Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 1

Hello, Parents, Grandparents, Guardians,

It’s April 22, which means it’s almost May.  May means IEP reviews and 504 Plan reviews.  (For this series, IEP will also mean 504 Plan since 504 plans meet the same academic needs as IEP Plans.)  Whether you think your child’s IEP is fine as it is and can just take a rubber-stamp to keep things going well or you think your child’s current IEP stinks like yesterday’s fish wrappers, there are a few things to consider.

A.  Some students will be changing to bigger, more challenging schools – middle school, high school and may need help with the transition.  We will address this issue today.

B.  The sheer number of special education students in some districts can make it nearly impossible to review all IEPs in May.  However, many school districts will do it anyway and may use methods that violate your child’s and your family’s right to privacy under Family Education and Right to Privacy Act (FERPA).  That’s for tomorrow.

C.  What should be done to address academic failure?  Social promotion is NOT acceptable, and neither is retention.  So….what to do?

D.  Is your child one who needs success is something at school to prevent him or her from giving up altogether?  Is that something a non-academic activity such as sports or drama/theater which require grades better than your child can get with an inappropriate IEP?  Or just better grades?  There IS a way to use IEPs and 504 plans to make these activities available to special education students despite lower grades than required by The Almighty Rules.

The topic for today is that bumpy ride between two levels of academics–elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school.  At this point in life, the majority of students are making huge strides in personal development and learning school that make such large changes reasonable and necessary.  Is your child ready for such momentous changes?

1.  Is your child at the transition point between academic levels–moving from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school?  If so, arrange a conference with your child’s teachers before scheduling the IEP/504 Plan meeting.  Ask if teachers and/or staff see anything about your child, the effect your child’s disability has on his/her education, and your child’s maturity that should be taken into account on the IEP for the next academic level.  What should you be considering?

a.  Many children with disabilities lag behind their peers in social or personal development. Middle school students are beginning to socialize more away from home and the pressure to fit in somewhere becomes intense.  Students who can’t succeed socially are at risk for depression and ostracism – two main ingredients of Columbine and similar events.  Students who are not ready for the leap in greater academic demands are at risk for failure without prevention of failure or immediate remediation.

b.  Middle school brings a change of classroom along with change of subjects AND a change of teacher.  Some children may not really be quite ready for that many changes all at once in September.

c.  In high school, those changes are in place, but the academic intensity increases.  Homework demands soar.  The building is larger, and there will be lost children at first.

d.  Sports and clubs loom large in the social atmosphere and a teenager’s life can become a constant popularity contest if a teen doesn’t perceive his individual value outside that context.

There is an answer when we ask how we can help with this transition.  Summer school.  (Eyes rolling, sighs, OMG, someone says.)  Summer school is held with far fewer students, so hallways are not jammed, classes are small, almost intimate, and students have a chance to start school with new friends already in place.  They already know their way around the building, so they don’t get lost and panicked in crowds.  They already know some of the teachers.  They already know the cafeteria, its rules, its perks.  This is an item for the child’s IEP that will give a jumpstart to what could have been a rocky transition full of potential failure.

If your child does not handle change well,

If your child is somewhat or very socially immature,

If your child is directionally challenged even in a space the size of a lunch bag,

If your child has fears of the bigger, new environment that is coming,

If you think these aspects of your child may interfere with his or her ability to succeed academically during the Fall semester or the entire first year, then summer school is a very reasonable and needed accommodation to request for your child’s IEP or 504 Plan.

If your school denies summer school for reasons that have nothing to do with your child, such as

–we reserve it only for children who failed the academics this year;

–we aren’t babysitters for immature children, find a club for him/her;

–we don’t have the funding for it; or

–there’s a waiting list. . .

grab your local education advocates and make some school administrators realize your child truly NEEDS summer school as a foundation for academic success in the Fall.  You can find advocates at your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center/  and at Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) http://www.copaa.net.

