Tuesday, December 20, 2011

News of note


Right now there is a very important court case going on in Baltimore. The parents of a Special Needs student are suing the school system for $1.3 million for gross negligence in connection with bullying at two different City Schools. I can't express how much this trial and the testimony breaks my heart. Bullying is a sign of a lack of control in a school. The fact that special needs students are far more likely to be bullied then other students is a sign of a lack of compassion among students as well as a reflection of how the school body as a whole feels towards a different and vulnerable population. I believe that a school with calm hallways and a atmosphere of respect for everyone in the building would not have these type of problems. You want to know why school choice is so important? So that parents in these desperate situations don't feel forced to keep there kids in this school. There has to be a way out.

Yes, I know I'm being emotional, but how the hell can you read this story or this story or this post or this post and not become emotional? I can't.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Two more essays to go... blah


I think I've written on this before, but I would just like to say one more time for emphasis - college essays suck. How do they suck and why to they bother you so, you ask? Let me count the ways, or at least give you my top ten.
  1. Believe it or not, not everybody is a writer or finds writing a great outlet to express themselves
  2. Essay topics such as "what do you think is great about this school?" invite nauseatingly suck-up writing - painful to generate, painful to edit
  3. College application time is emotionally fraught to begin with - putting yourself out there for acceptance or rejection - in this state hardcore editing to make a polished essay often leads to tears. I am tired of being the enforcer for other people's stupid rules and making my children cry. Tired, tired, tired.
  4. Why do different colleges have similar essay topics with vastly different word count requirements - it's impossible to use anything over when the word count goes down to 25% of the original, or do you really want to go under the word count by 75% if you try to share the essay that way?
  5. How the heck are they actually using these essays to make judgements anyway? If they're looking for that "stand out" essay, not everybody is a wild extrovert (see reason #1 for a similar concept)
  6. No matter how much time you put into essays there's some sort of guideline someplace that says you should have put in more time. There's only so much pushing for get it done early so we can edit, edit,edit...yuck
  7. Really, being able to hit submit and say done is worth a lot. How many revisions can you stand?
  8. Did I mention that not everybody is passionate about writing? Let's have everybody submit an imaginative solution to a geometric brain teaser with explanatory illustrations. Seem a little unfair to the non-math types? Logical thinking and proof construction seems like a reasonable thing to ask to me and HSS would blow the competition out of the water.
  9. Eight applications is not excessive with two safety, two reach and four that seem like a good shot. Close to fifteen finely crafted and well polished essays is excessive.
  10. By not getting together and coming up with a reasonable number of common essays like the Common App these schools are playing some sort of ego-trip, how-much-do-you-love-me game because you have to spend more time on some essays than others. It's hard not to get pissed at the schools with the most off-the-wall essay requirements

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Subsumed




Reflecting, now become – image is pure

All lake-ness overwhelmed by bigger sky

As water’s color, spirit is obscured

Grey feelings show azure, cloud accents high



And joyful days when storms come rolling by -

Show bitter, fiercely grey to others, though

Deep water, massive, rests in many an eye

Lone swimmers diving through are all who’d know



But eyes tight shut, still unseen, soul’s subsumed

Faint rippling texture hints, spirits persist

Reflecting petty feelings now entombed

Defined by monoliths we dwell amidst



Though wishing I could steer what others see

How, hidden by illusion, I’m set free

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Second Acceptance

Good dog!
Got an acceptance letter from UMBC today. Not sure if this is the best fit for HSS since there's no electrical engineering or civil engineering, but they've got lots of student supports and I think the CWIT program sounds pretty awesome.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting close now

Yes, that is a dog butt in the lower right corner
So on this 9-80 Friday I pretty much did nothing. I know I should be getting ready for Christmas, but I'm procrastinating. I've actually made a big dent in my list post from a few weeks ago:

  • Company Party - big on obligation, small on fun
  • BSO holiday concert with 2 kids
  • Visit (with interview) to Stevens Institute in Hoboken
  • Two hockey games in one day (one played, one viewed) in Hershey PA
  • Christmas shopping, and since they closed Daedalus at Belvedere I'm going to have to figure out something new - blah
  • Heading up the Adopt-a-family drive for House of Ruth at work
    • Counting/sorting gifts
    • Spending cash donations on un-claimed gifts
    • Taking gifts to House of Ruth
  • Financial Aid meeting at the High School - bailed on that one having done the online course
  • Hockey Holiday party
  • Some sort of birthday celebration for msk  - we did a family dinner at TGIFridays and he was OK with that
  • Christmas tree and house decorations - see picture above
  • Shopping for the massive holiday buffet party at our house
  • Making a dish to share for work -  thinking about bailing on this as well...
  • Mailing gifts to out-of-town relatives
  • More harping on college essays and submitting remaining applications - on going, but down to 3 now
  • Final report and submittal of 2011 Cookie sale


I thought about presents, but couldn't commit to shopping vs. Amazon. The hockey party is tomorrow. I really should get some packages mailed. It was lazy, but today I took a break. Breaks = boring posts. Sorry.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another tough day

Nobody's happy to watch a child suffer
Sometimes (maybe most times) it's one of my "neurotypical" kids that drives me up to the brink. That's where both my husband I were teetering last night. As a result, today I feel washed out and stretched thin. I think I need to read my own response (paraphrased below as it has seemed to disappear from Facebook) to a parent who was frustrated and vented last week. Her son was going through a rough patch and she was saying what a bad parent she was. I commented:

"You know, I think most of our kid's qualities are how they are wired rather than how we guide or lead them. They make their own choices and live with the consequences. Some times you need to just sit back and look at an old picture and remember how much you love them. That's really what we are there for - unconditional love. There are some jobs you just can't quit. Being a mom is one of them."

