Social media and my email are both filled with questions and concerns about the start of the school year. Whether you have a child with Down syndrome or another “special” diagnosis or not, the new school year brings concerns, nervousness, apprehension and at my house joy. Rachel loves school. She starts her junior year on Thursday so she is joyful. Based on my experiences, much of the parental apprehension and concern is valid.
One of my trademark pieces of advice for IEP meetings is to focus on the positive. When you are having a meeting about your child, focus on the positive. Do not get derailed. Do not bite on what your child can’t do. Focus on what they can do and what supports need to be in place for your child to succeed. I know it sounds easier said than done, but I’ve used it and advised many to use it and it does work. So I’m going to take my own advice and focus on some positive tips for the start of the school year. This week I’ll also post some of my past blogs that I think contain some helpful info.
I have an entire blog dedicated to communication so I’m not going to say much about that but it is the thing I believe is the biggest challenge. I’ll re-post it tomorrow. Make sure you have a method worked out and stay on top of that back and forth communication with the school. Hold teachers and staff accountable on this. This is across all grade levels.
Schedule those peer presentations early. There are lots of examples of peer presentations that you can probably get from your local Down syndrome affiliate. I wrote a blog on one we’ve used through the years – Winning Friends and Walkers. I strongly recommend that you send home a letter to parents. There are many books that can be read to help with peer presentations. My favorite is We’ll Paint the Octopus Red. Rachel’s kindergarten teacher used it to teach the letter “O.” Then, there is my favorite video Just Like You – Down Syndrome. I don’t know of a better tool for educating peers, teachers, staff, community leaders, church leaders and more. Even if Rachel wasn’t one of the teens featured in JLY, I would be singing the praises of the video. 🙂
This is a relatively new resource, but another good resource to use in your schools is NDSS’ Get to Know Me Poster and Lesson Plan Series.This wasn’t around when Rachel was in elementary school or you can be sure we would have used it! Bright, colorful and educational. I’ve heard from many parents in the Down syndrome community and some teachers that this is a great resource and lesson plan series. Click on the link above to check it out and order a copy.
Preparation includes educating teachers, staff and the administrative staff about your child regardless of your child’s grade in school. As students move into middle and high school grades they have multiple teachers and the schools are usually bigger. I send a letter to all of Rachel’s teaching team before the year begins. I tell them about her and include a link to “Just Like You – Down Syndrome.” I include information about her strengths and how to best find out what she has learned. I describe her life and what she enjoys. We try to meet before school starts and she does a little mini PowerPoint to tell her team who she is and who she wants to be. I believe this makes a huge impact for many reasons. Besides the obvious of hearing from Rachel herself, I believe it helps the team to understand our high expectations and how to best work with our family make Rachel successful. Regardless of your child’s grade, having a meeting with the “team” early in the year is important. Every situation is different but we have found that a few meetings to monitor how things are going with the entire team go a long way.
We always have had a ton of meetings and exchange a lot of emails all focused on helping Rachel and her team have a good start and successful year. See above. Last year was no different. One of my pieces of proof that all of those meetings and emails and those high expectations pay off is in this email I received from one of Rachel’s teachers at the end of last year:
“I just wanted to tell you personally that Rachel totally rocked her final and only missed one question. I am so proud of Rachel and how she has academically excelled this year. She has been such a sweet presence to have in class and her ability to be confident and join in discussion is impressive. I have loved getting to know her and her awesome personality and I thank you for allowing me to teach your daughter. I know I have definitely grown from this experience!”
Rachel has just a few pages left in The Great Gatsby and she read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn earlier this summer. Over the next few days, she is headed to volleyball try-outs because “they need me there” and “I need to practice my pep talk.” She is especially excited to be on Student Council again and help some of her friends who will be Freshman like her friends Alli, Andrea, Ashley and Jordan helped her. She is “super excited” about the early childhood careers program. Tuesday we will meet with her team and she will do her little mini prezi for them. She will be all smiles. She will head out on Thursday ready to be a high school junior. Her job is to be a high school junior and to work hard and be the best student she can be.
And I will manage the “bumps.”