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This morning I spoke on the phone with yet another special education professional about another school we might send Sophie to.

This woman gave her school the pretty hard sell — unusual since so many others have dissuaded me from considering theirs, including a special teacher at the school Annabelle attends. But I wasn’t so surprised; the school principal had already sent me a really awesome note last week which said, in part:

We, of course, think every student is special, and we want to give each student the support they need. Some need more than others, such is life. Sophie would fit right in, though you and she definitely should come and see if it seems like a good fit for you and her.  Middle school is such an important time for kids, and it can be even harder for mom.  Most of our families are very involved, as best as their schedules and life circumstances allow. That is a great thing. I have a feeling you would do the same. Another reason why it would seem to be a good fit. 

Goosebumps, right? I wrote back and told him I was going to frame his email. We scheduled a tour for next week. “Tell Sophie we said hello,” he wrote as we signed off.

Of course I should have known it wouldn’t be that simple. First, this is a charter school, with no guarantee of winning the lottery (though the special ed director reminded me several times that no one will know of Sophie’s situation during the lottery process, so many times I had to tell her to stop). But more troubling was the fact that the deeper we got into the conversation, the more worried I got that even if Sophie does get in, this really won’t be the right fit.

This woman (I was directed to her when I started asking detailed questions about special ed)  was entirely polite and appropriate, but reminded me in so many words that as kids with Down syndrome get older, they stop developing. They fall farther behind. This is a rigorous school academically; it might be too much for Sophie.

And then in the next breath she assured me that all laws would be followed and Sophie would get whatever assistance she needed to thrive like all the other kids — and that in fact, there are kids at this school who may have even more involved needs than Sophie.

I was beginning to feel like I was watching a tennis match, so I lobbed one at her.

She was in the middle of telling me that she’d definitely send her kids to this school if they were still young enough, that she was anti charter for her entire career til coming to this school (and so on) when I interrupted:

“So what would you do if Sophie was your kid?”

There was a long pause, followed by some nervous laughter. “Now that’s a great question!” she said, hesitating then careful to let me know she was now speaking as “a friend” rather than a professional.

She’s not so sure, she said. I felt my throat close up. She asked why I don’t want to send Sophie to our home school. I explained that our home school is now an international baccalaureate program Sophie can’t attend — and the new feeder school is a classic junior high, with all that comes along that. “I can’t send her someplace big, where she might get bullied,” I said, voice rising, feeling awkward for getting upset in front of someone I’ve never even met.

“Yeah,” she said gently.

The woman gave me a long speech about how if she were me she’d look at all the available schools, tour them, think about them. “And then I’d pray,” she said.

That’s when I knew I had to hang up or risk bursting into tears. How can I tell this stranger that that’s a nice idea but I stopped believing in God when I was in the first grade and we were doing a Simchat Torah craft at temple religious school and I looked around the room and suddenly thought, “Hey, wait a second, we’re doing all this because of this God character? Well, that’s ridiculous.”

How could I tell her that I wish desperately that I believed in something I could pray to — but I have to make do with good luck charms, knocking on wood, and taking care not to make big decisions while Mercury is in retrograde?

It was a moot point, because by then I couldn’t speak at all. She jumped in and offered to be there when Sophie and I tour the school next week. She promised to help me find Sophie the right school, whether or not it’s hers.

So maybe I don’t have anyone to pray to. But I might have found a guardian angel.



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Tags: Filed under: charter school, Down syndrome by Amysilverman

6 Responses to “When It Comes to Finding a School for Sophie, I Don’t Have a Prayer”

  1. Your guardian angel is sweet but misinformed. People with Down syndrome continue to learn and “develop” throughout their entire lives. The idea that Sophie would only be a good fit at that school if she could keep up academically is equally ridiculous. Inclusion is not just for those who can keep up academically or those who can prove that they are deserving; it’s for everyone (almost). Differentiated instruction, modifications, accommodations, and teachers and administrators willing to think outside the box make it work. One size fits all instruction is a thing of the past. When teachers make lessons and assignments accessible, everyone wins. I was at a Down syndrome educator conference on Monday, where the keynote speaker was showing numbers on inclusion from across the country. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to which states were doing well and which were doing poorly – there were even big differences within states. Her contention was that placement decisions in IEP meetings were made much more often according to local customs rather than being based on empirical data (either related to student strengths and needs or general data showing that inclusion is a more effective way to educate most children). This stuff really pisses me off!
    Good luck with your search!

