Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kindergarten Update! - August 28, 2013

As some families are slowly starting to realize summer is ending, our school year is now in full swing and we're nearly through the first six weeks! We actually have our first weeklong break just around the corner.

Things have been interesting as the school finds its footing with my kid and she with the school. There have been multiple staff changes - nobody's fault, but one person apparently gave notice early on in the year and there was a scramble to replace her. So my kid has had three different parapros helping her - and while she's a very resilient girl, it still has been a bit disruptive to her and to her classmates (the parapros are supporting the entire class, but my kid has been getting extra help when they go from room to room). The first was lovely but a bit hovery. The second tried really hard but I think she was in over her head.

Now we have someone in place who seems great - she's been in the school since day one and has been assigned to spend more time with my kid. I really hope that the consistency going forward will bring some sort of calmness. So far, my kid has been pushing boundaries and pushing buttons, acting out and bringing back some of her old behaviors, but this parapro has handled it calmly and with understanding. Here's hoping.

Standardized testing has begun - in fact, as of this writing, I think she might already be done. Yes. Standardized testing in kindergarten. It's just to find a baseline for her, and she will retake the test twice more to ensure that progress is being made. All of the kids in the entire school system do this. And while I see the data as being very useful, I still wish it could be collected in a more organic way. But I am not stressing too much over it - she will do whatever she does and get whatever scores and we'll use those numbers as a starting point. I know she can read - she even willingly demonstrated her letter recognition to her teacher during an assessment, so that's good. I know she absorbs everything around her. So...standardized testing? Eh. We do what we have to do. They did set her up for success, allowing her to use her talker and a touch screen during the testing. But if she has low scores, it's up to the teachers and staff to bring them up next time, right?

And we've already had one awesome IEP update - in a meeting with the special education teacher and the speech therapist, the SLP announced that my kid needed more speech therapy and added more time to her IEP right then and there. Yes, you're hearing me right - I didn't say anything, I didn't have to fight or argue, I just sat there and thanked the therapist. Also I really liked the therapist's approach - in part, she noted how even if my kid can't make certain sounds in the middle of words (yet), she needs to know she should for literacy purposes. She needs to know that there's a "p" sound in the middle of "apple," for example, because the letter "P" is there. It was a great look at speech in context. I loved it.

So the first six weeks have been bumpy but not terrible. And what do I hear over and over? "She's so sweet, so smart, so lovely." She has friends who love her. The teachers do seem to get her. The inclusion teacher still needs to figure out what inclusion means to her, and I feel like she needs to stop saying "This is new to me" over and over - yes, it's new, it's new to all of us (which is how I respond). But she has a lot of love and I'm trying to stay positive.

So that's our first update. It will be interesting to see the test scores, to see how my kid does on the first days back from break, how the year progresses. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Might Get to Meet Francesca Lia Block (and I Am FREAKING OUT!)

A few months ago, I checked author Francesca Lia Block's blog and idly scanned her upcoming appearances. And then I seriously screamed out loud. SCREAMED. The Decatur Book Festival! Down the street from my house. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

FLB is a writer who is so important to me. She's up there with Tori Amos as one of my heroines, one of my touchstones, someone who helped shape who I became. It's so hard to put this into words (there's that evil little voice cackling at me "you call yourself a writer?!" Oh shut up, evil little voice. You suck...) You'll just have to trust me. I wrote about her in grad school and when I had to present the paper, I got choked up. It's a gut feeling I have about her, rather than one I can really explain, I suppose.

So I never thought I'd get to meet her. I don't remember her doing a book tour in the past, or at least not one that came anywhere near me in New York, Massachusetts, or Georgia. My friend Liz was lucky enough to take several writing classes with her in California and I thought that six-degrees-type connection was the closest I'd come. But now it looks like it might really, truly happen next Saturday!

I am fairly certain I first learned about Weetzie Bat in Sassy magazine (see: another important piece of the Marla puzzle). I ran out and read it and I was hooked. I loved Weetzie. That book was magic. And then - THEN! - I read Witch Baby and there was the connection. The character of Witch Baby really grabbed me in my angsty early 20s, grad school, figuring out the real world, Boston, New York City, home but not home.... "What time are we upon and where do I belong?" Oh yes. YES. Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys was wonderful, but when I read Missing Angel Juan, my heart cracked open. (I desperately wanted to send a passage from that book to someone who broke my heart - I even copied it out and put it aside to send, though I never did.) That book is everything to me. And then I befriended someone who worked at Horn Book and she hooked me up with an advance copy of Baby BeBop. Years later, Liz shared her advance copy of Necklace of Kisses with me - another book that really resonated with me, as I had aged just like Weetzie had. It was fascinating to find a character I'd grown up with growing up too. (I've also read and loved Pink Smog - perfect! Weetzie full circle! Although I didn't really mind feeling that Weetzie herself just sort of...appeared, fully formed, in the world, it was nice to get a look at who she had been and who she would become.)

Beyond the Dangerous Angels/Weetzie books, the other FLB book that had a huge impact on me was Guarding the Moon, which is about her first year of motherhood. I read it before I had a child and after, and I got something different out of it both times. And then there was Zine Scene, her book with Hillary Carlip about zines. As a 90s zinegirl, that book was also really meaningful for me - and friends of mine are in it! And I think I've read everything else she's ever written. I'm a wicked fangirl, I swear, and I cannot WAIT to read Love in the Time of Global Warming next.

