Helpful Steps When Transitioning To A New School District
For most any child, having to leave a school district where you’re comfortable with your surroundings and you have great friends, making the switch to a new school can cause some anxiety. For a child with special needs, this change can become even more challenging. Yet, as a parent, there are steps that you can take to help provide a smooth transition.
These steps include…
Step 1. Contact the new district in advance.
When you know for certain that you’ll be moving to a new location and you know which school your child will most likely attend, contact the Director of Special Education. Explain your child’s diagnoses, special needs and the type of program he or she is currently in. Offer to send a copy of your child’s latest IEP (Individualized Educational Plan). Find out how the school district services students with special needs. When a school district is given the heads up on a child with special needs, it allows more time for the district to prepare for the child.
Step 2. Set up an IEP meeting.
If possible, request to have an IEP meeting regarding your child prior to his first day at the new school. Put together a brief video or powerpoint that will help the IEP committee learn about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. In three minutes or less, let everyone present gain a good sense of who your child is. This tool will help immensely as the committee decides on a program and puts an educational plan together. Ask to visit the classroom and to meet some of the teachers.
Step 3. Take your child for a visit.
Before your child starts his first full day of school, make arrangements for him to visit the school. Enter the main door that he will typically be entering and ask to have someone walk the two of you through his daily schedule, showing where his classes are, the cafeteria, the gym, etc. If it’s okay with the principal, have your child sit in on a class so that he can begin to meet his classmates.
Step 4. Put together a picture book.
Depending on the age of your child and his special needs, consider putting together a picture book. The book should include photos of the bus your child will be riding, the school building, his teachers, his locker or cubby hole, the cafeteria, the gym, the classrooms, etc. Go through the picture book with your child a few times before his first day of school to help him become familiar with his new surroundings. During his first week, point at some of the photos and ask your child what he thinks about them. This will help you gauge how well he is adjusting to his new surroundings.
Step 5. Ask to have an older student be a buddy.
Many school districts will gladly line up an older student to be a “buddy” for a child with special needs. A buddy can help your child learn his locker combination, brave the cafeteria, and help him transition from class to class. Some students might only need a buddy for a few weeks, while others might need one for a full semester.
By taking these five steps, you’ll be providing a smooth transition for your child.
The Importance of Parent Communication
There's a big difference between people who view their work as a j-o-b and people who are passionate about what they do. When I see someone passionate about helping others, I get excited! I get inspired! Michele Pettenati is one of those people who has a passion and love for what she does. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Michele for a bit and she shared why parent communication is such an important part of her work.
Hi Michele. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed. Please tell us a little bit about your work experience.
I am a Certified Occupational Therapy (OT) Assistant and I've been working in the OT field for 31 years. During that time, I have serviced 600 or more students in a few different school districts.
Wow! That's pretty amazing. What is your typical work day like?
I work 8:10 AM to 3:16 PM each day. I have a schedule that I follow and each half hour of the day is used for a different student. Students are transported to my room and each child has his or her own lesson plan and goals. We work on fine motor skills and strengthening. I am a salaried position but my work day does not stop at 3:16. I usually complete my Medicaid paperwork until 5 p.m. Then go home to see my family. After dinner I spend one or two hours each night working on lesson plans and searching the internet for ideas for fine motor activities. I also work on continuing education of my skills. I take courses on OT Today and I love to work on making my program the best that there is. Throughout the day and even evenings, I also make parent contact.
You certainly have a busy work week. What type of things do you do to stay in contact with parents?
Parent communication is so important. At the very least, we have annual IEP meetings that I attend. However, I call or email parents when it is necessary to discuss a problem or concern. I also love contacting a parent when a child has successfully completed a goal! Monthly team meetings, parent conferences and quarterly report cards are key as well.
Why is parent communication important to you?
I am happy that parents feel free to share their child with me. I feel that if there is a problem or a question the parent is the first person that should know about their child. Without their input, most goals and plans for each child are not really personalized.
Is there a "success" story that you care to share that supports the importance of maintaining good communication with parents?
All children are a success whether it is big or small. I had a student one time that could not tie her shoe. We worked on it for many months. When this student could finally tie her sneaker, mom was called and she bought her daughter a new pair of TIE sneakers. This student was so proud of herself and she is a living working productive member of our community today!
That's a great example! I also remember a mom who celebrated her daughter's OT milestones by bringing us McDonalds at lunch time! What advice would you give to other OT providers regarding parent communication?
Parent communication is very important and it is fun to get to know the family. It gives a full picture of who the child is and where he or she has come from. Knowing the family and learning about the child's home life to me is the most crucial thing. When you are working on the goals of a child, a parent's input is vital.
