I sat out on my deck this evening and watched a group of kids practicing baseball on one side of the park and football on the other. My garden is full of tomatoes, squash, lettuce, spinach, green beans, and strawberries and the apples on my tree are beginning to turn red. Our fire pit has roasted more bags of marshmallows than I can count and bears the remains of melted chocolate from the making of s'mores. We have had a great summer and have done many fun things along with just plain doing nothing. However tonight, I couldn't help but notice the sun fall below the horizon a bit earlier and felt a breeze that was cooler than nights before. For me, it was a final realization that summer is almost over again and school starts in less than a week. I am not ready. I am really, really, not ready.
In years past, the start of a new school year was new and exciting. It meant a new classroom, teacher, and friends. It was an another opportunity to watch my kids grow and learn new things. It was looking forward to class parties and field trips. It was fun. However, this year all I can think about is how hard I am going to fight once again. I wonder if I will be heard. I wonder if the staff will be trained any more than they were last year. I wonder if they will kick me out of my child's school for trying to advocate for her. I wonder how many lies I will get to try to disprove. I wonder if my daughter will ever have team who will understand how to provide her the services she has the legal right to have and if she will ever get to show her teachers and friends how smart and amazing she really is. I wonder if this year I will finally get my day in court. I am frustrated and angry and we haven't even made it to the first day.
In preparation for this dreaded first day of school I took the kids to Target for school supplies. Makenzie was so excited and picked out a sparkly Minnie Mouse back pack. Inside I placed supplies that Makenzie also chose including a pink pencil box, pink ruler, crayons, markers, glue, notebooks, and a binder. She is so proud of that backpack and is beyond excited to show it to everyone that comes over. She is just like any other little girl. However, on the first day of school the educators will not give her the chance to be like any other little girl.
This year Makenzie will be going into second grade. This will be her 7th year in school and she will have her 8th ILC teacher who will need "time" to get to know her and upon first glace see a very broken little girl and not assume competence.
Makenzie will arrive at school and they will escort her into a contained classroom and try to figure out what chair they will put her in. They will struggle to mount her talker and then maybe they will bring her into the classroom. When she enters the classroom everyone will look up and stare at her. She will then receive her very own awkward introduction and the aide will have no clue how to help her use her talker so she will not get to respond. Even if the aide does know how to use the talker she will have been instructed to only use the yes/no page because apparently Makenzie is incapable of using the rest of her talker and they have reserved that only for speech therapy and contained classroom time. The teacher will not know how to facilitate conversation between Makenzie and her peers and any questions asked will not be closed questions that she can actually answer. Someone may or may not come in and explain to the class about all of the reasons Makenzie is different while trying miserably to highlight the ways that she is the same and then the Makenzie show will be over and the day will move on.
The aide will have no clue what is going on in the classroom because no one will have planned Makenzie's day. Shortly after, most likely in the middle of an activity, Makenzie will be removed from the classroom and brought back into the contained classroom. Once there, they will proceed to try to get to know Makenzie by singing dumb songs, asking her 20 yes/no questions, and reading her preschool books that contain nothing of interest to her. She will be completely disengaged, she will not participate, she will look at the floor, and they will make negative ticks on their excel spreadsheet in efforts to prove that my daughter is too retarded to be learning in the second grade classroom or that the switch she has had for over 7 years needs to be readdressed again.
Once the bulk of the education in the classroom is over and it is time for lunch and recess Makenzie will be reunited with her peers. She will sit next to the same aide that doesn't know how to use her talker nor how to facilitate purposeful interactions. She will sit in silence and watch everyone eat before being walked out to the playground because the staff is not yet ready to learn how to use her power chair. At recess the staff will not take her out of her chair, and the adapted swing that I have been requesting from the district for the last 3 years will not be there. So, due to a lack of training and unwillingness Makenzie will take a walk with her aide. More than likely she will attract a following of children who will have a ton of questions. However, the untrained aide will have most likely taken Makenzie's talker down and she will not be able to answer any questions. The aide will try to answer the questions for her but will not know the answer to most of them. Recess will be over and Makenzie will go into a different room that is about the size of a closet and covered with crap from floor to ceiling for speech therapy so they can teach Makenzie how to communicate in the most unnatural environment possible, while the rest of the kids finish reading, writing, and math.
When it is time for specials Makenzie will get to rejoin her classmates with an aide who has no clue once again what is going on in the classroom because of a lack of planning and communication. They will struggle through class before sending her back to the contained classroom for more of the same and then back to 2nd grade for science or social studies once again with no planning and no way for Makenzie to have meaningful participation.
They will then remove Makenzie from the classroom at the end of the day early to pack her up because they have not stored her things with the 2nd grade class but instead in the contained classroom and the special needs bus will leave before the bell even rings.
Over the coarse of the day Makenzie will have been carted in and out of the classroom in front of her peers numerous times. She will not be exposed to much if any 2nd grade curriculum. Non of her services will be pushed into the classroom and the aide will be unaware or untrained on the modifications and adaptations Makenzie needs to successfully meet her individual goals. She will immediately be viewed as a visitor not a member of the classroom. The children will be kind to her but she will not establish a sense of belonging or benefit from all of the positive things that come with the feeling of belonging.
On the first day of school, Makenzie will not be given a chance to be a little girl who is so excited to show her friends the super cool new backpack that she picked out just like everyone else.
The above is not just what I think goes on, it is what I know goes on. I watched it happen day in and day out for two and a half months, and several full days after the nurse started last year. I have spent hours in meetings trying to get the district to see how detrimental this is to Makenzie but they are unphased. They are more concerned with not letting me "dictate" Makenzie's education than they are in accepting that I know my child's needs better then anyone with or without an education degree.
Makenzie's current education plan has not been reviewed in over a year and is completely out of compliance given it was not reviewed on time nor does it contain my signature. This is the IEP that they intend to use on the first day of school which is how I can tell you with much confidence that the above will be how her first day and every day after will go until a federal court tells them differently.
I do have a few new things up my sleeve for this year which keeps me hopeful but today I am just super sad and angry that the school continues to define and limit an amazingly smart little girl by a body that is broken.
Please pray for my family during this trying time. Please pray that the staff at the school would hear what I am saying and see how smart and amazing Makenzie is. Pray that their hearts would be softened and that they would do what needs to be done without a court battle in order to give her a fighting chance for once.
Believe.... Prayer Works