Dar started Kindergarten. That happened. THANK YOU to everyone who “liked” his first-day picture on facebook…that was wonderful support.
As you may recall, public-school kindergarten for Dar was the result of several meetings and several more consultations and mucho mucho soul-searcho from wifey and me. The bottom line was that the district offered a 1-on-1 aide. Even the biggest skeptics of public school and/or mainstreaming were like, “Oh, they’re giving you a 1-on-1 aide? Uh, you might want to take that.”
We even got a new aide for the new year. Dar had one in his BUSD pre-school, but she wasn’t…as they kept saying, “a cheerleader type.” Should I be worried that the district is trusting the same iconography as the writers of Heroes? Well, in their case, they mean that Dar needs a bit of an over-praiser, someone who’s all temperature-cheer, someone who, when Dar tantrums, can re-direct him in the next breath without looking at him like he just swallowed a rat. The previous aide is probably great with other kids, but not our snowflake rightcheyere. The new one…she’s a little cheerier. I think. Jury: still out.
The BUSD went out of its way to accommodate us…in its own out-of-its-way way. That is, we kept calling, and so they scheduled a big meeting just before the school year began. I’m always left the impression that this isn’t a “real IEP” until I’m signing an IEP addendum during the meeting and I’m told, “well, technically it’s an IEP…” meaning that it will count for them to cover their butts but that I may not have been really ready for it. But that makes it sound worse than it was…there are many well-meaning people at his new school, Thousand Oaks in Berkeley. That includes the principal, who was at the meeting. There was a little hiccup when the rep of the (contracted, third-party) agency who’s providing the aide said that their people don’t change diapers. Does this mean Dar is the first kid they’ve had who wasn’t potty-trained? Not sure who that reflects badly on, us or them. In any event, that was ironed out, and their cheerleader-type person IS doing the diaper-changing. Technically I’m not sure that Dar has necessitated changing any Number Twos in his two weeks at T.O. so far.
We should be grateful for accommodations, and I do mean that. They were willing to meet a week before school started to discuss Dar’s problems at length. They were willing to receive and sometimes respond to a flood of emails from me about all the things he’s doing and not doing. They were willing to let him “skip” transitional kindergarten and just start kindergarten, even though that’s some kind of bureaucratic problem, because he was born in October 2009 and thus isn’t really old enough to skip TK…but they wanted to minimize transitions (since they learned in the district pre-school that he freaks out about transitions) and get him in the same school where he’d (theoretically) be for the next six years. They were willing to let him skip “balanced beginnings,” a thing just for new kindergarteners, where they spend the first 3 school days shuttling around the different K classes until – well, let’s be honest, until the classes are equally ethnically diverse. They were willing to assign him to the K teacher who seems to have the most experience (we like that) and the most space in her room (to set up Dar’s work station). Perhaps because she wasn’t at the IEP, this teacher was willing to meet us in her classroom on the Saturday before school started – to me, that’s like on her own time.
So, as everyone asks me, how’s it going? I feel like Dar and I are intruders in the milieu of the K-5 public school; we’re like two little frogs dumped into a pond of hundreds of happily swimming fish. Maybe every parent has had that feeling, especially early on. (I’m sure there are other parents – I see them dropping off their kids, they look like Sean Penn on a bad day – who are thinking “Why is my brilliant snowflake stuck with this massive melange of public-school morons?”) Honestly, being at T.O. doesn’t feel sustainable. They’re going to figure us out, and then relegate Dar somewhere else. That makes every day seem precious, actually. Because I don’t figure to last long, for me just looking around at Thousand Oaks is like looking around at Florence in twilight on vacation. Taking it all in, loving it, assuming I’ll never see it again. Take a good look at the photo at the top of this post. Not at Dar’s teacher, though she’s lovely. Look at the names on the blue paper. Look at how the other kids do their projects, then look at how Dar does his.
Why so pessimistic, you ask? Dar has already been semi-regularly kicked out of his classroom. Well, that’s not how they put it to me. I was on them – I am always on them – about his programs. As far as I could tell, they were just letting him be with the other kids while the aide kept him from walking away or massively freaking out. As I had told them, that isn’t going to maintain and grow the skills he has. So I was like, when are you going to do the programs that he has at home – quizzing him on animal noises, body parts, et cetera? (As detailed in a previous post on this blog.) They cheerfully said, “We just had a big meeting about this.” (I wasn’t invited.) “Now we have stations set up for him around the school.” To me this smacks of the “Six Californias” plan – a solution with very little relation to the problems. Why would it help him to move him around? I think the change helps the teacher and the class, and on some level, I don’t blame them. I have been told that Dar has been freaking out in class for absolutely no reason – just melting down and screaming on the floor for minutes on end, like he’s suddenly trapped in a heated oven. Yes, I can see how that would stop class; typical 5-year-olds don’t behave that way, and they do stop and stare at someone who does. I also see that I warned the teachers and admins that that would happen.
Another person who warned them was the BUSD’s own employee, Teacher Mike from the pre-school. He also said – in the IEP meeting I mentioned – that he refuses to remove Dar from the room (for example, going outside) when he acts that way, because that only reinforces bad behavior. Now, the aide reassured me that he goes to the stations even when he’s not freaking. But somehow, I doubt they’re going to just keep him in his teacher’s classroom when he goes into Chernobyl-level meltdown. Another thing I don’t love is that they’ve created a “PECs book” (picture cards) that looks nothing like the PECs book that they had me bringing from home. I told them I thought he would succeed best by maintaining and expanding the programs he’s doing at home and with his speech therapist. They seem determined to do it their way. So far, so bad.
Yet on a certain level, I have to let them try their way, so that when it doesn’t work, the BUSD will help with a different solution. It’s only been two weeks. And…his 5th-birthday IEP is scheduled for October 6. So I’m doing a little bit of a strategic nonintervention for the next few weeks. As with that amazing deluge of facebook likes…I appreciate your support.