I had set up a Patch Blog months ago to share my son's special education experiences. I have rarely posted, rationalizing that there is already an excellent autism blog by a local mom. I was happy to see that the autism-mom blog niche was filled.
As my son finishes his first year at Elm Place, I find I have something to share with my community. You might think since it was Henry’s first year at Elm Place that he is completing 6th grade but this is not the case. Henry attended Edgewood for 6th grade. Why would a child with special needs who has problems with transitioning and is facing the struggles of puberty like all his peers move schools during such a socially delicate time? A year later, I am still trying to figure it out.
Flashback to the Spring of 2011, I was attending a joint middle school-HPHS band concert at the high school. As usual, Henry’s teacher Ms. Hodge was great about making band an available activity for him. The concert went off incident-free for Henry and I was feeling good. That’s always a mistake. I ran into another special education parent on my way out. She broke the “great” news to me that Henry would be attending Elm Place next year. The news felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.
The school district might as well have texted me the news like a bad break up. I called to find out if this was true and no one would return my calls. The next day I got a broadcast recording announcing that my son’s special education program was moving to Elm Place and there would be an informational meeting in a few days.
I was presented with a lose-lose choice: either stay at Edgewood where Henry was socially comfortable but lose the academic program that fit his needs or move to Elm Place where he would only know the handful of kids from his Structured Teaching Program and none of the mainstream kids.
The good news is that I made the right choice. What was a good program at Edgewood has developed into a stellar program at Elm Place. The bar is held high and the kids are learning academics and life skills. To give you an idea of the caliber of the classroom teacher, she was a finalist for the local Golden Apple this year. I can’t believe she didn’t win. Additionally, a fabulous speech therapist was added as a co-teacher.
Unfortunately, things didn’t fair as well socially. In 6th grade, Henry attended two Edgewood students Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. The events were a good experience for him religiously and socially. I knew Henry wouldn’t be booked every weekend in 7th grade like many kids but I was looking forward to his attending a handful in 7th grade, the big Bar Mitzvah year. This year Henry was invited to zero Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Of course, it is not the district’s responsibility to make sure Henry is invited to these outside social events. However, if the district is looking for a way to evaluate how well Henry transitioned socially to his new school this is a good place to start.
So what’s my point besides whining? My point is that we don’t move other populations around willy-nilly. Somehow it is ok to move special education kids around even though this population is the most vulnerable to change. Is it because they can only learn so much anyway so we don’t place as high a value on their academic experience? Imagine if the district moved all the gifted students to Northwood half way thru their middle school experience because it was more cost effective and the grammar school gifted program fed into Northwood. Yes, from time to time we have to transition programs but there is a way to do it without throwing a few kids under the bus.
Things are looking up. When Henry and I are out in public, many times kids come up to Henry and say “Hi”. They have always been from Edgewood. Most have thought that Henry moved and didn’t realize he switched schools. Last week at the Aqua Park, an Elm Place Peer Mentor came up to Henry and said hello. I am hoping that this is an omen for 8th grade.