We are a few months into the second school year of Kayla being at a private school and I admit to sometimes still feeling bitter about how the whole transition to middle school IEP meeting went with our local school district. The district's proposed placement was for Kayla to spend the vast majority of her school day in a self-contained classroom. This was a more restrictive placement than she had in elementary school.
I am so thankful that we had the opportunity, and the option, to send her to a private school where she is included for the vast majority of her school day. She doesn't go to Math or ELA with her class, instead she goes to what is comparable to a Resource Room in the public schools. Classes are only 40 min long so she only spends 80 min of her day getting specialized instruction.
The public middle school didn't even want to entertain the idea of Kayla being in a general education Social Studies and Science class even though that was her placement during elementary school. And now not only is she in Social Studies and Science, she is also in Literature, Religion, and Spanish classes.
She's included in a foreign language class! That wouldn't have even been an option for her in the public school (even though it is offered) - the only classes she would have been included in were PE and Band.
Does the fact that she's included in all those general education classes mean she is proficient in those subjects, keeping up with her class, and doing the exact same work as her classmates? Absolutely not....and she didn't have to be for her to be in the public school either.
She does do the work that she is capable of, she participates in class, and she takes tests that are modified to her level - but still on the exact same subject as the rest of the class. She takes a test on the same vocab words in Literature that the class learned all week, she takes a test on key terms, people, and places in Social Studies - her tests are matching or have a word bank, but it's still on the same material.
Do you know what being included means? It means she is challenged and exposed to a wide variety and rich curriculum in general education.
At the middle school IEP meeting the special education teacher pointed out that Kayla would be the lowest level reader in her class ... that she didn't have anyone in her class who was on a reading level "that low".
Nothing magical has changed Kayla's reading level since that meeting - she is still on an early elementary reading level and she struggles with fluency - yet she still participates in Literature class.
Last year her class read the novels Holes, Chasing Vermeer, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, and Things Not Seen. They didn't have to read these on their own; they were read together in class. The teacher would read the chapters and they would have a discussion. It wasn't until they were reading The Lion that Kayla mentioned taking a turn reading it. I asked her teacher what Kayla was talking about. He said the students took turns reading aloud from the book, they aren't required to read if they don't want to, and they can read as much or as little as they want. He said there were times Kayla did read out loud from the book. I pondered how that must have went - the copy we have is fairly tiny print and tracking words like that are hard for her. She doesn't know all of the words in the book but when she was having trouble pronouncing a word the student next to her would help her out. I lamented how that must have gone for the rest of the students ... by the time they finished listening to Kayla read they probably had no idea what she just read (because, fluency). Her teacher reminded me that each student has their own copy of the book and are supposed to all be following along; so they know exactly what is being read.
Not only did/does she participate in the discussion of the books, she took tests on them as well. Were her questions as involved and detailed as her classmates' test? No, but it was still on the subject of the novels and she was still able to answer specific questions.
We also read the books to her at home, and when available, listen to the audio book. Last year she recognized the cover of Chasing Vermeer in the audio books section of the library so we checked it out and listened to it on our trip to MD. This year we've read, and listened to, Maniac MaGee, so when they start reading it in class she'll be familiar with it.
So just because she can't read any of those books on her own doesn't mean she shouldn't be exposed to them or that she can't be interested in them. Because she was familiar with Things Not Seen, when I saw Things That Are (with the same characters) at the library book sale she wanted to get the book and Joe is now reading it to her.
It's all about exposure and opportunities. She would have missed out on so much of this curriculum had she been in the self-contained classroom all day long.
This year they've read several short stories and teleplays out of their literature book and Kayla has participated too. She's been assigned a character in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (Rod Serling) and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and she follows along and reads her part.
Because of being included she's been Eris, Goddess of Chaos in the 6th grade's Greek Museum presentation.
She's made projects like the Great Pyramids of Giza and a Coat of Arms. Can she do those projects on her own? No, I've had to help her with them ... but then she goes to class and presents her projects and talks about them just like everyone else.
Report cards just came out and she has all A's and B's. Her lowest grade is an 84 and her highest (not counting fine arts) is a 97. Again, this is not to misconstrue and insinuate that she is doing the amount of work her classmates are doing, but she is being graded on the work and tests she is given.
Yet she was deemed incapable of being in a general education classroom.
What about presuming competence and seeing what she could accomplish?
What about giving her a chance?
Instead of being immersed in, and exposed to, the same general education curriculum as her peers, our local district would have had Kayla learning to do laundry.
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