

The application is in

We turned in the application for kindergarten.  After months of obsessing, we decided to take a gamble and only put two schools on the list.

These two schools are really the only places where we saw classes that we thought would be a good fit for R.

I tried hard to be objective.   I understand that there is no such thing as a perfect classroom.  I don’t want to be like one of those people on that show House Hunters refusing to buy a house because of brass fixtures.

I knew that considering R. is in the middle of the spectrum and we chose a SI (Severely Impacted) delivery model that our choices would be limited.   The reason we chose SI is because the MM (Mild Moderate) classes seemed too advanced, and we wanted a class that would give her more support.

These two classes have:

  • Teachers with a background in ABA, who use ABA style teaching in the classroom
  • TEACCH stations
  • I got a real sense that the work given to the students was individualized.
  • Mainstreaming and pull-outs were part of the daily schedule, and both teachers clearly knew how to implement this.
  • Teacher and staff dealt with problem behaviors (meltdowns, escaping) in a respectful and calm way.  Both classrooms were set up so that a child who needed extra space could have it without being removed from the classroom, and so that their behavior had less impact on the other students

When we first started touring classes, I thought that we would choose at least three, and possibly five schools.   But now that I have seen what the choices are, I just don’t want to put down a school that doesn’t have a class with the qualities that I want.

It is a gamble, and I’m not sure what the odds are.  I think we have a good chance, because both schools are near our home and one of the schools is where she is going to now.  That is not supposed to matter, but I suspect it is humans not computers doing the special ed placement assignments, so maybe it will.

The placement letters are mailed in the middle of March.   Of course I can’t wait to get the letter and know what the next steps are going to be.  But it is also kind of nice to have a few weeks of limbo.   There’s nothing I can do about kindergarten at this point.

The Enrollment Fair

Now that the IEP is completed I have to get serious about touring more schools.

Here in San Francisco the IEP team only determines the service model – what type of class that you can list on the enrollment application.  The actual school placement decision is done via a lottery.

The content coordinator suggested that we list as many schools as possible.  I thought that seven was the limit, but this year there are spaces for ten schools, and an extra form to use to list more than that.  There aren’t that many schools that are going to be appropriate.  I’m going to have to look at schools that are further away than I was hoping for, but still within the city.

I went to the annual enrollment fair.   It was held in the concourse building where they hold trade shows.  All the schools in the city had tables.  Each school had the principal and parent volunteers there.

It was incredibly crowded.  Like shoulder to shoulder, only the pushy ones get through kind of jam packed.  The consensus among the other Special Ed Moms I know is that the whole event was drink inducing.

I kind of forget that all parents have some stress about kindergarten.  And because our city’s process seems to be designed to be chaotic, I think parents here (and likely in other cities with lottery systems) have a level of additional stress.

I attended a workshop for enrolling in special ed and it was some what informative.  The district as a whole is trying to move from a programs model to a service delivery model.  (Way to be late to the IDEA party!).  Which is good, but it is clear that they don’t know exactly what to do.

They included the special ed enrollment information in the general enrollment guidebook.  Previously it has been a separate document.  It does send a better message to have all the information together.  But the information that is there is still lacking.

I asked how the lottery actually worked for SDC (Special Day Class) students.  All other students have the same lottery process, with a few tie-breakers to give some students preferential enrollment.   They said that the process and tie-breakers are now the same for SDC students.  That doesn’t really help us, we don’t qualify for any of them.

I also asked where we can get actual enrollment data, like is available for the general ed students.  They said that we could go to the educational placement center.  I’ll be going there soon.

I visited a few school’s tables.   Only one school had anything about special ed prominently displayed.  It was a poster with pictures of students from their SDC class with their new ipads!

I was directed to speak with the principal about SDC classes at every table.  Once I told them my interests, a few just kind of said Yes, we have an SDC class.   It was like pulling teeth to get any specifics.   Two principals in particular did seem well informed and had a lot to say, one even had the school’s speech therapist on hand.   I could just tell the difference between principals who considered the SDC classes part of their community from their attitudes.