Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CB Classrooms in PPS

*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.


  1. Your plan for O is exactly what I want for Ruby. (and Alameda is on the table, if there isn't a classroom at Lewis). The SPED coordinator at our home school says we can't 'plan' to keep her in kindy for two years, but that I can propose it at the end of next year. I'm also not hung up on mainstreaming her. I want her to be in the best place for her to learn and succeed whatever that means for *her*.

  2. You both are awesome moms. Congratulations for coming up with a plan you feel will fit your girls. It's not an easy path, but well worth the effort. -Meg

  3. Thanks for your post. It explains a lot, but unfortunately - those options are not available in my school district.
    Ellie is such a happy child and loves school, but she is not at grade level. I don't want Ellie to feel overwhelmed next year because she's falling behind. She may be on the spectrum, but she will soon realize that she's not keeping up with her peers.
    The staff at her elementary school are wonderful, but maybe she needs to be in a contained academic environment? Not only that, Ellie is not responding well to Phonics. She's a sight reader and Parkrose encourages all the kids to learn by phonics. Is PPS the same?

  4. One more thing to note. I was unable to make it to our last parent teacher conference so Ellie's dad went in my place. One of my concerns to the teacher was will Ellie have to repeat Kindergarten since she's not meeting all of her goals. The teacher informed Brian that they don't hold kids back anymore. What? Look, I don't want my kid held back, but don't you think if a child is not meeting their goals they need to be held back so that they can learn what has to be learned before moving on to the next grade?

  5. If schools held children back for not meeting expectations then there would be too many children being held back. School has become very academic in the early years, and many kids need more time to grow before they can handle what the system is throwing at them and expecting of them. Particularly our quirky kids. There is no way T can handle 30 kids in a typical classroom, nor will she be in our neighborhood CB, because it stinks. We are choosing to go to do a combination of homeschooling with part-time private preschool. For her, I think that fits best. The district will record her as homeschooled on the books. Forcing a sight reader to learn phonics, in my opinion, is far worse than not teaching them reading.

  6. Quick note on phonics: I also have a sight reader in my 2nd grader. He knows what sound each letter makes, and what sound letter combinations make (such as 'ch' and 'th'). But he is a sight reader, and that is just the way it is. And he is a damn good sight reader by the way. He is getting better with phonics, but I put it all in perspective. I am a sight reader, and most likely, so are you. Only on occasion do I need to sound out a word (although it came in handy when I was learning a foreign language). Yes, phonics are handy-if-not-essential as a skill. But sight reader or phonics master, they are still going to reach that same goal of reading the damn book. ASD kids just are hardwired differently and need to need to learn their own way and not be pigeonhold by an education system that are obsessed with meeting test score goals. Really, how successful has that been so far for US schools?

    Talk to the teacher. Talk to whomever you need to about alternatives. Make sure they understand there are 'neuro-typical', and there are 'neuro-different'. Talk talk talk until they are so sick of your voice, they just agree with you.

  7. Thanks ladies for this discussion, by the way.
    I think what we are all taking away from this is that these are differently-abled kids, and we are trying to fit these little square pegs in public schools round holes (and please always remember, public schools are doing less than stellar these days with their NT kids).

    If our kids were a commodity, and we were the customers, would we accept such service from this provider? In the end, we have to push for what we need and it is nothing less than exhausting. But no matter what the teacher said to Ellie's dad, Tina, if she isn't meeting benchmarks you do have two options. You qualify for ESY services (Extended School Year) to make sure she doesn't fall further behind, and you can repeat a school year if there is absolute evidence she has fallen so far behind her peers that she will be unable to keep up with her peers.

    If not, then you know that they are just herding cattle, not educating students. Unacceptable.

  8. Wow. Thank you for posting about this. I came across your blog after Googling "Portland CB classrooms academic." We were about to sign off on our son's IEP (he starts Kindergarten in the fall) when the CB classrooms were brought up. I had never heard of them and honestly, it sounds like a good fit for him. He is high-functioning but has sensory issues, is terrified of public bathrooms and is lacking the social and emotional component.