You know the thing about advice? It truly is much better to give then receive.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#AutismPride

So yesterday, while moaning, I promised a more cheery post today - here goes.

Hard to miss the joy in this picture of an autistic kid, eh?
 Among the autism tweeps I follow, #AutsimPride was trending, with 140 character snippets about how people with autism are not a tragedy, but are pretty inspiring. Here's my own tweet:
  • My son has the most independent mind & best smile. He is brilliant and honest. He's taught me so much about patience & empathy #autismpride
A little background. On December 6th, a court in Colorado found that a mom, who murdered her autistic infant son, would not stand trial for murder. You can read more here. Infanticide of autistic kids is not that uncommon of an event. The tragedy triggered one of the aut-rent bloggers that I follow to to post this and call for everyone who was also appalled to "Vanquish the forces of autism evil! Declare your #AutismPride" The basic concept is not to deny that autism can be a big challenge, but to be vocal about the up-sides as well. We need to be vocal to counter the popular perception of "the tragedy of autism". That popular perception kills people, as it did in Colorado.

I think it's hard not to get caught up in our personal problems. Heck, yesterday's post was one giant whine-fest. That does not mean my life, or my son, is a tragedy. He brings me joy and I am proud of him. Did I tell you he made the Honor Roll first quarter? But I'll go a step further - I am not proud of him in spite of his autism, I am proud of him as a whole, including his autism. If I list the things about him that bring me pride, you'll see how autism is integral to them:
  • He is genuine every minute of every day - he doesn't have the ability to put on a show that isn't honest
  • He can access almost anything he's seen or heard his entire life
  • He sees things as they really are, not how we're supposed to see them, and this helps me understand
  • He lives in the moment - he remembers the past but he doesn't regret or hold grudges.
  • He never gets frustrated when people misjudge or underestimate him - he truly doesn't care
  • He likes people, but he is content to be by himself - I never worry about keeping him entertained
  • He's very smart - he taught himself to read, caught up academically after a placement that had no academics, he really gets the abstraction that is math even though his language is very limited
Autism is not a tragedy. Ignorance is the tragedy.




Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Off the wagon

If ever there was a post that deserved the TL;DR response, this would be it. Sorry - I just feel like venting a bit.


I had been doing so good at posting in this month after NaBloPoMo, but clearly after taking three days off I'm starting to slip. Let me tell you about the day that led me to take a blogging break.

Saturday was an all hockey all day occasion. It started with the usual Special Hockey practice from 9:45 to 10:45 with a 40 minute drive to get there and 15 minutes worth of gear application before starting. I know I've posted before how much I love Special Hockey - the tremendous amount of volunteer support, the true joy in even the most minor victories, the time I get to network with other parents dealing with similar challenges. This practice felt more frustrating for me. Msk skates so well, but he just doesn't get the concept of working in a team or even wanting to be in the middle of a crowd. These are such basic concepts that relate to so much in life. At the moment I'm seeing no progress, and it bums me out.

After practice there was a game in Hershey PA at 2:30, followed by tickets to a 7:00 game with the Hershey Bears. Given the drive time there was basically just time for lunch. We had lunch at a fast food joint with a play place. Sometimes I wonder if msk will ever come to grips with the idea that even if he likes climbing and sliding, he is labeled as too big to play in these places. He didn't melt down, but he obsessively repeated the conversation we had about him being too big. I know he wouldn't break anything or hurt any of the little kids, but he has a hard enough time with rules without me doing any flip-flopping. His sorrow was infectious.

After lunch, I drove with another special needs parent and his son. The company was a life-saver, because that much car time with msk all by myself (40min to practice, 3:40 round trip to Hershey, for a total of about 4.5 hours) can be a bit much. He can get stuck on an echolalic pattern and work himself into a frenzy and although the best thing to do is ignore him that's hard when I'm not allowed to turn the radio on. With company and interaction we both did a lot better.

On the other hand, the conversation turned to our growing kids and the challenge to get a decent education out of the school system for kids with very significant disabilities. Because I'm looking towards msk's next placement, horror stories about other City Schools increase my anxiety level. The story I heard was very horrific, but it's not my story, so I won't tell it here.

At the hockey game in Hershey msk was totally disengaged. I don't think he hit the puck once and he was never in the action. That coupled with a statement about him inappropriately touching a female team member (which I'm not 100% sure of and there's no way he'll defend himself if it is false), and I felt like crying through the whole game.

Between his game and the Bear's game we went to the park. Nothing horrible happened, but a simple spur of the moment jaunt to an amusement park is so much more complicated with two special need kids in tow. Usually, I get a charge from how much msk loves rides, but the cold, number of rides closed and the ratio of line time to ride time all came together to make me grumpy.

After the cold of the park, sitting in the warmth of the Hershey Bear's game was nice. Unfortunately, I could barely get msk to glance at the game. I don't think he saw any connection from what he did see to his own performance on a hockey team. He spent the majority of the time we watched the game playing on his new iPod or watching lights and numbers on the jumbotron hanging over the rink.

It was way past msk's bedtime and pretty close to my own bedtime when we got home. I think it was 10:30 or 10:45.

