This is the time of year when one school year winds down and we start thinking about the next year. Perhaps you have a child who will simply be moving from one grade to another in the same school. Or maybe your child is facing a more dramatic transition such as:
- Starting Preschool for the first time
- Entering Kindergarten
- Moving from Elementary to Middle School
- Beginning High School
It’s time to move from thinking to planning! Take steps to make this transition as smooth as possible by gathering information about what might be coming up, and sharing important information about your child with the right people.
If your child is staying at the same school, find out what might be different for the coming year (e.g. class size, number of teachers/aides, daily schedule, curriculum, meal times, etc.). Each of these factors could impact your child and may require some changes in how your child’s needs are met. You might also want to speak with the Principal about the classroom environment and/or teacher styles that are likely to be successful or unsuccessful for your child. Hopefully, the Principal will use this information to make a good match when class assignments are made.
If your child is moving to a new school, you will still want to know the things mentioned above, PLUS,
- Visit the new school to check out the physical layout and ask about a typical day
- Think about any possible barriers or challenges that your child might have in the new setting
- If your child is entering middle or high school, ask about required courses and any options that may exist. Some courses are offered at multiple difficulty levels, and there may be other ways to help make sure that your child gets a course schedule that will work for him/her
- Request a transition IEP meeting to discuss and make decisions about any changes that may be needed in the accommodations, modifications, supports, services and/or goals
- For many children, it is helpful for them to have an opportunity to walk through the new school and possibly see their classroom(s) and meet their teacher(s) sometime before school starts. There may be other steps that can be taken to help make this transition a smooth one.
Most importantly, stay positive and help your child feel good about the upcoming school year!
The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) has created a great Back-to-School Checklist for families. It contains some tips that apply to parents or caregivers of all children. There is also a series of tips especially for parents/caregivers of children who have health concerns.
Even though school has started, it’s never too late for a good idea. Check it out!
For students in middle and high school it is extremely important for parents to keep up with the courses that they are taking. The classes should offer the right amount of challenge (not too easy, not too hard). They should be preparing your child for whatever their goals are for life after high school. More importantly, the courses need to be chosen so that they meet the graduation requirements for your school system. With many schools using computer programs to create schedules for students, it’s not hard for the needs of individual students to be overlooked.
For many students who have disabilities, course selection is even more critical. For some students it will be important to make sure that they are placed in the course sections that are co-taught by both regular education and special education teachers. This can offer real-time assistance and support to help students be successful with grade-level material. The co-taught classes can be selected in the areas most likely impacted by the student’s disability. Sometimes the assumption is made that, because the student has an IEP, they should automatically be placed in the lowest level course available. This approach would keep many students from building on their strengths to reach their full potential. Students who need support in some subjects can also take typical or even honors classes in subjects that are areas of strength for them.
These days, most high schools are using block schedules that cover the entire content of a course during a single semester. It may be important to make sure that the courses that will be most challenging for your child are not all piled into the same semester. With thoughtful planning, the school can create a schedule that spreads the work load out more evenly. For example, your child can take two really hard classes at the same time plus a support class and an elective in an area of interest. This kind of planning from the very beginning will usually allow students to complete all of their graduation requirements within 4 years so they can graduate with their peers. Even if they have to pick up a summer class or return for an extra semester, the goal is that the student experiences success and gains knowledge that will help them throughout their life. The extra time will be well spent.
Parents also need to look out for other kinds of scheduling problems:
- Make sure that courses are taken in the right sequence. The level1 course should come before the level 2 course.
- Make sure that your child is not assigned to a course that they have already successfully completed. With rare exceptions, they will not earn course credit the second time around.
- Make sure that your child was not placed in an elective course that they have no interest in, or one that is a poor fit, just because there was space in that class. Forcing an extremely shy kid to take a drama class will probably not end well.
- Make sure that your child is on track to graduate when expected. Your child could be taking math and science classes that are counted as “electives” that do not meet the graduation requirements for that subject area. If your child comes up short by missing even a single graduation requirement, they will not get a diploma. At least once a year have your child’s guidance counselor review the courses that your child has taken and compare them to the courses required for graduation.
Read your child’s class schedule carefully as soon as you get it. If you see anything on that doesn’t look right, contact staff at the school immediately. Go to the school in person if you need to. The sooner any problems are corrected, the easier it will be for your child, and the better their educational experience will be.
It’s time for back-to-school and also a good time for parents to review their child’s IEP. First of all, it’s probably been a while since you looked at it and time has a way of fading memories. Secondly, you should check to see if that IEP will meet your child’s needs for this new school year. If you feel that changes are needed to the IEP, you can request an IEP team meeting. Here are some key sections of the IEP to read over:
Present Level of Academic and Functional Performance (PLAAFP). Depending on how long ago the IEP was written and the amount of progress your child has made, these statements may provide a poor description of your child. One would hope that this year’s teachers would look at the IEP progress reports as well as the IEP, but you can’t count on that. If there is a real disconnect between the PLAAFP and your child’s current functioning, you should communicate that to the teachers so that they can plan appropriately.
Annual Goals. For each annual goal, check to see if your child is making progress at a pace that will allow him to reach that goal by the time the IEP expires. If progress has been much slower than expected, you may want to talk with the teachers or therapists about what can be done differently to get better results (e.g. Different strategy? More service time? Individual vs. small group instruction?). If your child has already reached the goal, consider setting a new goal at a higher level. Is there a skill area not currently covered by the IEP that should be added?
General Education Program Participation. Are any changes needed in the parts of the school day that your child is in the regular education or special education setting? Do the accommodations, modifications, supports and/or assistive technology match up with what your child will need this year? The expectations and demands change as students move from grade to grade. Your child may be in a new school building. If your child’s functioning has changed for better or worse, she may need different types of support now.
Specially Designed Instruction and Related Services. As you think about the previous parts of the IEP, consider whether any changes are needed in the amount, frequency or location of your child’s special education and related services.
At the very least, looking over the IEP will remind you of what’s on it. That should help you make sure that things are put into place properly at the beginning of the school year to give your child the best chance for success. That will be a whole lot better than trying to fix things after there is a problem.