Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Transitions, outreach and what do the kids do after school?

I just got back from another one of those Special Education Advisory Committee meetings. Why are these meetings always held in the evening? I find it particularly ironic when we parents should be home, you know, parenting.

Anyway, it was another interesting meeting. Since we are just getting this committee up and running, tonight we elected a chair and banged through some housekeeping. But we did have some time at the end to bring up our individual issues of concern.

This is where all the administrators look kinda scared as a parent member begins to speak. I am afraid this is illustrative of the "defensive crouch" that many school districts exhibit concerning special needs issues.

One parent brought up the question of transitioning from elementary to middle to high school: what is the procedures and practices and how can we make it go smoother.

I thought this was a very good point. Transitions, whether they are throughout the day, from day to day or year to year, are big deals for all kids let alone kids with special needs. Our director of special services brought up examples of how these transitions were handled and all the hard work that staff does before hand to make it go smooth. And, the point of the discussion ended up being; the parents just don't know. They don't know what all is done, behind the scenes, to help facilitate a transition. And, that parents basically feel out of the loop.

This has been my experience too. I think that staff and administration are so nervous of "Special Parents" they tend to deal with them on a need to know basis. If the parent needs to know something legally or makes a point to ask they get the information but it isn't readily available. Now part of this is due to the wide range of needs for the children within a school district. It could be very difficult to make blanket procedural comments. But, my thought is: well then tell the parents that as well. More information for a parent is always better than not enough.

My pet concern is expanding communication channels to the community. Because of the "defensive crouch", the school district may think "no news in good news"; meaning no lawsuit or group of organized pissed off parents. I would like our school district to be proactive and reach out to the community with positive information about the programs and services offered. There are moving success stories that take place every single day and sharing these could greatly improve community perception of the program. This should not be ignored.

I pointed out that we are a small "high touch" community and that the school district should be singing it's praises more. We should be tooting our horn when appropriate and welcoming special needs family into the fold. I mentioned that if a family had a bad experience early on with the special ed program, chances are we have lost them for good. I would hope we could repair some of that lost goodwill and invest in more community involvement. I also feel that by being proud of how we take care of our special kids, we can emulate empathy and tolerance to the community at large.

Another parent brought up the issue of after school activities for special needs kids in middle and high school. Many of these kids may not be able to do sports or other activities after school as a typical kid. They are out of school early and what do they do? There was discussion of some sort of after school tutoring, reading time, game playing, or social time which could be available but of course the old funding bugaboo reared its head. Although, there may be various grant opportunities or mentoring possibilities that we can pursue.

All good stuff. Feel free to add your own.

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