Preparing kids at home for the Common Core Standards

Many parents have been hearing scary things about the Common Core State Standards that most states are now using as a foundation for their General Education Program or Standard Course of Study.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are intended raise expectations for what high school graduates will know and be able to do so that they will be better prepared for the demands of our 21st-Century Global Economy.  We know that students will still be taught how to read, write and do math, so many parents are wondering what’s so different about the CCSS, and whether they will still be able to help with their child’s education.

This blog will only address some CCSS highlights.  However, detailed information about the specific standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics in kindergarten through 12th grade can be found at http://www.corestandards.org.    Also, the Council of the Great City Schools has created Parent Roadmaps to Common Core Standards, which are available in both English and Spanish.  The parent-friendly roadmaps give parents information about what their child should be learning in English Language Arts and Mathematics at each grade K-8 and during the high school years.  They show how the standards connect from one year to the next and also give parents ideas for how they can support their child’s learning at home. You can find the roadmaps at http://www.cgcs.org/Page/328 .

One of the things that you will find throughout the CCSS is a focus on higher-level thinking skills.  Instead of just asking students to memorize facts and repeat definitions, the CCSS requires students to actually use increasingly complex information to understand situations, solve problems, analyze, create and evaluate arguments, explore possibilities, make decisions, communicate with others, and collaborate to reach a common goal.  Students will also be taught to become independent learners who can find needed information and use technology on their own.

While this may all sound a little intimidating, there are some basic things that parents can do to help their child develop these skills.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • http://askecac.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/2fe19-136.jpg?w=155&h=118Expose your child to as many different kind of experiences and people as possible.  Even if resources are limited, you can expose your child to other parts of the world, art, music, theatre, nature, history and science by choosing the right shows to watch on television.  Visit zoos, museums, historical landmarks as well as state and national parks.  These experiences give your child something to connect to when different topics come up at school.
  • Build your child’s vocabulary by occasionally using words that they don’t already know or discussing an unfamiliar expression that they may hear in a story, movie or from someone else.  Look for opportunities to take things to the next level.  For example, go from “dinosaur” to talking about specific species of dinosaurs and what makes a herbivore different from a carnivore.
  • Ask lots of “why” questions.  Why do certain plants or animals only live in certain places? Why do some animals hibernate during the winter? Why is it a bad idea to start a fire outside on a windy day? Why are there more seashells on the beach first thing in the morning? Why do cars cost more than bicycles? Why did you pick that jacket to wear today? Why do they put food coloring in beverages?  The point isn’t to see if they know the answer already, it’s to make them think and communicate their ideas.
  • When reading, hearing or watching a story, ask “what if?” something had happened differently at a particular point in the story.  How would that have impacted what happened later? Would that have been better or worse? Why?
  • Actually talk about why a person shouldn’t believe everything that they hear and under which circumstances some people should be trusted as reliable sources of information.  For example, you should be able to trust your doctors to give medical advice within their field of expertise, but is there any reason to take their word on which car to buy?
  • Look for ways to use math skills in natural situations like shopping, cooking, working on a project to build something, or deciding how many cans of paint to buy to do a job.

The point is that if parents challenge their kids to think more at home and help find different ways to express those thoughts, it will go a long toward preparing them for the challenges of the common core.  Start early and don’t assume that anything is over your child’s head.  Children can usually understand, at least the basics of any topic, if its broken down and explained the right way.

Learning in the garden

I have loved to watch plants grow, going back at least to age 7 when I laid on the ground to look up, with pure appreciation, at a spindly young tree in front of my family’s apartment in Baltimore. Beginning with bulbs and flower seeds there, I have grown houseplants and/or vegetables in just about every place that I’ve lived since that time. While I personally find gardening very therapeutic, it is also a natural laboratory and a place where children can learn all sorts of valuable skills and life lessons.

