Monday, June 25, 2012

Not So Summery Vacation

This post is perhaps a little too late, since the vast majority of us have finished the school year, but it's something I'm thinking about today on the first day of summer vacation (or summer lay-off, depending on who you talk to).

Some students have a very hard time as summer break approaches, and I find this especially true working in the urban setting. Although the academics may not always be of interest, school is a place where at-risk children can receive appropriate socialization, two out of their three daily meals, positive reinforcement and modeling from an adult, and a sense of safe structure. The proposition of losing those things is enough to make anyone anxious, but for a child that may have little stability in their life, it can seem like the end.

In my building, we notice a huge rise in behavior problems during the months of May and June. Some data to back that up (since we love data up in here): in April, we had 63 discipline referrals, an average of 4.20 per day. In May, we had 183 discipline referrals (8.71 per day) and in June, we had 93 (5.81 per day--and not all of them have been entered in the system yet).

Kids have a very hard time coping with "goodbyes" when they're leaving a place they feel safe. They may act up or try to jeopardize connections and bonds they have with friends and teachers, so that they can avoid an uncomfortable separation at the end of June--think of it like, "If you don't like me or are mad at me, you won't care that I'm gone." They may actively try to get suspended, so that they won't be there the last few days to celebrate and say goodbye, even if they don't want to be at home in the first place. I've also had kids that try to cope by fibbing about their summer plans or where they will be next school year; a bunch of students at the end of this year told me that they're moving, going to another building, etc, when I know from speaking to their parents or older siblings that I'll see them in September.

So what is a school professional to do? Personally, I don't make the end of school a big deal. The bigger the fanfare, the bigger the anxiety, the bigger the transition, the bigger the disruption. While I may have been trumpeting up and down Main St. in my head, I gave my usual hugs, shoulder squeezes, fist bumps, and a casual "See you in September!" as the kids left last week. When students had concerns about the summer or about missing school (and for the 8th graders, moving up to high school), I addressed them individually. For students known to have poor coping skills or difficulties with transition, it may be a good idea to address it in groups or within a more counseling/teaching setting, so that the students can learn some more concrete skills that they can take with them.

Professionals should also be searching for and providing students and families with resources that can fill the void that school did during the year. Community resources and organizations like a Food Bank, YMCA, summer camp, free library reading programs, etc will help to support the basic needs of school, like meals and socialization, and also allow for summer fun and structure. In my office, we had a bunch of applications for summer camps and programs, as well as information about free classes, programs, and reading challenges. We also send our students in our Food Bank's backpack program home with a bigger stash. It may beneficial for some students to attend summer schooling, to make sure they don't lose any academic skills, and to keep up consistency. Last summer, I had two sisters attend summer school because they wanted to, not because they needed to--that's dedication.

I'll be thinking about my kiddos this summer! I was approved for 15 half days of summer work, which I won't be starting til mid-July. I'm not sure where I'll be operating out of, as my CSE team will not be working this summer, so I may be bounced around. We shall see! In the meantime, I'll be whiling away the hours at the gym, trying to get in shape for my October wedding... here goes nothing.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Not Your Typical English Language Learner

I am finally getting to the "unique case" mentioned on my Facebook page... it's been a nutty end of the school year, so sue me (hey '90s flashback catch phrase). On an up note, 4 more days!!

Every spring, elementary buildings in my district are in charge of reevaluating prekindergarten students receiving Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) to see if they qualify for school age services conducted under the Committee on Special Education (CSE) when they enter kindergarten. We haven't had too many to do, but this interesting case made up for that.

O entered our prekindergarten in January, having not received any schooling since June 2011. We knew right away that O would need a lot of support, not only because he missed half a year of instruction, but because he is a hearing child of two parents who are deaf. American Sign Language is O's native language and what is used at home, so he is technically learning English. Curious, right? Because he has had so little exposure to English, his speech is similar to that of a person who is hearing impaired, and is only 30% intelligible. O receives speech/language therapy and special education teacher services as part of his CPSE programming.

