Preface: I wanted to make sure to preface this week's entry with the following statement.
By publishing this blog, I am not stating that I believe that there is anything wrong with sending your child to public school. I was a public school teacher for nearly 10 years. I support a lot of aspects of the public school system! Do I think the system is flawed? YES Do I think public schools are overcrowded and teachers are not supported? YES There are a million things I could say on that topic, including the fact that just because a school is not "public" doesn't automatically make it better; but that is NOT what this post is about. Public schools can be and are a great resource for some. This post is simply stating that if for whatever reason you find yourself exploring other school options, as my family did(see our story below), there are other options in our area worth looking into.
School is a hot button topic among parents-especially parents with students of differing needs! Where are the best schools? What district provides the most resources? What is the difference between an IEP and a 504? How do I make sure my child's needs are being met at a particular school?
These are all valid and important questions to ask yourself and inform yourself about. I am going to share a little bit about our school journey and why we chose the program that we did.
My son, Andrew, is often labeled as "high-functioning" by many in the autism world. I personally find that characterization damaging to HIM and OTHERS on the spectrum. One child with autism can display strengths in one area of development, while they struggle greatly in another-and another child on the spectrum may be totally opposite. Labeling children into different "subsets" or "levels" of autism is not always beneficial.
My son, Andrew, SOARS academically in most subjects! He knew all of his letters, numbers, shapes, and colors well before it was required of him and could read fluently when he was four. He excels in math and picks up on new concepts easily. He does struggle a bit with reading comprehension due to hyperactivity but, even in that area, he is "above average." Kinda sounds like he doesn't need any extra help, right?
W-R-O-N-G - but those were exactly the words I was told.
When entering the official "school system" prior to starting kindergarten, part of our process of choosing the right school was going through the special needs testing process for the public school system.
Side note: For those who are wondering why my child who has already been diagnosed with autism needs to be diagnosed again(like I did), your child's medical diagnosis does not automatically allow them to have an IEP in public schools. A child must be given an autism diagnosis from the school to receive these services. Crazy, right? Anyways....your child can generally be granted a 504 with just the medical diagnosis. There is a difference between the two and, if I am being totally honest, as a former public school teacher, there is a MASSIVE difference between the two. To simply put it, 504's are not taken as seriously by most schools and are often brought to the teacher's attention at the beginning of the year and never to be spoken of again. IEPS ON THE OTHER HAND...... teachers and staff will comb through those babies with a magnifying glass to make sure that they are providing services and accommodations in the correct way. Is this difference between the two just? No. Is it the hard truth in most cases? Yes.
Here are a few more distinguishing characters between the two:
Even with an ironclad IEP, you may find that you still do not think your child is in the right school setting. You have two options: advocate and fight for what needs to change in your current school or pursue a different school.
Okay back to our story.....the reason all of that information up there matters to us is that once my son went through the school's testing process, we were told he would not qualify for any IEP services in the public school system. Here is my child: diagnosed with autism at 2, didn't speak a word until he was 3, attended therapy 5 days a week, and now we are sending him into "GENERAL POPULATION" with no one but himself. Is he capable? YES!!!! Do I want him in the least restrictive environment? YES Does he have needs that should qualify him for extra support in school? ALSO YES!!!!! This was my argument to them. The response: "Aren't you glad he is doing so well that he doesn't need services?" My response(as fumes of rage begin to escape my mouth): "I am so proud of how far my child has come. He is amazing and he is capable. However, I DO NOT think he would be 'fine' without any services in a class of 30 kindergarteners with a teacher who is overworked and overwhelmed. My son has his own private therapists. Would they be able to come in and support him on an as needed basis?" Their response, "No."
The real problem here is the testing process. It is not the people who administer the test. Their hands are as tied as mine in this situation. I, whole heartedly, believe that they also know that while my son can ace their assessment, he struggles with conversational skills, he has a long way to go in understanding and implementing social skills, some of his executive functioning skills(planning, organization, time management, metacognition, working memory, self-control, attention, flexibility, and perseverance) are lacking, and he does have exceptional needs-his needs are just not great enough in comparison to others so he will just have to figure it out on his own.
I- WAS- NOT-GOING-TO-TAKE-THAT-LYING-DOWN!
I knew that in the few short months before he was going to start school, that I was not going to be able to storm capital hill and lobby for the changes that need to be made in this testing process(don't worry-it's in my future plans). So, we had to look at alternative options.
I'm not a fan of cliches, but I will say one now and mean it whole-heartedly.
Everything happens for a reason.
Andrew is thriving. He is in a school that supports him, our family, and his needs. His school does not have publicly funded special education resources. They do have a department for special education needs and options for pursuing those resources, but they also allow his private therapists to come into his classroom and support him at any time and on any day that he needs them. His teacher is a partner with his therapist and works hard to implement any accommodations that will serve Andrew's best interest. He has smaller class sizes and the staff members communicate with us quickly and effectively. Do we pay taxes for public schools and also have to pay private school tuition? Yes
Do I think that kind of stinks? Also, Yes
Sometimes there is a cost(literally and metaphorically) to pursuing what is best for your child. That is a lesson I have learned to accept. I know that some are not able to pursue a school that has extra financial expectations, but do not count them out right away. Most of these schools offer tuition assistance and scholarships.