Here are just a few of the things that children can learn in a garden:

  • The life cycle of plants and insects how they are able to transform over time without changing their identity. (Biology)
  • How energy is neither created or destroyed; it just changes form. (Physics)
  • That all soils are not the same. They have a history. (Geology)
  • That fertilizer and Ph make a difference. (Chemistry)
  • Fine motor skills: crumbling soil, seed handling, tying plants to a support, using hand tools, etc.
  • Gross motor skills: digging, reaching, balancing, pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, etc.
  • Math: measurement (space, distance, volume, height, weight, time), counting, geometry (e.g. how shadows will be cast), estimation, etc.
  • Veggies always taste better when you grow them yourself. (Nutrition; Self-confidence)
  • Plants do best when they are put in location where their needs for sun, water and space can best be met. (Analysis; Organization)
  • There is a very close relationship between the effort that you put in and the success of the garden. (Cause/Effect; Work Ethic)
  • Things will happen in their own time. (Patience; Delayed gratification)
  • Sometimes your plants are damaged by forces you have no control over, like weather, disease and pests. (Resilience; Humility)
  • Next year things will be even better! (Planning; Optimism; Self-determination)

There must also be studies out there showing that gardening has mental health benefits, even though they may be more difficult to measure.  It’s never too early or too late to introduce children to gardening, whether at home, school or in a community garden.  If you are a gardener, share your love and experience with some young people.  It’s education, nature style!

Don’t forget to plan for non-academic school time!

Part of the excitement of going back to school is thinking about the fun parts of the school experience.  Many children look forward to playing with friends during recess, having lively conversations at lunchtime or on the school bus, and field trips that bring history, art and science up close and personal.  Many schools also offer extra-curricular activities that range from sports, music, and drama to special interest or service clubs. It is through these activities that many students form lasting friendships, discover gifts and talents, or gain experiences that help prepare them for future careers.

Students that have disabilities should be encouraged to consider becoming actively involved in all parts of school life. By law (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), they should be given an equal opportunity to participate, but sometimes that message is not clearly communicated to the students, or to the adults that make the extra-curricular activities possible.  In some schools, notices about club sign-ups, team tryouts or driver’s education courses are not even distributed in the special education classrooms.  It’s hard to make a choice when you don’t know what the options are.

School staff may need to be more intentional in their effort to publicize these opportunities throughout the entire student population.  Parents can also ask about what’s going on at their child’s school and the process for becoming involved if their child has an interest in a particular activity.

Some students with disabilities may need accommodations, assistive technology or other supports to successfully participate in their chosen extra-curricular activity. They may also need accommodations for some of the non-academic parts of the regular school day.  IEP teams and 504 committees sometimes overlook these times when they are discussing the child’s educational needs. In some cases, this amounts to a missed opportunity to enhance the child’s school experience by supporting them through their disability-related challenges, or continue to work on IEP goals in a non-classroom setting. For other children, such an oversight can set them up for avoidable social or behavioral difficulties.

The good news is that IEPs and Section 504 accommodation plans are living documents that can be revised whenever the need to do so arises.  Teachers, coaches and other adults also have the freedom to make many accommodations on their own when they identify a need for them.  It almost goes without saying that a child may need different types of support for different activities.

The I’m Tyler video http://imtyler.org/index.php/video/  does a powerful job of making the point that students with disabilities are capable of participating in a wide range of activities when the adults around them focus more on what they can do than on what they can’t do.  A little effort, imagination and open-mindedness goes a very long way toward giving students with disabilities the chance that they deserve to experience each day as full members of their school and larger communities.

Dissecting a Victory

askecac:

So many parents will be able to relate to your experience. Beautifully written!

Originally posted on autismblues:

So today was the big day. We had our eligibility meeting at the school to determine if our fourth child, a third-grader, qualified as being on the autism spectrum according to the school district’s definitions. And I’m happy to report that the IEP team (consisting of the school psychologist, the speech therapist, our son’s teacher, the assistant principal, our private psychologist, and Katie and me) all agreed that he met the district’s criteria for being identified as ASD.

A Good Day.

On one level, not much has changed as a result of this new designation. He is still receiving the same services he received under his previous designation as “Language Impaired.” We’ll revisit his Individualized Education Plan later in the school year to see if he needs more help than he’s currently receiving.

But having him identified as being on the autism spectrum is also a safeguard for the future…

View original 786 more words

Don’t let YOUR disappointment cause your child to fail!