There are no excuses for denial of FAPE for a child with disabilities.  Legislators with pet projects in mind for campaign money donors have cut our education budgets to unreasonably low levels, but there is money to meet special education needs when the alternative is to fill out about a thousand pages of paperwork to respond to a legitimate formal complaint to OCR or to lose all special education funding in the district for refusal to serve.  Sometimes services are not provided just because parents don’t know how to insist or because administrators can deny them.  Summer school does cost money–plenty of it.  It’s a convenient item to cut from the budget if no one complains loud enough. None of these reasons to deny summer school is permissible.

Don’t feel guilty because your child’s education costs more and don’t let anyone make you or your child feel “inferior.”  Don’t let anyone dismiss your child’s needs by saying his/her costs take money away from others.  (Our legislators do that just fine, thank you.)  We don’t flip out OCR complaints every 90 days, only that one time that something absolutely critical was denied and there was no other path to peace.

Because we only get to live each day once and learning is the most important work anyone does for the first 18 years of life, it’s important to give each child appropriate support to achieve success.

 

 

3 Ways To Your Child’s Dream

Hello, everyone.

Today I want to talk about our children’s dreams for their future.  Whatever age a child is, he is aware that there is a future, and he assumes he will be in it.  Some children decide very early in life – age 8, 10, 12 – what their career will be, and that is what they achieve.  Some children have not decided later in life -28, 29, 30 – what career path to follow, and they are just taking whatever comes.  Life happens for both, but those who choose and contol their lives often feel they are more successful and have greater satisfaction.  We can nudge our children into a path of choosing a career by exposing them to  occupations, by helping them find hobbies, volunteer work doing things they love, and mentors whose careers pique their interest.

1.  I was a Girl Scout and earned over 100 badges.  Doing so introduced me to the basics of many occupations, various arts, sports, cultural aspects and affairs, study of what makes people and things “tick”, community involvement, and a variety of enjoyable things to do.  I can’t remember ever being bored, really, because my mind was always digging into something new or deeper into something intriguing.  Boy Scouts does the same for boys.  Many youth organizations achieve similar results.  All but one of the pastimes I love stem from those youth activities.  I frequently use something I learned back then.

Children with disabilities are often isolated from their peers by their differences at school, but parents who find these opportunities for them in the community help them develop a sense of belonging in their neighborhood, other people’s lives, and in their larger society.  It is this sense of belonging that will allow a child to reach out to build a supportive team at school and work so he can be successful at what he does.  This social participation sometimes creates the new advocates for our social needs–you know– the ones who keep reminding us that yes, we ARE our brother’s keeper.

2.  Volunteer work serves many purposes beyond helping other people or non-profit organizations.  Children who learn to enjoy volunteering also learn teamwork, selflessness, cooperation, empathy, social responsibility, improved social skills, and often, leadership.  Some find jobs this way.  It’s an excellent way to try a new work skill, expand a hobby, explore new ideas, make new friends. Some children who become fully engaged in a specific type of volunteer work they enjoy may use that experience as the springboard to their future career.

3.  Older children who have shown interest in specific vocations or careers can benefit from a mentor who is in the same field.  A child who is interested in accounting could be mentored by a bank employee, an accountant, a statistician, a software developer who specializes in the numbers of our lives and businesses.  A child who could sell you your own smelly socks would benefit from exposure to people in sales, retail, wholesale, and online, and if he’s good at writing, exposure to advertising and marketing people.  Is your child an animal lover?  Got a zoo?  Match!  Vet?  Match!  Animal breeder?  Match!  Biologist or biological industry?  Match!

You get the idea.  Our children’s job is to grown and learn.  Not all learning is done at school.  Parents’ job includes showing our children how to get out from under our wings.  Look around you.  It’s a big, wide world.  What does your child dream of doing in it?  What can you do to help him achieve it?

Coaching for College Prep – ACHIEVE COACH

On January 15, 2014, I will be starting ACHIEVE COACH, presenting online College Prep/College Readiness webinars for parents of  students with disabilities in grades 6-12. Currently 80% of these students are destined to start college but never get the degree no matter how high their grades or SAT/ACT scores.

