Sunday, March 30, 2014

I need to thank the directors who see beyond

I sat in the hallway of a theater chatting with adults and children who either had a family member auditioning or were auditioning themselves.  There were actors of all ages, sizes, and I am sure experience level. Their common bond is they were all pursuing their dream.

Some were chatty.  Some were focused.  Some couldn't sit or stand still.  Some seem to be meditating.

My eyes and ears were immediately drawn to a young man with Down syndrome.  He walked in, handed his resume to the door keeper and moved through the hallway.

I heard people saying "hi" and telling him they were happy to see him.  I listened as he was told how much someone enjoyed his work.  I eavesdropped as he chatted about his experience working with a particular director and how much fun he had.

He blended right in.  He seemed like all the rest.  Yet, he stood out, as an actor should.

My kiddos are theater lovers.  We not only participate in local theater but attend as many productions as we can.

There are many times I know there is an actor with special needs in the performance.  Sometimes they have a principal role, sometimes they are in the ensemble.  Either way, I know that director has made extra effort to include an individual whose talents may need a wee bit more patience and understanding to shine.

This is not a business known for patience and understanding.  Theater/performance art has the reputation of being cutthroat, mean, diva driven, and unfair.

If you have a performer in your midst, do not despair.  There are directors that will open their hearts and minds to the possibility your performer brings to the show.  You may need to be persistent.  You may need to go out of your comfort level and speak up.  You may need to participate in ways you never expected.

But the young man in the hallway proves it is worth it.  He is accepted and admired by his peers.  Actors, directors, and lurking parents of children with special needs who know their children have a dream too.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I need to ask more questions

One of the annoying jobs you acquire when you have a child with special needs is filling out surveys that are meant to be filled out by your child/student.

I hate paperwork.

I have finally gotten brave enough, when filling out medical history forms for Miss A, to either write:  See Chart.  Or :  Too much to fit in this ridiculously small space.  What I want to write is:  You should know this by now.  Or:  Is this really necessary?  And finally:  I don't want to go there anymore.

So the other evening I sat at my computer with yet another survey from Miss A's school.  It asked:

What strengths do you feel you have that will help you with employment?

What job do you want:  2 years after High School, 5 years after High School, 10 years after High School?

What do you worry about?

What will you do with your money?

ARGH!!!!!!  The much do I make the answer what it should be versus the answer Miss A would give?

I was feeling cranky so I decided to leave the darn thing until the morning but as I was going up to give her one last kiss goodnight I asked her:

What do you want to be when you are done with High School?  She said, "Me."

I then went into J's room and asked him the same thing.  "Outrageously happy." said he.

I went to bed with a smile on my face and felt sure I could tackle that darn survey with Miss A's input in the morning...after maybe 2 cups of coffee.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I need to be ready, more change on the way.

Choosing a Montessori Education for our son was a decision we made way back when he was four years old.  We had researched preschools in the area.  We spoke with directors and discussed programming.  We did not need an all day "daycare" situation as I was able to be home.  We actually were not looking for even every day.

J had been "kind of" going to school since before he was born.  I helped out at Miss A's preschool when we lived in California so in utero and once he was born he tagged along.  When he was able, he attempted the activity tables.  He sat on the  mat to discuss numbers and letters.  He learned how to write his name.  All skills most preschools focused on.

We asked ourselves, what will he do during that time if he, by chance of being exposed to it all already, was a wee bit ahead of the game?

Montessori seemed the answer.  Lessons are taught when the child is ready.  Instruction is more individualized.  Children are allowed to be self motivated.  Much of the work is self correcting and hands on. Yep...that was what we needed.

We enrolled him in preschool at 4.  Every year we asked ourselves if we wanted him to stay.  Every year the answer was yes...until this year.  This is his last year.  He graduates at the end of 6th grade.  

The theory is, with what he has learned he should be able to adapt to new working/learning environments. His time management and self motivation skills should translate well to changes in homework assignments and studying.  Given the supported community he has thrived in for all these years he should feel confident in himself.

I tell myself all of these things as I mentally prepare to meet with the Public Middle School Principal and counselor.  He feels he is ready.  That is the goal right?  And if that is the case, then so too am I...I think.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

We need to discuss graduation options for children with special needs

A dead feeling hits the pit of my stomach.  I glance around and see others looking as if they are experiencing the same sensation.  We feel this way because we have just learned a path we chose for our children possibly up to nine years ago now severely limits their graduation options.   

I clearly remember making the decision to have my daughter forgo state standardized testing and instead be alternatively assessed.  It made no sense to have her sit through the hours of test preparation.  I knew having her fill in bubbles on a scantron sheet would not reflect her knowledge of material she had been presented.  I liked the idea of an assessment that targeted academic areas based on current curriculum and my daughter’s goals.  This would be her annual testing.  When she graduated high school she would receive an IEP Diploma like all other students not on a Regents Diploma track.

As of 2014 the IEP diploma is no longer being offered.  This is one of the reasons the training presented by SUPAC (Syracuse University Parent Advocacy Center), “Understanding Diploma and Credential Options For Students With Disabilities” is at full capacity. 

Graduating student’s options are now Regents Diploma, Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, Local Diploma, NYS Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential (CDOS) and the Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential.  *RCT (Regents Competency Test) Diploma option available for students entering 9th grade prior to 2011-2012.   

The State offers many options for students with IEPs on the Regents/Local Diploma track or “track bubble” to succeed.  There are Low Pass Options, Safety Net Strategies, and Compensatory Options.  If all else fails you can even appeal to the Regents Board to make an exception.

