Whoa. Tommy is six. When did that happen? It means big changes are coming for him. It’s time for the big school transition! He’s currently doing a year of kindergarten at WPSBC. He’s been there since he turned three so he’s very comfortable there. He’s a confident cane user and he knows most everyone on campus, at least in the early childhood center. But he’s at the point where he either needs to move over to the big school for older children across the street or move to a different school altogether.
We had a big meeting with a team of representatives from Tommy’s home district last month. They were incredibly welcoming and invited us to visit the school, meet their team and visit some kindergarten classrooms. We all tried to lay our cards on the table about the kind of support Tommy needs both as a blind child and as an individual. Tom has a lot of sensory needs and he’s need some help transferring to a regular education setting. Tommy’s classroom teacher (a TVI, Teacher of the Visually Impaired) his occupational therapist, and his speech teacher all came to help represent his interests at the meeting. We also had two people from our local intermediate unit that provides Vision Services (TVIs and COMS, or Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists) to districts in our area. A TVI/COMS and the supervisor of Vision Services came. So we had a really great team all taking time to get together to make some decisions.
We talked a lot about Tommy and where he’s at right now. Then we toured the school and came back to discuss what Tommy would need to be successful in a mainstream environment. My husband and I really came into the meeting with no set plan or preference. We wanted to see what the district could offer, and if it wasn’t right for Tom, then we’d explore other options. Tommy’s team from WPSBC was fiercely advocating for him. It really made me teary a couple of time to see how much they understand him and how he learns. They had examples and presented scenarios to help the team from the district understand Tommy’s learning style and sensory needs.
I found the district to be really open and accommodating. As Tommy is a very auditory learner and a big people person, the school psychologist from the district suggested she could have school staff record themselves reading books so Tommy could become familiar with their voices. They offered to have us back soon for Tommy to visit and become familiar with the building. That’s the kind of simple but innovative thinking that really shows a willingness to go the extra mile. (I swear to God, this isn’t some dream sequence. This really freaking happened!)
The big decision
In the end, we decided that it’s time to transition to our home district and that Tommy will repeat kindergarten. I feel really good about this new direction. I think it’s time. Oh my, do we owe a huge debt to the staff, teachers, and therapists at WPSBC. They are amazing. Tommy needed a high level of support when he entered school at three. He had a g-tube and was still learning many skills. He needed lots of one-on-one physical therapy for his hypertone and he got it. He got physical therapy twice a week (once in the pool, which he loved!) and he got tons of support as he morphed from a g-tube guy into a Sandwich King! Yes, that’s a nickname he earned because he’ll eat almost anything if you put in on a bun! He is a cane master thanks to the skilled instruction and incredible Urban Trail on campus that allowed him to explore different terrains and real mobility situations.
So much thought went into everything Tommy experienced at WPSBC. From trialing an FM system, to noise cancelling headphones, and a social club for the kids to practice their skills, Tommy has had a great educational experience. It truly was INDIVIDUAL. You will hear many people say negative things about schools for blind children. It is the most restrictive environment and it’s not with typical peers. That’s true. But the I in IEP stands for Individual and WPSBC is what my little individual needed to blossom into the amazing little man he is today. And let me add that Tommy got to interact with typical peers during music, art, horticulture, and other times because the school also has a daycare on site.
WPSBC is also in the heart of Oakland which is where the University of Pittsburgh is located. So Tommy got to meet tons of “college kids” as he calls them, when they come to visit the school for various educational opportunities. He recently got a lesson on dental care from students from the Pitt Dental School. How cool is that? And what a great opportunity for the Pitt Dental students to learn about children of all abilities! So what I’m trying to convey is that WPSBC is amazing and full of caring, incredible people. We will truly miss them!
But back to the big school planning meeting! So after that exciting meeting at our local elementary, the school psychologist came to visit Tommy at WPSBC to see what his days are like. She immediately though of another classroom in her district that has a similar feel. It has a smaller class size (7 kids, exactly what Tommy has now) and they are set up with stations like Tommy’s current classroom, with a math center, literacy center, listening station and more. This classroom uses a lot of visual cues and Tommy’s current teacher pointed out that any picture can be made into a tactile or braille symbol for him.
It sounded like an interesting possibility so Tommy’s educational team made another trip to our district to check out this classroom. They loved it! It’s the bridge Tommy needs to a more mainstream environment. I am so excited to tour this school and classroom with Tommy and his teacher this Wednesday. We also found out that Tommy’s district has an FM system already. We plan on writing that into his IEP because you wouldn’t believe how it helped Tommy to participate in activities and stay on task. It helped him cut through the sound clutter and focus on his teacher’s voice. I just read through his most recent progress report and you could easily see how his performance went up when they used the FM and down when they finished the trial. I am so excited to implement that FM system for next year.
This is a much better fit for Tommy than a general education classroom of 25 students. The sound level of that alone would be incredibly difficult for Tom. This school has a bit smaller of a class size in its general classrooms too. They would have Tommy in with the other classroom for art, music and other specials. He would also be able to transition to that classroom to accommodate any educational strengths he develops as the year goes on. I really like that fluidity! And I hear everyone wants to learn braille! (Am I dreaming?)
We are looking forward to meeting a new team at Center Elementary this Wednesday! Wish us luck. See. I told you it was time for a big school transition!