I am a parent of 2 disabled children with a total of 11 different diagnoses. I have 25 years of education and disability consultation/advocacy experience. I KNOW children with disabilities can obtain college degrees from all kinds of schools. After working in the disability services center of Florida International University and finding out what made it possible for those students to succeed, I know it is far MORE THAN ACCOMMODATIONS or IEPs or 504 plans and it should begin in 6th grade.  Success for college students with disabilities began with informed and determined parents.

While writing a book on the subject, I found out why we parents have never had a place to go to learn what we need. We need to know 34 things other parents don’t and all that “stuff” comes out of 8 professional fields.

I will be coaching, offering professional speakers, resources, sample letters and advocacy skills and parent training. We will cover the rights and roles of parents in providing FAPE for a child.  I don’t care how many people are around a computer at school or at home while you do this. I will coach families and their professional support team (doctors, therapists, teachers, etc.) so children with the potential to become college students can also become college graduates.

If you want online coaching to help you become a stronger, positive and successful advocate and case manager for your child, if you want to know how to teach your child to be his own case manager — (successful, YES!),  leave your e-mail address in a comment for this post.  Your privacy will be respected.  No post with an e-mail address in it will be published unless the writer specifically requests it.  Space will be limited, so sign up now!

The Homework Organizer, a Very Good Friend

I do not normally endorse a product for which parents must pay. However, there is one planner which is so effective that people will even buy them used if they cannot afford them new. (There are some available through Amazon.com right now.)

Dr. Gail Mengel, Ph.D. is a public school psychologist who designed a planner called “The Homework Organizer” that addresses many of the issues I have brought to your attention. It contains a master copy page of a Grade Saver where students can record the grades for class assignments and tests to help them realize how their course of study is working for them (or not). I have examined and evaluated many organizers and this is my favorite.

You can examine it for yourself at http://www.homework-organizer.com to decide if it fits your student’s needs. While you’re there, read all of it for a good lesson in executive functioning and why we must address the development of this crucial skill set. Many disabilities that affect learning also impair a student’s ability to set priorities and achieve goals. Doing homework with the guidance of this tool helps reinforce organization, time management, and goal-setting with every small step that must be taken to arrive at academic success.

Here’s to our student with the most improvement!