Tomorrow's post will be back on the positive side. Sorry.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Parent portal 1st impressions

different school system, same portal
After a call to the help desk and several hours of waiting, my Parent Portal account is now working. I didn't do anything wrong. There's what strikes me as a pretty big bug in the system (but I was told it would be fixed very soon). You have to enter all your kids when you first log into the system. If one teacher, or school, is more swift on giving you the access numbers you need wait for the slower party. There is no way to enter an additional child once you have created your account without a call into the North Ave. IT help desk. This warning is probably too late, but there you have it. And if you don't work by a phone that you can sit on hold on... oh well.

So, now, nearly half way into the school year I can see all sort of grades on line. 

Some pluses and minuses that strike me right off the bat:
+ This should mean no report card or status report comes as a surprise. 
- It seems like I'm going to be micro-managing how swiftly teachers use this online tool. So far there seem to be very few posted assignments, so the idea of keeping up with homework before a bad grade shows up isn't going to happen. These updates every two weeks? I guess we'll see. If I see a teacher not using this tool can I give them the same level of grief they give students who don't follow rules? And who would I tell, or is it just going to be another source of friction at meetings? This is worse case, but theoretically, I can see problems.
+ It's nice to know all sorts of information, for example, didn't that absence excuse get turned in? I know I wrote it.
- The interface seems needlessly complex, but I can work through it. I'm not sure what percentage of parents can.

That's all I've got for now - I'll keep you posted as the year goes on.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

1st acceptance


So, first acceptance email was received today! I'm pretty sure Drexel is the only rolling admission university that HSS is applying to, so it will probably be months before any more decisions are heard. Still, knowing that there is one school, which seemed pretty good, that wants HSS to attend is very reassuring.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why does the word help come before desk?

Do you want to know my vision of hell? Pleading for help from people who either don't know how or can't help me, while being stuck on hold for indeterminate amounts of time, followed by answering tons of questions that are asked before I am transfered to someone else who (after another period of hold music) ask me the same questions all over again. Plus, everything is much more complicated than it needs to be. I work in rocket science, and this junk is not rocket science.


At work I believe we have the world's most complicated and annoying email program. It is an order of magnitude more annoying than iTunes, and that's saying a lot. The thing that kills me is that when I went on international travel I had to have a computer without this program installed. Ha! It would be a case of international sabotage if someone stole this program off my computer...but I digress.

Today, on my agenda is two separate help desk calls - one to work for the above mentioned email program, another to North Ave. for Parent Portal. Ugh! I actually have work that I'm supposed to be accomplishing, and neither of these calls will allow me to accomplish diddly-squat for who-know-how-long. And the hold music is Christmas carols.

Clearly, in a previous life I must have been a mass-murderer, to deserve this type of punishment.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thirteen years

Today is msk's  thirteenth birthday. His present is an iPod touch with a bunch of apps and music and pictures that I'm hoping he'll enjoy. He's had access to most of these on my iPod touch for quite a while, but I'm hoping that something that is his might get more use.

I also got him a pair of bluetooth headphones, because the wires on headphones are no match for msk, and I'm tired of trying to re-splice stereo-mini jacks.

I'm especially interested in how he takes to Sosh and Conversation Builder.

I'll keep you posted.

I know Dr. Seuss apps might seem strange for a 13 year old, but he seems to love the familiarity of younger books, even though he's reading just at about grade level.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Another Sunday's hike


It's hard to believe it's the 4th of December. It was a beautiful day for a walk in the park. This poem was from a much colder day. Even on the coldest days msk is drawn to play in the stream. He's taught me to be quiet and patient and to be in the moment - not rushing him to finish playing or bugging him about how he might lose his shoes if he lets them float downstream. The joy of having a pair of shoes that double as boats in a current.


Late November Hike

Clear water - high, swift flowing,
A splash like a knife, cruel and cutting

At this late fall, early winter juncture
The park’s soul is cold and spare – in hiding
Beyond hidden - transparent
Revealing skeletal trees, cold grey rocks

Visitors all too visible,
While residents have disappeared
No fish in the familiar eddy,
No sounds of birds or insects
Current's rush, wind through branches
Mask any subtle sounds

Final clinging leaves surrender –
Fluttering down to ride flows
Into rock jam clogs or 
Captured in swirling vortexes.
Nature’s seclusion is lost
As exposed hikers wander naked paths

Barely audible, his soliloquy warms me
I hunker down with my dog and wait
Until chill water, raw wind push the boy home
Then rushing to keep up, the return path.

Comfortably sitting in a warm, cluttered home,
Longing for the bleak simplicity of the frigid stream

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The pain, the pain

One of the things about msk's  speech is that it's almost like he's inventing a language built of the bits and pieces of things he's heard and strung together added with his own feels about words.

So, I thought I'd start a series of occasional posts on these phrases.

Your singing, it hurts my ears and my eyes


Ouch! I know my singing isn't great, but really, I was just a little off-key.

I can just feel him cringing and squinting in pain.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is it 14 days already?

...or what I did on my 9-80 Off Friday.

On my day off I drove for 3.5 hours up the enchanting I-95/NJ Turnpike route to New Jersey with HSS to tour and interview at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.


After getting lost for about 30 minutes (who knew Jersey City and Hoboken each had their own 9th St and there is no connection between the two), we made it to a beautiful campus.


With incredible views of the city.