As parents, we are convinced that we know what’s best for our child, or at least what they need.  When it comes to school, we may have very strong opinions about how our child learns best, how much structure they need, what kind of teacher they would work well with, what kind of classroom setting would work, or the amount of support that they need.  This is especially true for children with disabilities who may require an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and specially designed instruction to meet their unique needs.  Wouldn’t it be simpler if we could just tell the school what to do?

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately in some cases), that’s not how educational decisions are made.  Parents have a voice in developing their child’s IEP, but they do not have the power to control the decisions of the IEP team.  The IEP team may decide to agree or disagree with any suggestion that a parent makes.  Other decisions, such as school assignment, teacher assignment, curriculum, school bell schedule, and graduation requirements are usually made with no input from parents at all.

make lemonade out of lemonsIt is sometimes difficult to accept decisions that you honestly feel are not in your child’s best interest.  But, if you want your child to have a fighting chance to be successful in a less-than-ideal situation, you will need to be careful about the spoken and unspoken messages that you send your child.  If she hears you using catastrophic language and talking a lot about how terrible things are going to be at school, it will be very difficult for her to expect to have a good experience.

I worry about children who spend all summer listening to their parent wage battle after battle in a losing effort to overturn some school-related decision. Maybe they wanted their child to be promoted, or maybe they wanted to keep them at the same grade instead of being “pushed through” to the next one.  Maybe they wanted to keep their child with the same effective or caring teacher as last year, or maybe they wanted to get away from one that they felt was not a good match for their child.  Maybe they wanted their child at the neighborhood school, but the special education class that he needs is at another school, or maybe they were hoping to transfer out of a school with a bad reputation or one that was in the wrong part of town.  Maybe their request for an important accommodation, piece of assistive technology, or one-on-one support person was denied.  Whatever the issue is, the child may have heard or overheard the parent repeatedly talking about how awful it was going to be for their child if _________ did or didn’t happen.  Some parents even promise their children that,”I’m not going to let them do this to you.” What happens to your child if you lose your battle and things don’t go the way you want?

It is great, and often necessary for parents to advocate for their child’s education.  However, there is a right way to do it and a point at which you need to shift your focus toward helping your child accept and be comfortable with the situation that they will walk into when they return to school.  To the extent that you can, keep you child out of your conflict with the school. Try to have conversations when you know that your child (or his/her siblings) is not going to hear you or see your look of frustration afterward.  Communicating with the school in writing helps with the first part of that suggestion, but you still must watch your body language and what you say to others about the situation.

If it becomes clear that you have a less than 70% chance of getting what you want for your child, then you should make a deliberate effort to help your child be open-minded about what might happen in the future.  Every option has pros and cons.  Try to think and talk about some possible positives of  things going the other way. For example, if your transfer request was turned down, you can talk about the shorter bus ride, the friend from last year that will be at that school, the fact that the school is newer, has a better playground, or the fact that your child already knows their way around the building.  If your child was retained, you can talk about how this will give him a chance to catch up with his skills and be a much stronger student when he does move on to the next grade, the fact that he can still spend time with his friends outside of class, or how he will have a head start on his classmates because he won’t be hearing everything for the first time.

Even while you are hoping for the best, you should prepare your child for the worst.  Do your very best to help your child go into the next school year with hope that things will go well.  Continue to work on academic, organizational or social skills over the summer to help your child become a stronger student.  Look for ways that you can work with the school to create a successful experience for your child, even if things didn’t exactly go the way you wanted them to.  Helping your child develop resilience, the ability to bounce back from hardship, will be a greater gift than smoothing out every potential bump in the road to adulthood.  You know what they say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  What you definitely don’t want, is to have your child go to school looking and feeling like he just sucked on a giant lemon!

FAQ: Can I pick my child’s teacher?

questions-and-answersFAQ:  Do I have a right to choose my child’s teacher?

Answer:  As a general rule, parents do not have the right to select the school staff who will be working with their child.  However, there may be ways that parents can influence that decision.

This question is usually asked by parents of children in elementary school.  The situation in middle and high schools are complicated by scheduling limitations (only so many sections of a particular course are offered at any given point in time), the requirement that secondary teachers are highly qualified in the content area in order to teach a core subject, and the practice of organizing middle school students and teachers into “teams”.

