Monthly Archives: July 2012

Is your child on track for graduation?

We sometimes get calls from parents of high school students that are concerned that their child is doing poorly in school for one reason or another, and as we try to get to the root of the problem, we may ask the parent what classes the student is taking.  I am dismayed, but no longer surprised, by the number of parents who cannot answer that question.  If parents don’t know the courses that their child is taking during a given semester, then it very likely that they also don’t have a good understanding of where the child stands with regard to meeting the requirements to graduate with a diploma.

graduation cap with books and diplomaIn North Carolina there are two courses of study (COS) that lead to a high school diploma: the Future-Ready Core Course of Study and the Future-Ready Occupational Course of Study (OCS).  Each COS has it’s own specific set of requirements, which must be met completely before the student will be able to receive a diploma.  The decision about which COS is the most appropriate for a particular student is usually made late in the 8th grade year, and parents need to ask as many questions as necessary to understand what will be expected of their child.  But that’s just the beginning!

Parents and students should periodically check to see which graduation requirements have been met and which are still outstanding.  In most schools, the guidance counselors will meet with each student at least once a year, especially as courses are being selected for the following year.  What’s surprising to many parents is that a lot of schools do not routinely involve parents in this process.  The parent may have to initiate contact with the counselor and ask to have an unofficial transcript sent home, or maybe schedule a face-to-face meeting with the counselor to see where things stand.  Every school system will have it’s graduation requirements available on it’s website and in any high school planning guide that they may publish (you may have to ask for a copy in order to get one).

Think about how much time the student has left in school, and which courses have to be taken before the student will be allowed to take a needed, or desired, course (those are called “prerequisites”).  Are there any tests or projects that are stand-alone graduation requirements?  If your child plans to go to college, are they taking the courses that will meet the college or university’s admission requirements?  Is the student taking, but failing course after course, ending up with very few credits toward graduation?  Are they taking remedial courses that they pass, but only count as elective credits?  Is the student taking career-technical classes that have nothing to do with their career goal or area of interest?  If the student is on the OCS, do they have the required number of  hours for each type of work experience?  If not, what’s the plan for accomplishing by the time graduation is expected? Who can help with this?

In some cases, parents and students have made a 5-year plan for high school, only to be told that the student MUST graduate at the end of four years.  When this happens, there has often been inadequate planning for the student’s transition to adulthood and nothing is in place to support them once they leave school.  Spacing the required courses out over a longer period of time can buy the student more time to work on transition goals, further develop their skills, and have experiences that will give them a better chance for success as an adult.

The bottom line is that parents need to stay on top of their student’s progress throughout the high school years.  There is a High School Planner available at that can help parents and students keep track of graduation requirements that have been, or still need to be met.  A similar tool may be available through the high school.  Once again, the guidance counselor will be the key contact for this entire process.   Establishing a good working relationship with that counselor can only work in your child’s best interest, so it’s well worth the effort.

Be a smart information consumer

Yesterday I was reading an on-line newsletter and my ADHD led me to the  BLOG post of a parent who wanted help getting her child an IEP at school.  Although well-intended, some of the replies contained inaccurate or misleading information.  I felt motivated to respond to this parent myself to clear up a couple of things and direct her to a more reliable source of information.  I’m sure that every day there are countless people who are in search of information through lots of different channels.  The key is to consider your source, maintain a healthy questioning attitude, and trust your instincts.  I’ll speak to each of these points.

circular image of question marks around the word knowledgeWhat is the source of the information?  By talking to other parents you can get the support of others who can relate to your situation.  They can tell you about their experiences and share what they have learned along the way.  Keep in mind that they, like everyone, see he world through their own lenses, and their child is not your child.  There may be some distinct differences in their circumstances that would make your experience very different than theirs, even if things sound similar initially.  When dealing with professionals it is important to keep in mind that no one knows everything.  Sometimes classroom teachers give medical advice and school administrators speculate about possible mental health diagnoses.  In this type of situation, you most likely have a professional who has moved outside their area of expertise.  Even when professionals are operating within their official roles, they are not all going to be equally competent or well-informed.