    I appreciate the insight you have about advocating for the right CB classroom as one of our choices is Alameda (the other is Woodlawn and some homework shows that it is a pretty rough school. Anyone have insight on that school or its CB-A classroom?)

    I will definitely be following your blog and would love to know if there are any parent/community support systems in place? This is a very emotional and confusing process, one which feels isolating as none of our friends have kiddos with these same struggles. I could write a novel here, but I'll just say I am happy I found this blog.

    Thank you and good luck--you sound like an amazing mama!

  9. Hi Courtney! I am happy if I can help in anyway. I too googled PPS CB Classrooms a few years ago and found...well, I found crappola. Apparently crappola is still being served as far as info goes, so happy you found my info helpful!

    It sounds as if your son is very much like my own son and daughter. Their biggest pieces are sensory and social as well. Isaac would only pee outside (in the rain, in mid-winter) for nearly 4 months at one point, his fear of all bathrooms was so high...and now it is O's turn, although hers is not so severe. I am sure it was due to the amazingly loud flush bouncing off a room full of tile, and the good news is that they GROW OUT OF IT!

    I am sure from my post you can gather that I am a CB advocate. Having been through the rather ugly side of PPS, when starting in the CB and then transtitioning into a typical class, the success can be amazing. If your son is handling things well, they will start mainstreaming him for certain classes and increase those classes over time. And if he needs more support, it is there too. I would go with your instinct, and sitn him up for a CB-A!

    Next piece, and sadly the less PC of my advice: the CB class is only as strong as the community it resides in. I don't know anyone who is currently in the Woodlawn program, but I know a family that has experience with it from last year. Her two twin sons are older, 10, and are aspergers. They are mainstreamed, but attended Woodlawn so they could attend some of their classes within the CB-A program there. The CB program was good, but their mainstream experiences were not so good. Especially in the less structured times, such as lunch and recess.

    Every school stives to find that sense of community, but there are a lot of issues out there in the world, and parents can be overwhelmed or absent altogether. If your son starts to take the mainstream classes, you will find that as well-meaning as the teacher is, they are dealing on a daily basis with behavioral issues that suck up a lot of attention and patience, leaving less for your son when he needs support. Kids are more defensive, less open to kids who are different. I learned this at Roseway Heights.

    Alameda CB has a great reputation. Those in the know (and how the hell did they find out - I searched forever for this info!)scramble to get their kids in, go on waiting lists, I even know of a family that MOVED so that was their homeschool and there would be no issues. Why is it so great? The community. Every family there understands the issues that come with Autism, are supportive of the kids, and frankly, most of them know and love someone with or has been effected by an ASD. The kids in my sons mainstream classes have been carefully educated to be supportive of the students from the CB classes, and it shows. He feels as if he has friends, and is liked. That is huge.

    Olivia will be starting in the Alameda CB class in the fall. She will start her mainstream classes in October, going a few hours a day and seeing how she does. The goal is that by the end of the year, she will be spending 50% or more of her classroom time with her typical peers. But even if that goal is not met, she will have the support she needs to have success. They could be classmates, which means we should get them together so that they have a friend to ease that transition. But decide soon - Alameda fills up very fast.

    As for support, we have a little community amongst the CB programs at Alameda. We even have the world's lamest Newsletter, written by yours truely. There is discussion of having a little picnic at the end of this school year to join the parents in conversation and community, and I will post that info on the blog if it happens. Cheers and I know you will make the best decision for your little boy - you are obviously a mamma that cares so much!

  10. Kristin, thank you for the thoughtful reply. I was told by the case manager at PPS that it's "district policy" that I tour the CB-A classroom closest to my home, but that isn't a determination of placement. How did you get your daughter into Alameda?

    I am beginning to feel a bit panicked that he (and we) won't have a choice. My fear is just what you described: at Woodlawn he will do OK in the adjustment to a structured, safe haven of a CB classroom. But lunch and recess will be a different story. I don't want or need that extra emotional baggage on top of everything else!

    I would love to talk more about things and not take up your blog space. If time allows, please email me: courtneyfreitag@gmail.com.

    Cheers and thank you again!