Elementary school principals are typically  responsible for assigning students to specific teachers.  It is expected that this process is not done randomly.  Principals have lots of information available to them to help make that decision.  They can consider student  factors such as age, gender, skill levels, discipline history as well as teacher input and recommendations.  Teacher characteristics, experience and training are also usually taken into consideration.

Once classroom assignment decisions have been made, most principals do not want to deal with a lot of parents who are unhappy that their child did not get assigned to the most popular teacher at that grade.  They often worry that the floodgates will open if they give in to a parent’s request to add “just one more child” to Miss Suzie’s class.  This is understandable.  The principal is trying to make sure that all teachers are valued and seen as competent, and that there is an equitable (not necessarily equal) distribution of the student population.  A parent who pushes the issue too hard can find themselves on the losing end of a power struggle.

So, what can you do to help get your child assigned to a teacher that will be a good match?  Or at least avoid a worst-case scenario?  Some kids can go with the flow and will be fine with almost any teacher.  For that child, it will probably be safe to let things occur without any interference.  However, if you have one of those children who is not going to be okay in every situation, or will not do well with every teaching style, it is best to be proactive.  It is always easier to influence a decision before it’s made, than to change it after the fact.

In late spring, try to set up a face-to-face meeting with the principal to talk about your child and his educational needs.  Share information about what makes your child unique.  Discuss relevant personality traits, past experiences, learning style and disability-related issues that you would like the principal to think about when they are deciding who to assign as your child’s next teacher.  You can talk about classroom environment and teacher traits that will allow your child to function at her best.  You can also mention past situations that did not work well for your child.  Be careful to not put down any past teachers!  Instead, you can talk about teaching styles, amount of classroom structure, authoritarian versus nurturing approaches, physical environment requirements, health and safety needs and any special issues regarding interaction with other students.

Unless the principal is new to that school, they should know their staff well enough to know which teachers are a good match for your child and which will likely lead to disaster.  Leave a written summary of the key points that you want the principal to think about.  The actually classroom assignments may not be made until weeks or months after your meeting, and your document can be a much-needed reminder of the things you talked about.  If you learn that the decision will not be made until the end of summer, consider sending a greeting (by phone or email) expressing that you and your child are looking forward to the new school year, and thanking the principal for taking the time to meet with you earlier to talk about your child.  If you send an email, it might not be a bad idea to attach another copy of the reminder document.  Play that one by ear though, and skip the attachment if you think that the principal might consider it too pushy.

http://www.summerspictures.com/education-and-learning/happy-young-student-in-classroom-s_83.jpg

Remember, the goal is to get a good situation for your child, not for the principal to feel like you are trying to tell them how to do their job.  Diplomacy and effective advocacy are often about knowing when, how, and how hard to push.

Re-engaging parents in the IEP process

Most of the time I think of parents as my primary audience when writing an Ask ECAC blog post.  This time I would like to “flip the script” and address the educators and other professionals who have a lot of influence on the type of experience parents have as they participate in their child’s education.  First, I’ll share a personal anecdote and then I’ll offer a few ideas that I think might make a positive difference for many parents.

When my son started high school there were several indications that things were not going to go as smoothly as they had with his older sister.  The first clue was his class schedule that had everything wrong except for the PE class.   Apparently the school had made the assumption that, because my son had an IEP, he needed to be placed in the lowest level courses that were available.   There were a couple of bumps after that, but let’s fast forward to October when I received an Invitation to Conference notice about his upcoming IEP annual review meeting.

There was a name on the list of invitees that neither me nor my son recognized.  When I asked his EC case manager who that person was, she responded, “That’s the regular education teacher that we use for IEP meetings.” It was clear that she was not prepared when I suggested that it would be better to invite at least one of the seven regular education teachers that had him in their class.  When I later came to the school for the IEP meeting, the case manager had actually left the school grounds and two of the teachers had to leave before she returned.  She started circulating the signature page of the IEP while we were still on page one.  When she asked why I didn’t sign it and pass it along, I explained that we were not finished developing the IEP.  Her reply, “that’s what we’re doing now,” referring to the fact that she was reading the draft that she had prepared, without so much as a pause that would allow anyone else to offer input, let alone invite us to participate.  When I asked how case managers were assigned, she was eager to get rid of me as a parent who “asked too many questions.”

