Monday, August 29, 2011

These Shoes Were Made for...

I'm going to digress from my typical school psych-y goodness to bring you this announcement:

I love shoes.

I wear heels to work virtually every day so I don't look like a 4th grader, since I'm practically 5'-nothing. I'm not the kind of gal who will splurge on a pair of kicks only to wear them a few times. I wear shoes into the ground, 'til I'm covering up scratches and smudges with Sharpie marker. I'm not the kind of gal who saves pennies (or blows a paycheck) for a pair of designer pumps I've been eyeing for months on end. I buy what catches my eye and heart, but stays within my budget... and I love a good coupon or sale. I'm not the kind of gal that sticks to conservative, ultra-fashionable (hah) footwear. I love color, patterns, prints, and bling!

A sampling of my favorites. Also, aren't my hardwood floors gorgeous?
I have a strange attachment to my shoes. Each pair tells a story and has a special meaning or memory for me and my career. Isn't it funny how we not only imprint memories to sounds and tastes, but also to clothes and shoes? Join me for an adventure down the rabbit hole and into my closet!
The Professionals

This black pair are from Bass Co. and are made of suede, so they're lovely and soft. They've gotten a lot of love, as you can see from the slight crack on the side. I wore these black beauties to my final internship interview. Every interview prior to that one had been unsuccessful and I was especially antsy before going because this site was my top choice for an internship (and, surprise, another large urban district). I was doing internship interviews in the winter and had been wearing black ankle boots with my black pant suit, but decided to switch up the footwear to these suede pumps. Mentally owing something to the shoes (I always feel like a powerhouse in good pumps... fear me), I walked into the interview feeling confident, and it went fantastically. It was the first interview I had a really good feeling about; there was great conversation with the panel and I felt like I nailed every question. I went away shortly after for the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Conference in Boston and when I returned, I had the position. It was the absolute BEST internship I could've asked for!

The navy blue pair were purchased to match the navy blue skirt suit I bought when I graduated with my MA/AC to prepare for "real job" interviews. They're a no name brand from JC Penney's with a snakeskin pattern wrap over the toe. These shoes have a habit of destroying the back of my heels if I don't wear stockings with them, which I prefer not to do, so they don't get too much use. The first interview I wore these to was for a district in the southern tier of NY virtually in the middle of nowhere. It was a 50 minute drive on a blistering hot day in June and the air conditioning in my crappy old car was broken, so I drove in full professional gear and perfect hair and make-up with all the windows down going 60 mph the whole way. I was a hot mess upon arrival. Next, I wore these to interview for a position in the district where I did one of my practica. There's a lot of back story to this situation, but let's leave it at I was practically guaranteed this position as I would've been replacing my former supervisor. I didn't get it and had the blistered, broken heels and ego to prove it. They traveled with me later that month to an interview a couple hours away, where I discovered I was not a fan of what the district and interview team (which was uh, one person) turned out to be. Finally, these went with me to the mass interview day for my current district. As we know, that was a happy ending, so they were part of the celebration dinner that Boyfriend and I had out downtown once the papers were signed.

