Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another Year, Another IEP

There are only a handful of days left until summer vacation. My little girl is graduating from the K-2 "primary center" to the big kid "intermediate center" for grades 3-5. She is eight-years-old. She is going to be in THIRD grade.

By typing these facts, I hope to cement them in my top of mind awareness. Occasionally, I catch myself thinking that she's six.

This school year has gone faster than any other period of time in my life. Months swept by in a blur, and suddenly we were gathered around the IEP table. Three professionals, my husband, and I met in what amounts to the school's supply closet. Our table was jammed in between stacks of books, discarded (mostly broken) chairs, and unused desks.

Having attended a fair number of these meetings in other school districts, I had to laugh. No comfortable conference room here. No secretary offering chilled bottled water. Our school offered only the bare essentials in room that used to be a first grade classroom before budget cutbacks furloughed its teacher.

In spite of our surroundings, we worked as a team and created a good plan for third grade. It includes every accommodation I asked for and does a fine job documenting the highs and lows of Julia's primary school career. She will have everything she needs in the new building.

Still, I left with mixed emotions. IEP time seems to bring out ample negativity even when the meeting itself isn't contentious. Five adults sat around a table and talked about one kid's shortcomings. We glossed over the great triumphs of second grade because that stuff has such a small part in the plan. As a parent and responsible advocate, you can't go into the meeting full of pride and brag about all that your child can do. You have to talk about the places where the kid struggles. You have to bring up the less than perfect parts of the past school year. You have to voice worries about the future.

As I drove home, I wondered if I'm too hard on Julia. I recalled the number of times I said, "she's getting good grades, but..." and "she understands the concepts, but..." and worst of all, "I can't imagine her doing that..."

The morning after the IEP meeting, I got an email from the editor of Gallaudet University's annual publication, The Odyssey.  The 2013 edition has been published. It includes an article I wrote about Julia surfing. Re-reading that article helped me look at the previous morning in a different light. So many adults: parents, teachers, and therapists, have worked with Julia for years to get to where she is now. She has achieved so much, not by ignoring problems, but by identifying challenges and tackling them head on.

It remains my biggest challenge to balance my worries with the knowledge that there are no limits for my daughter. I can't ignore problem areas. I certainly can't let the school ignore problem areas. I have to guide and support and always remember that the work, Julia's work, will pay off in the end.

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