Acting Up

posted Friday August 21st, 2015


In the end, I did not bring food to the first team meeting of the school year. Or a lawyer.

Instead, I brought Sophie.

It was not a tough meeting; I hadn’t expected it would be, or I likely would not have brought her. Sophie’s formal IEP meeting takes place each spring, and because so much can change in a few months, a long time ago I asked that the IEP require that a meeting be held within the first month of school. It’s been a really valuable tool.

We tweaked a few testing modifications and talked about lunch time procedures. Sophie interrupted several times, despite sharp (but, I hoped, kindly maternal) glances from me, and finally the speech pathologist jumped in and stage-whispered very loudly, “Do you want me to make this one of her goals?”

I nodded, my face hot. No one else in the room seemed bothered by Sophie’s excited questions and comments; I guess they are all used to it, used to her. Maybe more than used to her.

Mainstreaming a kid like Sophie is such a new thing at this school, a school that already has so many challenges, left with the kids who don’t qualify for the fancy gifted academy next door, whose parents haven’t sought out high-browed charter school options. This school, which is obviously starved for resources, with shabby edges and the challenges every public school faces today, has embraced my eager but challenging kid and given her the tools she needs to thrive.

Except for one.

Math, science, reading, social studies — Sophie’s getting it all, plus choir and visual art. It’s pretty amazing. But she’s made it clear that it’s not enough. She wants what other kids are getting. She wants drama class.

And so at the end of the meeting, I shifted awkwardly in my chair and made a little announcement. I know this has nothing to do with anyone at the school, I began, but I don’t want anyone to be blindsided, then explained that I’ll be approaching district administrators with my request to get Sophie (and any other kid from her school who wants to be) placed in a drama class at the gifted academy next door.

Some background:

When Sophie began middle school in sixth grade, she quickly realized that drama class was not among the elective options for students at her school. But it is for the kids at the gifted school. To complicate matters, the kids at the gifted school can take any elective offered at Sophie’s school; that is not reciprocal.

Sophie figured all this out before I did. She cornered the gifted school principal in the cafeteria at lunch and bugged him about this for months, to no avail. Ultimately I wrote a note to both principals and was told that no, this was not an option. You must qualify as gifted to take a class at the gifted school, even if it’s drama and not, say, pre-calculus. Sophie and I both tried to accept this, and took the options offered — including a not-great attempt at starting a drama club (which all but excluded Sophie) and the suggestion I sign her up for summer camp (that was a great week, but not enough).

I thought about it all summer, I told the team, and I have to say something. I haven’t done a formal analysis, but I’m willing to bet that the racial and economic breakdown at the gifted school looks a lot different from the racial and economic breakdown at Sophie’s school. Down syndrome aside, this is simply unfair. These gifted schools are segregating kids in dangerous ways that have flown under the radar — and someone needs to say something. Perhaps it’s easier for me, the parent of a kid whose entry into this school was never in question.

Plus, I don’t have a good explanation for Sophie as to why she can’t take drama. It doesn’t make sense to either of us.

And so, game on. Now the only thing to decide is what to bring along to that first meeting with the district administrators, assuming I get one. Food, the lawyer, Sophie? Maybe all three.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome by Amysilverman

8 Responses to “Acting Up”

  1. I Wasn’t really mainstreamed until high school. I had drama in high school with an excellent teacher. It is really disheartening that the school doesn’t have a drama program for non gifted students. Hope you get that meeting with the district. Take Care.

  2. Sophie sat on my shoulder again today at an ARD, as she always does. Every kid needs a champion. You have always been a champion for her. But I continue to be amazed at how many champions Sophie gathers around her. I’m guessing this little, yet fierce child will soon be taking drama.

  3. Have her wear a Detour shirt . .she is amazing and deserves her chance in the very biggest way . .She can blaze a path . .she has the talent, the drive, the passion . . . .and the genetics!! Way to go BRAVA Sophie!! xx

  4. Oh, man, Amy! Way to call bullshit through activism, which I guess is what all ACTivism does. This is absolutely segregation, and it’s telling that you have to be the one to force the issue. There isn’t a single teacher or admin at that school saying, “Hey, wait, we can’t do this?”

    Bring Sophie and the lawyer (I’m guessing Sophie has appeared on the “big” theater stage more times and has more performance training and experience than any kid at the gifted academy). Gifted — that word bugs me, too. Sophie is also gifted, as Sam points out, in ways that really count — differently, but just as loudly. You’ve seen the equality vs. equity graphic with the kids on boxes, right? I love that you and Sophie are constantly demanding both. I am, too, at my school, and it doesn’t make me many friends in higher places. I see that as affirmation that what I’m trying to do is “right.” Act up. Act out. Act. And know that this teacher/parent/person who loves Sophie is one million percent behind you both! xx

  5. are you familiar with the drama teacher at the GATE school?

    i think this is a worthy goal, but you might want to make sure it’s a good place for sophie.

    i’ve taught drama everywhere from privileged private schools to foster care to juvenile justice (and mainstreamed special ed kids in my classes at an elementary with wonderful results). i personally would welcome sophie with open arms for what she can bring to an ensemble! however, the craziest (mean spirited) drama teacher i ever encountered was from the wealthiest school. some of my breed are nuts! and being “dramatic” types can mean they get away with way too much.

  6. “No one else in the room seemed bothered by Sophie’s excited questions and comments.”

    Why on earth would they be? The meeting was about her and for her.

    She is not there as a prop. She’s there, I assume, because participating in the process of building her IEP is a vital part of of learning how to advocate for herself as she moves forward.

    I would hope that she would be encouraged to jump in, lead the way, comment and ask as many questions as she’d like! the meeting is HERS, after all.

    As for drama, hell yeah she should take that class. So many of our kids thrive in drama. Whatever she wants to try, the world should be open to her.

    Go, Sophie, go.

  7. *sorry for the typos .. should have proofread!

  8. It’s gonna suck, and people will say shitty things that they think are diplomatic and fair, but there will be at least one person at that school who will take what you’re trying to do to heart. Hell, yes, you should take a lawyer and Sophie with you. That lack of true reciprocity between the two campuses is bad news.

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