The Nose-Dive
These leather shoes were my first "fun" purchase after getting my current position. They're from Nine West and I bought them at the outlet store with a 15% off coupon (go go financial savviness). Purple is my favorite color, so these were a must have! I freaking love these shoes, they're so comfortable, and I love the cute buckle on them. However, they're are in a bit of limbo right now... Early this spring, my old car (see above) began leaking anti-freeze, which is apparently a big "uh-oh" for cars, so it was off to the mechanic. It was 13-years old and was getting to the point where I was beginning to question the expense and point of continuing to fix problems with it. I was wearing these purple pretties at work when my mechanic called and told me the car was probably not worth repairing, since the head gasket had blown and it would be quite costly to fix. That afternoon, Boyfriend picked me up at my building to take me to the mechanic to get the car. As I was walking out to meet him, the pointed toe of one shoe got caught in the opposite pant leg, and I face-planted into the road... seriously, I ate pavement. Embarrassed and in pain, I jumped up immediately before he could get out of his Jeep and got into the passenger seat. As I held a crumpled napkin to my torn, bleeding chin with my equally torn, bleeding hand, I sniffled about the gravity of the situation. Boyfriend asked me if I was okay and I responded, whimpering, "My shoes... I ruined my shoes." Yes gentle readers, the toe of one and the whole side of the other were badly scuffed, and I was devastated (the less injured shoe was chosen for the picture, but you can see the wound in the first shot). I have still worn the shoes on occasion, because I love them too much not to, but I really need to find a shoe repair shop that can get them back to their former glory. The good to come out of this? I ended up buying a brand new Chevy Cruze, which I am also freaking in love with.

The Kid-Approved
This leopard print pair was bought at Target while I was on internship. Not gonna lie, they have some cute shoes there. They're a little too big and make my already above-average sized feet look like boats, but they make up for any short-comings with spunk and pizazz! Kids love them because they're so darn fun. While I was on internship, I was teaching a lesson from the Second Step program in a 2nd grade classroom. (If you have never heard of Second Step, check out that link, because the program rocks and teaches great social-emotional skills.) I was seated at the front of the room with all the kiddos around me like baby chicks, and as I was reading the story for the day, I felt a tapping and flicking at my right foot. I looked down to see that one of the boys in the room (who was classified as Autistic, go figure) was running his finger continuously along the pattern and pulling at the small heel. I silently redirected him, but he was having none of it, and continued to be fascinated with the shoe for the whole lesson. I wore these shoes to my first day at my current position and throughout the year, and to this day they continue to draw compliments and comments from students and adults alike.

The brown leather Nine West pair on the left is a more recent addition to the family. They're a very similar style to the purple pair and also have a kitten heel. I bought these because I needed a new pair of brown pumps, but also loved the metal details on the top. These, and a casual pair of flip-flop style sandal with clear jewel beading on the straps (not pictured), have caught the eye of many a student. The best comment I got about them was from a 5th grade girl who exclaimed during an intervention, "Miss _______, you got bling on your shoes!" Why yes, indeed I do. I also am a fan of these shoes because they remind me of a pair I had while completing the previously mentioned practicum. One day, I was walking around a corner in those shoes and startled a high school boy, who blinked at me and said, "You have the scariest walk." Okay, I guess I'm a little heavy footed, but there's something so satisfying and powerful about the clack of heels.

The Newbies
Okay, there really isn't a story for their of these dolls, but I couldn't help but show them off because they're awesome. I did a little back-to-school shopping today and picked both of these up from Nine West, where there's a BOGO 50% off sale, and I had another 15% off coupon (woot!). On the left we have a pair of ballet flats with a rainbow, white, and black leopard print. I've been fishing for a similar pair of rainbow print beauties for a while, but the last Nine West I looked in didn't have my size, so when I found these today I snatched them up and then gushed to the sales clerk about them. She must've thought I was deranged. On the right is a pair of kitten heel red leather pumps in a crocodile pattern. I've been dying for a pair of red pumps for all my adult life... I think it has to do with my childhood fascination with The Wizard of Oz (it was a seriously intense infatuation). After purchasing these bad boys, I texted Boyfriend "i finally have my red pumps! my journey towards the shoe dark side is now complete." (Yeah, I have an intense fascination with Star Wars too, you wanna fight about it?)

I can't wait for the new memories that come this year, from shoes new and old!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

E= mc... huh?

The most common type of learning disabilities I see in my work are verbal learning disabilities, meaning that they affect the way a student reads or writes, listens, and/or speaks. These are the most widespread, largely due to the fact that they're easy to see. When a student has difficulty following directions, remembering information, reading fluently and comprehending classroom material, it's obvious to teachers that something's up.