Coming to NEW IEP Time

Dear Parents,

For this blog entry, IEP plan and IEP will also mean Section 504 plans.  It isn’t even Easter yet and here I am talking about the new IEPs and Section 504 Plans that will be generated by the thousands at the end of the school year.  There must be a reason for that.  Actually, there are a few reasons.
1.  It is time to make your own evaluation of whether there is a need to make any major changes in the IEP.  If your child is in transition between K-6 and middle school or middle school and high school, it is time to start checking how the next school serves children like yours.  Do they have the teachers with appropriate training for mainstream, inclusion, or special education classrooms?  If your child’s disability is truly unique or has outstanding medical needs, now is the time to start figuring out where and how your child will best be served for FAPE.  If you wait for the school to do it, your child will simply go to the neighborhood school in most cases, and if that isn’t right, it’s harder to change it and extremely more difficult for your child to try to cope with inappropriate placement while adults scratch their heads.  My advice:  start scratching now and get it over with!
2.  Other changes in the IEP to consider at K-6 to middle school is whether your child is college-capable.  Even the under-achiever can be college-capable if we do the next 6 years right.  Even the child who is carrying a list of grades from A to F with total inconsistency may be college-capable IF we do it right now.  Currently 80% of our children with disabilities never finish college because we parents never get what we need to know to help our children become independent learners at the college level.    If you have a child who can do everything well except school, you may have a college-capable child who has never had a way to understand how his teachers are teaching, or he may not have had his attention focused sufficiently, or he may not have been given an IEP that really covered all the bases.  Do your own evaluation of your child and remember that the coursework toward college begins in 6th grade.  If your child can build a model without the instructions, build a dog house without plans, grafitti an entire wall (or a good part of it) with a mural that makes sense and actually has composition and style, understand the workings under the hood of a car or truck, find out anything HE wants to know using libraries and/or computers, you have a child who is more than likely capable of getting through college IF he gets what he needs to learn now.
3.  Now is the time to consider whether a summer course to catch up in a subject where he has fallen behind is in order–or a summer course to introduce an upcoming subject he’s interested in.
4.  If you and your child think college is simply out of the question, then consider whether putting some vocational goals into the IEP would give a boost toward becoming a wage-earner or an entrepreneur.  I know several students who started their own small “trading companies” in 6th grade who are now business owners, two are internetpreneuers, and one has just made a microloan to somebody to help her get started in her own business.  NEVER discount what your child might be capable of if we assume the best and support the development of everything possible to bring the best right up front.  Ask yourself, what would be the IEP items that do this for the upcoming year?  You’ll need to call your school district’s admins to find out what they offer and whether your child is eligible at his own school or at another school where some special program might be just his cup of tea.
5.  There are differences between elementary and middle school that are obvious–now instead of 2 or 3 teachers, your child will have 6-9 teachers, and will move between classes.  I want you to take a moment to think about that.  Is your child ready for this?  There are developmental things that have to happen before a child can even think of handling this mix, and if your child isn’t ready, it will spell disaster.
First, if your child has difficulty with social skills, being thrown into a setting with a new group of people every hour will be extremely confusing and overwhelming.
Second, if mobility is an issue, it will take time to work it all out.
Third, if your child is disorganized, this is a freight train coming down the tunnel and the light is shining right into his eyes.  IF you are also disorganized, think about getting a coach to help both of you put those skills in place.
Fourth, learning takes a big jump in the classroom and homework takes a big jump at home.  If homework has been the Battle of the Ages at your house, the IEP must take into consideration whether it is reasonable to ask a child’s family to be held hostage on the Homework Train.  It also isn’t reasonable to think a child will spend so much time on homework that he can’t be a child and learn how people live when they’re not doing homework.  This will require some heavy-duty advocacy skills because it means you may be asking for reduced homework for a child who requires drill (a bit more work) to learn.  Maybe we haven’t really determined this child’s most effective learning style/strategies, and the IEP needs to make that happen.
6.  If your child gets lost easily, a bigger middle or high school will invite more getting lost and confusion between classes, costing your child the peace of mind he needs to use for learning when he finally finds his classroom.  If your child does not handle change well, you can imagine what 6 or 7 class changes per day will do to his mood/emotional stability/learning ability during the day.  He needs time to accommodate these changes.  These are the perfect reasons for summer school at the new school–and don’t let anyone convince you that the ONLY way a child can attend summer school in your district is if he’s failing.  Remind them that the IEP is the tool invented by legislators and educators for the purpose of bending the rules and making necessary accommodations for disability.
7.  Here’s another rule-bender:  if your child’s mobility is slow, super slow, or if pushing/shoving from other students is dangerous to him, he can be released from his classroom early to avoid crowds.  Homework assignments are given and explained at the end of class, which means your child may miss a critical part of each class. There are ways to deal with this: a) Arrange for a daily e-mail or phone call to take its place, b) get a weekly assignment sheet with instructions, or c) arrange for a class buddy (two actually, in case of absence) who will brief your child daily.  Just make some arrangment so your child has the same information the other students have so he can do his homework.
8.  DO NOT ALLOW A MASS IEP MEETING SETTING.  My children went to school in the 4th largest school district in the nation, and some of our school principals caved to the numbers and went mass production on IEPs.  In May, every SpEd parent received a letter about an IEP meeting to be held for 15 minutes in the library or the gymnasium.  I thought to myself that these are very strange places for an IEP meeting for a small group of people to be held, and 15 minutes was in no way long enough for what always took us at least an hour.  When I called to check, I was told we’d be given extra time if we needed it.
When we arrived for the IEP meeting, there was no parking for a full block away.  The hallways were full of parents, all headed for the same two rooms.  When we got into the room, there was a “traffic director” lining parents up according to some teacher’s name and appointment time.  Lines of people were told to keep an eye on the table where their meeting would be held and move to it as the family before them vacated it.  (This is confidentiality?  Privacy?  Don’t think so.  What do the people at the next table, only 3 feet away hear from your child’s case?)
When it was our turn, we were handed an IEP that had been filled out already.  It didn’t have half what our child needed on it.  Was this individualized planning?  Not at all.  Was it one-sided? Of course it was.  Where was our equal partnership in this?  In the toilet next door.  When we objected, it took 20 minutes for an assistant principal to respond because she was on another floor dealing with another IEP (or several).  People in line behind us began to chafe and get angry at us.  (Again, is this confidentiality?)  Only one of our child’s teachers was present at the beginning of the meeting.  We were told each teacher was at a table and couldn’t come to this IEP meeting–now where is that compliance with the representation of each class at the IEP meeting?  When the assistant principal showed up, someone I had considered a friend, I informed her that this meeting was over and that my complaint would be mailed to our state’s Department of Education in the morning.  There would be no stop at the Region level, no stop at the District level.  If they were holding IEP meetings like this, it was because they had DISTRICT APPROVAL to do so.  This was one of the most blatant violations of IDEA I have ever encountered, and it had to end immediately.  Students were being railroaded into inappropriate IEPs by the hundreds and it needed to end.
Now it got ugly.  The district didn’t like my complaint, but they LOVED our state’s response to it.  “You can only complain about the procedures at your own child’s IEP meeting or the others you witnessed at your child’s school.  We cannot assume this was done at any other school.”  (It was done elsewhere, too.  I just didn’t have the families as clients to make the complaint formal.)  So, while the state now knew what the district was doing, it dealt with only one school.  And my son’s school staff were angry with me because now they had to sit down with each family individually and take the time for appropriate IEPs.  And  they had to submit random samplings of IEPs for the next two years to prove they all had different times and dates, full teacher attendance, etc.
I had to settle for “Let them be upset.  It’s the law–for good reasons–and they, like the rest of us–are supposed to comply with the laws, rules, regulations, policies, and procedures.”  If that’s inconvenient, hey!  Disability is very inconvenient, and we just have to figure out how we’re going to live with it.
That’s enough for now.  If you start planning and doing your research now, your child’s transition to the next level can be much smoother and happier for everyone involved.
Happy IEP’ing!

