So, here we are ... the section many people have been waiting to read and me, well, I wish I could say I was altogether thrilled to write it. Before I launch into what we chose and why, I'd like you to keep in mind a couple of things: above all else - all students are different. What worked for us may not be the answer for you (but it doesn't mean you quit trying). And number two - and this is huge - you must be open and enable your student to succeed. Believe it or not, I'm not really all that argumentative by nature. I'm not really a boat-rocker or a complainer either. UNTIL IT INVOLVES MY DAUGHTER or so I found out - the hard way. So, lets dive in, shall we?
In the 8th grade Chloe was placed in a life skills class with pull outs for science and drama. Her best friends were typical peers and she would constantly tell us that the only class she actually learned anything in was science. She brought home straight As. All year. In everything. So, I asked ONE question (okay maybe two) and the response shook me. I asked why Chloe wasn't included in more academic classes. Clearly, she was handling one just fine, so isn't it natural that we'd add another in high school? Oh and by the way, she'd like to cheer so where does she sign up for that?
You could've heard a pin drop.
They had no clue what to say.
So we all sat there.
I finally said, well, what's her schedule going to be for next year? You see, they were planning on a life skills placement. With vocational experiences. So in our minds Chloe was prepping for a modified college program and in theirs, she was prepping for life in a facility. By the way, I'm sorry if that's offensive, but it's the truth. And you know I always tell the truth, even if it's ugly.
Very calmly they explained the ins and outs of scheduling and how all the sports try outs had already taken place...and all I could hear was doors slam. All I could see was potential flushed down the drain. And I wasn't having it. Not for a moment.
We had multiple IEP meetings in the first month of school. It quickly went from bad to worse. It seemed like the more questions I asked, the more escalated the discussions became. We caught them in inconsistencies and (unfortunely) even a couple of out right lies, so finally we decided it was best to move and change schools, so that's what we did.
That being said, Chloe's freshman year started off pretty rocky, but as second quarter progressed we could see the growth and positive changes we were looking for. As Chloe began to read and learn (and do homework) she could see the differences between a life skills and a mainstream placement and lucky for us, was able to begin articulating her preferences.
One of the very first things I did was pull our state's requirements for a diploma offline - by that I mean the criteria typical students must meet. From there, I came up with my lists: what Chloe would definately accomplish, what in no way did I ever see her accomplishing and what I wanted her to accomplish (my version of reality). This gave me a basis for advocating for Chloe.
I knew that Chloe wouldn't be able to take or pass (nor did she want to attempt) Algebra, Geometry or really anything above pretty basic math. It's just the way she's wired, folks - she doesn't understand the concepts and will likely always have gaps in understanding math. It doesn't mean she can't understand how to budget, how to plan for a trip or expenditure or how to be a wise consumer. So, those are the math skills we wanted Chloe to focus on and with that advocated for a life skills placement in math.
Science is a completely different ballgame. And I know what you're thinking, but SO much of science IS math. That's what I thought too until I really took a look at the curriculum. The first science class Chloe took in high school was biology - though like I said she'd been included in the science curriculum beginning in third grade. Upon researching deeper I noticed that there ARE non-math based sciences as well as modifications available that would be within her interest level - so that's what we advocated for. Exposure to science curriculum is so much more to Chloe than a class shared with typical peers -- this type of analytical thinking has been SUPREMELY critical to her developing problem-solving skills. She applies the scientific method to many practical decisions! Therefore; if your student has a curious mind, a love of nature and/or asks a ton of questions -- please, please, PLEASE advocate for inclusion in science from an early age.
