EI is a nice safe place. Despite our concerns, as we let go of our little ones and let them walk into that classroom without our hovering (well, hovering TOO much, at least), we are safe in the knowledge that they will be cared for, taught, and loved.
And then they send us to Kindergarten.
My memories of K are shockingly warm and fuzzy. It wanders around images of finger painting, nap time, and the kid who ate the glue paste. I was surprised upon entering Isaac's K class and finding that it was very very different. It was very full - 28 kids. It was very academic. It was highly structured. You were expected to sit in your seat, sit in circle time, pay attention and keep your hands to your self.
In short, we were unprepared for it (and so was Isaac).
So you can imagine in this era of mainstreaming and budget cuts, we are anxious to release Olivia into the maw of Public School Kindergarten.
Others precede us, of course. With her permission, our friend T and her beautiful daughter, Miss E are allowing me to talk about their experience as they left Ms. Holly's preschool and entered into K this fall in their local school.
Just a bit of background...
Miss E is a smart little girl who is a bit socially shy but loves her friends and strives to add more. She does have a communication delay but she is outgoing enough to compensate for much of that. And she is used to the small and gentle Edwards class.
T was on top of this transition into mainstream K. She looked at various programs, talked to teachers, talked to advisers, and felt good and comfortable about her final choice for K. With apprehension but confidence, she walked into the K open house. There were two K classes at the school. And as of the first day of school, each class would have 30 kids each.
30 kids. Have you ever walked into a classroom with 30 5 year olds? And at an open house, where you can then add their parents/grandparents into the mix? In T's own words, "We were there at the open house no more than 5 minutes when it became clear that E was becoming agitated and we had to leave. E does not do well in large classrooms! What are they thinking? She has sensory issues!"
There are a few things to note about this first experience. In Miss E's IFSP/IEP, despite her sensory issues, it does not specify that she needs a small class environment. In the defense of the staff at K, they had no idea how many kids in the end would be in the class - many did not enroll until a few days before start of school. Because Miss E did not have that piece in her IEP, an Aide was not immediately assigned to her when the info about class size became known.
In her massive K class, there were two teachers, and Special Ed assistant. It sounds well staffed, I agree. That was not the issue, and is not the only issue for our shy kids. When in the face of 30 jumping, shouting, happy peers in a confined space, what will many of them do? Well, in Isaac's case, it was to push others (literally) away. In O's and maybe E's case, it would be to shut down a bit, always in the shadows, trying to block out the chaos. Neither would provide a happy child learning and making friends.
T did what all of us would do - freaked out. She sent off a barrage of emails to all she could think of about what on earth could be done. The principal petitioned the district for another K class, and everyone held their breath.
And it was granted. E is now in a class of 20 peers, with her teachers, class aide, and the relative calm of 10 less classmates. She seems happy, excited to get there, and having fewer sensory issues then was feared.
But T walked away with a few new tools in her school kit. One was to not think best laid plans were enough. She reviewed the IEP and is making some changes. The IEP is a contract, and everything must be stated and signed off on. Another was to have a back up plan for things that could go wrong, and have all of that stated before the start of class. PPS and MESD will always lean on optimism rather then preparedness.
We watch Miss E and know that at least she and her family are trying their best. One can only hope that PPS can match that.