Three hours later, with tour and interview completed, and with a sick child who was not up for any trouristing in the area, I got to drive another 3.5 hours back the now dark I-95 route.

When I started doing this every other Friday off thing I thought I'd be more rested and less rushed. Ha!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Naviance

Given that it's December 1st And I posted every day for the last 30 days should I take a break today? Nah!

Today's post continues on the topic of all the crap I'm learning helping my eldest (HSS) navigate through the college application process. One of the things that surprised me was that, outside of the massive poundage of mailings from colleges, there has been no paper involved in any of the eight college applications that are done or in progress.

When I say no paperwork, I'm including the parts of the application that HSS fills out, the transcripts that the high school sends out and the letters of recommendation that teachers submit as well. I have no idea if this is the way it has been for years or if this is something new. I know that last year there was all sorts of brouhaha about one school not sending out transcripts and parents and students being shocked and dismayed, so I'm guessing this is kind of new.

The two big tools that we've interacted with that make this "all on line" approach navigable, and actually fairly easy to negotiate, are the Common Application and Naviance. The Common App is driven by the colleges and seems to depend on a level of cooperation between the schools to have at least the main core of information requested be common. It makes sense and seven of the eight colleges being applied to accepted the Common App. The only exception was University of Maryland at College Park and I suppose when you're as big as they are plus have as high rankings as they do, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Even so, their application was on line, so even though it meant duplicating a lot of entry work, all of the applications were completed on line.

The other tool, Naviance, is less obvious to me. What I've seen of it (actually HSS has the password and does all the Naviance navigation, so really I should say what I've heard of it) has all been about picking schools to apply to, requesting transcripts and recommendations, and checking status of transcripts and recommendations. For someone like me, who tends to worry a bit too much, the fact that HSS can check status of these things is wonderful.

When I called a college to check on a visit/interview appointment (I would have had HSS do it, but there's school during normal office hours and no email had come through yet), I asked about the status of HSS's application, and that "according to some sort of on-line thing the school uses everything should be OK.". The counselor said, "Oh, you mean Naviance? That's what everybody uses." It struck me that a little web investigation might be interesting.

So, I guess Naviance does much more than track college application status. There's all sorts of stuff about plans and data and engaging parents. News to me. Then I checked their "In the news" section and found the title "Baltimore City Public Schools Selects Naviance to Empower 23,000 Urban Maryland Students to Become College and Career Ready" with a story dated September 22, 2011. Sounds cool to me, but I wouldn't have minded hearing something about it and what exactly the vision is for usage.

I suppose the concept is that in high school this is more of an issue to be communicated with students than with parents. I would have been interested, and I actually still am. Is this tool in use in all high schools in the city? Is it being used to "unite students, families, teachers, counselors and administrators in a collaborative partnership to promote, measure and improve college and career readiness"? Beyond just tracking college applications?

Don't get me wrong, I am totally grateful to be able to track college applications, but it seems like Naviance is about a bunch more and I wonder if there's something I'm supposed to be doing with it that I'm not because I've gotten no information. Especially in terms of my kids that are not high school seniors yet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaBloPoMo done


What does this picture have to do with this post? It's about reflections and I'm reflecting on lessons learned from NaBloPoMo, get it? Psych! Really, it's just a cool picture I drew and felt like sharing.
 Lessons learned:
  • With 30 posts in 30 days I win at NaBloPoMo!
  • I can write under pressure
  • I feel that the quality of my writing improved over the course of a month
  • I got lots more traffic on my blog
  • I had very few extended discussions over the course of a month
  • Although one commenter seemed to be offended by a negative post, when I posted the positive flip side of the issue, twice actually, I got no responses at all
So going forward:
  • I know I can post every day, but I'm not sure I want to
  • I really wish I could get some dialog going, but I have no idea how to do that
  • I win at NaBloPoMo!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More teacher shout-outs

39 years ago I was in a BCPSS school

The day before Thanksgiving, on this post, I listed some teachers I was thankful for. They were all teachers that my kids have had, so 20 years ago or less.

This is a list of my teachers that I am thankful for. These are teachers from about 30 - 40 years ago. I might not remember all their names at this point, but I remember the way they changed my life.
  • My 11th grade History of Political Thought teacher, who taught me that political discussions are passionate, personal and enjoyable, even if they are about the thoughts of people who have been dead for hundreds or thousands of years; and this type of discussion uses your whole mind like nothing else I know of
  • My High School Chemistry teacher (Chem I and Chem II), who taught me how great a real science class with real labs could be, which was a defining moment on my path to become an engineer and work in a lab
  • My Jr. High counselor, who thought I was smart enough to skip a grade which turned around my own concept of my academic abilities
  • My piano teacher (1st - 6th grade), who opened my ears to the beauty of dissonance and "modern music" (whatever that means)
  • My parents, who always had lots of books for me to look at or read, and who never discouraged me from buying a book (usually providing the money) even if was something they thought was junk
  • All four of my high school English teachers, who taught me to write by making me write about what I read, and always encouraged a well reasoned argument, even if it didn't match their analysis

Monday, November 28, 2011

A massive to-do list




I could probably come up with some sort of clever joke or something to go with this incredibly hectic time of year, but I'm just going to throw down a bullet list and be done with it.





