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Archive for September, 2011

Today’s College Doesn’t Fit All of Today’s Students

September 27, 2011 3 comments

 In the world of education, there is always talk about preparing students for college. There is also healthy debate about whether or not college is for everyone. These conversations, though, focus on the students who are in general education or have mild or moderate disabilities. In these discussions, never have I heard mention of a person with significant disabilities attending college.

So here’s a thought to ponder. What about the person with significant disabilities who wants to go to college? I mean the person who works extremely hard in school and after achieving all of his/her goals, receives an IEP diploma. I mean the person whose assessments are based on data folios submitted to the state because he/she is not required to take standardized tests. I mean the person who could not take SATs because his/her reading level is first grade, not due to lack of effort but due to the nature of his/her disability. What about these people? In my early days of teaching, I would have said, how could someone who can’t read, can’t take tests and doesn’t have a regents diploma go to college? It makes no sense for them to go, what would they get out of the experience? And I believed that I was right.

Fast forward some years. I attended an inclusion conference in Georgia. I heard Jeff Strully, a wonderful, motivational man, speak. He described a young woman (similarly to this, it was a long time ago) : ” She is 18 years old.” “She is very social.” “She loves to be around people.” “She loves to learn.” “She is a great dancer.” “She wants to go to college.” Then came this description of a young woman: “She is 18 years old.” ” She drools.” ” She needs help traveling.” “She has seizures.”  “She reads on a first grade level”.   “She wants to go to college.” In his next sentence, we found out that this was the same person, his daughter, and all of the descriptions applied to her. Again, I thought to myself, how can she go to college? What could someone with a first grade reading level, in need of significant supports, get out of college? Boy, did I learn the answer to my questions. Jeff Strully talked about going to college for reasons that were not purely academic. He said college is a natural progression from high school. He said that his daughter wanted to be with her friends and 18 year olds belonged on the college campus. He said that she could audit classes and not be required to do the rigorous academics. She could be with her peer group. She could hang out in the dorms and go to parties. She could go on trips. She could use the natural supports of her friends to help her to be successful in achieving her dream, being on the college campus.

His talk was eye opening for me. After hearing him, I knew that I had to figure something out for my own students who wanted the college experience. I am ashamed to tell you how many times I told a student who said that he/she wanted to go to college the following: “You have to be able to read.” “You have to have a regent’s diploma.” “You have to take SATs.” I wasn’t wrong, I was thinking of the traditional reasons of going to college and the traditional ways to get there. In retrospect, I was also squashing the dreams of my students. How dare I? After hearing Jeff Strully, I had different ideas. Why shouldn’t my students who wanted to go to college, go to college? Why not college inclusion? We did it on the high school level with great results. Our rationale for inclusion was more social than academic. Remember, my students did not take standardized tests, often read on a first grade level and were going to receive IEP diplomas when they completed school. But in the general ed high school, they were exposed to a different level of academics, often resulting in their reading and math improving. They had numerous opportunities to meet and socialize with students in an inclusive setting . They became welcome and valued members of the school community, participating in plays, after school activities, trips and graduation. (still receiving an IEP diploma). If this worked so well in a high school setting, surely it could be transferred to a college setting.

Without going in to all of the details of how we set this up, we approached the dean of education of a college that was used as a work experience site for some of my students. We had an already established, solid relationship, so selling the idea of inclusion was not difficult. The dean was very receptive and wanted to make it work. Logistically it took some figuring out, but after a year, 8 of my students, along with a teacher and a few paraprofessionals were included on the college campus. The students had special auditing status in their classes. Often, paraprofessionals attended the classes with the students to take notes so the teacher could later break down the material and re teach portions of the lessons. The paraprofessionals had to be discreet because my students did not want the stigma of having someone with them. They were in college and it wasn’t cool. We looked for classes that were more hands on, music, film making, physical education, rather than those that were lecture style. The students actively participated in the club hours on campus and also learned to negotiate the very large campus. When I would go to visit, I’d find some of my students having lunch in the cafeteria with their college buddies. This highly successful model was replicated on another college campus so that more of my students could participate.

So despite all the naysayers, I feel, if a person with disabilities wants to go to college, he/she should be able to go. But in order for this to happen it’s time for all of us to think differently. It’s time for schools to look at the ways to support the person who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of college bound student. It’s time to break that mold to fit the needs of that person. It’s time to make today’s colleges fit all of today’s students.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ron Clark Needs a Lesson

September 11, 2011 6 comments
 I just read the article by Ron Clark,http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents/index.html and felt my blood start to boil. I found him to come across as arrogant and presumptuous, not at all like the author I loved when I read The Essential 55. I don’t know if Ron Clark is a parent, but the way he states things in his article along with his lack of empathy, leads me to believe that he doesn’t have children.   
 
In my many years in the field of education, I worked with thousands of parents, some involved, some, less involved, some who defended their child, others who never listened to what their child had to say, some who were hostile to the school and wanted to fight, others who wanted to work with the school and brought ideas to the table. Though I am far from an expert in working with parents, I feel that I can share some of my thoughts, based on over 30 years of experience in the field of education, first as a teacher, then as an assistant principal, and finally as a principal. Also, by the way, I am a parent of two adult children, both teachers, both special educators.
 
Working With Parents is Not Always Easy
So how do we try to make it easier? I learned that it is essential to make the parent feel welcome. Treat them as though they are an invited guest at your house. If they want to bring an advocate along to a meeting, good for them. The more heads that work together, the more ideas that are developed. I learned that the attitude that we transmit as a school is critical to the success of the meeting. Parents know who the professionals are, it’s not something that has to be repeated over and over. Though everyone may not agree initially, setting up an us versus them situation doesn’t work. If there is hostility on any one’s part, the child loses. It’s so important to keep in mind the purpose of the school working with the parent and vice versa, to make things better for the child. 
   
Parents Voices Must be Heard
I learned that parents need to be acknowledged and their voices have to be heard. I learned to listen and hear what they were saying before I made my points. I learned that I do not know their child the same way they do. I see the child in school and they see their child at home, very different settings and situations. I learned that parents know their child best and I have no right to judge their parenting or tell them what to do. I learned that sharing strategies that worked with other children sometimes spurred them to try things with their own children.
   
Parents in Partnership With the School
I learned that it’s critical to develop relationships that work so the child can be supported. There have to be healthy, productive, respectful conversations with agreeing to disagree, in order to get to the most important outcome, assisting the child to thrive academically and socially.
  
 After reading his article it is clear to me that Ron Clark is concerned about teacher bashing. I am too. I feel that teachers get blamed for so many things that are not within their control.I feel that often teachers are not valued for the hard work and effort that they consistently put into their profession. It’s not an easy field to be in and I truly understand why some teachers and administrators leave. It’s unfortunate that we lose some of our best and brightest educators but not everyone can get past the obstacles that are thrown their way.
 
 I know that Ron Clark has strong ideas. His accomplishments with his students are admirable and have received well deserved national recognition. So why bash parents? Hasn’t Mr. Clark learned that parents’ can be strong allies to further the needs of the school community? Hasn’t he learned that they can advocate for things that he can’t ask for? Hasn’t Mr. Clark learned that it’s a different game when working with parents? It seems to me that he wants what he wants and that’s that. But that’s not the way to do business with parents. There has to be mutual respect, ongoing dialogue,  give and take, and planning together to support the child in school and at home. Learn, Mr, Clark, that being didactic and teacher directed is not the way to go.
 
For a parent’s perspective, please read A Letter to Ron Clark: What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers http://t.co/evcEFx3 via @SpecialEdAdvice.
Categories: Parents, Practical Ideas