Sunday, May 22, 2016

End of School Year Wrap-Up

Since I am doing a lot of end of year wrap-ups for my job, I thought I would write one for our little family as well. This is always a weird time of the school year. Most of our extra activities have ended (soccer, swimming, Ultimate Frisbee, etc.) but there is still over a month left of school! We won't see summer vacation until nearly July this year thanks to the teacher's strike last fall.

When we all come home for the day now, we are often really HOME FOR THE DAY. Which is nice. But also gives me more time to think. Which is sort of a mixed-bag of good and bad. Sometimes it's easier not to THINK too hard but rather just DO.

Looking Back. Overall this school year has been a good one.  Noé's initial transition to middle school was difficult. New school, new teachers, new expectations and a new really early wakeup call was a pretty volatile mix. There were some weeks last fall that I wasn't sure we would all survive. I desperately wanted to find a better school situation, but instead, I dug in and made school better for him. It took me and another parent in the class a full two months of calls, meetings, angry emails to the district, to get his class size down to an acceptable level. Then I worked on getting him switched over to an elective he enjoyed (rather than the one that was easiest for an IA to take him to), made sure his teachers knew how to motivate him, reworked his IEP. It was a PROCESS and I can't say I had the best attitude about it. Sometimes I just wish it would all just happen like it should for once rather than resorting to lengthy measures and subtle threats. I am collaborative by nature. I don't like being the parent that teachers fear when I walk into their classroom. But I've learned how to be that parent when necessary. I hate that he is in a school that does not value inclusion or… honestly… special education. Unfortunately, alternative middle school options are few and far between right now.

I have discovered some upsides to Noé's current school situation. His lead teacher, although not proactive, does have a good base of special ed knowledge and is pretty effective with using data and various teaching techniques in the classroom. Noé has made solid progress on most all of his IEP goals. I truly feel like she cares for him. The specialists in the classroom are also solid and I've had a lot of one-on-one time with the school SLP, who also lives in our neighborhood. There is one wonderful IA in the classroom who gets it all. The classroom is large and has a kitchen (I think it is a former home ec classroom). The kids cook every Friday!

Noé went from a boy to a teenager in the stretch of this school year. It is hard to get used to his deep laugh, his chiseled face, strong shoulders and man-sized hands. He walks into my room at night and reaches for me and I jump to the ceiling because I think he is a stranger about to attack me. He seems to be taking these changes in stride these days. Last fall, he would come to me and start crying for no apparent reason. It must be so hard to have all of these weird changes happening to you and no way to communicate them.

His TouchChat iPad app continues to be a life line for communicate with us. We are starting to work beyond requests and on expressing emotions, thoughts, etc. It will take some time for sure. When I ask Noé how he is feeling, he almost always types in….I feel AWESOME!

We took the long road to AWESOME is all I can really say.

Asher's year was pretty non-memorable in a spectacular way. We set some goals for his school year at the beginning of the year after some 4th grade challenges with friends and the social layout of tweendom and he had achieved them all before Thanksgiving. Once he was truly happy at school again, he thrived in every way….academically, socially, in soccer, and especially in piano. He has gone from your average 10 year old piano student to a total star! I can't even help him anymore…he has mostly surpassed my piano abilities.

The end of this school year also marks the end of our time at our beloved little urban neighborhood primary school. I think this needs it's own separate blog post. So many tears every day.  (mine)

Looking Ahead. Noé will stay at his current middle school. He is stable and it's just not worth the potential downsides of uprooting him.  Asher will likely spend 6th grade at a nearby K-8. The middle schools here are in total flux as they struggle to find space for students while they build new schools, so there is no true "neighborhood middle school" or traditional elementary-to-middle school pipeline in our area. Asher's classmates are fleeing to all parts of North Seattle for middle school, both public and private schools. We have a place at a nearby public K-8 which I think will be a good fit for him. I am not a fan of the middle school concept and think most 6th graders are far better served in an elementary school setting. Perhaps my opinions will change this next school year. For 7th grade, we will have the option of sending him to the new comprehensive neighborhood middle school or keeping him at the K-8. Both schools will be located just five blocks from our house in the same new school complex. I will likely move Noé over to the new middle school for 8th grade. There are just too many advantages to having both kids in the same school just blocks from your house!

I am excited for Asher's K-8 adventure for many reasons. When we visited the school we found a place with a truly diverse student body (economically and ethnically), super small class sizes, some really impressive curricula and teachers. A few things give me pause, mostly to do with the culture of the school. Students call teachers by their first name which I find a little disrespectful and also confusing. I read the school newsletters and I can't figure out who is a student, who is a parent and who is a teacher. There is also a lot of decisions made at the school through "student consensus." Hmmm….  (I know it…my liberal shelf is cracking and I'm becoming a grumpy old traditionalist!)  It will be interesting to see where we are next year in our middle school journey. It is nice to have the convenience of the new neighborhood middle school opening up if alternative K-8 education is just not our thing.

Meanwhile, this summer we have some fun trips planned at the beginning of the summer and will likely hang loose in Seattle for August. I'm looking forward to working on some skills with Noé that we just don't have time to tackle during the school year when Mom is working full-time and Dad is hijacked by Seahawks coverage. Both kids are doing some local camps as well…Noé will be at Outdoors For All swimming and boating and biking and hiking the city and surrounding areas. Asher will do a triathlon camp and crew camp on the lake. And maybe a soccer camp stuck somewhere in there as well.

Summer is always spectacular in Seattle…I can't wait!