What I need to get done before December 25th, in no particular order:
  • Company Party - big on obligation, small on fun
  • BSO holiday concert with 2 kids
  • Visit (with interview) to Stevens Institute in Hoboken
  • Two hockey games in one day (one played, one viewed) in Hershey PA
  • Christmas shopping, and since they closed Daedalus at Belvedere I'm going to have to figure out something new - blah
  • Heading up the Adopt-a-family drive for House of Ruth at work
    • Counting/sorting gifts
    • Spending cash donations on un-claimed gifts
    • Taking gifts to House of Ruth
  • Financial Aid meeting at the High School
  • Hockey Holiday party
  • Some sort of birthday celebration for msk
  • Christmas tree and house decorations
  • Shopping for the massive holiday buffet party at our house
  • Making a dish to share for work
  • Mailing gifts to out-of-town relatives
  • More harping on college essays and submitting remaining applications
  • Final report and submittal of 2011 Cookie sale

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How many more essays?

image stolen from this blog. Clever, no?
A goal I had for this four day weekend was for HSS to finish up all the college essays still needed. In hindsight this was overly optimistic.

Sigh...taking a deep breath and getting back on task...

One tool that I think is worth the money is College Essay Organizer. I guess if you don't apply to too many schools, or if their essay requirements aren't to varied, a spreadsheet would work, but the nice thing about this website is that it pulls essay requirements together to let you submit the same essay, or at least a similar essay to multiple schools.

What HSS's  road-map says is still needed:

  • Your intellectual interests and -
    • how college B's academic program will cultivate 
    • how you decided on your planned major at college C 
    • what interests you in your planned major
    • what beyond you planned major are you interested in
  • What unique aspect of college D attracted you to apply
  • A challenge that you faced a persevered through
  • Three things college E should know about you that you haven't covered

I'm hoping we might get through all four that are tied to intellectual interests, but that means a lot of drafts, proof-reading and polishing is on the agenda for today. HSS is not a lover of writing, so this process can be pretty unpleasant.

This brings me to the point I'd like to express in this post, if there is a point beyond just writing what's on the agenda for today that relates to the kind of topics I usually post on this blog. I understand that being able to express yourself and communicate ideas is essential to critical thinking, but is it fair that so much time and effort in college applications is tied up in essays? I think essays are going to take up 95% of the time spent on filling out college applications. I think essays will take even more time then it took to decide on what colleges to apply to and to visit more than half of them. Yes, I'm talking days and days of essay writing.

Shouldn't there be other skills that get individually highlighted? If math is your thing, shouldn't there be a way to emphasize that, beyond SAT scores and writing an essay about it? Don't get me wrong - obviously I enjoy writing or I wouldn't be doing one of these posts every day, but I think writing about non-writing interests still gets judged primarily on how good of a writer you are.

Is that meta enough for you?


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Continuing the dialogue

I read a thought provoking post about perceptions and City Schools. I posted a few comments, but it seemed that the discussion was becoming about a specific school (Margret Brent, picture to the left), as opposed to something more general about City Schools. I don't know enough about Margret Brent to keep that discussion going, so I stopped commenting there.

The discussion I'd like to hit on with this post is more general. How do you balance the fact that City Schools have some very real problems with an exaggerated perception by many that sending your kids to Baltimore's public schools is child abuse, at least if you can find any alternative? The schools have faltered and made progress, but that perception has remained. Look at this post from the City Paper from 2000 that sounds like it could be from today.

I'm not sure what the answer is. I personally try to spread the word about the educational experiences my kids have had and are having. I talk about my own education - 100% BCPSS K-12. I really do feel like there are some incredible stories to be told.

On the other hand, the things that I see in statewide competitions, that point out the financial disparity between Baltimore City and say Montgomery County, make me feel ill. It takes money to support a robotics team, or a science fair project, or even a chess team. You can make up for a certain lack of money with passion, but passion won't buy bus transportation or a set of tools.

I feel that there needs to be equity on school funding, but I don't want people to think my decision to send my kids to under-funded schools is deluded or some sort of sacrifice to a political goal. It's a choice we've made for the last 13 years, and I think it's the right one.

I'd love to spark a discussion in the comment section to this post. How can we demand better funding without looking pitiful?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hosting holidays at home

yum... cheese doodles

On yesterday's Thanksgiving post I mentioned that we always do Thanksgiving at our home. This isn't because I have Martha Stewart ambitions, although I do enjoy hanging with the relatively small group that comes over for Thanksgiving (9 this year, never more then 12). Msk's stress level is the main motivation for keeping Thanksgiving at our house, as well as Christmas, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and whatever other party comes up.

Both my husband and I come from Baltimore and the majority of our siblings and parents remain in the area, so we always have a good size group come over. There are other houses close by, but we always volunteer, and after a few years, others stopped offering to host the parties. I'm not complaining; it's become part of our family's definition of home. I've come to love getting the house together the day before and being able to enjoy company without worrying about msk.

When msk was little, and we were still making the party circuit, it was incredibly hard to keep him out of areas he should stay out of. I'm not sure he was exploring as much as he was trying to get a little time on his own. I had all sorts of toys that I brought with us and didn't mind that it turned out that 75% of my time was spent focused on msk instead of socializing at the party. Even so, msk ended up being very grumpy and ready to go home much before the end of the event. Honestly, I was pretty grumpy by that point myself.

