But, for my edification if nothing more, I need to list out the key things I learned at the PEP Conference:
- It was not a "parenting" conference. The key assumption of this conference was that we were the experts on our own kids. We were specifically instructed in our three small group sessions (about 10 people plus a few moderators) not to 'rescue' and not to problem solve for others. We were there to enable ourselves to act within the educational system as advocates for our children. The Colorado Department of Education, who planned and hosted the conference with the help of experienced parents of children with disabilities, want us and our children to succeed within their bureaucracy. If that's not the most encouraging thing you've ever heard, well, I guess I can just say it's a very encouraging thing for me to hear.
- I do identify The Kid as a child with a disability, at least as defined by special educational law. I know some of you who read this and know The Kid and I have trouble with that. I am so grateful that the framework of IEP's exist, that there are laws to back up the accomodations that The Kid needs to be a student, and for that reason, his identity as a child with disabilities is actually a really good thing. He is a kid that without the right supports in place, can't possibly show his potential. Thank god for the IEP.
- Our story was rare, and bad, but not the worst. And I don't mean in his medical file, not at all. I mean in the way in which we have struggled with our school district, a little more than a year ago, to obtain reasonable special education services. I was told, "No, we can't do that" far more often than is reasonable or possibly even legal. The Kid's special educational entitlements were violated last year. I have been jaded and hurt by the general ed school that The Kid attended for Kindergarten and the first month of first grade, but now know that not only is this not normal, it is also extremely possible to counteract with specific language and specific actions on my part. I have learned what to do if I encounter the 'I won't do this for your child' response again.
- Most IEP violations take place because of ignorance, not because of spite. I need to teach myself to believe this in the case of last year's big time bad news, just to help me get over it. But also, these laws, the ADA, the IDEA, NCLB and the Colorado-specific special ed law are so complex, and teachers simply do not know them, and this is how violations occur. This conference exists to counteract this ignorance.
- I am worried about new things. Inclusion. The Kid will be heading from a very restrictive classroom environment to a less restrictive environment eventually. I don't believe this will happen until 2008, possibly not until the new school year, but it is going to happen. I am now scared of what happens when my highly intelligent young man goes back into a 'grade level' school, after having been in a classroom of 6, in a very fluid multi-age setting. He is behaviorally challenged, even in the classroom of 6, but he is also a leader there. He is, age-wise, in second grade. He is doing 3rd and 4th grade math and science. He is reading on grade level. He is writing like a first grader. How do you keep a kid with all of these gifts and challenges in a single-grade classroom? This is not a bad problem persay, but it is one that I had never considered until last weekend.
- Finally, THANK GOD FOR BLOGGING. Like I said, the seminar was split up between large lectures about disability law and IEP's, with the one smaller 'choice' breakout session, I went to the one about PBS, as I wrote earlier this week, and then punctuated with a meeting of a small support group each day. At each support group, I sobbed. I am completely incapable of talking about The Kid and his education to sympathetic ears without breaking down into sobs. One on one, I'm generally capable of being articulate and not crying a great river, but get me around a group of people looking at me and caring about what I am saying and having all been in that same place as me, I will lose it. I never cried in the big group lectures, either. Just in the small groups. So, support groups are kind of out for me. I'm not productive in them. In many ways, this blog is my support group. Important people read this blog and know me and are then able to know about what I'm thinking or feeling, and I don't have to sit around and tell them about it later at a party and end up red-faced and crying. I can also write and write and write and you won't be any the wiser if I sobbed through the writing or not. I can bare it all, or organize my thoughts. I'm so lucky to have you, readers (and I think I know each and every one of you, and most of you know me personally and know The Kid personally, and that helps so much).
Thanks for being my support group.
Oh, and Diane? There's snow above timberline. I woke up every morning to the snow machines blanketing Peak 9. Beautiful, pristine skies, bluer than you can imagine during the day, and more stars than you can count at night. I love Breckenridge.