  2. All I know is the best predictor of future behavior is the past. And Sophie has far surpassed every. single. obstacle ever, EVER placed in her path since birth.

    I don’t know what else to say but I felt the need to say that.

    I feel like something will be clear and open up and you will have that aha moment and realize it’s the perfect fit. Then you will look back and once, again, like we all do, realize the hardest part of any transition is the anticipation of it.


  3. Whenever my daughters’ are struggling I tell them “keep your head up and your eyes open.” You are doing an awesome job and I know you are going to find the right school. It is difficult to know what is best for your children. We homeschooled and now that they are adults, we go hmmmm and they go hmmmmm. I can’t wait to read what awesome school you find for Sophie! xxx

  4. I’m extremely bothered by her thoughts that people with Ds don’t learn as adults. That is based entirely on stereotypes and on a population of data that is from people that were not given the same educational opportunity that our kids generation are having- so the understanding is outdated and no longer applies. Sure if you remove people socially and educationally you’ll prove your point that they don’t know as much as the typical population- because we didn’t teach it to them. Is the woman who said that- would she be the teacher? If so- I would want to have a much longer talk with her to make sure she is clear that that understanding doesn’t apply to Sophie and what she will do to make sure that she has high expectations for Sophie- b/c if she doesn’t- then that will be what holds Sophie back. Aside from my parent of the new generation of kids with Ds rant- I used to work with adults with severe to profound cognitive disabilities that were in the process of being de-institutionalized. These folks within even a year of being given support and instruction learned sooooo much. And these are folks that had been isolated most of their lives. Her understanding of cognitive disability is just completely outdated and I would want whoever is the teacher to be clear on that. If they are open to that- they will be amazed and delighted by how much Sophie can and will learn. She will change their understanding. It would be ideal to be in a situation that already thinks that, but if they want Sophie- that would be the second best thing I think. We’re still struggling with our school- but so far they seem impressed and willing to admit they were wrong about Abby. It’s funny to me that the same behaviors the self-contained teacher complained about last year are the ones that the regular ed teacher sings Abby’s praises about this year- she’s not “overly involved in her classmates work” she’s “so nurturing and loving to the other students and we love that about her.” It’s all perspective. Unfortunately we can’t always hire that.

  5. I was just on a flight with a crowd of kids traveling home for the holidays from Boston area schools, MIT and the like, and so surprising to me, young boarding school kids. One kid cut such an adorable stereotype in his jacket and tie (worn the entire flight!). Another who looked 12 was met by his mother at the gate and she and the flight attendant who escorted him off the plane had a warm exchange about what an experienced traveler he is. Imagine sending your pre-pubescent child all the way across the country … for seventh grade! I was thinking on the flight (as I sort of eavesdropped on all these kids comparing boarding school stories) that so much thought (and money) goes into these decisions, but in the end, it’s all guesswork, right? Who knows what these little people, even the “little” MIT freshman girls in the row ahead, are capable or incapable of? I agree with Kathy. Sophie has and will continue to defy stereotypes and test results and exceed standards and expectations. And I agree that Sophie and the right school will just…happen. I don’t mean to discount the hard work and agonizing you’re doing now. We all look back and wish we’d known more or done things differently. We’re terrible at giving ourselves credit for doing this difficult guesswork with heart and intention.

    Hours before that flight, I was lucky to sit in a lecture hall and listen to Temple Grandin explain to an SRO crowd what made a difference for her in her young life. She reiterated two messages — and I do mean reiterated! — 1) we must NOT overgeneralize or even generalize students and needs and situations, and 2) we must stretch students! Of course TG is talking about autism, but I heard her message for Sophie, too.

    Keep resisting generalizations, Amy. Keep stretching.

  6. “Middle School can be hard for mom” – that is the truth! This is part of our job, this agony, this trying to figure out what lies ahead, to try to run down any barriers ahead of time. You can only do your best, which is pretty great. If Sophie can shadow for a half or full day she should do that. If there are parents of any special ed parents who are willing to speak to you, I’d call them. I would also want to know how serious the anti-bullying program is at each school. No one’s safe unless the most vulnerable students are safe. Also, where are her friends going? It would be so nice for Sophie to go from strength to strength instead of starting over.

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