Passionate About Pittsburgh
and the Moms Who Live Here

It’s crazy, but become an advocate for your kids

 

I am a crazy woman, but there is a method to my madness. Really, stay with me on this one.

The school year for our family starts this week. For many years, like most families, we relied on our local public school district to educate our kids. Heck, we moved to where we did for the school district seven years ago. We figured this was the place our three children would learn and grow and eventually graduate with a top-rated education.

Things change a lot in seven years.

This week, only one of our three children will get on the bus and head to our local public school district.

 

My oldest will head to school on that bus to the local high school to begin his junior year. He’s starting to make me emotional. I’m almost at the end of the line with this kid! Public school works for him. He is on the honor roll, he’s taking an AP class this year, he thrives on the pressure a highly-ranked school district such as ours puts on its students to succeed. He also has a solid group of friends and is on the varsity hockey team. When issues do come up, he handles them. He has felt comfortable coming to us in some instances and we talk. Our child is not perfect, and we are not perfect handling him, but we have gotten him to 11th grade in one piece, and public school has been good for him.

It was the exact opposite for my middle child and younger son.

Actually, he was the child we moved to the district for. He is on the autism spectrum, and we felt this was the place he was going to get the most help. In the lower elementary grades, that was the case. He had fantastic teachers and an amazing special education teacher that stuck to him like glue. But in the upper elementary grades, the kids move to a much bigger building with way more kids and a lot less support. To make a very long story short, my son could not handle the building or the workload, the staff and school district could not/did not support him, our family sought legal intervention, and he was placed out of district into a private school for children on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

He will board the bus at the end of the month for eighth grade at his private school. His curriculum is more visual and computer-based, which is more suited to his learning style. The school also takes the students out in the community to teach life skills, having them order food in restaurants, planning out trips and using public transportation, using their money and making transactions in stores, etc. There is also constant autism and sensory support, small classes with both a teacher and an aide, the kids themselves support each other in addition to the formal groups already in place, and it could not be a better situation.

My son is still considered part of the school district in a technical sense of the word, since they pay for his schooling and transportation, but he will likely never be able to come back to regular public school, nor would he ever want to. He said for the first time ever the other night the words “I love my school!” If we weren’t in public I may have started crying right then and there.

As for my youngest child, she just finished up the lower elementary school and has been an active part of our school district, way more so than her older brothers. She has dabbled in Girl Scouts, cheer, and softball. She has friends she adores. Right now her passion is dance, and she is devoted full-time right now to her competition team.

I always knew she struggled with reading, but towards the middle of last year, I realized the problem wasn’t getting better, and after requesting an evaluation from the district, she qualified for Special Education and an IEP for fourth grade for both her reading issues and an ongoing issue with anxiety.

When I got the actual IEP though, I had a huge decision to make. She was finishing third grade, and going into the huge upper elementary school I just pulled my middle son out of. The IEP we received didn’t seem to support her, or even know who she was. Just so I knew I wasn’t acting like the lunatic mom, I showed the IEP to her Mobile Therapist and to my husband, who both confirmed the IEP wasn’t suited for my daughter’s needs. Then there was the school itself. My husband and I were concerned, with my daughter’s anxiety,the school was too large and would overwhelm her. With over 1,000 kids total, nearly 30 kids to a classroom, hundreds of kids in the hallways changing classes and huge crowds at lunches, we just felt it wasn’t the right place.

So for fourth grade, my daughter is going to a charter school. The school is specifically designed for kids with reading issues. While they may start off with a 20-kid homeroom in the morning, they break off for the rest of the day in groups, and she will have a 6:1 student-teacher ratio for the rest of the day. There is support for her anxiety. Teachers have called me multiple over the summer about welcoming her and what she may need. She will have opportunities and projects not offered in regular schools. She will meet and make friends with kids from all different areas. It stinks I have to drive her, but this is an opportunity that will make her a better student and a better person.

I may look like a crazy person for sending my kids to all of these schools, but like I said before, there is a method to my madness, and all parents should take away one thing from this blog:

LEARN TO BE YOUR CHILD’S ADVOCATE!!!!

Again, this is not a knock against my school district. It serves thousands of kids who live here just fine. But you as a parent have the right to say something isn’t right for your own child and to speak up. All children have the right to an education. If you have a child who needs any type of accommodations, speak up. If the accommodations are not right for your child, speak up. If the accommodations are not being followed, speak up. If you are not being heard, get an advocate. There are both free and paid ones who are happy to help, as well as advocates in law firms who specialize in educational law. Do not let anyone intimidate you or tell you there are no other options. You can and should fight for the best possible education for your child.

So yes, I’m the crazy lady chasing three kids around in three different schools; public, private, and charter. I realize I have three different kids who learn three different ways, and I’m doing what I need to do, as both their mother and their advocate, so they have the best chance to succeed.

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