What advice would you give to parents regarding communicating with their child's OT provider?
Most children have a communication log or notebook that the parent can write in and we would love to hear from the parent daily. Be honest and be open and realize that the OT is there to help their child. When we ask you to come to a parent conference or an IEP meeting or a team meeting make it your priority. We do want to
meet with you.
Anything else you care to share?
I love what I do and I enjoy the love that I share with all my students.
Thank you for your time Michele and for your passion in being an OT provider. You'll never know the full extent of the impact that you're having on students and their families. Keep up the great work!
The Team Roster
“We’ve found your child eligible for special education services.” Maybe these are the words you’ve hoped to hear, and maybe they are the ones you’ve feared. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Whatever your reaction, there are a number of important decisions need to make right after hearing those words at the IEP meeting. This may be difficult, as so many thoughts pass through your mind. “Who are these people sitting at this table with me as we decide my child’s future?” That is a very important question, and one we will discuss here so that you will have a leg up when you go for your eligibility meeting.
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (revised in 2004), there are several people necessary to an IEP Team. These are the people who would need to be at your IEP meeting:
- Parents of the child
- Not less than one regular education teacher, if the child is or may be participating in the regular education program at all
- Not less than one special education teacher/provider
- A representative of the school who can interpret evaluations if necessary
- A person brought in by you, the parent, as someone who can contribute to the meeting
- The child with the disability, if appropriate. The child must be invited if the purpose of the meeting is to discuss post-secondary goals and transition services are needed.
Child Study Team Roles
The Child Study Team is a portion of the IEP Team. They are a multi-disciplinary team who may or may not be housed in your child’s school. One member of the Child Study Team is usually assigned as case manager for your child. This is the person whom you should contact with questions regarding IEP implementation, particularly if it is a question the teacher cannot answer.
The psychologist is the member of the team who assesses your child’s developmental and cognitive abilities. During the initial evaluation, the psychologist will usually administer various tests which evaluate these abilities in both verbal and non-verbal forms. Copying puzzles, remembering series of numbers and being able to repeat them backwards and forwards are just two examples of tasks your child may be asked to perform as part of the school psychologist’s evaluation. This is the person your child may see should a crisis arise during school time.
The learning disabilities teacher-consultant (LDT-C) is someone who is trained in assessing your child academically. This person is a certified teacher who has gone through the training which allows him/her to evaluate where your child is now in the learning process. They are aware of various learning styles and help to create an academic plan for your child. This is the person you should consult with regarding the academics of your child.
The social worker is the member of the team who deals with the interactions of your child in relation to family, school and community. The social worker may evaluate your child and one or both parents or guardians of the child. The social worker may visit your home to get a better idea of the social interaction there. Part of their evaluation of your child may include asking you questions about their self-help skills. You may want to notify the social worker of any major changes in which you think may cause shifts in behavior and performance in your child.
Other Possible Team Members
Depending on what type of services your child needs, there may be several other team members involved, such as a behaviorist, physical therapist, occupational therapist and/or a speech-language therapist. These professionals bring their expertise to the table, and may be involved if your child needs any of these services.
Your Key Role
Finally, you (and your child, if appropriate) are an important member of the IEP team. If you would like to, you may bring a family member, friend, or advocate with you to support you at the meeting. An advocate can be anyone familiar with the special education process. Some states have lists of approved advocates that you can choose from. Speaking with other parents in a local support group is often a good resource for finding a strong advocate.
Everyone at the table comes with the same intention—that is, to assist your child in reaching their potential. Everyone may have different ideas about how to do that. Come to the meeting prepared, but with an open mind. You will be glad you did.
From Being A Student To Teaching Students
Every now and then I am in touch with individuals who I knew when they were students and are now young adults. One such person is Megan. Throughout her schooling, I have been amazed by Megan’s determination and positive attitude. Recently, Megan landed her first teaching job in a state away from her family and friends. I’m truly inspired by Megan and hope her story will inspire you as well.
Hi Megan. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. Please give some background on your diagnosis.
I was born with the birth defect Spina Bifida. It was discovered via ultrasound before I was born which gave my parents the chance to prepare themselves as best as they could. They were able to find other parents who had children with Spina Bifida and could ask them questions. My family is still friends with these people to this day.
I was born paralyzed from my waist down and am not able to stand or walk. Initially my parents used a stroller with me and I began using a wheelchair at the age of four. I used a parapodium to stand in to strengthen my legs and began wearing braces with a walker. I stopped using these after the fourth grade and just continued to use my wheelchair.
Do you have siblings?
