posted Friday February 20th, 2015
In the end, I didn’t bake a pie. And the IEP still went well.
As well as could be expected, I suppose. Maybe better. Okay, definitely better.
Funny how I spent so much time looking for a fancy charter or specialty school for Sophie. There are things she doesn’t like about this traditional junior high, to be sure (top of the list, dress code, and also the fact that almost all her friends chose other schools) but there’s a lot to love — the staff (except for one teacher I’m a little unsure about) obviously adore her, she was allowed to join the cheer team, the school started not one but two clubs at Sophie’s behest (Best Buddies and drama), and Sophie just finished reading “A Wrinkle in Time” along with her general ed English class. General ed. She’s got an amazing aide. And while she still doesn’t have many friends her own age, I’m promised she’s getting there. She does have a friend in the school resource officer (read: school cop) and the two of them have a fist-bump-blow-it-up ritual whenever they see each other.
Still, I was anxious about the IEP, the “individualized education program,” a legal document required by the feds, full of goals and orders. At Sophie’s elementary school, we’d always had a pre-IEP meeting to make sure there were no issues, then another meeting to finalize goals. So when I got a call from the junior high to schedule the IEP (no mention of a pre-meeting) I got nervous. More so when the proposed time was 7:15 am. (School starts at 7:45, meaning the meeting would go no longer than a half hour.)
Sophie’s lawyer put the kibosh on that. In the end, the meeting went a little over two hours. I left feeling guilty for keeping teachers so long after school, but I also left feeling like we’d really accomplished something.
t don’t have a lot of advice to dispense in this area, but let me tell you this: If you are not a parent who doesn’t happen to have a background in special education (and even if you do) you might want to consider hiring an advocate to come to IEP meetings. Doesn’t have to be a lawyer, although Sophie’s advocate happens to be one. If you are in metro Phoenix, I’ll give you Sophie’s advocate’s name. She’s absolutely amazing.
I reviewed the draft IEP document and had nothing to say, other than that I wished I hadn’t looked at the page with the standardized test scores (first percentile is hard to put out of your head, mine anyway). Sophie’s advocate looked and sent me a long email, full of tweaks, comments and recommendations that she shared with the dozen team members who joined us in a circle in the resource teacher’s classroom yesterday.
It was nothing huge — Sophie will keep her personal aide, she’ll still get speech and occupational therapies, and she’ll get to stay in general ed language arts. But now she’ll get to do math with a calculator; she’ll take photos of her assignments on the iPad instead of struggling to write homework down; she’ll work toward writing a two paragraph research paper with citations. And she’ll get therapy designed to help her finally learn how to button and zip a pair of jeans.
“I’m not worried about middle school,” the lawyer told the group. “I’m thinking about high school. And college.”
I looked down, afraid to catch any eyes around the table. I don’t know what the others thought of that. Afterward, the lawyer told me she has no intention of Sophie being in a self-contained classroom in high school, adding that she can see her getting a two year degree at a community college. I could tell she meant it. That alone was worth her fee, times about a zillion. Having Sophie’s teachers hear it doesn’t hurt, either.
Last week, we snuck the girls out of school for an extra day and took them to Disneyland for the holiday weekend. It had been three years since Sophie’s last visit, and I was struck by how much she’s grown up. Seeing a kid every day in her usual setting, you don’t notice change. But I saw quite a bit at the park. As soon as we arrived, Ray and Annabelle rushed off to Space Mountain; Sophie wasn’t ready for that one (hey, me either) but she insisted on the teacups — a big step up from the carousel, her old stand by. To be sure, Sophie’s not your average tween — she wanted to see every character she could, telling each one, “I’m going to take a selfie because I’m too old for autographs, I’m almost a teenager.”
Yes, there were plenty of older kids (and adults) lined up for Mickey and Goofy, but we stood with a bunch of toddlers waiting to see Olaf, the snowman from the movie Frozen. We were next in line when a handler announced that Olaf had to take a break. I rolled my eyes. Sophie just grinned and kept waiting. Later, recounting the experience, she remembered that the handler had told her that Olaf had to go outside to pack some more snow on.
I looked down at my almost 12-year-old and blurted out, “Sophie, do you think Olaf is real?”
“No…..” she said slowly, looking confused. I backtracked immediately.
“Oh, of course he is!” I said. She smiled and nodded.
Some things haven’t changed. I’ll be honest: It’s a strange life. And a good one. Definitely a good one.
Most school mornings, Sophie struggles to get her backpack out of the car, put on her ID, and straighten her glasses before finally closing the door, offering a few final “I love you Mom!’s” as I pull away. In those few extra moments, I watch her classmates, big, almost-full-grown kids with facial hair and breasts, bounding by. Next to them, walking as fast as her tiny feet will let her, head down, hair mussed, boobs still not growing (don’t tell her I said that) Sophie looks like a second grader, maybe.
I hold my breath until I see her aide in the courtyard, waving.