When Owen finished summer school at the end of July, I was a bit emotional. He has been with that team since he started public preschool upon his 3rd birthday. He knew them well and loved them. They in turn loved him back. He has learned so much and frankly we both got really comfortable. I knew it was going to change once he turned 4; luckily they kept him with his current class through end of the summer school. But all good things come to an end.
We got Owen's 2013-14 school packet several weeks ago. He will be in the morning session for 2.5 hours a day and he will be going 5 days a week this year. He will continue to attend a special education program with about 8 other students, all of whom have IEPs (Individualized Education Plan). I'm excited for him but I'm anxious too. How will he receive the new team? Will he listen, follow directions, and try new things? Will he show them how much he knows?
We went to an open house at his new school last night (we start school in September here in Minnesota). I feel like it gave him a good opportunity to take in the building, the classroom and the adults in the room. This classroom is much bigger than the 3's room--it is more like a typical kindergarten classroom which is good for all the kids to get familiar with that concept. Owen seemed quite comfortable after he started looking around and checking things out. They have a play kitchen, where he decided to do some dishes and of course he found all the cars and trucks. In fact, he was more than a little upset when it was time to leave and had to be convinced that he would be back!
One of the cool things that came in our school packet was a little booklet. It was all about his new school and team, complete with pictures. I really liked the initiative taken by the team to use a social story to introduce the children to their new setting. The 3 of us read (and re-read!) the booklet together, while Owen signed "school", "potty", "wash hands", "backpack", "bus". Every time we read it, he attempts to put his backpack on, like he expects to go to school right then! He's been toting the booklet around and reading it on his own frequently. I went ahead and made a handout about Owen and I gave it to the team at the open house so that they have time to read it over and get a sense of who he is and where he's at academically, socially, and physically. They loved that and wanted me to email it to each of them so that they have a permanent copy. An IEP can give you a small glimpse at a child's academic goals, but doesn't tell you anything about WHO that child is.
We have chosen this classroom setting because we know that Owen requires lots of assistance and that he learns better in very small group settings. I know there might be some people out there that think this special education classroom segregates him from his typical peers, but I don't think that inclusion for inclusion sake is what will be successful for MY child at this time. I know him best and I know how he learns. On top of that, Owen gets lots of opportunities outside of the classroom to be around his typical peers. If we feel that the general education classroom will work for his needs in the future, then we'll make sure that we access it. I am an advocate for inclusion and I do believe it works when the team (teachers, aides, therapists, parents, school administration) works together to be successful. I assess where Owen is at in all areas and where I think he would be most successful. I also listen to Owen's current team for their insights and take all of that into consideration. I am grateful for more educational options for him and I am willing to try these options out in the future. What I'm not willing to do is place him in a classroom where he will be overwhelmed, act out, shut down, and become frustrated with school. So we plan to take educational placements year by year and continue to seek out opportunities outside of school as well. I am confident that he is in the right place right now and that is really all that matters.
I'm hopeful that he'll continue to love school even if there are some different faces there this year. We are focusing on sight words, writing, building a larger signing vocabulary, more attention to detail/spending more time doing fine motor skill work, toilet training (Heaven help us!), and dressing himself (especially putting on shoes, boots, and a jacket). Speech is obviously a big goal, but we know that is a long process in itself.
I can't believe next week I will be saying I have a Pre-K student. Where in the world did the time go?!