The new case manager was a teacher that I knew and loved from her previous work with my daughter.  As generally wonderful as she was, I was surprised one day when I came for a scheduled IEP meeting and watched her scramble to find a room and round up the appropriate staff. I didn’t say anything, but she responded to my very expressive face by saying that, “you have to realize that only about 20% of parents come to IEP meetings.” I was shocked to hear this because I know that 99% of parents care about their kids and want what’s best for them. How could it be that so few of them come to high school IEP meetings?!

Admittedly without having conducted peer-reviewed research on the matter, I utilized my 25 years of experience working with parents to come to the conclusion that the poor attendance rate was largely the result of the experiences that the parents had up to that point.  Many of these parents had been trained to believe that their input wasn’t needed or welcome.  They showed up at meetings only to be read to and handed copies of a document that they really did not help create.  When they made suggestions, most of them were shot down for reasons that they did not understand or agree with.  Some of the IEPs have become so repetitive and/or generic that the meeting feels like a mere exercise in compliance.  In some cases, there are parents whose children exhibit behavioral challenges, who have grown weary of hearing about how terrible their child is, or worse, made to feel like people consider them to be a lousy parent.  Who would take time out of their life and make the effort to go the school for that?

If you are reading this, you are probably one of the good guys who try very hard to not do the things that I mentioned.  However, you may know folks who have gotten into some bad habits, or you may be in a position to have a positive influence on staff that are involved with IEP meetings by raising awareness and cultivating good habits using formal (e.g. staff development) and informal (e.g. modeling, peer-mentoring) strategies.  Parents will engage in the IEP process if they feel valued!  Some very obvious “Don’ts” are imbedded in the text above. 

six raised hands joined together

Here are some “Do’s” that should help staff establish and maintain a productive working relationship with parents, based on mutual respect:

  • At the beginning of the school year, initiate communication with parents so that know who you are, what role you play in their child’s education, and how they can reach you.  Clearly express that you want to hear from them if there are questions, concerns or information that they feel you should know regarding their child.
  • When you are planning for an IEP meeting, let parents know what is on the agenda (sometimes the check boxes don’t provide enough information for a parent to really know what to expect).  Ask parents if they have any additional matters that they would like to discuss or people that they want to have invited.
  • Make sure that enough time is allotted for the meeting so that important discussion isn’t curtailed and the meeting doesn’t feel rushed.  Nothing says, “I don’t care” like starting a meeting with, “we only have 20 minutes so let’s move on.”
  • Allow a few minutes for the parent to tell you about their child and what they think makes him special and unique.  It not only helps the parent feel that you truly care about that child, but may also reveal  information that could be useful to the IEP team and others who work with him/her.
  • Send the parent a draft of the IEP proposals in advance of the meeting and invite them to think about any changes or additions that they would like to see.  This gives the parent time to digest what is proposed, get clarification if needed, and come into the meeting with the same information as everyone else.  Remember, information is power, so share it.
  • Pause at the end of each chunk of the IEP, look at the other team members (make eye contact with the parent) and ask if anyone has any comments or suggestions.  At points you can shorten this to a pause,  look around and “Is this okay?”, but you want to set the tone with very deliberate invitations for parent input–not just with the parts of the IEP that require it.
  • Recognize that the parent knows their child best and regard the information that they share as data that has as much value as the data generated by school staff.  If there are important discrepancies between how the parent describes their child’s skills or behavior and what is seen at school, rather than declare that the only thing that matters is what happens at school, try to find an explanation.  This could lead to a better understanding of the child and more effective educational planning.
  • Be open to the parent’s ideas for accommodations, modifications, supports or strategies.  Even if there seem to be some problems with the original suggestion, an earnest discussion about why the parent thought that it was a good idea can lead to another suggestion that the team can reach consensus on.  That would feel so much better than simply being told “No.”

Just as negative experiences can discourage parents from attending IEP meetings, positive experiences can get them back in the game.  The stakes are too high to simply allow parents to sit on the sidelines.  The right coaching and teamwork can lead to the result that everyone wants: the child wins!