It's been a continuing evolution to come up with what is our formula for a successful and sociable party even though msk is anything but a party animal. Here's what we do:

  • The second floor is always open to msk (and our family) alone and gives him a place to escape to
  • Eating schedules are fluid with trays of snacks as well as meals with no rules about what to eat or when
  • The sit-down meal (if we have one, since Christmas is always a continuous buffet) is focused on adults, and no one from the younger generation has to stay at the table or listen to the politics and endless yacking. Too many words can really rub msk the wrong way.
  • We minimize mandatory social interactions - I ask msk to come down and say hi when people who really want to see him arrive, but after hello, how long he wants to chit-chat is up to him. Fielding two questions is about as much has he can handle. 
  • If it works out, b-d tries to either come to the party or take msk out for a couple of hours before or during the party
  • Parties can go to the wee hours of the night, but msk's bedtime schedule remains about the same. This can mean that he's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed way before I'm up for much, but it makes him happy to know that he can count on at least that part of his routine

now there's a Christmas sweater!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

So stuffed...

I would write something thoughtful about Thanksgiving and gratitude, but I'm too stuffed.

How about some pictures instead?

The table set for 9 - Thanksgiving at our place, as always.
before

a pie with paintings

after
Flan & pomegranate
 Tomorrow, when I have digested all these calories, I'll be capable of posting something more substantial.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for...

Google says Happy Thanksgiving!
I mentioned in a comment to this post that "I’m continually amazed at the number of extraordinary teachers that we've had in very difficult situations." 

So, on this day before Thanksgiving, I thought I'd post a bullet list of some of those extraordinary teachers and the things they've done that stand out in my mind.

In no particular order these are some teachers that I'm thankful for:

  • The preschool teacher who helped us get started towards a diagnosis so gently that we didn't flip out and who never considered asking us to find a different place for msk even though he required lots of extra support
  • The math teacher who immediately recognized genius in different thinking patterns and let a quirky and previously bullied kid immediately start to bloom with strategically placed praise
  • The AP teacher who taught an incredibly challenging course with such enthusiasm that even when getting a C in the class there was no discouragement and in the end there was a 5 on the test and a lesson about hard work paying off that will never be forgotten
  • The teacher who was skeptical about inclusion of severely disabled, but open minded enough to really try, and by the middle of the year, brave enough to admit a change of heart and start to proselytize about how all students in an inclusion class benefit
  • The teacher who emailed me as soon as a student's grades started showing the effects of disorganization vs what they were capable of and took the time to support the student and keep me posted. When I said how grateful I was the response was that it was nothing special, just what teachers do
I could go on, but I'm taking Personal Time Off (PTO) today to try to do massive house cleaning, along with attending a meeting at one school and drop-off/pick-up at another.

In the credit where credit is due department - this post was written in response to the question of Thankful on the SPSOC blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Finances

A while back I said I'd post about what I found out from the online financial aid seminar that I attended.  Being totally honest, the main thing I figured out was that, even though I know it's important, I find finances and all the terminology of college aid bewildering and incredibly boring. I suppose your mind needs to be cut out for one type of task or another. My mind is good with quantitative stuff, but you add in business mumbo-jumbo and I start to tune out.

Nonetheless, I know I bear the responsibility for this part of the college application process. HSS really has had no experience with money, so although we will be talking about financial aid awards when they come through, I'm in charge of filling in these forms, finding scholarship info, and presenting it all in a form that HSS can understand in order to be able to compare different schools.


a straight-forward flowchart
I like this figure. It all seems pretty understandable with some icons, terminology and steps laid out as a simple flow chart. So far, all I've done is an estimated FAFSA and applied for a PIN to allow me to enter the real data once I get 2011's W2 form.

But all the terminology... take a look at all the terms on the right that go with the flowchart.

Some take-aways that were news to me:
  1. Loans programs are different if they are loans for the student vs. loans for the parent. I plan on supporting a lot (maybe most) of HSS's college expenses, but some part will be student loan and earnings from summer/co-op jobs.
  2. The relative book costs between two colleges has little to do with what the final EFC (if I'm going to learn new vocabulary, I need to start using it - look at the list to the right again). More expensive colleges might have more money for aid; less selective schools might be more motivated to draw in high performing students.
  3. The massive number of scholarships around take lots of research to find. Most are pretty small chunks of money, but taken as a whole they should help out a fair amount. This task might be something to start over winter break.
  4. Government college loans programs for parents are going to look at your credit rating. The advantage of borrowing against your savings (401K or home equity etc), is mainly qualification and ease. The advantage of the government loans is better rates, since they are subsidized.
I see work in my future, but I'm putting it off for a while.

Here are some links that I think might be helpful:

Monday, November 21, 2011

And another thing...

My fellow Bmore Ed NaBloPoMo blogger, @BmoreSchools, posted the same video I'm showing below on  this post on her blog. I wrote one comment, and was about to fire off another, when I thought that maybe I could get a post out of the comment, and at day 21 of NaBloPoMo, I'm looking for post topics to keep me going.


This post is going to focus on a short part of this 8 minute video - from about the 7 minute mark to just shy of the 8 minute mark. John Stewart makes a joke about how it's wrong to pick on bad teachers when the working world is filled with crappy employees (he cites how incompetent fast food restaurant workers can be) and Diane Ravitch responds with an anecdote about how a principal stated that in her 15 years supervising 300 teachers, she only had one bad teacher, who she fired. Her point being that the number of bad teachers is so minuscule that it has nothing to do with education problems.

