Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Maya's First Week of First Grade

I know this happened in August, but I wanted to write about it...

Maya was supposed to go to a different school this year than she did for kindergarten. We got a letter notifying us of this change in the summer. We were under the impression that many of the students in her class would be moving schools also. While we weren't happy about the change, and we weren't sure why it was happening, we thought it would be doable because:

*The new placement school is about the same distance from home as last year's school and it has the same start and end times
*Her preschool program, complete with her teacher and classroom aids, one of whom is still our babysitter, was going to be placed at the new school also...always nice to have some friendly eyes watching...
*The 1-3 teacher at her old school was moving positions and the new teacher had not been decided yet. We really didn't want to fight to stay at the same school when we didn't know who the teacher was going to be.
*We thought that she would still be with some of the kids from her kindergarten class last year.

So we gave it a shot. I tried to contact the teacher before meet-the-teacher night to see if I could come by before we brought Maya by. I have always done this in the past. Keep in mind this is not a general education class where the teacher has 27 kids, they usually have 7-10 kids, so I am a high-maintenance parent (we call them HMPs at school...not in a mean way), but this is a high-maintenance kid, that is why there are not 27 of them. She got back to me, but on the day of meet-the-teacher, so we all went at the regular time to meet her. When we walked in the room we were greeted by a very nice lady sitting at a table, who seemed to be the one talking to most of the parents, so I assumed she was the teacher. She was the aid (and the most positive thing I had to say about the whole experience was that the aid came to meet-the-teacher night-that is pretty much unheard of). We talked to her for awhile then went over and introduced ourselves to the teacher. She was nice enough. We didn't see the names of any of the kids from Maya's kindergarten except for one, who we knew from his mom was going to school in another district. We weren't too happy about the idea of her having no familiar faces on the first day, but we talked ourselves into it being OK. You may be thinking, "You're a teacher. Why are you being so picky?" Well, as important as it is for all students to have a teacher that is a good fit for first grade, there are a few reasons that make it of optimum importance here. First, in the self-contained autism programs, where Maya spends most of her time at this point, the classrooms are grouped kinder, 1-3 and 4-6. So whoever her first grade teacher is will likely also be her second and third grade teacher. Secondly, she still has trouble recounting events to us. While this skill is emerging and we hear more and more about her experiences each day, we are mainly reliant on the teacher and the classroom aids for our information about Maya's days. We need someone who is willing to give us that information.
Anyway, fast forward to the first day of school. She went on the bus with no problem. I didn't hear anything all day until Rick picked her up. At that time they got upset with him for picking her up by the room and basically a different aid than the one we met verbally reprimanded him before introducing herself. Bear in mind that at meet-the-teacher he had told the teacher how he normally comes to the door at the end of the day to pick Maya up and had all last year and she didn't say anything about it then. I guess Maya saw him out the window and got upset. Finally they had him come in and at that point he saw that their way to deal with her being upset was to keep repeating, "Go sit down Maya". Many people would probably think that doesn't sound so bad, but with autistic kids, they get very anxious about what is going to happen next and when it will happen, especially when they are in uncharted territory. Just knowing what is going to happen and when it will happen calms them significantly. A simple, "We're almost done. Daddy can take you home in 2 more minutes" would have likely gone a long way. When Rick told me about it, I envisioned a year (or three years) full of "Maya go sit down" and it made me sick to my stomach. When I heard about how her day went I was at work and felt the beginnings of what was one of the top three worst migraines I have ever had.

Rick was understandably upset about the situation and decided to go straight with Maya to visit last year's teacher, who like her preschool teacher, was absolutely wonderful (I know, big shoes to fill...) Maya was very happy to see her, and they got to talking and Mrs. Bourdo, her kindergarten teacher, immediately took them in to meet Mrs. Palmer, the new 1-3 teacher. Rick really got a good vibe from her and Mrs. Bourdo only had great things to say about her. She also gave us the number of the area special education director. We thought about all of the reasons to bring her back to her old school:

*Familiar campus
*Familiar kids in class
*Familiar specials teachers (music, PE, library- and Maya LOVES PE)
*Other familiar adults (cafeteria, nurse, aids, etc.)
*A teacher we got a much better feeling from
*Mrs. Bourdo had taken the special education resource position at the school. As children from the autism program mainstream into the general education classroom they often receive academic support from the resource teacher. Mrs. Bourdo is an awesome teacher all around, but super-strong in her teaching of academics and in her high-expectations for all students to learn.

