Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Couldn't we just talk this through?

So, for the last two or three weeks I've been getting these recorded calls from BCPSS. Typically tape recorded phone calls are an immediate hang-up for me, but given that I was getting the same call day after day I eventually got the message - my child was out of date on shots and was going to be kicked out of school. I should contact their school directly.

Well...first off I've got three kids so saying my child is not really all that helpful. All three have been in school with no shot issues for at least four years. We're pretty good at filling out those stupid emergency contact forms in triplicate, so there should be no problem reaching us. So no calls directly from any school. I randomly picked one school/child and asked them how being out of date for shots would work. Would they just tell a kid to leave school one day? I was told that no, we would be contacted by mail first. That actually the mail should have come before any call.

Wonderful...so maybe the tape recording machine is just messed up. Nobody has said anything to us or our kids at any school. The shots are good for all three of them. So fine, I just started ignoring the phone calls. Then, finally one of the schools says we've got a problem - no vericella vaccine of the youngest. Well...actually none have had vericella shots since all of them had chickenpox. Somehow that was good enough for two of them, but not the last one. And it was good enough last year, but not this year. Finally between the pediatrician and the school office personnel spending lots of time reasoning with North Ave. it gets straightened out.

Too much stress and drama for all parties, if you ask me. Just a little direct communication when this all started is all it would have taken.

Monday, September 22, 2008

An interesting blog

I found this blog on Slate. It's called Schoolhouse Rock.


The blogger is Paul Tough. To quote from the blog:

Paul Tough is an editor at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest To Change Harlem and America, published this month. He has been writing about schools, poverty, and inequality for several years, including an article in the Times Magazine in 2004 about the Harlem Children's Zone that evolved into Whatever It Takes. He has also written about the achievement gap and charter schools, about Ruby Payne's theory of class struggle, and, last month, about the effort to remake the school system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Fascinating reading.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Back-to-school night x3

So, we've completed three back to school nights. There were some late nights, but I feel pretty uplifted. With a few exceptions, the teachers were there and excited to see us parents. I really love seeing enthusiastic teachers, and I assume they're at least that psyched when they're in front of my kids. Hopefully all three kids now qualify as having involved, but not obnoxious, parents. After signing lots of sign-in sheets, I hope the teachers are getting some sort of brownie points for parent participation. I know the schools will be judged, and hopefully there's some sort of trickle-down to the teachers.

It was nice to meet the teachers, but there were a few parents I could have done without. I know that I should feel a sort of solidarity, but some of them were just too annoying. When you're in a big meeting how about turning off, or at least muting, your cell phone? Also, I could have done without the stories of older siblings in the same class and blah, blah, blah. Really, do some people's lives have so few outlets for public speaking that a school meeting seems the perfect place for a soliloquy?

But, besides being long, I loved meeting the multitude of teachers that my kids spend so much time with. We've made it through the first four weeks of the school year, and I'm thinking maybe this will be a good year. Here's hoping so.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

High school is... different

Transitions are always hard, so maybe this one to high school isn't all that unique. To know if that's true would require more perspective than what I've got down here in the trenches. From here it feels like I've thrown the HSS (high school student) out on their own into a vast unknown. I have absolutely no idea what high school is like beyond the fuzzy memories I have of about 30 years ago. I think we qualify as involved parents, but in high school involved parents don't seem to be wanted in the school so much. Being in the school was how I got my glimpses of what it was like in elementary and middle school years. Now...I've got no glimpses at all.

I know that they're not little kids anymore - which is a refrain I've heard for probably 10 years. Given their level of physical maturity I guess I have to agree to some extent. School is now something I support from more of a distance. I suspect I'll have few, if any, first hand impressions of what the school day is like. I've tried discussing it with the HSS and have heard that it's scary, harder then middle school, exciting...but no real picture has formed in my head.

So, I'll meet some teachers at the back to school activities and I'll keep asking questions. Slowly the HSS will become a mature and independent being. I suppose that's the big goal in the parenting job description, but I think we're not quite there yet.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A "Touching Story" about an autistic boy ...?

Being as intimately involved with autism as I am, I follow most of the news. In the stories that have to do with life (as opposed to scientific or often pseudo-scientific studies), the main thing that draws me is how they portray the lives of those with autism and their families - to see how they match what we have experienced, either first or second hand.

This brings me to the story that made headlines in TV and newspapers a few days ago. You can find it here. Basically, a father and son are swept out to sea after going for a swim at the beach. The father tried to stay with the boy, but after many hours they got separated. A lucky find by some fishermen and the dad was rescued. A few hours later the boy was picked up in the area by the coastguard. It's a story of good fortune and two people's determination to survive.