A student with disabilities being exposed to Regents material and sitting for Regents exams has another route if unsuccessful in their diploma goals.  They may pursue a NYS Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential (CDOS).  This is a Regents endorsed credential.  It has coursework/work based learning/ and skills requirements.  It documents High School preparedness and will include an Employability Profile.  You cannot be a student who is alternatively assessed (AA) and receive this credential.

Students who are alternatively assessed are awarded a Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential.  There are no requirements for this credential other than you must be alternatively assessed (AA).  This is your only option.  This is given along with the students Exit Summary and an assessment of achievement and independence.

I look at the guidelines now given to determine if a child should be in the 1% of a district’s students who are alternatively assessed.  I know that many on that AA path do not technically qualify with the new standards.  To be blunt, they are too able.  I also know that many of these students that now are only eligible for the Skills and Achievement Credential are capable of doing the work/learning/skills required for the CDOS credential. 

I marvel at the many paths created for the wide range of students attempting a diploma.  I wonder if the same amount of thought was given to the various levels of children who are alternatively assessed.  Was there deliberation given to the fact that the game was changed on these students mid academic career with no grandfather clause?  Did anyone think they would notice, or that it might matter?

It appears not.

Yes, there is one option.  Parents can go to their districts and demand their child now be exposed to Regents level courses and sit for Regents exams.  Jump off the alternative assessment track.  If they fail but complete the CDOS requirements they would then be eligible for the CDOS Credential.  Districts would then be penalized for students failing to achieve a Regents Diploma.  Worse though, students would be forced to attend class and attempt tests they may have no chance of passing.

Are parents of children who are currently alternatively assessed aware of these changes?  Have their districts made them aware of the free trainings available?  Do they understand how limited their student’s new path is? 

This situation can be fixed.  There should be a parallel path for the students who are alternatively assessed that can meet the fundamental skills standards and CDOS Credential requirements.     Parents/caregivers and teachers need to collaborate to determine which credential is best given the student’s individual strengths, goals, work and academic ability.    Districts should be notifying parents of training.  Discussion needs to be happening with parents and caregivers of students entering 3rd grade to help them determine the testing path they will choose for their student. 

The FM mission statement says it will respect and realize the aspirations our community has for its children, by providing excellence in education and creating opportunities for each and every child to reach his/her fullest potential as a responsible citizen and member of a global community.    Our district can lead the way by showing that holding true to this statement means applying it to all students regardless of their testing/graduation path. 

Deb Cavanagh

Mom to a 9th grade student who is alternatively assessed.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Everyone needs to support the Special Olympics!

The New York Winter Games are being held in Syracuse NY this year.  If you can, please go out and cheer the athletes or volunteer at an event.  It means so much to the participants.,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=635&cntnt01origid=16&cntnt01category_id=23&cntnt01returnid=16

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

things I need to teach my highschooler

The other day my daughter dropped something on the floor and said, "Oh crack!".

What did she just say?  I asked her that exact question.

She smiled and said, "Oh crack?"

Ok, so that isn't right.  She can't go around saying "Oh crack!" so I proceed to have a speech therapy session like none ever taught in school, "Oh CCCCRRRRAAAPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!"  over and over.  Put those lips together and end with a "ppppp"  It sounds even better when you pop it with your lips...just sayin.

Let me tell you, she has it down.

Miss A now has a boyfriend now.  Yes I did just say that.  They text each other.

He says "We have a snow day today."

She says, "OK."

He says, "Good morning."

She says, "OK."

He says, "I got my hair cut."

She says, "OK."....alright, it works that time.

So I proceed to have a texting lesson with her about how you have to read the text and then answer back.

"What color is your house?"


"What is your cat's name?"


"How old are you?"


This is still a work in progress.  Sometimes autocorrect helps and sometimes not.  Try typing in Shrek.

Gone are the days of teaching them to put toilet paper on the toilet seat in public bathrooms...did that ever really work for you anyway?  Mine always fell in the toilet right as I was sitting down.

Yesterday is the time of  "remember to say please and thank you".  She has those down.

Look at me progressing with the times.  Things I never thought I would teach, but must definitely be learned.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

did I need to go back to High School?

So, Miss A is in 9th grade. High School! I cannot believe we are here.

So many thoughts swirl in my head.  Looking back, I did not enjoy High School.  For me it was a time of feeling not quite connected.  I had friends.  But I migrated between many groups.

Isn't High School all about which groups? The smart kids, the athletes, the nerds, the druggies, the cool kids...those weren't our actual names for them but I am being nice.  I am betting the names have changed slightly but the groups remain the same.

With honest self reflection I think I was a nerd who had some athletic ability, wanted to be cool,but wasn't.  Not good!

This is one of the many reasons I have not gone back for a reunion.  I am betting the minute I set foot on John Jay Campus all those feelings of inadequacy come flooding back.

And now I have a daughter that is at a High School!

Of course she seems to have none of the baggage I carried with me throughout my three year tenure of imprisonment.  Some of that is due to personality. Miss A has no insecurities that I have witnessed.

How does that happen?  Maybe some of it has to do with upbringing.  But maybe some of it has to do with her having her combination of special needs.  Maybe when God put her all together he made sure she would feel confident in her world.

What ever it is I wish he had given me a bit of it.  Just like the first day of kindergarten when she waved to me over her shoulder and marched into her classroom without looking back, she headed right up the hill to the High School door and on her way in.  And there I sat in my car, tears in my eyes, filled with wonder...sad she was gone, and thanking God it wasn't me that had to go in there!