At work, I had spoken to our student services coordinator who simply suggested I find out why she was moved before we made any decisions. I went to talk to my principal just so he would have a heads-up if I needed to be late at all in the following few days, but ended up telling most of the story. His background is as a self-contained special education teacher for students with emotional disabilities, and he seemed to think our points were totally valid and was fairly sure we would get the placement we wanted. By the time I got home that afternoon I had one of the worst headaches I had ever had, totally brought on by stress and worry, so I laid down in the dark for awhile (I never do that) and Rick played with the kids and made dinner downstairs.

At this point we weren't sure if she had been placed at the new school for a reason (academic or behavioral needs, etc.). That was never communicated to us or to last year's teacher and we wanted some information. We felt strongly that her current teacher was more of the school of thought that the most important thing was for the kids to be calm and under control and to learn the functional skills of life. We didn't feel like she would be pushed academically and socially and were fearful that she wouldn't be expected to reach her highest potential. The idea of spending the next three years feeling this way was very unsettling. We were quite sure at this point that we wanted her moved back to her old school.

I planned to call the director of special education the following morning and I hoped that the he would take our request and reasoning seriously. We had already heard of two families who had been told they could not switch back (one was the boy who ended up in a neighboring district). I was also worried because often when parents elect to go somewhere that is not the district's first choice, they can go, but transportation isn't provided. Transportation is crucial for us as Rick leaves for work around 4:00-6:00 am and Shayne and I need to be at school by 7:40. Last year, if we got in the car as the bus drove away, we were usually on time. If we had to drop her off, not only would the transition be more rocky, but we would likely be late every day. We really need the bus.

I called the director and sent an email the following morning. This was a Thursday, the first day of school had been a Wednesday. We finally reached each other in person that afternoon. I was at work with kids and he was certainly very busy on the second day of school, but we finally found a time that worked. He told me that the reason for the switch had just been geographical and numbers related. That was a relief for me. He also said he wanted me to know that if she switched back, her old school only has a kinder and a 1-3 program and not a 4-6 program. I brought up our reasons and did not disparage her teacher at the time in any way. To my surprise and delight he not only told us we could switch back, but said he could have the bus arranged by the following Tuesday. I asked if we should finish out the week (it was Thursday afternoon) but he said no, I could take her to her new classroom the following day. I thanked him for helping us and thanked him for all he does for students with special needs. We were all relieved.

The next day I drove her, because the bus wasn't going to be ready until Tuesday. When we got to her classroom, they hadn't heard anything about her starting school that day. I took Maya to the office and the student services coordinator said she hadn't heard anything either. They tried to get in touch with the director, but were only able to leave a message. Meanwhile, I called my principal to explain the situation. They ended up telling us that we could take her back to the other school (imagine how that would have gone over) and start her there Monday when they had talked to the director. I said I would just take her home. My principal ended up covering my first class and Rick came home from work to be with Maya so I could go to work.

I emailed an apology to her new teacher and explained that had I known she was not told that Maya would be in her class, I would never have brought her to the door. She was totally nice about it. She ended up starting on Monday and her teacher emailed me in the mid-morning that day to tell me Maya was doing fine. By Tuesday the bus came to get her and to our delight, it was the same bus driver from last year, who we really like. Things have been going smoothly ever since. She was very happy to have some familiar faces and her teachers and classroom aids have been wonderful.


  1. You have to do what you have to do for your children - glad you didn't let the situation go on and that you took immediate action - Maya and you will be better off for it. I love the HMP reference - that's a great description. I made sure I volunteered at the kid's school to see that they all had the teachers I felt would be the best for them. If parents are willing to work with the schools, I found that the school was willing to work with the parents. Keep up the good work - I'm sure Maya is glad to be back "home".

  2. Karen, you are an AMAZING Mom! Maya is so lucky to have you! It sounds like she should be having a good year!