After leaving first school behind, with a great feeling of gratitude that we have a CHOICE and at least some VOICE in this matter, we went on to the next school.
This school was much newer, much larger, and clearly more formal! The office was staffed by two women wearing very professional and official shiny headsets, and we had to not only fill out a log book, but badges that contained our names, the date etc. and wear them at all times till ready to leave the building. I heard swirls of conversation--one in particular caught my ear . . . "the nurse is waiting . . . " Ahh, so this school has a nurse on duty at least part time. Katya's current school NEVER has a nurse at it.
We went through shiny halls, up stairs, and into a small classroom that felt very crowded and not so bright and visually interesting as the other classroom we had just visited. But in that classroom was a teacher who was busy teaching, two aids, and about 5 children. Two children were missing for the day. The room clearly was FULL for the amount of bodies. There were not so many games, puzzles or toys. But every where I looked I saw things that looked like LEARNING was taking place. Posters with things like the entire alphabet along with the corresponding ASL signs caught my eyes. I also quickly realized that I knew three of the children in the room! One of the girls was in Katya's room last year--and Katya clearly liked her and was unhappy that J. was not in school with her this year. The other two children also are a part of the support group here in town that we attend! That immediately felt good to me.
We were invited to sit down at one of the small tables in the tiny kids chairs. As I sat slowly down, with my eyes glued on the teacher who had instantly captured my interest, the chair slid slowly backwards on the highly polished floor, and I landed with an ungraceful "thump" smack dab on my sitter on the floor! Paul and the school physiologist were exclaiming and asking if I was OK. And Paul grabbed my hand and started pulling me up. I sheepishly crawled up off the floor and tried again to get myself on to the itty bitty chair, with success this time (whew!) I was gratified to notice that the kids barely lost any interest in the teacher as she quizzed them using a Smart Board that was displaying the first and last names of all the kids in the classroom.
Now, while I am old fashioned enough not to be a snooty person about the lack of technology, I am also realistic enough to know that Katya benefits greatly from today's modern technology, and one of the things that had concerned me about the previous classroom was that they had no Smart Board, and instead relied on an old fashioned blackboard and then cards taped above it with the numbers, letters of the alphabet etc. I knew they were small enough that Katya would likely not be able to see them well, if at all, and the dark green of the black board with white chalk was not likely to work that well for her eyes either.
So the Smart Board got my immediate seal of approval.
The two aids soon took the children out to the bathroom and then to the lunch room while the teacher sat down and with an open, clear face looked at me and asked, "How is Katya's ASL coming along?!" Turns out that Mrs. S. has worked with hearing impaired children for 30 years and considers herself quite fluent in ASL. And . . . she KNOWS Katya because she assisted Katya's current teacher for two years in her classroom with J. before J. switched to this new school and Mrs S. became her full-time teacher. So last year, Mrs. S. was in the classroom part of the time with Katya. She was very excited to hear about all the positive progress Katya is making, and told me happily that she would love to have Katya join her next year if we decided that would be a good thing for her.
Every question I asked, she had a satisfactory answer for while giving me a clear, open-eyed gaze. When I shared some of my concerns about the stress and fear it would cause Katya to switch schools due to her abusive and neglectful background, her eyes were warm and compassionate and she shook her head sympathetically. When I questioned how they would work individually with Katya, she pulled a clear plastic shoe box off the shelf and showed me how each child had books made specifically for them to work on the areas they most needed help in. She made clear that this was just one example of how she worked to address individual needs.
Mrs S. stated cheerfully that while they did group activities each day with all the kids, the rest of the time each kid was worked with individually according to their own IEP plan.
The kids in her room span first and second grade ranges, and go to "pull-out" activities such as gym, art, and music with their own nuero-typical age groups. For lunch and recess, they are always in their own classroom group and accompanied by their own aids.
I asked every question I could think of to ask right then, and she had a ready answer for every one of them.
Paul had to leave before we were very far into the discussion and head to his job in MA but when I connected with him afterwards, he spoke positively of his feelings and impressions of this classroom over and above the other classroom.
Even the school official who accompanied me told me with relief that she felt Katya would do much better here, stating that she knows Mrs. S. and feels she is rock solid and would do well by Katya. Katya's current teacher who we really like and trust a lot told us that she feels Mrs. S. would do well with helping Katya progress as much as she can as an individual.
There are lots of reasons to feel much more comfortable seriously considering this classroom.
#1. Mrs. S. is a well-known teacher to many in this area. When you have a non-verbal child, that counts for a LOT.
#2. Mrs. S. is considered a good teacher by other Moms of special needs kiddos that I know and trust. That counts for even MORE.
#3. As I said, the technological resources in this room are clearly better suited for Katya's needs.
#4. The adult to child ratio is pretty impressive for this area, and certainly much better than what Katya has had to date.
#5. And . . . did you catch?? Did you catch??!!! Mrs. S. considers herself to be FLUENT in ASL. Not just "knowing a few signs"--FLUENT people! This could be one of the greatest things ever for Katya at this stage in her life because it's clear she has chosen ASL as her preferred method of communication at this point in her life. She does not like to use the Hip Talker outside of her speech therapy, and will hide it repeatedly and vigorously protest using it in the classroom! She wants to sign!
#6. Mrs. S. **WANTS** Katya--even knowing her issues and challenges, she wants her. Katya is smart. She knows who wants her and who doesn't. Years of rejection have given her a finally honed sense of who cares to be involved with her, and she wastes little to no time or attention on those who feel uninterested or hostile towards her.
#7. Mrs. S. comes highly recommended as someone who is capable of assessing a child's unique needs and working with them to reach their potential.
Is every thing roses and sunshine and unicorns with this?? Nope. Not at all. Next post I will address some of our concerns. But still, I'm feeling a thousand times more hopeful about this classroom than I did about the first one. This classroom actually gives us something to pray about and need to make a decision about--do we keep Katya in her current school?? or do we transfer her to this school next year?