Free College Texts, Instruction

Hello,Parents!

MAC 1105: College Algebra
Marcus McWaters
These videos are being used as instructional aides by Professor Ignacio Bello, of the University of South Florida Mathematics Department, College of Arts & Sciences, to help students in the College Algebra (MAC 1105) classes.
Introduction
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

The above information comes from http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/oa_textbooks/, a website that is a step forward in how one university considers its students and their financial status (poor folks). University of South Florida (USF) participates in the Bepress Digital Commons, an online repository of research papers, (dissertations, theses), books, and other publications by the students and faculty at universities around the nation (http://digitalcommons.bepress.com/online-books/). A quick browsing session through the theses and dissertations of masters and doctoral students at Florida International University shows us a wide variety of topics are covered, some in depth, some a bit cursory, but all interesting and informative (as educational publications are expected to be).

USF has a collection that is much the same, but it has this textbook page which allows students to access texts free of charge. Because the site is open to the public, you and I, and your child or student who has trouble with algebra, can go to a page such as this and find help–text or as in this case, instructional videos. If it helps college students, it can help high school students–remember that math is math is math no matter how old the student is. This page has a collection of videos that cover the main concepts of college algebra. The presentations are clear, simple, free of distractions, and the replay function can be used as often as a student requires.

Go visit, dig around. “Go to college” as you devour college-level materials. Believe it or not, it can actually be fun.

Here’s what this means for your child. Because this kind of instructional help is one-on-one, it is direct, non-distracting, and gives us ways to help a child discover how he learns and how to work with teaching styles that don’t match his learning style. Because the information in these videos is very simple and clear, and because it is endlessly repeatable, your child can experiment with notetaking, with learning strategies, with how he receives the information and “gets” it at last. Your child, while he may have trouble at school, can be very proud of the fact that he can extract information and learn from these websites. It is proof that he is NOT stupid, that he CAN learn, and yes, he IS smart! That alone will help inspire his efforts at his everyday learning. Of course, if you do dig around in here and discover help for several parts and pieces of his studies, his grades will go up. And that would be GREAT!