Less common, or perhaps less often identified, are nonverbal learning disabilities. Kids with these difficulties often go unnoticed because they are highly verbal and on grade level in reading. However, they lack organizational skills, forget class materials and homework, have trouble with graphic material (graphic organizers, maps, graphs, charts, etc), and struggle with math. Some students also present with poor social skills and symptoms similar to Asperger's Syndrome. Academic difficulties become more pronounced as the students get older and have to deal with algebra, fractions, and all that other math nonsense (math was never my thing).

This summer, I worked with J, a student who was referred because he has been retained several times and is much older than he should be for the grade he's in. He's had some learning and behavioral difficulties, so I was asked to evaluate him to determine if he would qualify for special education. J is going into seventh grade and racked up oodles of suspensions last year. When I spoke to his teacher, she said that it seemed like J had "given up" and would try to get suspended so he could stay home. J was on grade level in reading and can read over 130 words per minute, but was failing math and lacked a lot of the basic skills needed to do more advanced math. Sounds like a job for Super Psychologist!

J did not attend summer school, so his mom brought him in for testing. When he entered our office, he removed his hat, necklace chains, and wallet chain and set them aside on top of a cabinet so they wouldn't "get in his way" during testing. He worked with our CSE chairperson doing achievement testing first, then I took him for cognitive testing. While working with me, J was well-spoken and articulate, polite, and respectful. I noticed right away that he had an excellent vocabulary and was able to verbalize his responses accurately and concisely. Most kiddos ramble without any direction, but J would nail an answer on the head in five words or less (made testing go by sooo much more quickly).

When J was working on nonverbal tasks, it was another story. On the first perceptual reasoning task, J had to put blocks together to replicate a printed pattern. He was so flustered and overwhelmed it was almost awkward to watch. He scrambled with the blocks, did trial and error combinations, and had little attention to detail. At first I attributed some of it to nerves, but as he did other nonverbal, visual-spatial reasoning tasks, I realized that he seriously lacked perceptual skills. He had trouble finding visual patterns and grouping pictures based on shared characteristics. Things that made me say, "hmmm."

When the scores were calculated, J scored within the average to high average range on all areas of cognitive testing, with the exception of perceptual reasoning. His perceptual score was so low that, when compared to other cognitive areas, a score profile like his happens in less than 2% of the population. On achievement testing, his math score was the pits, while reading and writing were age appropriate. J had trouble correctly identifying which operation (add, subtract, multiply, divide) to use on simple math problems, couldn't borrow/regroup, and struggled greatly with even simple word problems, let alone do algebra. What does all this mean? J had a classic nonverbal, math learning disability profile.
I have to admit, I totally geeked out. I had to tell everyone that might have even remotely cared or knew what I was talking about (who has two thumbs and is a loser? this gal). Being such a nerd, seeing a textbook case of something that was considered more "rare" in my line of work was kind of exciting. My CSE chairperson and I started putting together an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for J. We put in a lot of testing support and program accommodations for J to use in math and when taking math tests, such as extended time, use of a calculator, additional math examples, and simplified charts, graphs, organizers. These supports are designed to level the playing field educationally, so that with them, J can access the curriculum to a level comparable to his non-disabled peers.

J's referral to special education at the beginning of the summer was a bit of a fluke, but in the end, I'm glad that the referral went through, since we identified a kid who otherwise would've continued having difficulty unnoticed. Looking at J's past year of not-so-great behavior, it makes sense that he purposefully acted out to get suspended and intentionally had poor attendance, since he likely did not want to show that he was having difficulty, or wanted to be doing something difficult in the first place. I'll be very curious to see how J does this year with special education supports in the classroom. I also hope that he'll find positive ways to use his verbal gifts... if only my school had a debate club, poetry club, or other public speaking goodness!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Check Out My New Digs!