College experience is possible for students with intellectual disabilities!

photo of college studentsThere has been a quiet, but growing movement taking place in the world of post-secondary education.  Thanks to demand from students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, and the support of a federal initiative, there are an increasing number of post-secondary education programs that allow  individuals with I/DD to have a college experience.  Today many more young people are living their dream of going to college!

Think College! is the joint effort of several federally funded projects.  It is focused on promoting post-secondary education (PSE) as a choice for adults and transition-aged youth with intellectual disabilities across the nation. In 2009 Think College! conducted a survey of existing PSE programs and identified 149 programs located in 37 states.  Today there are at least 212 programs, with 9 located here in North Carolina!

The Think College! website has a wealth of information about PSE programs, evidence-based practices, research findings and related resources. Think College! also provides training and technical assistance for parents, self-advocates, educators, administrators, legislators and others who play key roles in developing and supporting additional high quality PSE programs. Learn more at: www.thinkcollege.net

The Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) coordinates the North Carolina Post-Secondary Education Alliance (PSEA), a diverse group of stakeholders who have a mission to expand the PSE options for individuals with I/DD in North Carolina. The PSEA webpage has information and links for those interested in creating new programs as well as information on the existing programs. There are currently programs at 5 community colleges: Alamance, Central Piedmont, Cleveland, Randolph, and Western Piedmont.  There are also programs housed at Appalachian State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and Western Carolina University.

Visit the PSEA homepage at: www.cidd.unc.edu/psea  In addition to information about “the Alliance” and its activities, you will find links to comprehensive information about each North Carolina program. For an easy side-by-side comparison, there is also an “At-a-Glance” document that uses a grid format to provide some key information.  Thanks to the PSEA, information about post-secondary options for students with I/DD is now also available on the College Foundation of North Carolina website:  www.cfnc.org, a central information source for all students who are thinking about college.  Now we are playing on the big stage!

If you have, or know of, a young person with I/DD who may be interested in going to college after they leave school, be sure to discuss this with their teacher and IEP team. The student’s transition component, and other parts of the IEP, can be developed to help prepare the student for a successful PSE experience. Focus on the hard and soft skills that will be needed on campus, in the workplace and community, and for independent living. Many of these programs also work with adults who have already been out of school for a while, but some have a special focus on those who are in the process of making the transition to adulthood. Contact any program that you have interest in to get more information, sooner rather than later. That’s how you begin to turn a dream into a goal, and then into reality!

Promotion after Third Grade has become more complicated

http://daphne.blogs.com/photos/uncategorized/reading1.jpgIt used to be fairly simple to talk with parents about how promotion and retention decisions were made in North Carolina.  Except for high school students, whose grade classification is based on the number and type of course credits earned, our Public School Law (G.S. 115C) gave school principals sole authority over how students were “classified” or assigned to a grade.  Principals were expected to make this decision thoughtfully, considering factors like classroom work, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations and other relevant information.  If parents were worried that their child might be retained, they were often advised to meet with the principal and share their concerns with the hope of influencing that decision.  This is still good information, unless your child is in third grade.

Recent changes in North Carolina’s Public School Law  (2012-142, s. 7A.1) offer some good, bad and not-so-bad news.  Let’s discuss them in that order.

Good News:  The North Carolina Read to Achieve Program is intended to put intense focus on effective reading instruction in the early grades (K-3) as a means of increasing academic achievement long term.  It has a goal of ensuring that “every child is reads at or above grade level by the end of 3rd grade and continue to progress in reading proficiency so that she or he can read, comprehend, integrate and apply complex text needed for secondary education and career success.”

The positive purposes of this legislation are that (1) difficulty with reading development is identified as early as possible; (2) students receive appropriate instructional and support services to address difficulty with reading development and to remediate reading deficiencies; and (3) each student and his or her parent or guardian be continuously informed of the student’s academic needs and progress.  So far, so good.

Bad News:  In addition to the purposes listed above, the purpose of this law is to determine that progression from one grade to another be based, in part, upon proficiency in reading.  More specifically, the State Board of Education must now require that a student be retained in third grade if they fail to demonstrate third grade level reading comprehension skills on a State-approved standardized test.  Even though this law allows for certain specific “good cause exemptions” from mandatory retention, the Superintendent will now make the final promotion/retention decision.  The Principal can only make a written recommendation to the Superintendent if they determine that a student qualifies for a  good cause exemption and should be promoted.