Keeping Up

Sometimes we get exasperated with our students and our children because they don’t innately understand organization and time. There are brain differences, both in structure and in neurochemistry, that contribute to these deficits. These are part of our executive skills, our ability to understand and determine our priorities and to set out plans of action for achieving these goals–and the ability to marshall the motivation to complete the plan so we achieve what we set out to do. Time and organization are two nebulous concepts for those who face executive skill challenges.

Children who don’t know how to achieve within time frames need help. Just plopping an organizer on the desk is not enough help. What are they supposed to put in it? How are they or we to know that what they put in it is accurate? How is this child going to follow what is in the organizer? I can tell you that even though I am an adult (WAAAAAY past youth), I still forget to check the organizer for meetings, events, notes, etc. It is NOT an automatic given that possession of an organizer means one is organized and efficient in time management. That is a learned skill for most of us, and if we have an IEP for academic learning, we need to remember that the conditions requiring an IEP mean we should deal with other learning in much the same way.

So, how to teach time management? A minute at a time. (And there are 60 of those in an hour, so don’t resent the required repetition here). Go over the organizer with the student. Explain why we use them. Explain that it’s not a weakness to need one–it’s the fact that all our lives we are busy and when we become the child’s age and older, there are too many details to expect to remember everything without prompts or reminders. All people with significant jobs use organizers/planners. The presidents and rulers of the world use them. It’s only democratic that we can, too.

Don’t let the student grind on and on about “weakness” or “nerdy-ness” on this point. It’s a life skill to know what must be done and when. Period. End of discussion. “Here’s how you can make this most useful for yourself.” Or, “Let’s look at this and see how it will help you do everything you want to do without missing anything.”

How many times will prompts and reminders to check the organizer be required? As many as it takes. I always tied this activity with something else my children would NEVER forget to do–like eating. Come home from school, grab the snack, go over the organizer quickly and put it back in the backpack for use when doing homework later. Just that small peek is significantly important toward developing the habit of using an organizer.

IEP/504 it if that’s required. Get school staff to actively support your child’s efforts to learn to use an organizer effectively. Some schools issue their own organizers to their students; others act like its an intrusion to ask someone to verify that your child actually got the assignment written down somewhere, never mind if it’s accurately copied. Support at school and home gives your child consistency and stability.

Organization–everybody has a different idea of what that is. Here’s mine: We understand our world in chunks–a set of activities that pertain to preparing a meal, activities for homework, activities for cleaning a room, etc. Organization is going through our days knowing what we will be doing and being prepared with materials and time to do everything efficiently and as needed. Newbies need help to do this–and not just an organizer. Some people need to have life explained. Chunk–get out of bed, bathe, comb hair, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, grab bookbag, go out the door–this is getting ready for school. Chunk–preparing lunch the night before and putting it in the right places until it goes into bookbag. Chunk–homework, including getting all papers and books back into bookbag. Wise parents will talk about these chunks and make them visual with charts for those learning the chunks. Older students need that talk about how much time each chunk really takes–and how to put that time into the organizer for good time management.

Children with learning deficits often feel overwhelmed by the demands of homework, after school activities, family activities. Watch your child, talk with your child. Setting up the child’s organizer is a good time to talk about how to be only busy enough that one is tired in the evening–not exhausted–and how to plan in some time for just being a kid who has time to watch a bug climb a blade of grass, chase a butterfly, or try to cook an egg on a hot sidewalk. The time-stressed child learns less effectively than the one who is relaxed. There is time enough in life to be a busy person, but there are only a few precious years when acting like a child will be tolerated. We must allow at least some of that time to be used that way rather than generating complicated schedules where no minute is free for anything except going from one planned activity to another. In this conversation about use of time, listen to the child. Like us, he can only live each minute once–let it be good! Then when it’s time for school work, he’s refreshed and able to focus better.