Sunday, January 27, 2013

Awkward Conversations at School, Part 2

(a warning for sexual slang terms in this post)

At our most recent Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting day, we held a reevaluation for a young lady in 8th grade, T, who is classified as Emotionally Disturbed. Her special education teacher and Social Studies teacher, Mr. W, were in attendance. Mr. W is a distinguished African American guy in his early 30s who the students look up to as a mentor in the sense that he "got out" and "made something" of himself. He not only teaches Social Studies, but also life skills and lessons that meet the kids where they are. He's so well-spoken, I could listen to him talk all day (plus his voice is buttery smooth). But I digress...

Mr. W was telling the story about his first day back from medical leave and his first encounter with T:

Mr. W: "I was lecturing on the Civil War and how the slaves that could not escape to the North still supported the Northern soldiers in the South. I asked the class to tell me examples of this, and the students were discussing how the slaves sabotaged Confederate weapons, brought food and supplies to the Northern soldiers... all valid points. T responded, "Yeah mister, and they nutted in they food."

Me: 0_o

Mr. W: "The other students were appalled and didn't know what to say, and I have to admit, I was shocked as well..."

Social Worker, interrupting: "Wait, I'm sorry. What happened to their food?"

CSE Chairperson: "Yes, did she mean poison?"

Me (in head, hiding behind laptop): Oh no.

Mr. W: "Oh, um. [pause] Uh... they ejaculated in their food."

Social Worker and CSE Chairperson: "OH OMG!"

Sweet T, thank you for the spectacularly embarrassing laugh we all shared after that revelation. I don't think I've ever seen two naive older ladies in their 50s turn so red, though I probably shouldn't be proud of the fact that I knew it really meant. Chalk it up to experience working in the proverbial trenches! It sure broke up the exhausting monotony of a full day of CSE meetings...

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Kind Over Matter

Last weekend, I traversed to Albany, NY with other area psychologists for the NY Association of School Psychologists' (NYASP) executive board meeting. As I've mentioned before, I'm chapter co-representative for my area of New York, and I travel to Albany three times a year to brainstorm and converse about big issues in the field with other key state playmakers. It's a whirlwind two days of information overload that typically ends in a big dinner with lots of wine (my kind of party).

One of the board members participated in the 26 Acts of Kindness for Newtown, CT in her district and brought some resources to share. For those who are unaware, #26Acts was a challenge of sorts from NBC News' Ann Curry in the wake of the shooting, asking for people to spread kindness and goodwill towards others as a way of answering the question, "What can we do?" Here is an article from NBC, with photos and tweets of dozens and dozens of people who participated, and how they spread kindness.

Our board member shared a printable from Kind Over Matter with tear-off positive thoughts and affirmations. I thought this was a great, simple idea to share at work as a way to "pass it on." I tacked my copy of the poster onto our main office bulletin board last Monday morning, and by the afternoon, two positive thoughts had already been torn off. Pass it on, folks.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

"That Your Dad?"

Ever since I was an intern, I've had a photo of my dad and I sitting on my desk, sitting in between photos of Husband, file folders, colorful pencils, and other trinkets. First, it was a photo of Dad and I at my graduation from graduate school, then he and I at a minor league baseball game, then a Yankees game. Now, it's a photo of us at my wedding.

You may remember that my dad and I have a close relationship; I'm an only child and it was he and I for quite a while after my mom passed away when I was in high school. He's a great confidant and imparter of life wisdom, like how to perform basic maintenance on my car (pfft... I'm so not a handy person, but I can relate it to my job!). He's the best, we're lucky to have each other.

The photo of us on my desk has always drawn a lot of comments from kids. It's a great ice breaker/conversation starter, actually! When I was intern, a kiddo came over and asked me if he was my dad, and when I said "yes," she replied, "He looks nice" in the most kind, longing voice (adorbs). I got lots of conversations out of the Yankees photo because of Dad's Yankees hat and who doesn't know the Yanks (love 'em or hate 'em, their logo is like the golden arches). The Yankees photo always cracked me up because with his hat on, you couldn't see Dad's graying hair, so the kids always asked if he was my husband. He used to think that was hilarious, and probably complimentary, because he looks very youthful. Now, with the wedding photos, kiddos comment on how happy we look--true story, it was a great day! Yesterday, someone even told me that he looked familiar and wanted to know if he had been at school before.

Sometimes the kids' reactions to my dad's photo make me feel a little sad, too. The vast majority of my students come from homes with atypical families, meaning that they don't have a father or mother in their lives, they live in foster care or with another relative, etc. It's tough stuff. Many of them have good relationships with other mentors or parent-like figures, but there's something special about a relationship with a dad. So, Dad shall stay camped out on my desk, able to start conversations with kiddos about connections and good experiences they have to adults, looking on as a pseudo father-figure.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

So we've all seen the cartoon at left, explaining why it's silly to force those of different abilities or skills into the same molds. I recently came across this very conundrum during a reevaluation for the Committee on Special Education (CSE) for a fourth grade student.

Z has been struggling for a long while, and is actually supposed to be in sixth grade but has been retained twice (almost three times, last year he was promoted mid-first quarter due to his age). Z has some severe language deficits that are really impacting his ability to read. He has extreme difficulty with decoding--confuses and substitutes sounds, reverses/transposes letters while reading and writing (i.e. will say "substitute" as "suditute" or "supitute"), doesn't retain learned sounds and sight words, etc. Z has been through the same, basic, 1st grade level reading program for two and a half years, and has made little lasting progress. He's practically memorized it, but can't translate it into classroom use in the subject areas, like science and social studies, and doesn't have the knowledge base and skills to move on to the next level. As the fourth grade curriculum becomes more challenging, he's stagnant. To say he's frustrated is an understatement.

So if everyone can learn to read using decoding and phonics, why can't Z? And why are we still instructing him using the same program he's already failed at twice? Because there isn't anything else available. In my building, we follow one to two district endorsed reading programs, all of which focus on phonics. Z is placed in an Integrated Co-Teaching classroom with two awesome teachers (he was in a model classroom last year, too), so he's received a great deal of individualized and small group instruction. His teachers have supported him in so many ways, and yet he still struggles. To say we're defeated is an understatement.

At his CSE meeting, we scratched our heads about what special education services we could provide for Z. Clearly, the Integrated Co-Teaching setting, despite his wonderful, attentive teachers, was not meeting all of his academic needs. We discussed placing him in a 15:1 Special Class, which in my district is for students with severe learning abilities who need more adult attention to achieve learning standards. We were hesitant, knowing that if he left our building for another placement, we couldn't guarantee that he would have a classroom with a high level of intervention, like he was getting from his two teachers (one would hope, but we can't assume). Unfortunately, we didn't have a good answer, a good place, or the right program to fit a kid like Z.

In the end, we did decide on a 15:1 Special Class, but it wasn't a comfortable one. His special education teacher in particular broke down in tears, knowing that despite providing a lot of support to Z, we didn't have what would be able to help him take off academically, especially with reading. It may be that the 15:1 won't either, but we're hoping that a very specific, detailed Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and a self-contained class will be able to provide him with more varied programs and curricula to draw from, so that he isn't sitting decoding CVC and CVVC words, like "cat" and "roar" for another year.

How do you support kiddos that don't fit the approved curricula and programs used in your schools, when there may not be the man power or budget for other options?

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