Don’t believe everything that you hear.   Sometimes people give out misinformation because they, themselves, are misinformed.  This happens with both parents and professionals.  Sometimes information gets passed from person to person to person, and things get distorted along the way.  Sometimes people have a piece of the picture, but not the whole story.  It’s okay to ask people where they got their information.  If someone cites a rule, policy or law (“we have to…” or “we’re not allowed to…”), ask them to either show it to you in writing or direct you to where you can read it for yourself.  Another challenge is to separate fact from opinion and emotion.  For example, a frustrated parent may tell you that he or she did not get any results until they contacted the Superintendent, and suggest that you do the same thing.  The reality may be that  the parent skipped several steps in the chain of command and that you may very well be able to resolve your issue by communicating with the right person within the school.

Trust your instincts!   If someone tells you something that doesn’t make sense, doesn’t seem right, or doesn’t fit with other things that you know, look a little closer and get more information.  If the source has a reason to be biased, try to get additional information from a neutral source.  If you’re not quite sure about the source’s knowledge base, check with another reputable source whose expertise you are confident about.  Above all, don’t ever substitute someone else’ judgement for your own, especially when it comes to what’s best for your child.

High interest books for lower reading levels

Have you heard about the Tar Heel Reader?  It’s a website that provides free access to books on a wide variety of topics for individuals of all ages who have a low reading level.  Tar Heel Reader was created through the collaboration between the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The collection currently contains over 24,500 titles, including some in 19 languages other than English.  Each book is easy to read with pictures or visuals on each page.  The amount of text on each page is limited and the language is generally simple and easy to understand.  The vocabulary may be specialized based on the topic.  For example, there is a version of  Lord of the Rings on the site that contains names of people and places that you don’t run into in the natural world!

Topics range literally from  soup to nuts.  There are books on foods, animals and nature, health, history, fairy and folk tales, poetry, people and places, sports, fiction, art and music, and so on.  Some of the material is appropriate for younger children, but a lot of it is targeted toward adolescents and adults who have a low reading level.  It’s a way to enjoy printed material on age-appropriate topics in spite of struggles with reading.  Students can even use Tar Heel Reader to do research on a subject or person as part of a school assignment.

Here’s the best part: each book can be speech enabled so that someone can listen to the text as it is read to them in a choice of voices!  The books can be read directly from the website or downloaded as slide shows in various formats.  There are interfaces available to make the books accessible through the use of touchscreens, IntelliKeys, switches, etc.

Tar Heel Reader even offers a way for people to create their own books, which can then be “published” on the site.  Parent supervision is recommended, especially for younger children and those for whom content control is advisable.  A “Favorites” page is available that can be used as a way to steer someone to a selection of approved options.

I’ve added Tar Heel Reader to the short list of things that I find myself describing as “the best thing since sliced bread.”  Check it out!

Transition to adulthood homework

I just had a conversation with a parent whose son was nearing the end of his high school career.  At some point, I passed along a tip to her that I was given when my daughter was approaching her last year in high school.  It came from a counselor with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) who was manning a table next to the ECAC exhibit at a school system’s “Transition Fair”, where parents of children with disabilities learned about various adult services, organizations and agencies.

VR, or “Voc Rehab” provides a wide variety of services to individuals who have disabilities, all with the ultimate goal of helping them find employment.  VR services include vocational assessments, career guidance and counseling, work adjustment services, employment-seeking skills training, job coaching, on-the-job training, internships, supported employment services, job placement, financial assistance with post-secondary education and training programs, etc.

A person has to apply for VR services and meet established eligibility criteria.  If eligible, an individual plan is developed to help the person meet their employment goal.  The specific services that are offered to an individual will be determined by his or her work plan.

Here’s the tip: Parents or students can initiate the referral/application process themselves, rather than wait for the school to do it.  Doing this now has several potential advantages:

  • You can start the process during the summer, before the counselors get bombarded with referrals from the schools.  The counselors can take more time with each applicant and perhaps offer a higher quality service when their load is a little lighter.
  • You can start the process earlier in the student’s school career.  Some students are not referred until the last semester of their last year in school, which does not allow much time for VR to contribute to the transition to adulthood process.
  • You can make sure that the referral happens.  Every now and then, the ball gets dropped and the VR referrals don’t get made at all. This may be more likely to happen with higher-functioning students and those with a Section 504 Accommodation Plan rather than an IEP.  Note: VR’s eligibility criteria is different than those associated with special education.

The summer may also be a good time to look into other adult services and post-secondary programs.  Even though schools have a responsibility for transition under IDEA, parents will always play a key role in making sure that their children (even as adults) get what they need.  So, take the lead and get things moving!