(Probably the rarest thing in my collection is my first edition (paperback) of Ecstasia - I found it at a bookstore in Harvard Square in the late 90s for something like $2 and I treasure it. I don't know if I'll bring it along next Saturday or not...)

And now she's coming to my city. I don't know what to say! What to bring to have signed! What to wear! I think that as with the times I was able to meet Tori Amos, I might have to write a note instead and hand it over. My voice is sure to shake. I might cry. I probably will say something ridiculous instead of profound. But then again I might be brave - try to find my almost-40-brave-self - and tell her how much she means to me. How much her words have meant to me. How she's my rockstar. How when she interviewed Tori, my brain may have exploded just a little bit. How...everything.


Monday, August 5, 2013

The First Few Days of Kindergarten - August 5, 2013

So far, so much better than I expected, though the first two days were more about easing into the school year and we have 177 days to go...

The little blonde girl with the little green walker...
Let us address my concerns from my previous post:

Did the new teacher read her IEP yet?

Not exactly. Her new general teacher is overwhelmed right now - it's her first year with an inclusion class and she seems...a bit freaked out. This teacher also has 25 kids in one class - in this inclusion class! - and I think she's a bit understaffed (a temporary situation that I was told about) and she's managing all the things that go with a new year. I walked into the open house last week and immediately launched into questions. Mistake. Open house, I learned quickly, is not the time for in-depth discussions nor for freaking out a teacher. Oops. She said she'd looked at the IEP briefly and basically told me to talk to the special education teachers. Which I did - and they did read it and were pretty knowledgeable of my kid. It will be OK.

Did the staff set up a meeting with the rep from the talker company yet?

One of the special education teachers did! She said she was the only one who could make it but it's so much more than I'd hoped for.

Is there a new physical therapist all set and ready to go?

Yup. And apparently she was VERY impressed with all that my kid can do, including not only going on a swing but pumping appropriately! So now we can set a baseline and just move forward. Exciting.

Who will carry her talker?

Everyone seems to take turns. It's fine. We switched out the initial backpack I sent for the thrifted laptop bag we'd been using at home. There is some trickiness that I may get into in a future post, but the logistics seem to be OK.

Who will make sure she gets her special (IEP-mandated) mid-morning snack?

They're on it. Last year we did drinkable yogurt, but it seems this year that refrigerated snacks are more difficult (and I am not a fan of the sugar in drinkable yogurt anyway) so we are going to be sending other things instead. I hope to eventually wean her off this need, but for now it really does make a difference in her behavior for the rest of the morning.

How exactly will she get to that tricky inaccessible-until-you're-on-it playground?

Well apparently I underestimated my girl. On the first day, they did have a wagon ready for her, so they could bring her quickly to the playground (which she can then navigate). However, teachers and the principal told us that she's actually going up and down the stairs very well and nobody thinks the wagon will be necessary after a while. Awesome!

Will they understand just how smart she is and let her express that while also managing her outbursts?

One of the aides told me on the second day that if she could just work with my kid for the rest of her life, she'd be happy. My heart sang. Everyone seems to get what's going on, at least so far... On the other hand, on day three she reverted to one of her basic attention-seeking behaviors - tipping her milk over, followed by tipping her salad dressing over - giant mess. It's a very deliberate choice that she makes to do this (I've watched her look right at me, pick up her cup, and dump it onto the floor with a laugh), and I found out it happened - as always - because she had decided she was done with her lunch and nobody was noticing this. It's a behavior we struggle with at home, and I let her aide know that - and that we all need to work together to stop it - she needs to learn to wait. I'm hopeful that it's just her usual testing phase and that once she learns she's not getting away with it, she'll quit it. I hope. It's frustrating for us all - including her!

Plus, after seeing drop-off on the third day of school, I was reminded that there are neurotypical kids who are handfuls-and-a-half too. It's just...kindergarten.

The rest of my "what ifs"...well, we'll deal with them. It's early early days.

Friday morning was the first Community Circle of the year (where the kids sing songs and announcements are made - there was even a faux-flash mob where the teachers got up and danced, which was very cute). We were in the corner and watched my daughter walk in with her class. She pointed at us and said aloud "That's my mom and dad!" and then she essentially behaved herself. She clapped, she sang, she stood (with help - I watched to make sure that went smoothly and it did) for the Pledge of Allegiance (in English and Spanish!). At one point her main teacher turned to give another kid a thumbs up and my daughter saw and LIT UP and gave a thumbs up back - and her teacher's face lit up too, and I got all choked up.

I didn't really want my kid to be a trailblazer yet again - part of a teacher's first inclusion class again? Really? We did this once before and it was rough. But it seems like this time around there's more support for the teacher. Mine is the only kid on wheels in the school as far as I know, but it seems like accommodations are being made quietly - we were told that a railing will be put in on a certain set of stairs, for example, and I have a funny feeling we'll see some new ramps here and there too.

And meanwhile my daughter is taking more and more steps - I think we're up to eight at a time - and her longtime PT suggested that she not even use her walker at all in her classroom, so I've passed that along to her teachers. She can cruise, crawl, or, yes, step. Her PT said we need to teach her to view herself differently now - as a kid who is upright and who can walk. The fact that every time we turn our backs she's laughing and walking (and falling) suggests to me that we're on our way.

So for now, I choose to believe that we will have a very good year. But I will keep on updating along the way.