By Lucia Alonso
By Cori Mielke
Just a year ago that may have meant the hustle and bustle of school schedules, school supply shopping, and anxiously waiting to find out who your child’s teacher would be. A lot has changed since then. We’re learning new terms like: Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL), limited in-person instruction, and hybrid learning models. Your district might be planning Applied Learning, Teacher Facilitated Learning, and cohorts. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, I don’t blame you, with all of the changes, we’re having a hard time keeping up too.
Even though things are changing, many things are the same. In our house we’re trying to maximize our space for learning; and like every year, are trying to manage our busy schedules. We have four kids doing CDL, a college student taking online classes, and I’m working from home! School supply shopping this year means picking up cardboard and making partitions; otherwise I’ll hear “She’s looking at my paper!!!” every five seconds and we’ll all melt down. There is no denying that this year will be different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a disaster either. Students with disabilities are still entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). How special education services are delivered to your child will look different; and your partnership and participation are important in that process.
What we experienced in the spring is not what Comprehensive Distance Learning will look like in the fall. In the spring most districts were focusing on ways to maintain what students had already learned. They did not introduce new learning concepts. High school students received pass/no pass instead of grades in order to meet graduation requirements. The 20-21 school year will look more like a traditional school year in the sense that students will still need to meet instructional hours, have opportunities for teacher led learning, engage with peers, better coordination with families, and defined learning expectations and outcomes for all students.
Even if the 20-21 school year looks different, your advocacy looks the same. You are still your child’s #1 fan and advocate. You know them best. You have a vision for the future, and you are dreaming the BIG dreams! Your input is critical and important to the IEP team so they can best support your child in their learning. You and your child have learned important strategies from the spring too! You’ve learned some things that work and probably some things that don’t.
Every school year I get a little anxious for all my kids, isn’t that something we all do? This year is no different. It’s important to remember that even though things are different, they are also still the same. For me, the more grounded *I* am in our vision and trajectory for our children, the more effective I become at sharing my child’s needs. It’s ok to pause for a moment, find your footing, and set your North Star.
If you aren’t sure what this looks like for your family, I invite you to grab your favorite drink and join us for our September three-part webinar Series Special Education and the IEP: Preparing for the 20-21 School Experience and remember FACT Oregon is here for you.
By Whitnie Trost
So I am a mom of 6 kids- 5 boys and one girl. 30 years ago, I began my journey of being a mom and just kept going. I come from a big family and so does my husband, so when you find something you are good at, you go with it, strengthening your talents and all that. When I had my youngest son, Christopher, at the age of 34, I had a house-full and there were many days when I thought my life was one never ending day. I often could not remember what day it was. If it weren’t for my other kids going to school and having a schedule, pants and make up probably would have been an option I opted out of. I truly loved being a mom and I was totally used to, and really good at, chaos, but I am not going to lie, there were days when I thought stepping on Cheerios and squished applesauce, and being a mediator between my 14 year old and my 5 year old over Nintendo games was going to do me in. I often wondered if my life would ever be more glamorous than what it was at that time.
Amazingly time went on and I survived each crazy day, and my oldest started high school, then my next one and then the next. As this was going on my son Christopher, who experiences Down syndrome and Autism, was advancing in school. We worked so hard to get him support in being successful and included in school and getting the right support in place to be able to experience the most appropriate school career, learning to be a kid and then a teenager by being with other kids and teenagers. This was sometimes a long, stressful and even painful process, but, let’s face it, I have raised a million kids. I am good with long, taxing and often annoying processes.
Christopher hit his stride in middle school and carried that stride on into high school. This was not without trials, and frustrations, but with constant communication with the school and a team that probably learned to just listen and do because I was a collaborative, brainstorming tiger mom.
Christopher made it through, having a ton of the same teachers all my other kids had when they went there and he made some really great friendships and relationships that have shaped his independence and purpose in life. Being able to attend all the classes that his friends from the neighborhood and church also attended helped him to work hard and not only receive but earn and achieve his Extended Diploma.
We knew when he was born that he was unique. We knew he was going to have to be stronger and more determined than anyone else to succeed, and we knew he would make us, as a family, better people than we ever would have been on our own. I think we were unprepared though, to realize that Chris would be funnier than all of us, smarter in so many ways than all of us, stronger and more determined than all of us, not afraid to call you out on things that don’t make sense, not afraid to show love, compassion and friendship with a simple fist bump, high five, and a gentle forehead touch to show that even though his face and mannerisms may not show it, he deeply and genuinely loves and appreciates you to his core.
Christopher we are so proud of you! Congratulations, and here’s to an ambitious, exciting and empowering future and another 18 great years. We love you bud!
By Karen Houston
What does meaningful participation in online school look like for your child with a disability these days? Perhaps you have a child that can attend to video calls with their teacher and then complete worksheets and other assignments with your guidance. You may be more like my child, who struggled with participation in a brick and mortar setting with one-on-one assistance and now is expected to complete school online. Maybe your story lies somewhere in between. Wherever you fall along the spectrum of online learning, for kids with a disability, the one thing we parents all do have in common is that we have suddenly become the one and only teacher for our child. My son has ten adults on his IEP team at school. TEN. At home, with my husband working, it is just me; one person. I have become the SLP, OT, behavior specialist, general education teacher and learning specialist, just to name a few. How do I wear all these hats and make sure my child is meaningfully participating in online school alongside his peers? Well, I will tell you my secret.
I simply can’t. I stepped away from my job at FACT Oregon during these unprecedented times to focus on my children and make sure they are safe, fed, healthy and yes, educated. I am lucky to be able to take this time with them. My daughter just logs on to her Google classroom and does her assignments and manages her own time. My son takes every second of every day and everything I’ve got. I had to decide early on how to manage all the video calls and emails and tele-therapies that were coming flying at me from every direction. Everyone wanted to help. Everyone wanted to make sure he wasn’t left behind. My heart swelled with all the thought and care people were pouring into my son and my family, but my head felt like it was going to explode.
So, I read the emails, we attend his online classroom meeting each day and then we just kinda do our own thing. He listens to books and I read to him every day, some days that is 10 minutes total and on a good day an hour. We type on his adapted keyboard when he’s in a good space. I have no idea how to approach math in a meaningful way. We follow a visual schedule, on hard days we follow it loosely. I am not hard on myself about him not meaningfully participating in online school because I am too busy celebrating the other things we are working on that have nothing to do with school.
One example is neighborhood walks. Pre-COVID-19, whenever my son would go out our front door he just wanted to load up into the car and go somewhere. If you tried to go for a walk around the neighborhood he would scream and fall to the ground. When the stay at home orders came through I knew that we’d both need to get out of the house, even just for a walk around the block, if we were going to maintain our sanity. The first two walks were not pretty, but by the third walk he was having fun. We work on him carrying his AAC device, stopping and looking before crossing the street and saying hi to neighbors (from 6 feet away). We are also learning how to do chores, get dressed and brush teeth independently, use and carry his AAC device all day and ride a bike. Our family started an AAC only dinner time where everyone has to use his program on a device to communicate, no talking! So many things we have always just done for him because we were in a rush and had no time. Now all we have is time.
Having a child with significant communication and sensory needs makes online school extremely difficult. However, the stay at home conditions we currently find ourselves in also gives us opportunities we have never had before. We are doing our best to participate in online school in a meaningful way, but I’m much more excited about his meaningful participation in our family.