In the process of just trying to get an appointment to get the bear cub evaluated for school, I learned a lot about how hard dealing with public school and ensuring that she get the best education possible was going to be.
First they gave me a hard time about showing up in the first place. They left me a message saying that I could not have an appointment because she was too young, even though I knew of more than one parent who was scheduled to be there that had a child younger than the bear cub. The lady that left this message did so after their operating hours and when I called immediately back, the receptionist gave me a hard time about calling after their operating hours and questioning the message in general. I still have this message on my phone.
Then when I did show up, although they had my name at the front desk to get a visitor's pass, I was not on any of their other paperwork. They were so very generous in allowing me to sit in on their information meeting, which I recorded. It was given by a speech therapist and gave me a lot of positive feelings about what to expect, until the meeting was over and they directed me to another room where the other personnel told me that what I heard wasn't true and that I must have misunderstood what was said. I basically was told I had two options: PPSC in a non-inclusive setting, which was 3 hours a day five days a week or Head Start which was inclusive, but in which I would get no therapy, which was all day five days a week. I was also told that putting my 20 pound little girl in a five point harnessed car seat was not going to be possible. The lady who knew about the Head Start Program basically told us this and then ran out saying that she was double booked and had to go to another school.
In addition to this, I had a wonderful conversation with the lady that scheduled my evaluation. She asked me what my concerns were. I was a little thrown by the question, thought a bit, and answered that I was concerned that my bear cub would not get the education she deserved which would help her live up to her potential so that she could be independent and have a good and happy life. The lady rolled her eyes at this and said she meant does she have any medical issues that need to be addressed. I explained that she had an issue with her eyes that would be addressed with surgery but that would be taken care of before she entered school most likely and that there weren't any other medical issues that I could think of. She rolled her eyes again, sighed loudly, and asked if she had Down syndrome. I said yes. She told me I should try to just answer the questions asked. I explained that I had answered exactly the question asked and that I did not think that her having Ds was an issue and I didn't appreciate the way the question was asked or the implication that there was something inherently wrong with her. Needless to say or write, I was not left with the impression that the public school is on my daughter's side or looking out for her best interests.
After some very fortunate chance conversations with a first grade teacher that works in our school district and a therapist from Brighton, I learned that these things were not true and that I did have more options. Both encouraged me to look into Brighton Center and also to acquire an advocate. I've signed up for some parent advocate training, am looking into finding an advocate for any future meetings, and called to tour Brighton Center.
Today I was scheduled to tour Brighton Center with the bear cub and look to place her on the waiting list for the transition class, a class geared to children that had not turned three and were learning the skills to make them successful in the classroom prior to entering preschool. When the bear cub and I showed up, she decided to show off. She was very friendly and waved to each staff member that she was introduced to. I was shown each room as we passed them and before going to the transition classroom, we were shown the pre-K 1 classroom full of 3 to 4 year olds. Once the door was opened, the bear cub immediately walked in and went to sit at the table and chairs were the children were making ornaments. The teachers told the class to say hi to her and they did and the bear cub said 'hello' back. This is something that we did not know that she would do. Before now, she has not said 'hello'. The children finished their ornaments which consisted of pushing cotton balls into a clear plastic bottle and then having the contents scented with some sort of oil. The bear cub resisted the teacher doing this hand over hand, but she was willing to choose to take the cotton ball out of my hand to do it herself.
After the craft, the children went to sit at circle time. The bear cub first decided to try out some of the other chairs at the table, but then very shortly went to join the circle trying to pull off the bib that I had put on her as she has been drooling lately. After I helped her get the bib off, she bounded into the middle of the circle and started dancing. She looked around and saw that none of the other kids was dancing and singing and then sat in the circle and started clapping and waving her hands along with them. They had a song where they were signing the alphabet and she was moving her fingers the same way that she does at home when we do the alphabet song (she can't quite sign any of the letters but she does try). While she was doing this, the staff that was giving me the tour told me that she seemed to fit with this group perfectly and that they would put her on the waiting list for Pre-K 1 instead of the transition class. I was so thrilled to hear this and agreed that I thought that was best.
After circle time, the children were getting their jackets on to go outside. The bear cub wanted to line up with them, but as I had left her jacket at the front of the building I figured it was time to leave them. I told the bear cub to say good-bye and she waved and signed 'Thank you'. The kids all said good-bye to the bear cub and one little girl came and told her good-bye up close and they hugged each other. The bear cub resisted leaving and was clearly unhappy to go and was signing play more on the way out.
The therapist told me that the big obstacle that the school would put in my path to having the bear cub have PPCD at Brighton Center was that they would not have a spot for her and I'm hoping that the bear cub will move to having a spot at about the same time that she turns three when she would normally start preschool(since we can't really afford to pay for the preschool for very long). I'm also attending my first parent advocacy training session tomorrow.
Wish the bear cub and me luck!