Yesterday was our very first set of IEP meetings. Eek!
Our adopted daughters both have Down syndrome, and joined our family three years ago.
And we made the decision early on that Mekdes and Tigist (ages 4 and 2 upon homecoming) should learn to live in a family before boarding a bus and attending school every single day. They tired easily and their communication was limited, and we didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of them being away from us for 20-40 hours a week. We anticipated that the day would come when they would join their peers at school, but for the past three years they’ve been home with their parents and siblings, meeting milestones and participating in family life and, ultimately, healing.
Towards the end of last spring though I sensed that it was probably time, that we had reached the place where they could not only successfully navigate and enjoy school but also really benefit from some things that frankly, I was not interested in taking on. I want to see them grow and achieve and thrive, but I’d prefer to outsource their academic instruction (modifications and accommodations and everything in between) to people who are trained in, and love, what they do. So I can simply be my daughters’ cheerleader and lunch-packer and, most importantly, mother.
The problem is though that the system is not set up for kids like mine, who come in post-infancy (or post-preschool) with significant needs. And who, therefore, need to start at the neighborhood school without an IEP.
And this is an extra huge deal because our neighborhood school is not one of our district’s “center schools”, meaning there are no children there with developmental or cognitive delays like the ones my daughters have. But this is where they needed to go to have their assessments done in order for IEPs to be written–and an eventual school placement to be determined. The district provided a paraprofessional to help the girls through the day but I was worried. Because Down syndrome. And typical classrooms. And classmates who might be mean. And teachers who might be frustrated. And, toileting issues.
And so yesterday was the BIG GINORMOUS TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOUR IEP MEETING. You know the type. Where parents regularly hire advocates and argue over “least restrictive environment”s, and where all sorts of people sit around a table and evaluate your kid. Including an entire team of special education professionals and the vice-principal and school psychologist and my husband and me.
And do you know what?
It was positive, enlightening, and friendly.
They gave us what we wanted, and it was what they wanted, too. Bonus.
There was no arguing or fighting.
They genuinely enjoy my daughters, and our family.
They want what’s best for my daughters, and our family.
Mekdes and Tigist LOVE SCHOOL. Like really, really, big-puffy-heart love it. And they have FRIENDS, kids greeting them every day with huge “hello!”s and waves, and laughing with Tigist on the swings at recess and helping Mekdes choose a book to look at during independent reading time.
When my husband and I finally walked through the door last night, exhausted, at 6:15 pm, I asked him what he’d thought about the meeting.
And he paused and then spoke in a serious tone, “There are some really amazing people working in the schools.”
And I could not agree more. This is our first year venturing out into public education (our other four school-age children are attending a brand-new classical charter school this year), and we have been touched beyond belief by the warmth, care, and professionalism we’ve seen thus far. I cannot say enough about the many dedicated individuals who care so very much for the well-being of not only my kids but also our entire family.
So I guess I want to say that while there is so much negativity surrounding the issue of education these days, and while I won’t deny that there are problems, and big problems at that, there are also some fan.tas.tic. things happening in classrooms and on playgrounds. I’ve seen it. Pretty much every single day, since my kids enrolled in school.
And the stakes are admittedly so much higher when you have a child with special needs and/or learning delays, because you have to navigate a complicated web of procedures and providers and systems, and there is no shortage of nightmare stories about IEPs that go wrong and parents who really have to go to the mat for their kids. As they should. Battling school districts and teachers and administrators. As they should.
Because we love our kids and we know they are capable, ever so capable, of doing great things. If only given the chance.
So I get how hard it can be, and that’s why I’m ever so grateful that my girlies have begun their school career with such a great support team. Mekdes’ birthmother, who wanted so badly for her daughter to receive help and a good education, and who expressed that in no uncertain terms to us, would have been so proud and pleased at that meeting. And this may not always be the case, but for now?
Everything is awesome.