First, I understand that John Stewart was making a joke, and I do in fact have a sense of humor. I realize that a serious rebuttal to a joking statement can make you seem like an ass, but I'm going to try anyway. If I go to a fast food restaurant and have a totally incompetent server, I have lots of options, most of which I can do right away and have very little negative impact beyond the cost of the meal in question, and my blood pressure rise if I really get steamy about it. I can talk to the manager. I can avoid this specific server if I ever see them again. I can avoid a specific location of the chain. I can boycott the whole chain. I can write a letter to corporate management. Again, there are no big long-term problems with any of these approaches.

I'm going to say here in BIG LETTERS - this is a theoretical discussion based on years of different schools and talking to different parents. THIS IS NOT about a specific situation that I am going through in a school we are now attending.

Let's contrast the fast food problem with a horrible situation with one teacher. A parent probably won't figure this out for a while in the school year. At that point, there are most likely other teachers and classes that are going well. Pulling a kid out of a school for bullying might be able to be done quickly, but for a poor teacher? Not so much. You're lucky if it can happen in a year, and at that point the teacher is in your kid's past, so why bother? In a fast food restaurant, the management is often willing to come up with something to make the customer happy, not so much the administration in schools. If several parents come together and cite a problem, it seems to make administrators more defensive. I think the political ramifications of throwing a fit while leaving your kid in the same classroom is pretty obvious. These are worst case situations, but even  scaled down you can see why, for parents, a bad teacher has bigger ramifications then a bad fast food server.

The idea of 1 in 300 sounds nice. It's not my experience. I'm not saying that training and support couldn't bring the numbers down to that level, but as a customer, that's not my concern or business. In my job we have performance reviews, counseling, moving people to positions where they can do less harm, pushing people to quit, out and out firing as options, and I've seen all happen. It's scary and unpleasant, but some people need to go, or at least be isolated so they don't screw everything up.

I'm not saying that poor teachers are the biggest problem in education. Compared with collapsing buildings, kids living in poverty, and underfunded school systems, it's probably a distant fourth. On the other hand, it's the one direct interaction with the system that happens every school day. With a job as important as teaching, that impacts kids so directly, we need to acknowledge that bad teachers do exist and cause real problems.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A rough start

While I was playing with robots yesterday, msk had a long and very fun day with b-d. That was great, but long, exciting days, followed by late bedtimes seem to lead to rough mornings. Today was no exception.

Rough days are obsessive and tend towards explosions when I try to redirect. Today's grocery trip was tense with lots of echolalic speech. Then it was computer games that msk couldn't win, but couldn't walk away from. General grumpiness and fussing with his siblings...we were stuck.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful and we were able to take the dog for a decent length walk in the park. The park just beyond our backyard is always a place for finding peace for msk, even though it smells of sewage and has trash on the banks of the stream from gutters and storm drains.

A sonnet from a different day's hike.


I

White racket, roiling water draws my mind
Transported neither here nor now, attend
Past images – choice, chance – that lie behind
See future paths achieve idyllic end

Though envied, simple lives are not our way
While focus on the now, fruition decrees
To worry, ruefulness, hold vigor at bay
Then sewage’s tang conveys, awakens, frees

Must watch my step ‘round trash on wobbling stone
He splashes, I observe, removed, on guard
Nudge sand, a glim’ring gem – drift glass is shown
Blue essence, stream has polished from a shard

By focus on detritus, treasures reveal’
Unseen when sight is drawn to dreams’ appeal


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday



I'd like to say "Wordless Wednesday", but it's Saturday and I'm writing at least a few words. After waking up at 0-dark hundred hours and having a "hurry up and wait" type day, I am just too tired for much more than a picture/video posting today.


 If you comment saying you like the cape below I'll blush. I made up the pattern and stitched it up myself : D


Friday, November 18, 2011

A question

If I write about how much I enjoyed talking to most of the people on my kids' CST/IEP/504 teams, with one exception, does that mean I'm teacher bashing? It seems as if saying anything bad about any teacher, labels me as one of those legions of bad people who don't understand how hard it is to be a teacher. From my perspective, I think that saying some small number of teachers are just not currently doing a very good job,  reinforces the idea that being a good teacher is hard work. Some people need more training, or more support, or maybe just aren't cut out for the job. I'm not talking about new teachers that are a little unsure. Maybe their first few years aren't their strongest, but you can see that they want to do better, and that they are trying. I'm OK with that. I'm talking about not listening, being inflexible, and thinking that the S in Child Support Team stands for something mysterious and has to do with someone else.

I try to focus on how helpful and understanding >95% of the people were. Even if they had issues or problems with a kid, they could listen and brainstorm about how we could change something to make things work better. I was willing to make a commitment for what I would do, where I could pitch in, and it felt like that was appreciated and reciprocated. And the student, too, was drawn in and contributing. With these folks, we really were forming a team. I truly am grateful for that, but I keep on getting drawn back to frustration with that <5%.

I am not a teacher hater or basher. I truly appreciate that that being a competent teacher is a hard job. I don't expect every teacher to be teacher of the year.  I just don't accept the idea that every teacher is succeeding at their job.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shoshin

Open to the possibilities of a rainy day.
There seem to be times in my life when I get completely buried in the day to day. Then, as I as I shake free of the fog and look up, the same message appears everywhere. I'm not a spiritual person, I just think there are times when a part of you knows you need to learn something, and in case you try to ignore this need, you see the message wherever you look. I know I've posted on this synchronicity at least once.

The message of the moment is shoshin, of having a "beginner's mind", to feel a sense of openness, eagerness and lack of pre-conceptions.

