I hope you all caught part one of “Tips for the Middle School Adventure.” These are in no particular order and with no promises for magical easy answers. I just hope that sharing some of our experience will help you and motivate you in yours. Our last topic yesterday was Peer Education, and I’m picking up with Communication today. Remember, these are things we have done, continued to do and tweaked a bit that we believe have aided in Rachel’s positive middle school experience.
Communication. This is always the area of challenge. Because writing is quite challenging, we needed communication directly from school personnel regarding assignments, homework, extracurricular activities, etc. In 6th grade, one of the paraprofessionals was responsible to email daily and let me know about homework, tests, etc. Individual class teachers also emailed me or we could access classroom information online. A few glitches but this worked well overall. Our goal is for Rachel to be more and more independent and self-sufficient. We believe that technology is the key to this for her. In 7th grade she began to take her iPad to school. We have loaded a program called Notability. This has her agenda and lunch menu (most important thing for the day in Rachel’s world.) It hasn’t been perfect and we still do quite a lot of email with the resource teacher (our resource teacher is like a case manager), teachers and para’s, but overall we are able to communicate to homework assignments, tests, etc. on the iPad. We do still need deadlines written on top of the papers that come home because it is sometimes hard to match up the notes on Notability with the paper products.
iPad/Academics: As I mentioned the we think technology is key for Rachel. Her iPad helps with back and forth communication but it is also an academic tool. She has a Kindle on there and downloads fun books to read. She had Read2Go and we use bookshare.org to access textbooks and other books. We use Quizlet and G-Flash Pro to set up flash cards for her to study for tests. Sometimes they just use what we have made as the test. She finds the YouTube videos they watch in classes and shares with us. They recorded the dance routine for a play she was in and recorded her speech in Theater Class to help her. It’s a good thing.
Teamwork/Team meetings. We made sure that the entire team including teachers, resource, para support, and administration knew our expectations, needs and challenges. We met with her team about once every six weeks. This just helped to be sure we all knew what was going on and to be sure we were on the same page.
Teachers. Overall, we have just had great teachers. They were all good to communicate with me about ideas and work with the resource teacher to make modifications and accommodations. They came up with many great ideas to help Rachel be successful. Overall, I think our administration has done an excellent job of working to have Rachel with teachers who are good matches for her, too. You can’t dictate personnel, but you can try to be reasonable and work with your administration to find good fits for your child.
IEP Understanding. Rachel made the honor roll each nine weeks this year. She worked hard as did her teachers and her parents. A couple of things written in Rachel’s IEP that I think are critical for success relate to teachers getting study guides, tests, etc. to her parents. Her IEP says that teachers will get such items to us including notices of upcoming quizzes at least one week prior. This gives us time to work with Rachel and help plan out her time so she is not up until 11 studying one night. We need study guides formatted using the type of question Rachel will be given and load them all to her iPad to make flash cards. We have determined this is the best method for Rachel. Your child may benefit from another method. I need to know if it will be yes/no or multiple choice or will she have a bank of answers to fill in the blank. She has to prepare using the style that will be used or she is lost. There may be teachers who have not had to do this for a child in the past so make certain that this is communicated to the teachers. Our teachers even want our opinion on the way they have set up the test or the assignment and will it be the best way to assist Rachel in being successful in sharing what she has learned.
A few extra tips:
- Get to know the office staff. All office staff is not created equal but I have gotten to know our clerical staff and others and it helps. They go the extra mile to help Rachel and keep me informed if needed.
- Be involved as much as you can be. It is good for them to see your face from time to time, and you will probably learn too.
- Electives. When we started this journey we were told that Rachel would not have electives. They had been to the elementary school telling them about electives all year, but they thought resource would be Rachel’s elective. My exact words were, “not going to happen.” It is unfair to tell Rachel about electives and get her excited and then say oh but your imposed elective is resource. Our kids are on a more level playing field I elective classes. Some of our kids struggle in all their classes and their electives are the only classes that they look forward to. I encourage you to be sure that you don’t just focus on the academics. Learning to work with others and get along is important too.
I know there are exceptions to this, but I feel that overall Rachel’s school embraces and celebrates her. The office staff watches out for her. Current teachers, para’s and staff and former teacher’s, para’s and staff have their radars up as well. Several teachers have told me that they have kids who will be at high school and they’ve already told them, “Rachel will be at that school and you know what that means?” The kids have responded not to worry that “we have her back.” This is community, and as my daughter would say, that makes my heart happy.
I’m sure that I have forgotten something but these are just a few little tips that helped us to have a great middle school experience. My observation of many of our families is that they are afraid. I get that. I don’t’ know that anything has ever frightened me more than high school. I decided a long time ago I would not allow my fears to prevent me from allowing Rachel to pursue her dreams. I am committed to doing whatever I need to do to help her to be independent. Last, I want to encourage you to have high expectations. If you don’t let your child try, how will you know what they can or can’t do? Are you the parent who is always saying that is okay for your child but my child ….. ? Well – think about how you can make it work for your child instead of why it won’t work.
I’m getting a little preachy so I’m going to end with this short story. Rachel’s social studies class is doing a really fun Wagon Train activity. They work in groups. I was at a meeting with other parents the other night and one mom told me how much her son loves being in Rachel’s group. I didn’t know they were in the same group, but I do know that her son is in the gifted program. The girls have told me how smart he is. The mom went on to say that her son said that “Rachel always comes prepared, and she always has her homework done. She has good answers and she is funny, too!” That, my friends, is one of the main reasons for inclusion.
Best wishes on your middle school adventure and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments you might have. We are all in this together and I look forward to sharing in your adventures too.
NOTE: Many of you have inquired about Rachel’s modifications. I will blog about that next week – I hope!