- At Home
At the end of each school year, I prepare for next year.
How can you prepare for the next year?
First, at every (annual) IEP, we make sure to keep ESY (Extended School Year) written into our child's IEP. ESY is summer school. Not your traditional summer school, though. It is not "punishment" for missing too many school year classes or for failing a class or two.
ESY for our special needs kids means that they will receive approximately five weeks of school during the summer. Our school district offers half days, Mondays through Thursdays.
Our child's ESY program is run by special needs teachers/aides/facilitators. Each class includes children of approximately the same age AND developmental needs.
How exactly are the classes arranged?
Well, there will be one only class held at a school within my child's school district. The class will have approximately fifteen to twenty students and about a two to one ratio of adults. All of these students will be similar to my child in terms of age but more importantly in terms of their special needs development.
Is this like real school?
Yes and no. There is no homework or tests and the hours spent in "school" are less than half what our kids are used to. Their days are still structured, however. The kids will typically have projects to work on during their school hours as well as plenty of games and/or "events." (Field trips, for example.)
Why consider ESY for my child?
The theory behind special needs ESY is that our kids have a chance to attend a few hours of "school" during the long summer break. It is not like a typical inclusion class but their days are structured in a way to satisfy a continuing education for special needs kids.
What really happens when you send your child to ESY is the program breaks up the long summer and gives our kids some time in a classroom. If a school district didn't offer ESY, what may happen is a special needs child would not only have a difficult time without the structure of school days, but will also have a tough time when school begins again in the fall. These are a few reasons why I recommend an ESY program.
What else can I do now to help prepare my child for the next school year?
Our school had their open house just last week. "Open House" is an end of the school year event where the kids and teachers get to show off to the parents what they've been doing in school all year long. It's a celebration of the end of a long school year. Open house is also an event where you can visit the higher grade classrooms.
What can you do?
What I do is the following: I visit those higher grade classrooms with one thought in mind, to scout out the potential teacher that I'd like for my child for next year. I actually talk to the teachers and ask them if they've had any special needs experience. I get a feel for these teachers, more or less a gut reaction.
For example, there are two teachers assigned to 4th grade (my child's next grade) for the next school year. During previous school events, I had watched this one 4th grade teacher interact with her class. I liked that she wasn't trying to be "friends" with her students. She appeared to be strict and tough, not letting her kids get too out of hand.
I had also observed this teacher on more than one occasion. Additionally, I had talked to a few parents who currently had students with this teacher. With my research in the back of my mind, I talked with her on open house night and felt good about her responses. She was the teacher I wanted for my child for next year.
Did I just hope my child got this teacher?
I sent an email to the principal formally requesting this teacher. I did it that night. The principal emailed me back saying, "Thank you for your suggestion. I was thinking of her for your child. I will confirm with you when we make final selections next week."
I communicated directly with the principal. I have had no problems doing this in the four years my child has attended this school. The principal and I have really gotten used to each other in terms of how we can both work together to help my child. She seems to sincerely like my child, which also helps. She also seems to be rooting for him. I appreciate that greatly.
In a way, I'm circling back to communication here. First, make sure at your child's IEP that you discuss the possibility of ESY. Second, put in a formal, written request with your child's principal for teacher recommendation. The worst that could happen is the principal says no.
What if they principal says "no?"
If you really disagree with the "no," ask the principal to explain his/her reasoning. If you continue to disagree, call an IEP.
YOU CAN ALWAYS CALL AN IEP! Seriously, any issues with your special needs child and the school district can be resolved by calling an IEP. If you really feel cheated in some way, call an IEP! A school cannot legally turn down an IEP request. It's illegal to do so.
Remember, looking ahead to the next school year is finding yet another way to look out for your child. I know it seems like a lot at times, but if you stay on top of things, your child will reap the benefits. And so will you.