Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Transitions are Tough!!!

Okay, so this isn’t necessarily about special education, per se, but in a way it does relate. Let’s talk about transitions. There are a number of transitions that take place in the lives of children. Going from home to daycare, entering kindergarten, going to a new school, or moving homes and schools, are all transitions that children face at one time or another.

Being an educator, and having dealt with personal change in my own life, I always felt that I understood transition and change pretty well…. until an experience my own family had recently, involving a rather abrupt school transition. To make a long story short, the school we had chosen for our son, which we loved for its small environment, personalization, caring and thoughtful teachers, and its great admiration and utilization of the outdoors, abruptly shuttered its doors the day after the holiday break. This closure forced 70 children and their families to find new school and daycare placements basically overnight.

As angry and disillusioned as I am, I am hurting for my young son who is now working on a month of trying to transition to a new school program mid year. He is quiet and shy, slow to warm up to new people and new environments. Once he does acclimate, he does great! He is always well loved by teachers and peers, and succeeds in most things he does in terms of school. The abruptness of this transition, though, has really affected his ability to cope. He is trying to deal with lots of anxiety, tears, and lack of confidence, while trying to break into an already well formed second grade class in a much bigger school. Although we, his parents, chose the new school carefully in hopes it would match our son’s personality and learning style, every morning starts anew with tears and the mantra of “I don’t want to go to school”.

So, we as parents, force him to go each day, leaving quickly at drop off so as to not prolong the agony for either side, because we have been assured by his teacher that he is fine during the day. We have put our trust in her and this new school, as it should be, but it has been difficult since the last school we trusted crushed our confidence.

Instead of providing answers to questions in this blog, I am looking for answers. I am trying desperately to be positive and help my son overcome his fears and anxieties. For instance, really focusing on having him breathe deeply when he gets upset, and to tell himself that he can do this….he has before, he can again. And telling him that before he knows it, he will feel a part of this new school, and that we love him no matter what and just want him to try his best. But for now, it remains difficult, and I keep uttering the mantra “this too shall pass”. I also think about my son’s friends who have gone on to other schools, and how they and their families are coping and grieving, what to many of us would see as a “loss”. I am hopeful that, eventually, one day, I and all the other parents will be able to say, that although difficult, this transition led to bigger and better things!

It also reminds me to remember, in my professional life, how very difficult transition is for children and young adults, especially for those with disabilities. This is why an IEP has a “transition plan” component…..to give the team and the family time to plan for the upcoming transition to the adult world. Unfortunately, my son’s former school did not give us this time to plan, which is, I think, one reason it has been so difficult!

If nothing else, this experience has made me that much wiser and thoughtful in both my professional and personal life, and hopefully I can use the knowledge gained to assist others in the future.

Monday, January 18, 2010

English Language Learners and Mandated Assessments.....A Good Question

The Union Leader carried a news story recently that touches on an interesting point. Should students who are new to the United States, within a year or two, who are English Language Learners, be required to take the federally and state mandated assessments? Obviously, when a child who is an immigrant or a refugee comes into this country and into our school districts, they have many things to deal with…least of all learning the language. A new culture, a new environment, new rules, new friends, etc…all on top of learning how to communicate in a new language, is a very large burden to bear. So, should these students be required to take the NECAP tests in their first or second year of living here? It is a valid question. Obviously, they will not do well if they can not read English. When they score poorly, it reflects badly on the district and when the district doesn’t make AYP (adequate yearly progress), it makes the district continue in its in need of improvement status. On the other hand, the results of these tests allow the district and the state to see how students are doing, and allows officials to place more emphasis and resources on the groups of students that need the most assistance. Typically, those groups include special education students and English language learners. Read the article here and let me know what you think.