Worries about inclusion
I have to admit, when Sergei, the IEP team, and I decided to try Polly out this year in mainstream kindergarten, I was nervous. On one hand, I thought it would be great for her. I could see her thriving with her typically developing peers, sitting well at circle time, working on printing her name, playing with a friend at recess.
But on the other hand, especially as the school year approached, I started to worry. What if she runs away from line while the kids are taking a bathroom break? What if she disrupts the whole class too much? Will other kids make fun of her when they notice she still wears pull ups for the the occassional accident?
What if her school simply accomodates her without putting together a great program that meets her needs? I don't want inclusion to mean she gets to be with the other kids, but on the fringe.
A couple weeks ago I started to have trouble sleeping. I kept finding a heavy stone of worry in the pit of my stomach. This placement isn't going to work. This placement isn't going to work. I'd pray, or roll over, or wake Sergei up so he could assure me that Polly would be fine.
Our neighborhood school where Elaina and Zoya go is wonderful. We've had fantastic teachers for both girls every year. And the administration is striving for excellence and approachable. But I haven't seen that many kids with special needs there. Would we need to blaze a trail and if so, did I have enough fire in me to light the match?
Assurance from her school
Just when my consuption of worry was starting to equal a meal, I got a phone call from Polly's school.
"Hi, this is Polly's kindergarten teacher Ms. *****. We'd like to have Polly come in next week so I can meet her and do an assessment."
Polly and I walked to school two days later. She met her new teacher, sat up to the child-size work desk, and proceeded to show me and her teacher that she knew nearly all the letters of the alphabet. She knew several shapes. She answered questions and with gentle reminders, stayed on task. I nearly bubbled with pride. Her teacher seemed pleased, too.
During the assesment, another teacher came into the room.
"Hello, Mrs. Marchenko, I'm a learning specialist here at the school. And hello Polly!" The teacher turned to Polly and gave her a big hug and a high five. "Polly, I know you! I came to your other school and watched you in pre-school several times. I am so glad you are here with us. We've been waiting for you."
They've been waiting for Polly.
The learning specialist explained to me that she works with kids who have IEPS. She spends most of her time at our neighborhood school, but has also worked at Polly's pre-school. "I've been working with kids with special needs since 1992, and I only do inclusion. Polly's going to do great here. We are setting up a wonderful schedule for her."
Since that day, I've corresponded a bit more with the learning specialist. Although Polly will have an aid working with her, this teacher will oversee Polly's days. When Polly is pulled out of class to work on IEP appropriate subjects (probably math and writing), she'll be with this teacher.
"Mrs. Marchenko, we'd like you to come to Polly's class the first week and read a book about Down syndrome, too."
This teacher combed through Polly's IEP and made an appropriate schedule for her. She met with the aid and with Polly's kindergarten teacher and walked them through the schedule and prepped them a bit on ways to include Polly in the classroom as well.
I am blown away.
When you have a child with special needs, there is always a concern that your kid will simply be tolerated. In my book, being tolerated is only a slight step up from being made fun of or ignored.
School starts next Tuesday, September 6th. I'm still not sure how Polly will do fully included. But I am confident her school is ready for her. She has a great team of professionals to help her thrive. And they are thrilled to have her.
Polly will be more than taken care of, which does a Mama's heart good.
So come on, mainstream kindergarten! Let's do this thing!