Yes, I have one older sister. She is seven years older than me. As we get older the age difference makes less of a difference to us. However, we have often talked about how difficult it was for her to be seven years old and having a new baby sister that required a lot of attention due to medical needs. I can imagine that it would be difficult being an only child for seven years to then having to share your parents!
In school you had a 1:1 aide. What was that experience like?
I had a 1:1 aide in Kindergarten and first grade and then a different 1:1 aide from second grade until high school. She was there for physical reasons mostly, but she often provided emotional support as well. She became like a second mother to me in many ways and my friends got to know her as well. My friends and classmates were used to having her in the class and thought of her as just another adult in the room. She would often help the other students as well so that it did not draw so much attention to the fact that she was there for me. I feel that she was an important part of my learning to be independent because as I got older she allowed me to do more for myself. Once I started high school, I began to feel that I wanted to be on my own. My aide respected my space and was able to find other areas of the school to help in. It was nice having her at the school even though I was on my own because we could still check in with each other and I was able to gradually become more independent.
Your aide was pretty awesome! Did you experience any frustrations during your school years and how did you overcome them?
I have been blessed with family and friends who really never treated me differently because I have a disability. Most of the friends I have, I have had since elementary school. Therefore, my main frustrations were academically related. As a result of my disability, it is difficult for me to process information quickly. Therefore, school was never easy for me. I had to work hard to be able to understand what I was learning. This is especially true for math. People with Spina Bifida tend to struggle with math because it takes so much to grasp each new concept. However, I had great teachers who were patient with me and willing to work with me to help me understand better. My parents encouraged me to do the best I could do even if my grades did not put me at the top of my class.
In what ways did your parents encourage your independency over the years?
My parents are a major factor in my becoming independent. As I mentioned, they did not treat me differently because of my disability and have made me believe that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. When I was a kid, I was expected to do chores at home that I was physically capable of doing. I was also encouraged to participate in activities that are typical for any school-aged child. I participated in sports such as tennis, softball and even dance class. Not only did my parents support me in these activities, but they were there making sure that I was able to participate and getting something from the experience. My mom was an assistant coach for my softball teams. She helped me receive accommodations in these activities. For example, I had a teammate run for me when it was my turn to bat for softball.
My parents also allowed me to have experiences that many people my age have not had even without a disability. They have allowed me to travel with them to many different places. Being from a small town, I feel that experiencing other places has encouraged me to reach toward higher goals. It has helped me to understand that there are so many opportunities available and that I want to experience as much as possible.
Your parents have done a great job raising you. What are some of your accomplishments?
I believe one of my biggest accomplishments is living my life the way I want to and not letting my disability get in the way. I was able to graduate from school and go on to college and earn my degree. That was a major experience that has allowed me to be independent. I lived in a dorm with roommates away from my family. I earned my degree in Elementary Education from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. Another big accomplishment has been getting my first teaching job and moving out of my parents’ house.
Yes! Congratulations on becoming a teacher! Have there been any adaptations to your work environment to accommodate you?
I am currently teaching fifth grade in Creedmoor, North Carolina. I have been waiting for about two years for my first full-time job so I was very excited for this opportunity! I was hired in the middle of September (2013) and had to move from Wellsville to North Carolina within a week. It was difficult to pack and move that quickly. It was especially difficult to find a wheelchair accessible apartment so quickly! However, I was able to find a place that works and even though it is small it works well for me!
I have not had to have many accommodations made at my school. I was given a choice of two classrooms; one which was on the second floor with the other fifth grade teachers or one on the first floor. I chose the one on the first floor for convenience and safety reasons. My principal and other staff members are very nice and accepting of me. Also, my students are very accepting of me and willing to help me out when I need it. It has been a great experience so far!
Speaking of students, what advice would you give to high school students with Spina Bifida?
You can accomplish anything you set your mind to regardless of your situation. It is important to set goals for yourself and stick to them as much as possible. I would also suggest surrounding yourself with people who are going to build you up and support you in your dreams.
Any advice for parents?
I would tell parents of children with a disability to treat them as you would any child without a disability. While it is necessary to provide them with any needed medical care, you should encourage them to strive for higher goals. Too many times I have seen parents that shelter their children and make excuses for them. If parents feel the need to make excuses for their children than that only allows the children to make excuses for themselves.
I really appreciate your time and your insight. Lastly, what keeps you motivated and positive?
Right now, my students keep me positive and motivated. They remind me of why I chose this career path and I cannot wait to continue the year with them. Also, my family and friends keep me motivated. They have all been so supportive throughout my life; especially when I made the decision to move away. I am happy to continue this next chapter of my life!
I look forward to see where life takes you! Thank you for your inspiration Megan!