For these few weeks I am republishing the "Educating Alex" series I shared in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Since these are direct republishes there may be references to events I wrote about during that time period. There have been challenges and growth since I began this journal, but it may be worthwhile to revisit our educational history.This is the eighth in a ten part series. The following was first published in March 2010.
I have had trouble writing this entry about High School. My dilemma has been around relating high school as it was, or high school as it is becoming.
I have come to a decision, I will write about how I think high school will be by the time Alex graduates. Currently, her high school years are a work in progress, but I feel forward momentum. Therefore, my vision, right or wrong, is what I’d like to discuss.
By way of background, all students with an IEP that specifies transition services will attend high school for four years. If transitions services are warranted, these kids will graduate with their class with a “social diploma”, and graduate into a transition program.
As I understand it, a “real” diploma signifies completion of all high school education requirements, and makes the graduate ineligible for transition services. Merely semantics at this point, but I was cautioned to request a “social" diploma if I want Alex to remain eligible for public school services.
Alex is currently on this track; four years of high school, followed by a transition program until she is 21. I will talk about my vision of a transition program at some point in the next few months (when I have figured it out!) I do not think it exists today in a form I think appropriate for Alex. The jury is out on her educational path after high school.
As Alex will be eligible for three extra years of “education” her program is a bit different. This extra learning time implies her high school education is not geared toward leaving the system at 18, for college, or work, but rather at 21 for a job/life skills program. This is a good thing for our children with special needs. I believe the more preparation and guidance for adult life, the better, if executed properly.
To me, this is an important distinction. Alex’s curriculum should revolve around successful life and academic skills, geared towards her future. High school is the time to think about our future, and Alex’s future. Alex is no different than other high school kids, looking forward to graduation and independent living. She just has three more years to prepare.
I learned that Alex and I are the only ones who can vocalize our vision for life after 21. Leaving this responsibility to a school administrator is not fair to Alex or the administrator. It is our responsibility to work towards this future, and ensure the public school system educates, supports and provides a solid foundation for this future. I learned this the hard way, as evidenced by my previous entries related to Alex's schooling.
This lack of definition around future has been the root of all my woes; I have had a huge disconnect with the school. I will not go into too much detail around this disconnect, merely say that the school’s expectations for Alex’s future were different than mine. We are now all on the same page; Alex will work, live independently and lead a full life.
We have redone, reworded and reassessed all of Alex’s IEP goals with the end result to guarantee Alex has the skills needed to realize her future. Reading, math, social and language objectives are incorporated into Alex’s IEP with specific tactics identified to reach these goals. Measurements are in place as well as milestones.
For example, Alex loves sports and the arts. These avocations are included in Alex’s goals as tactics related to her academic goals. In sports, social skills can be addressed, and worked on with the school counselor. In the arts, speech skills can be addressed with the speech therapist. This is where the importance of the team and the communication structure we have put in to place are crucial. This is critical for a successful high school career.
High school can be the best years of a special needs student’s academic life. Many of the social awkwardness and pettiness of middle school have disappeared with maturity. These traits are replaced with other behaviors, and definitely cliques become more pronounced. However, in our experience, high school kids are willing to befriend and include Alex.
There are negatives, and of course concerns. I know there are substance abuse problems; it goes with the territory. I am worried for Alex’s safety around teenage boys; she does not understand boundaries or behavior. She is a bit too trusting and certainly naive. We have written all these concerns into goal oriented actions, these are skills she will need as an adult.
As I think through where we have been, and where we are going, I realize high school is working out okay. By staying the course, and working with the school, I believe we are creating the roadmap for Alex's success. Still we take it one day or week at time. We are preparing Alex for the future, just like we prepare Courtney and Tom. Failure is not an option.
I guess writing this wasn’t so hard after all; call me optimistic, but we are on our way to a bright future. Hope for the best and adjust as needed!