Not-so-bad News:  Students who are retained under this law will be given the option of attending a 6-8 week “summer reading camp.”  At the end of the camp the students will be tested again and will be promoted to 4th grade if they demonstrate grade-level skills,  either on that test or through a reading portfolio.  If they do not improve their reading skills to that level, they will repeat 3rd grade with a possibility of being promoted mid-year if the are able to reach grade level by November 1st.  Retained students will be provided with intensive reading instruction.  Those students who are given a good cause exemption will also receive instructional supports and reading interventions appropriate for their age and reading level.

Students with disabilities can be considered for a good cause exemption if they have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that calls for reading interventions and the use of alternative assessments when they participate in the state testing program.  If your child is below grade level with her reading skills, make sure that there is a reading goal on her IEP.  Whether or not she has an IEP, you should monitor your child’s reading progress closely and ask questions if you feel that her skills are developing too slowly.  Maybe something different needs to happen.  Some children have disabilities, such as an intellectual  disability, that make it unrealistic to expect grade level academic skills.  However, it is extremely important that every child be provided the appropriate type and amount of instruction that will allow them to reach their fullest potential.  North Carolina’s public school laws no longer mention “full potential” but, like most parents, that will always be  my goal for each child.

Summer learning and fun on a shoestring

Many parents worry that the summer break from school will mean weeks of lost opportunities to learn.  Worst yet, they fear that their child may actually lose skills that they have worked so hard to develop.   Some parents will enroll their child in some sort of academic program, which may or may not be disguised as a “camp.”  Other parents would like to do this , but lack the financial resources to make it happen.  The quick tip for this last group of parents is to ask about financial assistance or scholarships that might make a big difference.

For folks who have limited funds, it is important to tap into other resources that may be available.  One of the important lessons that my own mother taught me is to not let pride stand in the way of giving your child a valuable experience.  When she worked as a housekeeper in the local YWCA, she somehow made it possible for me to take free classes on Saturdays.  It was at the Y that I learned how to sew, cook, dance, swim and speak French.  She then talked my school into allowing me, as a 4th grader, to sit in with the 6th grade class when they had their French lessons.  My brothers and I also had the opportunity to attend day and overnight camps at no cost other than our clothing and required gear. This contrast to our typical inner-city routine expanded our minds in ways that cannot be measured.

As a financially-challenged mom, I have applied that advocacy lesson to the benefit of my own children.  I ask about and stay on the lookout for programs and activities in my community.  My children have had the opportunity to participate in some expensive specialty programs at a fraction of the cost. There are also low-cost day camps offered by schools, park and recreation departm3 kids in natureents, churches and other non-profit groups.  The Cooperative Extension Service offers 4-H programs year-round where children and youth “Learn by Doing.” During summer there are 4-H traditional and specialty camps.  The Boy and Girl Scouts of America also offer summer camping opportunities, which may even be open to non-scouts if space is available.  Camps give children the chance to learn about science, nature, crafts, music, sports, etc. and develop in many areas including communication and social  skills.

Some private schools that have summer programs for academic enrichment or remediation have scholarships available for those who cannot afford to pay all or any of the cost, but they may not advertise them.  Your school guidance counselor or social worker may be aware of these opportunities, as well as other programs that may be targeted toward economically-disadvantaged or at-risk students, or groups that are under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.  Some of those programs are offered on college and university campuses, making the dream of going to college seem more possible for the children who participate.

Educational websites and software (that can often be borrowed from your public library) offer “games” that can reinforce or develop skills while your child is having fun.  Even old-school activity books can sharpen a variety of skills in response to a complaint that “I’m bored!”  A walk in a park or a drive in the country can lead to interesting discoveries or raise questions that you can research together (e.g. let’s find out about that bug/rock/plant/historical marker, etc.).  Some businesses or factories offer tours, or at least may be willing to allow an employee to take the time to explain what kind of work they do.  Local museums and zoos often have discount days and many movie theaters offer special shows for kids at low-cost and may even come complete with popcorn!

The most important thing is to not forget that learning can happen everywhere and everyday, sometimes without your child realizing it.  In fact, it’s probably better that way.

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