I felt the first glimmer of needing to change when I was drawn to this ABC story about Gabriel Giffords' recovery from a trumatic brain injury. Even though I pretty much never watch these types of "News Specials", I was mesmerized by her efforts and triumphs, and most especially by how, though she acknowledged the pain of others' deaths, she had no bitterness about her own torturous journey.

Then, this morning, I was trying to think of a quick post, just to keep up with my daily post comitment. I was feeling tapped out. I opened twitter and followed the link to this post, and the idea of shoshin was dropped in my lap. I stared at the message of rejecting the concept of failure and instead of allowing yourself to be in a place where you are able to learn. Then I scanned my fellow Bmore bloggers and in Epiphany in Baltimore's post the Zen Koan, "when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear" hit me. I need to be ready. Finally, this post from the Special Olymics, about about how we can learn, from both Giffords and special olympians, to focus on the need to get better, sealed it. I see a path opening before me. The challenges that are coming up (foremost in my mind is college for HSS, a high school transition for msk, a changing job definition and the continuing frustration of dealing with a brilliant kid who has no connection to the reality of mundane obligations like homework...oops - still too frustrated to talk about that) require an open mind.

This school year has felt like trudging through slowly thickening mud. There was the brief flicker of excitement with picking up school supplies, but that feeling vanished almost before it started. I had thought how relaxing it would be to have not a single child transitioning to a new school; instead it just made me feel jaded. I've been counting down years until my elder two kids were done with City Schools. I've been thinking that if msk transitions to an autism specific school that would mean that in a lot of ways he would be done as well. I've been focusing on a feeling of having served my time. Reviewing this, I know I am ready for a change, like a breath of fresh air.

So, starting today, I work to free my mind of cynicism. I open my eyes to the fact that I need to learn in order to better serve those who count on me, whether at home, in schools, or at work. I wash away resentments and start with a clean slate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hands

This post was triggered by "Quiet Hands", an incredibly moving post on Just Stimming by Julia Bascom

Hand-over-hand "guidance"
I realize that almost all child-rearing is a balance between a kid's comfort zone and the pain of stretching and growing. I believe that finding the balance of growth and safety is always hard, but it is even harder when you're working with a kid like msk, one who doesn't have the words to push back when you force a stretch that is just too painful.

We've made choices about msk's activities (therapy in behavior analysis speak) that probably put us on the coddling side as compared to some "Autism Warrior Mothers" ala Jenny McCarthy. Even though I have big issues with her approach and statements, I've got to admit that sometimes I feel guilty about not pushing msk harder, not attacking some of his autistic tendencies that hold him back, even if doing so makes him seem frustrated and overwhelmed.

We never got on the ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) bandwagon, partly because we didn't have the insurance coverage at the time for the massively expensive endeavour, partially because we have two other kids and a job and responsibilities that make the kind of time/energy commitment seem too hard, and partially because ABA just felt too coercive, or at least manipulative. It's exactly the kind of control and "guidance" that makes msk flip out. Still, when I see how hard some things are for msk, when I worry about what level of independence he will be able to achieve, I wonder if we should have tried harder to get msk into some sort of ABA program. The guilt usually comes after reading a quote like this - "ABA is widely recognized as the single most effective treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder and the only treatment shown to lead to substantial, lasting improvements in the lives of individuals with autism."
msk won't tolerate hand-over-hand, but hand pictures are OK

By chance I came across this post by an autistic adult. She writes movingly about the pain of being forced to have "quiet hands", of the suffering involved in coercive ABA therapies. It made me feel more sure of our choices.

I'm sure it's different for different individuals, and in no way am I saying that a choice to pursue ABA is a bad choice. I'm just saying that self-determination, even if you're on the severe end of the autism spectrum, is important.

It's something I need to keep thinking about as msk  becomes a teen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Not good

The last 24 hours or so have been very frustrating. In an effort to keep from saying something that I will regret, I'm going to keep this post very short.

I have a picture that I drew that sums it all up.

A quick Visio diagram gets to the heart of the pointlessness of my existence
I've been doing this all for way too long and I'm ready for something that is less frustrating. Tonight I will try a new approach with a positive attitude and a smile. Right now though, I'm just ready to admit defeat and quit trying.

Monday, November 14, 2011

And you may find yourself...

cover from Ladies of the Canyon
Yesterday, initial plans for Child #2's summer came up. It's very early and all, I was just trying to figure out what has to come before what, with the idea being that she might be doing some lab stuff for a research project. I was talking to the woman that schedules a week long service project where she would be working on fixing housing for rural people in need. And this is her final summer at CTY before she ages out. It's all very exciting, actually.

Then I said something about, "We always go to the cabin for a week in August before school starts." Every summer, in the woods for a week or two with no TV and no Internet. This summer it was relaxed to the point that I didn't even post about it (but I did post last summer).

To which she responded, "Don't forget all that shopping for dorm stuff, and there will probably be some sort of orientation. And some colleges start really early."

Ooofff! It hit me like a sucker-punch to the gut. You'd think that working on applications with HSS would have made this seem obvious, but somehow I hadn't thought of it. This summer is not going to be what we always do. This summer is going to be all weird and scary and exciting.

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone...

lyrics from Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell


Please check out my fellow Bmore Ed NaBloPoMo Crew:
Epiphany in Baltimore
BmoreSchools
Maryland Math Madness
and The Smallest Twine