There is snow on the roof this morning. Just the smallest of sprinklings which will disappear in the morning rain. It is almost 8 a.m. and Julia is still asleep. She loves the first snow and I puzzle whether to wake her. But she so infrequently sleeps this long and we were out late last night. I let her sleep.
Such a week this has been!
Julia has made it to school on time for the last 7 days. On time! On one hand, such an mundane victory, but I feel like a Plantagenet claiming victory during the Hundred Years’ War. There is back story of course. While researching the reason that Julia was not getting picked up on time even according to Badger Bus’ schedule at 7:56, it was discovered that the student picked up before Julia hadn’t been to school since early September and that the driver was waiting for someone who is no longer going to school. So, without that stop and without waiting for the phantom student, Julia is now picked up at 7:48. My perfect world had her picked up at 7:45; I can concede those 3 minutes. She is now dropped off at a different door and she does not have to wait for an SEA to escort her into the building. She can run into the building, get to her locker and get to biology on time. And she can do it without help although special ed is not willing to let her speed through the halls alone yet. I expect she will be doing it alone soon.
Julia has an English class! She was placed in the class days before our latest IEP. She is loving it. Immediately, she came home with tales of the kids acting out Raisin in the Sun, and this week they began Night by Elie Wiesel. The teacher wondered about Julia’s ability to read and contribute to discussion about the Holocaust. He felt he had several students not mature enough to dig into the reading and felt he did not know Julia yet. Julia has always had big issues talking about death and I’ve kept her away from mass suffering and dying. We talked about how the Holocaust is part of our family’s history and what a brave writer Weisel was. She went to class on Thursday knowing how to pronounce Moishe and ready to research with the rest of the class. She took notes, either with the help of the SEA or by herself. Or both. And she came home Friday ready for weekend reading.
At Thursday’s IEP, the issues were math (a suitable class), filling the last two periods of the day when she was in Room 1112, lunch and next semester. I opted for her taking guitar for the remainder of this semester which gets her out of Room 1112 for the last period. Next semester, guitar will be replaced by photography and then Julia will have two art classes during the day. Julia is out of Room 1112 twice a week during lunch, once for a singing group and another time for the peer partner club (many clubs meet during the newly expanded lunch period). I want her out for at least one more time so we will look for another lunch time club (like the singing group, an SEA will walk her to the club but not stay with her) for her to join. I will leave her in that room twice a week for lunch so that she can eat with M, who also went to Wright Middle School and with whom Julia had lunch every day for more than a year.
As for math. There is no class for Julia. The most appropriate class, Math 1, is only taught during first period when Julia has biology. We talked about switching her to another biology class with the same teacher. The later class is not supported by the special ed co-teacher but Julia would share an SEA with another student. I was almost convinced to move forwards with that plan until the co-teacher voiced her opinion that Julia was thriving in first period with her support and that there is absolutely no regularity in the SEAs assigned to cover students in biology. (There is not a sufficient number of SEAs due to budget constraints and difficulty in hiring when there are funds. I would hazard a guess that burn out among SEAs is intense. Also, substitutes filling in for a day, week or more, may have absolutely no training in special ed, a fact confirmed by a friend who stopped taking special ed substitute assignments.) Julia needs more than a random SEA during biology and so she is staying in first period.
We talked about Julia not doing math this year, something that didn’t thrill me. We would do something at home, like we always do, and I could find a tutor, but only once or twice a week at best. I pushed to find another solution and a compromised was hammered out. Julia will do a math program (as of yet undecided) in an one-on-one class with a student teacher, supervised by the special ed math teacher who teaches Math 1. Not perfect, but not in the self-contained classroom and with luck with an enthusiastic student teacher who will help her move forward.
Then we turned to next semester. Julia will continue in the English class and with the one-on-one math. She will pick up photography. There is still one empty class and possible choices are an additional reading/comprehension class (depending upon location and level) or a social dancing class which may be with her current gym teacher (who I met again last week during parent/teacher conferences and who I like a lot for his enthusiasm and compassion).
At the end of the meeting, I was grateful for the advice, suggestions and ultimately the willingness to work through obstacles (like no math class) towards a workable solution that the IEP team showed. Having the Special Education-Program Support Teacher, the Special Ed Department Chair, the speech therapist, as well as Julia’s art teach and case manager at the meeting was a boon. After speaking to the principal last week, I also felt her influence at my back. Make no mistake, as sweet as this possibly solution is, it would not have happened without a persistent, educated and rather bitchy advocate creating a thorn in everyone’s side. My heart hurts for those kids whose parents cannot do what I’ve been doing since September. No parent should have to become a full time advocate in order to get an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment for their student that is guaranteed under the IDEA.
Still, on Friday I walked into a much more social meeting and two friends noticed a spring in my step. Indeed!
Julia last weekend was full and for the first time since I’ve know her, I had a small taste of how age appropriate activities could change my experience of her growing. She was invited to a Special Olympics Leadership Conference by the SEA who runs the Peer Partner Club and who also goes with Julia to her art class. Julia, with with four other girls, and the SEA stayed in a hotel for the night and enjoyed the conference and Friday night’s dance. I picked her up at noon on Saturday to meet with her FUS Coming of Age Elder for community service at our local Tiny House Village and Julia had a few happy hours painting Christmas tree ornaments followed by her Coming of Age class at church. On Sunday, we were up before the sun, to join the cheer team setting up a water stop and serving water during a marathon. 6:30 a.m. til noon outside in the rather cold. I stayed and helped a bit. Julia worked as hard as anyone else and stayed with the endeavor without complaint.
As for cheer. I walked into the end of cheer practice on Wednesday. They were learning a routine to Sweet Caroline, a song that featured prominently during our Alaskan cruise—sung every night during karaoke with gleeful audience participation. I stood in the doorway and searched for Julia. When I didn’t see her immediately, my heart rose to my throat. This was the first time she went from her locker at the end of school to cheer without me. Someone from staff escorted her from her locker but there was no one to make sure she changed and showed up in the gym for practice. The what-if’s flared for a moment and then abated. She was in the second row actually doing some of the motions. She is far from correct but does not look as clueless as she did last week. Yesterday, I taught her to do jumping jacks and we worked at doing them exactly right. I don’t care about exactly right but the cheer movements are all crisp, exact and indubitably cheer-ful! I coached wide legs, straight arms, on the count and big smiles. And she jumped until she got it.
I drape the new string of red lights over the mantle and put the four tiny red wooden trees beside the lanterns that sit on the mantle. I light it all and chuckle at myself. My ancient rules were never buying a tree or putting up decorations more than a week before Christmas. Then the rules amended and I never decorated until after Chanukah. Further amendment came when Julia begged and pleaded for some Christmas right after Thanksgiving. We’ve travelled often during Christmas and so I broke down and bought a small fake tree (another rule about only real trees broken!) that we put up as soon as we come home from Thanksgiving traveling. More recently, I’ve taken Christmas out a bit at a time during the beginning of December. Julia enjoys coming home after school to each new piece. And finally, today. Yesterday I found some wooden trees in the Target dollar display and was lured into the Christmas display for the red lights that I’ve looked for too late last year. This morning, just a bit giddy, I pondered putting the lights and trees away for another week or just put them up on this rather gray, last leaf raking, first roof-top snow morning and plugging in the lights.
“It’s Christmas! Thanksgiving?” Julia shouted when she came downstairs. After this last week, it is both!