My blog went through a little nip-tuck, Botox action and came out with a new background and some cosmetic changes. It also has a new name! We've grown up from "Musings of a First Year School Psychologist" to "Musings of an Urban School Psychologist." The content will primarily remain the same, but I figured since so much of what I do is heavily based upon where I work, that "urban" would be a good fit as I enter my second year in my career.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Basking in the Dying Days of Summer

Now that I've finally finished working summer school, I can enjoy my summer vacation. Granted, I was only working half days, but there's something about having to get up at 7:00am to go into the office that puts a damper on the whole carefree summer vacation thing. So, for the next almost three weeks, I'll be pumping the lazy to the max... which will probably get old after a week, since I'm the type of person that perpetually has to be busy to be satisfied.

Here are some highlights from my summer, both professional and personal:
  • Booking an all-inclusive trip to Cancun with Boyfriend for November 2011. Never been out of the country before (aside from Canada)--so excited for some tropical chillaxin'!
  • Somehow finished testing, reports, meetings, and IEPs for 20 cases. Still have four more that we couldn't fully process over the summer, so they'll be completed in September. So much for a slow transition back into school!
  • Moving into a townhouse with Boyfriend in a lovely little neighborhood. Upside: close to everything we could want! Downside: his sock piles on the floor. :)
  • Got to see friends from undergrad that live far away. It was great catching up, playing paintball, and discovering that even though our lives have changed, some things have stayed exactly the same.
  • Had a really interesting case of a student with a textbook nonverbal learning disorder. Must remember to blog about it. Done... here it is!
  • Took a great field trip with some 5th & 6th graders to the local naval park and harbour downtown. What a thrill to see them explore two battleships and a submarine, and really get into the history. And the guns... pre-teen boys love guns.
  • The long-awaited weddings of two of the gals from my graduate programs... ain't no party like a cohort party!
  • Setting out some good plans for the school year with my colleagues in terms of PBIS, counseling groups, FBA/BIPs, and other interventions. If the year only goes 25% as we planned, it'll be a step in the right direction!
I've got a few more days vacation at my dad's house visiting him and my grandfather, then it's back home to tackle a to-do list of the things I won't get to once the school year starts. You know, exciting goodies like an oil change, haircut, time at the gym, and doctor's appointments. And of course, letting my laziness reach new lows... or would "highs" be more appropriate? Regardless, September 7th will be here before we know it!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Times They Are a Changin'

I'm quite aware that my blogging has hit rock bottom this summer. I am shamed. I blame the 25 cases I had to process during summer school. I've been BUSY testing, pumping out reports, writing IEPs, and sitting in CSE meetings. I've also had a number of days of district training to attend, which have also occupied my time. Alas, this is no excuse! I promise when the 2011-2012 school year begins, I shall return in full, in your face force.

My CSE team along with other colleagues are beginning to lay out our PBIS plan of attack, community service and enrichment activities, and the general improvements we want to make for next year. But I'd like to ask you, gentle readers, what you want to see from my blog during the next school year? More discussion of the CSE process and all that goes along with it? More on-the-job learning? More discussion of cases as they come across my desk? More individual and group behavioral intervention strategies? More hilarious encounters with my kiddos? I want to hear your suggestions, so please share everything and anything I can do!

Obviously for those following along at home, I will no longer be a first year school psychologist in September. This is great, because I've established some street cred in the building, will know the majority of the kiddos, and do have the slightest idea what I'm actually doing. I also will finally have my name on the psychologist's seniority list in Human Resources, which means I actually exist. However, this throws a monkey wrench into the whole "blog name situation." So, I ask for your assistance again, what should my blog name be changed to? Give me your suggestions! I don't want to change it too drastically, so that those casual readers won't recognize it, but it does need an update.

So there you have it folks. No longer will you sit idly by reading about my mishaps and miscreants. Today, I need your help! Give me blog name and blog content suggestions! And, please do enjoy the rest of your summer vacations, because September will be here before you know it! =D