My big girl has just begun her 2nd year of preschool, but there have been big changes this year. Last year she attended a classroom classified as reverse mainstream. This means that children who develop more typically are in the same class as children with disabilities. However, the number of children with disabilities and IEPs (individual education plans) are higher than what would be found in a regular community setting. Sophie thrived here.
This year we are in a new school district. Even though we only moved down the road, we crossed the County line. Sophie's old preschool was not an option in our new school district, but besides that, her mama had gone to school (C2P2-EI through Temple University Institute on Disabilities) and had been bitten by the Inclusion bug. This year Sophie is attending a typical neighborhood preschool. Let me explain.
First, let me start with what I believe Inclusion to be. Inclusion means that ALL children have the right to be educated in their neighborhood community school with their peers. This does not mean that children with IEPs and disabilities are dumped in a typical classroom without appropriate services and supports. This does not mean that Sophie will be forced to take Algebra in high school, just to say she's included.
It means that on an Individual basis (as in the individual in IEP) the team will assess Sophie's needs and design a plan with supports to make it possible for Sophie to attend a typical school. Inclusion looks different for every child. For some, it may mean attending art class, lunch, and recess with typically developing peers. For others, it may mean being in the typical class full time. (I hate the word typical, but that's what we've got)
For Sophie, it means that she is in her class 99% of the time. Her speech, occupational, physical therapists and her itinerant teacher (like a developmental therapist) work with her while she is IN class. Her ST participates in story/circle time. Her PT is there when the kids go to the playground, etc. In the natural class environment, her team incorporates extra support. Studies have proven that Inclusion not only works for our kids with disabilities, but the benefits afforded to their typically developing peers are enormous. This is the ideal Inclusionary environment. I'll be the first to say that not all schools are prepared to offer this level of support which may mean that forcing an unsupported version of Inclusion would be harmful to the student.
This year we have chosen to let Sophie ride a bus to school. Believe me, this was a heart wrenching, long drawn-out decision, but the best one for our family. Before putting our daughter on a bus to school, I spoke with the Director of Transportation (I always go to the top) and he designed a bus orientation for her. They already do orientations for kindergartners, but it hadn't occurred to them to do this for preschoolers with IEPs. They were wonderful! I took my 3 kids to the bus garage where we met the Director and Sophie's bus driver Miss Daisy. The kids got to explore the brand new, full sized bus. We fitted Sophie's safety seat to her (a specially designed, brand new piece of equipment that works much better than a car seat and will ONLY be used by Soph). We were sent home with bus safety coloring books and a Pooh Bear bus safety video. Awesome.
Sophie started school last Thursday but the bus wasn't ready until this week, so we drove her for the first 2 days. This gave her siblings a chance to tour her school on her 1st day. After the 1st day we received a call from the school district. They wanted to add a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) to Sophie's team. She was escaping class and they were concerned for her safety. (ha!) I had to hold back the laughter. This was exactly what we forewarned them about. I have many friends who have to fight for a PCA. Our school district pleaded with us to allow one. I find that hilarious and ironic in a dark and messed up way that only other special needs parents can truly understand.
Of course I met with Sophie's new PCA, who is fabulous. Her job is to keep an eye out for Sophie but not interfere with her play and learning. She also helps with lunch, diapering, and transitions from one activity to the next. She is a Russian angel and we already love her.
The bus has been an experience for all of us. We gave a small token of thanks in the form of flowers and chocolates (believe me bribes are not only the way to go, but they WORK)! On the first day we had thick fog and flooding caused many roads to be closed and traffic to be horrible. The ride that should have taken 20 minutes max was 45 (I know because I went to her school) and Sophie freaked out. Bad. She cried so hard she broke out in petechia (broken blood vessels all over her face and upper torso that only happens at scary doctor's appointments and procedures). Miss Daisy felt so horrible that she demanded a change in the route to the Director, meaning that Sophie would go straight to school versus first picking up another child who attends a different school. Then she went to the toy store and spent her own money on toys for Sophie to have on the bus. She gave me her personal cell number and assurances that she's caring for my baby like she is her own. She tenderly wipes her tears and nose. We love Miss Daisy.
On Sophie's 2nd day on the bus, while I was strapping her in, a very rude and self-important motorist began wailing on her horn as she was not able to pass the bus. We were not taking pictures. We were not dawdling or chatting (we did that on the 1st day). I was simply strapping my daughter in her safety seat. Mark and I approached this woman to explain but she brushed us off with a "I have no time to talk. I have to get to work." After explaining to her that she is a witch with a b as she sped away (not my proudest moment, but I don't take it back) we began scheming plans for how to deal with her in the future. Plans include video taping this unbelievably rude behavior, following her to her work and later emailing her boss the video, sending it to the local tv stations, and uploading it to youtube. My friends on fb offered to form a posse. We could have signs and pass out "jerk awards" or slap "jerk award" stickers on the bumpers of anyone else who dares to act this way.
In any case, we are pleased with Sophie's preschool despite being very close to going to Due Process until we agreed on her placement. I know that what you really want are pictures, so here you go. I couldn't include our videos as they showed the bus #s and school district. Friend me on fb if you would like to see them. If the slide show isn't below, hit refresh or click the link HERE.
embedded video below