What gets me is the gratuitous nature of the emphasis the press has put on the boy's autism. That's always in the headline. But, I've yet to see any way that has been tied to the story, in a positive or negative way. Was the boy a better swimmer because his autism let him focus on swimming for 15 hours? No. Was the dad unable to stay with his son because his autism kept him from allowing him to make contact? No. Had the rescuers said it would have been easier to locate him if he had been more verbal? No. There was nothing in the story that made his autism even remotely relevant.

Let's try replacing autism with national origin. An Italian-American father and son were swimming at the beach... how absurd. Look, I'm all in favor of autism awareness, but I'm not sure that just saying a kid is autistic really raises awareness in any meaningful way. Meaningful awareness requires understanding of ways that we are the same or ways that we are different. This story was all about touching your heart. Is it more or less touching because the boy had autism?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The honeymoon…it is over

With a crash, the veneer of optimism has fallen off to reveal yet another year of hard work and challenges.

It started with an assignment that the special one just wasn’t up for. What would be a no-brainer for the neuro-typical crowd was a brick wall for my kid. We just don’t have that level of expressive language. You can ask questions and get simple answers, but the blank slate of "what-questions" was too much. Much frustration ensued on all sides with a lack of understanding about how something that seems so simple, for a kid that is obviously so smart, can be so hard. Then I saw a general level of frustration and I started to wonder about the choice to push for an inclusive education instead of staying in a segregated special ed school.

A few minutes later, with a different kid, and I found out that the no melt-down streak was over. I started wondering what was going on when frustration with homework seemed out of line. After a little detective work I found out that at school there had been a misunderstanding about a homework assignment, leading to a frustrated teacher and said kid being singled out in the class with threats of detention. That in turn led to the shame of tears in the classroom. I was left trying to calm a once again crying kid that was groaning “What the hell is the matter with me…”

Then, the cherry on top – the 3rd kid was too sick to go to school the next morning. I gave the “tough it out” response to “my stomach doesn’t feel good” until vomit was involved. I guess I should have pushed for phone contacts in each class to get homework assignments earlier.

All I have to say is BLAH!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Parental school year resolutions

OK, so we've had a fairly successful first week of school, which turned out to be stress-relieving after I had been worrying all summer. We've had our glorious 3 day weekend where I could catch up on housework and laundry (3 kids wearing tan pants every school day for like...forever). Eight million forms and handouts have been examined and signed and filled out. So far, so good.

Now it's time to hunker down and get ready for the long haul of this school year. As a parent, I have a fair number of things I'm responsible for. Some of these I've done every year since I've been a parent of a kid in school (or pre-school for that matter), and some are new goals based on new situations or past problem areas.
  • Become a member, pay dues and make a donation to all of the schools' parent organization groups.
  • Go to all the back to school nights and make sure all teachers involved with my kids understand there are involved parents that can help out. Usually there's no time for interaction at these things and generally they seem to just go over the class rules hand-outs that I've already seen, but all the same, one or both of us will be there.
  • Find out policies on 504/IEPs at new schools and make sure communication is open and in a positive tone.
  • Get a calendar with all school, extra-curricular, holiday, BSO tickets etc marked and keep it accurate through the year as activities get added.
  • Make sure kids have phone numbers for classmates to get homework or arrange social activities.
  • Establish some sort of order for at home school supplies. Throw out dried out markers and broken crayons. Make it so everybody involved knows where the hole-punch, stapler, scissors etc are located and keep them put away.
  • Touch base every day with each child about how school is going. Find out favorite and least favorite teachers and why, who the kids they pal around with are, how they feel they are doing grade-wise, what interaction are they having with school administrators, what's the vibe like in the hallways...
  • Have a folder for each kid to collect all the handouts, announcements, newsletters, printed out emails that are sent home. Make copies of major assignment and keep them here as well. We've had way to much stress finding papers in the morning before going to school.
  • Do notebook checks, including looking at homework logs to make sure they're in order and getting filled out. I'll take a look every day, but I'm going to enforce cleaning out and ordering every week. This might be a stretch goal since I have trouble keeping my own files in order.
  • Although not directly tied to school, get some sort of physical activities going regularly for me and the kids. Between the membership at the league, the trampoline and other stuff in the backyard, the park and the dog in need of walks and the new favorite - the wii fit - this shouldn't be that difficult. It's just a matter of making a commitment.

There's probably more, but that's what comes to mind at the moment.