*This is based on our experience and observation, and may differ from the experience others have had. Please view it in this light.*
There are two types of CB (contained special education) Classrooms off erred by Portland Public Schools. There is the Academic and there is the Functional. They are almost always further separated by age groups, for example a K-2nd grade and a
3rd-5th grade. Some schools offer only one type and only one age group. A few, like Alameda Elementary, offer all types instructed side by side within the greater school. Every school cluster should have a CB program (for example, Alameda for Grant Cluster, Roseway Heights for the Madison Cluster).
YOU ARE NOT RESTRICTED TO THE CB PROGRAM IN YOUR CLUSTER (although you will be given preference there). We started at the Roseway CB program although we are in the Grant Cluster (due to lack of openings at Alameda at that time of year). In our Alameda CB program, there are kids from many different PPS clusters. But it is not easy to get into a program outside our cluster, and there are waiting lists at the better (and yes, there are better), programs. And if you happen to live in a cluster with a preferred program and they try to tell you that you must go outside your cluster due to lack of room in that class, dig in your heels and start to push on how you CAN make that happen. PPS did try to move Isaac from Pioneer to Roseway Heights (yes, even after our previous experience at Roseway), and I was up in arms and we were able to start at Alameda in the fall.
Although Isaac was never supposed to be in a CB functional class, at Roseway Heights he was in one. I was told it was academic, but it was not. What is the difference? Academic is for children who have either a physical or a social/behavioral issue that does not allow them to have success in a typical class environment. Academically, they are supposed to be taught at grade level. Most kids spend some time out of the CB class with their typical peers, with the goal to slowly increase that typical time until the are only attending the CB classes for special services, such as OT or Speech. This is a great transition place for kids that are almost there, but need a bit more support. It is a good time to focus on strenghts and work on weaknesses. But note that some of the kids in that class are not working at grade level. For example, Isaac does 2nd grade math with children who are actually in 5th grade, but struggle. He is also doing some 3rd grade math. So in my observation, it is a fluid thing, and kids are allowed to learn at their own pace without stress or anxiety. The difference is that these kids are also capable of managing themselves in a supported classroom, during group time and APE (adjusted PE, I think).
In the functional CB room, they are still working on the basics. ABC's, numbers, basic reading skills, learning to sit in small groups and follow directions, learning the skills to be independent (use the bathroom, waiting their turn, etc). It is less structured at times, a little more time with independent play, less time with actual academics. Some of these kids will spend time with typical peers, and generally start out with non-academic activities, such as recess, lunch, etc.
Some programs are a melding of all of these. Confused yet? How to tell which one is offered? Ask, but not simple "yes or no" - ask what curriculum is offered, how much time does the average kid spend with their typical peers, how many of the students are learning at grade level.
How to tell which one is best for your child? Or just mainstreaming with some supports is the right choice?
Look at your child. Isaac is my best example, so I will talk about him. He started in typical kindergarten with an aide. The aide was slated to last for only 8weeks to help with the transition. The kindergarten teacher was not receptive to having a special needs child in her classroom. She actually panicked a bit. Not a good sign. Meet the kindie teacher - how open is she/he to having your child in class? Do they ask questions about your child? Ask for suggestions on how to help and motivate your child? What are their experiences with children with different needs? Trust our gut. I didn't, and it was not good. Even with the aide, by Christmas Vacation, it was falling apart. Isaac just could not keep up with his peers. It was causing anxiety. He did get some wonderful things from it - his speech improved, he was able to keep up with math and sight reading, but at one point he was just struggling too much. He had a panic attack and we removed him from the class. It was the constant low-level of anxiety over months (he never said that he hated school or anyone in it) building up and finally, collapse. And it was serious - it took us over a year to recover from it. We lost time in school because of our own need for him to be as typical as possible.
Roseway, and the not-quite-Academic CB program was next. It was ok at first, because he was in recovery mode and learning to handle himself in a classroom again. But after a few months, cracks were beginning to show there too. Some were unrelated to the actual program itself (part of that year-long recovery), but because the class was not academic and the teacher was too inexperienced to understand that Isaac was detaching out of boredom, not inability, the teacher added to his IEP that she thought he might be showing signs of depression (?!?!?), and mild retardation (not her word, but that was what she was suggesting). He was not being challenged, so he spent a lot of time on the computer and looking at books. I am noting this because when we pulled him from Roseway, the home school teacher and then the staff at Pioneer were very confused on why he was assessed as behind and depressed, when he was actually able to work at grade level or better. It was the wrong environment again, and he suffered from it.
So here we are again. Olivia is entering K in the fall. The PPS rep observing her asked what WE saw her doing next year. I immediately took mainstreaming off the table. I am no longer stuck on the glories of mainstreaming in the beginning. I already know she is not as up to speed as her peers, and do not need to make her feel even more so. This PPS rep knows our struggles with Isaac, and so agreed with me. She is starting in the CB class next door to Isaac's for Kindie, with some mainstream time with her typical peers. She will be fully supported as she catches up. And then she will re-take kindergarten fully mainstreamed the following year. This has been proposed by the PPS rep, so will see if it is accepted. Or, if that doesn't look likely to succeed, she will continue in the CB classroom with some mainstreaming time increasing as the year progresses.
We have a saying in my household: It is a marathon, not a race, and we will get there in the end at our own pace and taking our own route. But we will get there.
Our expectations for our kids shifted the day the received their diagnosis. But not our dreams for them.