What worked well for Chloe was to look at each subject area and advocate for her placement based on her current skills AND future goals and potential. Therefore; Chloe was always included in a mix of courses and learning environments. That situation may not be what works best for your student, nonetheless; the individual student should ALWAYS be the focus as opposed to what's more convenient for the school or the parents. Some students benefit greatly from an all life-skills placement and some students benefit from more from an all mainstream inclusion type of arrangement, but for Chloe a mix of these settings was the most appropriate. We wanted her to be challenged, but we never wanted her to feel like she was expected to succeed in work that is so far beyond her understanding or ability that she was lost or frustrated. A secondary education is NOT one size fits all -- that's why there are electives and many levels of learning! I will say that had we not explored subject by subject we would've never been able to see where Chloe is able to thrive and how she fits into the academic world.
Here's a list of what her school district requires for graduation:
The graduation requirements of District XXX are intended to provide a broad academic foundation for all post-secondary experiences. The requirements reflect expectations from the State of Illinois, the Illinois Board of Education, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and the District XXX Board of Education. Credits are calculated in Carnegie Units, a common method in American high schools for measuring a standard of successfully completed learning time. District XXX operates on a semester system with a seven period day which allows for the accumulation of a maximum of 3.5 Carnegie Units/credits per semester or seven Carnegie Units/credits per academic year. With a full academic schedule of seven classes during all eight semesters of the high school experience, a student could earn a maximum of twenty-eight credits.
English 4.5 Including required Communication Studies or Equivalent Course (.5 credit)
Social Studies 3.0 Including required courses: U.S. History (1 credit) American Government (.5 credit) Consumer Education 0.5
Physical Education Including required courses: Health (.5 credit) RTE (.5 credit) 4.0
Applied Technology 1.0
Fine Arts 1.0
Here's a list of the courses Chloe took and the year she took them:
Family & Consumer Sciences
Intro. To Theatre (summer)
Language Arts Skills
Food and Nutrition
Cooking Up Success
Supervised Study Hall
So, barring math - Chloe graduated with all the same credits as a typical student. There were classes that I had to push for more than I feel like I should have, I'm not gonna lie. American Government is something I feel that every single student should have some sort of exposure to because everyone has the right to vote -- and should be encouraged to exercise it. Chloe was fortunate to take this class during a presidential election year and I'd highly suggest it, if possible because of all the media coverage, opinions and conversation -- it also helped Chloe learn how to form, express and mildly debate her opinions. If you've personally met Chloe than you know how hard this was for her because she is a people pleaser and is more comfortable agreeing than debating, well -- she WAS. Politics actually gave her a platform to work on those skills and it was great to see this process in action for her. By contrast, it was repeatedly suggested that we enroll Chloe in a driver education course. The school district felt that Chloe's learning the rules of the road would be important as she learned how to navigate the world. I can see that. Well, sort of. The thing is Chloe didn't want to take it and it's an elective, so.... But again, it was encouraged and she continued to decline. The only time I intervened in this discussion is when she was told that she HAD to take it. I did mention that there are many driving schools around and that if she decided this was a goal she wanted to pursue later in life then she could. To this day, this sitauation seems backwards to me so all I can figure is that it somehow benefitted the school to have Chloe enrolled in Driver Education and not American Government because it definitely wasn't benefiting Chloe at all. I will take yet another opportunity here to pause and emphasize that an IEP should reflect what the student interests and abilities are, but ABOVE ALL else - should be student-driven in high school. Yes, I know that's hard but I can promise you that your student probably does have an opinion and would LOVE to express it.
There were many times throughout the high school IEP planning process and meetings that I felt like I wasn't doing enough, or I was wrong or just the stress from it all was so completely overwhelming ... I had no clue how HARD advocacy really is and I truly do understand why many people choose to sue or settle and I know that I'm in the minority of people that will continue to fight until they just hammer out the best situation for their kid or until everyone is the room just can't wait to leave because you've talked them too death. None of that was ever my intent and it wasn't a skill I even really realized I had until it became necessary to use it.
These days, I don't focus so much on what more I could've done because quite frankly I'm thrilled with Chloe's end game. And as we create a life in Nashville it's rare but it does cross my mind if I truly fostered change because those people needed it. Badly.