We went around and around about programming and an appropriate classification for O when he enters kindergarten. He has a great deal of need, so we knew he would qualify for services, but for what, we were unsure. New speech testing indicated severe language delays in all areas (receptive, expressive, language structure, articulation). He also had a highly variable cognitive profile and limited school readiness skills. Despite a high profile of academic need, I could not classify him as a student with a Learning Disability, due to his lack of exposure to appropriate instruction from June '11 to January '12 (per New York State regulations). We decided to go with a classification of Speech/Language Impairment.

Our district has a few classrooms at the kindergarten level for students with severe language impairments. One is a regular sized class that has a full-time teacher plus a full-time speech/language therapist, and the other is a 15:1 Special Class with a full-time special education teacher and speech/therapist. Both of these classes offer 60 minutes of speech therapy every day, on top of ongoing remediation provided within the room during the way. We recommended O for the 15:1 level of service, so that he can not only receive intensive speech services, but his academic deficits can also be addressed. At the end of kindergarten, the CSE team at his new building will reevaluate his program, examine his progress, and determine the most appropriate services as he gets older.

Have any of you ever worked with a student who has parents who are hearing impaired? What strengths and weaknesses did they have? How did they fair learning/refining their English skills in school?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why Working in Education is Like "The Walking Dead"

I have decided to devote this post to the somewhat-reaching-but-very-pop-culturally-relevant topic of zombies. No, not the Miami Zombie (shudder), but The Walking Dead. If you remember, Fiance and I are kind of dorks (as if an entire post about my shoes, complete with Wizard of Oz and Star Wars references wasn't enough for you). One of our good friends from undergrad is a comic book king, and he sparked our interest in The Walking Dead as it made its move from graphic novel to TV. We were instantly hooked. I mean, c'mon, the opening scene of the series is just creepy perfection. 

Anyhoo, I recently got a copy of the first compendium of the graphic novel from our building mental health counselor, and on my evening bike ride tonight, I made a pretty out-there and wacky thought comparison about how The Walking Dead relates to working in education. Hear me out on this one.

Some of the cast of The Walking Dead. From left: Shane (w/ big gun), Glenn, Carl, Rick, Dale. 
There's a great ensemble of characters. Rick, the main character, is the every-man who tries to be the stand-up leader of the group, but has his flaws. He's stubborn and sticks to what he thinks is right, but it often isn't what works or would be best. He always wants to do what's right, and the other survivors look to him. He's a great allegory for a building principal--perhaps not always making the best decisions, but working with the staff to try and make things right. Carl is an idealistic kid trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, learning more and more every day about reality and survival. First year teacher, anyone?   Glenn is a master at navigating around the now decimated Atlanta, dodging zombies and other survivors personalities while keeping an enthusiasm for life and providing comic relief. He reminds me of a master veteran teacher at our building, who in the midst of a terrible day, will still crack a joke and smile. Shane is the antagonist for the first two seasons, and as Rick's former police partner, they butt heads in a rather violent way as Shane tries to derail a lot of the good that Rick tries to put up. There's always one in every building going against the grain. Dale is the moral compass of the group and doesn't hesitate to call people out on mistakes in judgement. He's a little spacey, but always watchful, kind, and friendly. Perhaps a guidance counselor or advocate for children, in a former life. Not pictured above is Daryl, a tough, loner guy who takes no crap, is an excellent survivalist, and is loyal to what he thinks is right (he is also a stellar marksman with a crossbow). He's the teacher in the corner classroom whose class is never rowdy. 

Zombies. Duh. Whether it's feeling like a zombie on Monday or mid-June or the students being especially monstrous, schools and The Walking Dead have zombies! To get metaphorical about zombies, the undead hordes could represent a whole mess of oppressive things that just keep looking for brains to eat: looming budget cuts; NCLB; standardized testing; no time and too much to do; bureaucracy, etc. There's always something creeping up around the corner behind you, waiting to jump up and bite you in the shoulder.

But that's why the great ensemble is... great! In the face of the zombie apocalypse, you've got a whole group of survivors to watch your back. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and everyone plays of each other. Are there attitudes, big personalities, people that disagree, and shoot outs in the woods? Yes (except maybe that last part). But at the end of the day, it's a group of people working towards a common goal: surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Oh, and educating America's youth. Can't forget that part.

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