I tell you this long-winded story to encourage you. If you are not happy with your current educational setting, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SETTLE FOR IT. There are other options in our area (and yours if you are not local to me) that are incredible learning institutions. Research and visit them and see if they would be a better option for your child. They may not be. You may find yourself back at your zoned school and simply needing to adjust or advocate for different needs there-that is totally ok. Whatever you think is best for your child! Fight for it!
Here a few schools in our area that I want to highlight as great, alternative options:
The Palmetto School Program Highlights:The Palmetto School is a free public K-8 charter school sponsored by the Rock Hill School District (York 03). Since opening its doors in 2004, The Palmetto School has been committed to providing quality instruction while giving attention to challenges that students may face academically, socially, and emotionally. The teachers and staff are able to provide individualized instruction to our students needing intense intervention support both academically and behaviorally. Website: https://www.thepalmettoschool.org/about/ Admissions Contact: Ms. Christine Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org
Westminster Catawba Christian School Program: EXCEL Program Program Highlights: Because God has uniquely created every child, learning naturally takes place in a variety of ways. While one student may thrive in a traditional academic environment, another student might truly flourish with a program tailored to his or her strengths & abilities. This is where the EXCEL Program at Westminster Catawba Christian School can help! There are seven (7) different services offered through our EXCEL Program, each carefully designed to nurture and challenge students according to their individual learning needs: S.E.E.K. Program, SEARCH and TEACH, Accommodations Monitoring ,Educational Therapy via NILD, Tutorial Study Hall, Resource Intervention, Elementary Self-Supported Classroom Website: https://wccs.org/academics/excel-program/ Admissions Contact: Jane Wilson(lower school)-(803) 328-5472 or Jennifer Zambrano(upper school)-(803) 328-6276. You can also schedule school tours online: Lower School tours and Upper School Tours
Providence Classical School of Rock Hill Program: Simply Providence Program Highlights: Our mission is to love, educate and empower students with intellectual and developmental special needs to live flourishing lives in the peace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. In partnership with parents and with the accredited Providence Classical School of Rock Hill, students at Simply Providence will be enveloped in a nurturing culture, taught by trained professionals and educated through a proven curriculum, as we cultivate students’ hearts, minds and souls in pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty for the glory of God. Website: https://www.providenceclassicalrockhill.com/simplyprovidence/ Admissions Contact: email@example.com or (803) 900-9582
The John Crosland School Program Highlights: Our mission is to transform the lives of our students who have learning differences by providing a holistic, individualized education in a diverse and nurturing community where each student belongs. We value an educational experience that develops students’ belief in themselves and their ability to reach their learning potential, meets each students’ individual needs including support for social, sensory, and executive functioning, prepares students to succeed in a variety of next steps: mainstream k-12 environment, college or other post-secondary opportunities. Website: https://johncroslandschool.org/about-us/our-mission/ Admissions Contact: Keri Cauthen, 704.749.6709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
York Preparatory Academy Program: Special Services Department Program Highlights: York Preparatory Academy is a free public charter school founded in 2010. Located on our 43-acre campus in Rock Hill, South Carolina, York Prep provides education to students in Kindergarten through 12th grade who live in South Carolina regardless of the assigned school district. We strongly believe in the potential of all students and believe that through a strong partnership with the community and families, we can help each child grow and succeed. Website: Special Services | York Preparatory Academy (yorkprepsc.org) Admissions Contact: email@example.com
St Anne's Catholic School Program: The Pope Francis Center Program Highlights: The Pope Francis Center provides extra support for students so they are able to perform in a rigorous academic environment. Support is primarily available for students in grades 1-12 who have been evaluated by a licensed psychologist for a learning disability, processing deficit, ADHD, or other condition affecting their ability to achieve success. Students must be able to participate in the regular classroom setting in all content areas and meet both behavioral and academic standards for their grade level using the St. Anne Catholic School approved accommodations. Services include Inclusion. Resource Services, Consultative Services. Website: https://www.stanneschool.com/academics/student-services Admissions Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 324-4814
Riverwalk Academy Program Highlights: At Riverwalk Academy, our project based learning approach promotes an environment where students are seen as individuals, taught the power of positive relationships, and equipped to take ownership of their choices. We commit to our students by treating them with respect and fairness so we can fully invest in each child based on their individual needs. Website: https://www.riverwalkacademy.com/ Admissions Contact: Kayla Bumgarner-8033278400 or email@example.com You can also schedule a tour of the school here.
Lake Pointe Academy Program Highlights: Students split their time between school classroom experiences and time invested in the home with the parent(s)' assistance. Classroom teachers and parent co-teachers work together to assist the student to learn, to think, and to persevere. Students in grades K5-6 attend on-campus classes on Tuesday/Thursday, while grades 7-12 have a Mon./Wed./Fri. schedule. The alternate days, the student spends at home, working under a parent's direction on assignments from the classroom teacher. The student comes to class prepared for the session and with something to contribute to the group. More importantly, the parent has had the chance to model and to impart love, wisdom, and faith in the process. Website: http://www.lakepointeacademy.com/about/ Admissions Contact: Admissions@LakePointeAcademy.org
All my love and support, Anna
*I did not specifically name the school my son attends as I do not want to seem as if I am campaigning for one school. I am more than happy to discuss our school with you and what I know of the others. I would not recommend it though if I didn't find the program valuable. As always, feel free to reach out to me for any reason at anytime. I am here for you!