If I thought going to Disney World was a defining moment in my relationship with Ella, I can’t imagine what it will be like when I have to take her to her first day of school! I started school when I was a few months away from being six years old. Kindergarten was the first class I was ever in. I remember how the alphabet was strung across the front of the classroom, hanging loosely above the chalk board with bright pictures of Apples, Kites and Xylophones (too bad there isn’t an easier word that starts with X). I can still see the logs set in a circle on the green carpet, the walls surrounding them were decorated to look like a forest. My daily turn in the reading forest was a highlight of my day. I always tried to find the picture of the fox.
School for Ella will come much sooner. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as three-year old preschool! Erica met last week with the speech therapists and case workers and psychologists to go over the results of the IEP and the services that Ella qualifies for. We were nervous about the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) results because we knew they would follow her for the rest of her school life. Worried that they would say she is further behind than she really is, and put her in a class that doesn’t challenge her enough. Worried that they would say she is farther ahead than she is and not give her the resources she needs to succeed. They observed her, and made their notes. Finally we got the results. How we feel about these results is mixed, but I’ll get to that later.
First, because her attending three-year old preschool is ‘need based’ due to her hearing loss, Ella qualifies to go for free! That’s $80 a month, plus registration fees, plus other school fees that we don’t have to pay, and they say she will probably qualify for free four-year old preschool as well! From the financial side, that’s great news!
Ella will be placed in a class with typical functioning kids. Or as it is stated in the IEP, “Full mainstreaming with hearing peers in a language rich preschool classroom”. This is good news as well, we didn’t feel like she needed to be in a class that was all disabled kids, but some mix of disabled and typical functioning we thought would be best. The only thing is that Ella will be the only disabled kid in her class, rather than the ratio being closer to half and half. I see the benefits, it will help Ella as she develops, but as her dad I worry that she will be the kid labelled as “different” and be picked on or not make many friends. This would probably be a concern of mine though no matter what type of class she was placed in.
There is one teacher and one assistant for the preschool class of twenty-two three-year olds! That seems like not enough, considering I know my hands are full just taking care of Ella! Ella will have her own assistant assigned just to her at all times. Again, this makes me worry about the stigma, but I’m also glad that she will be getting additional help that she probably needs.
She will be wearing these things called Boots for an FM System. The teacher will be wearing a microphone, and by wearing these ‘boots’ on the bottom of her behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids, this will help cut down on the background noise and Ella will be able to hear the teacher very clearly. They say she should probably wear this all throughout her time in school, but even the case workers admitted these are largely unpopular in the Junior High years…
Ella gets priority seating. This doesn’t mean she gets first class while the rest get coach, but she will have a spot free from distracting noise and in the line of sight of the teacher for lip-reading and facial cue expression. This probably would have happened anyway. Since our last name starts with ‘B’ I always sat up front or in the first row pretty much until high school when we could finally choose our own seats.
Last, Ella will be able to receive speech therapy at school. I’m not sure how this works or when they will do it, but it is definitely what she needs. The rated as average in all other categories of the IEP except for her receptive language skills. Apparently her mean length of utterance (MLU) is 1.6 words and the average for kids her age is 3.4 words per sentence.
All of this is exciting and sad at the same time. We’re glad that she will get the opportunity to be around other kids her age and learn new things and get the help with her speech that she needs, but sad that she will be carted off to school, two days a week for three hours a day. I think Erica will have a harder time with this than I will, since she is used to being home with her all day. They told Erica that feeling sad is perfectly normal, and in fact on registration day there are many parents in line crying! Well, I don’t know that we’ll be bawling our eyes out, but who knows? I will definitely have to take the day off of work to be there as moral for support, for everyone involved!
Let the countdown begin! As… soon as we find out when the first day of school is…