Well, We’re Off To Kindergarten…
…BUT it’s not the kindergarten I had imagined.
Babyboy will be five next month, and we were very antsy about him moving from his special ed preschool program to a mainstream kindergarten. At our local public school, that’s all there is, and from what I understand, it’s twenty-something kids and one full-time teacher, with aides. Given Babyboy’s developmental/ social delay and toileting issues, we didn’t see that as a viable option.
So, we went into his I.E.P. (planning meeting with all of his teachers) fully prepared to pull him from the public school system altogether, pay for another year of preschool, and arrange for the support services (speech and occupational therapy) ourselves.
We’d actually made significant headway into this plan. Babygirl’s school was willing to take him, and we’d met with a private child development team that could provide services in the school setting. We actually have neuropsych testing set up as well. This has involved a lot of web research/ applications/ emails/ phone calls…
I was shaky and distracted the morning of the I.E.P. I anticipated conflict. I hate conflict.
But the team was all genuine smiles, and the attitude was truly caring. These are people we know, who have been working with Babyboy for two solid years now. He’s been with most of these folks since the very same week he turned three years old… summers too.
The basic facts were presented: he’s made huge strides since he started, from practically no speech to making speeches; from flopping on the floor in tantrums with every transition to running ahead of the other kids; from zero eye contact to initiating conversations with his teachers. Intellectually, he’s mastered their preschool curriculum.
But, all agreed that socially, there’s work to be done. Social communication, relationships, expectations… and they presented a plan for next year that we didn’t even know was possible, because we didn’t know that the program existed.
Our town has several elementary schools, and apparently, one of the smaller schools offers a special education kindergarten program, very similar to the preschool program he’s been in: half special needs kids, and half hand-selected developmentally normal peers. This kindergarten class has fifteen to eighteen kids, with two full-time teachers, one of whom is a special education teacher. The curriculum is heavy on social skills. He wouldn’t be the only kid in pull-ups. He can still receive services, his speech therapy, OT.
This model continues through the fifth grade, and they recommended that he stay in this special environment with the same group of kids the whole time. Babygirl would then also have the option to attend the same school, either in their mainstream classroom, or as a peer in the special ed classroom.
We were floored.
How is it that we, who have been fretting and stressing for months, didn’t even know that this program existed? In our own town? It was, frankly, embarrassing. The doctor in me was peeved that I was ignorant of this rather important piece of information, and that it was my own fault.
So, I’ve dissected this out: Yes, I’d been chatting with other neighborhood moms about kindergarten, but their kids are all developmentally normal, and so I was only hearing about the mainstream program. Our neighborhood school only offers the mainstream program, so I never saw those classrooms or heard anything about it from other local parents.
And, I’ve been avoiding the special ed parents’ group, because the one time I attended, there was a lot of complaining and negativity. I didn’t find that one meeting especially helpful, and actually, it really stressed me out, so I’ve skipped them for the past, uh, year and a half. Oops. If I’d even gone once and chatted with folks, I’d very likely have heard about this K-5 special ed program at the school a mile and half down our street. ON OUR SAME STREET.
We were invited to visit the program, and so Hubby, Nana, and I went, last week. The school is very pretty: set back in the woods a bit, right next to our favorite duck pond, and a wooden bridge across a small stream leads to the front doors. The building is modern, light and open. The special ed kindergarten room is bright and cheerful. The three of us sat at a little table off to the side and watched the sixteen kids working in four small groups. Each group had a different assignment related to the life cycle of the butterfly: one had to cut, color and paste egg/ caterpillar/ cocoon/ butterfly pictures in the correct circular order, another had to re-create a copy of a poem about the cycle using velcroed words in large print on a display board; et cetera. The teachers roamed and offered guidance here and there, but mostly, the kids worked together in relative quiet and cooperation. Everyone was focused, engaged, happy.
We registered Babyboy for the program later the same day.
He’ll go to Babygirl’s school for the summer, and we’ll use those services we put together. But in the fall, he’s going to kindergarten, gosh darn it.