Monday, January 20, 2014

Kindergarten Transition

It's only January, but it's time for us to start planning for Anthony's transition to kindergarten. It seems unreal, but in 8 short months he'll be entering the brave new world of Portland Public Schools.
Going places

Most parents with a child entering kindergarten in the fall start making plans around this time of year. This month and next is "Kindergarten Roundup" time. These are special evenings when parents of prospective students can visit a school, meet the teachers and principal, and find out more about the school. Since Anthony will be getting special education services, we need to have a few more meetings and make a few more plans than usual. Another wrinkle that complicates matters is that we're pretty sure we don't want Anthony to go to our neighborhood public school. Because of that, we need to begin the process of transferring to another school now. And there's no guarantee that he'll get in where we want.

Why don't we want Anthony to go to our neighborhood school? This is a tough one. How will an under-performing school ever improve if all the involved parents transfer somewhere else? That's always what I've thought. But here we are doing it ourselves. Hypocritical? Yes. But there's more to it than the school not having the best test scores. Our neighborhood school has a fantastic special education program. Everyone is unanimous in their opinion that it is one of the best, if not THE best in the whole Portland Public Schools system. The special education teacher is amazing, the program has the latest technology, and kids who have been in the program have made wonderful strides. Sounds great, right? So why aren't we going there?

The fantastic special education program at our neighborhood school is located in a separate classroom away from the other kids, and there's very little interaction between the kids in special ed and those in general ed. It should be pretty clear to anyone who knows us that we believe Anthony should be included with his typical peers in all aspects of our family and community life. And we want him to go to school with his typical peers. He's been doing great in a typical daycare and preschool for 5 years. We never considered sending him to special ed preschool, even when he became eligible for it at age 3. Years of research consistently shows that kids with disabilities who are included in general education classrooms do better both academically and socially than those placed in segregated settings. But it's important that the inclusion process is done right, and that everything possible is done to support the learner in that general ed classroom, or else it won't work (and then everyone will say, "See-- inclusion doesn't work for everyone.").

Why not the general ed classroom at our neighborhood school? Because the special ed program is so good and respected, we believe there will be less acceptance of Anthony being included in general ed there. In other words, we worry the administration's attitude will be, Why have him in general ed when he can receive extra help at this awesome program we have right here? That's not the philosophy we want to be faced with. A lot of this is speculation on our part, but a lot of it is based on talking to people directly involved with the school.

Our house is located an equal distance from two public schools, and we're going to apply for a transfer to the one that's nearby, but not our home school. We know at least four families with kids who will be starting kindergarten at this school in the fall-- three of them current preschool classmates. Having these kids and their families as part of a supportive school community at the start of kindergarten will give Anthony a better chance of having a successful transition, we believe. These families already know Anthony as a person, not a diagnosis.

Everyone has to make the decision that's right for them, and we're going to keep our options open. If our transfer request is not approved, another option is to apply to another school through the lottery system. We've heard good things about some of the charter schools in our area. We'll gather more information, visit more schools (including the special ed classroom at our home school), and talk to more parents and teachers. We may change our minds. In fact, we'll probably change our minds several times between now and September. That's why it's good we're starting this process now. It's going to be a long and interesting road, and we hope you'll come along with us!

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