Thursday, May 13, 2010
I overheard a conversation at work yesterday and realized this morning that I hadn't been able to get the little shards of it out of my mind, so I figured I'd better share it.
I work at a private Montessori school that serves kids ages three through 3rd grade. I am a true believer in the Montessori method, having experienced it as a kid in preschool and witnessing how well it served my kids, and then being a part of it by working with parents and teachers at the school for the past several years. I love that it is geared towards inspiring children to investigate the world and honor their curiosities, wherever they lead them. I love that it serves both children who are shy and outgoing, language-oriented and math-oriented, concrete thinkers and abstract alike. I love that it doesn't matter if your child has the attention span of a hummingbird or can sit for hours doing the same task over and over - Montessori fits.
In the past few years we have seen an increase in the number of kids with special needs coming to us. We contract with an outside agency who assesses children in their classrooms and then works with the parents and teachers to craft a plan of action to make this child's school experience more successful. For many of these families, the cost of additional treatments outside of school becomes overwhelming pretty quickly and in the last two years we have had a few kids who split their time between the local school district and our school. Generally speaking, these kids spend the first half of their day in a Head Start-like program in the public school and then are bussed to our school for the afternoon.
The conversation that came up yesterday was in reference to our summer program. A couple walked in on Tuesday to get information about our programs and after about 30 minutes of talking at the front desk, I took them on a quick tour of the school. As we popped into the safety of an empty classroom to get a closer look, the mother cleared her throat, looked down at my feet and asked, "Have your teachers worked with kids on the autism spectrum before?" It may have been my imagination, but I swear she flinched at the end of her question as if waiting for me to call the whole thing off. I was touched by her concern and understood her hesitation to share this information with us. Many of the private schools in our area simply won't consider serving an applicant with special needs and it was clear she'd been burned before. She assured me he was high-functioning and said he would be transported to our school via school bus at 11:45 every morning.
We finished the tour and she signed him up for afternoon classes all summer long. Yesterday, my co-workers expressed their shock that the school district was spending tax dollars during the summer to transport kids on buses. To be fair, we have all recently discussed the fact that the transportation portion of the school district's budget uses the most money and we have experienced difficulties with getting our kids to the public schools because of the limited transportation options. My neighbors have been told that our bus stop will likely be irrevocably eliminated next year and they will be forced to drive their kids to school or to another bus stop instead. In light of that, it does seem odd that the accommodations made for special transportation are so flexible.
Or maybe they aren't. Because I have only experienced taking kids off of those buses and escorting them inside our school, I can't say for sure. What I do know is that the indignation expressed by some of my co-workers was surprising to me. One of them said, "I don't want my tax dollars used like that!" and I was shocked.
For the special needs kids who come to our school, I know that the special accommodations their parents make are enormous. They are all working long hours to pay for special therapies and spending inordinate amounts of time researching school options that will work for their kids. I have no idea what things are like at home, but I can't help but think that the fact that the school district is not only offering to serve their kids, but transporting them to private schools in the afternoon to boot is a huge relief.
My gut reaction is to say that the better we can serve all of the kids when they're young, the better off we will all be. If it's the difference between these buses sitting idle all summer long in a lot or using them (and giving some driver a much-needed paycheck during the summer) to transport a small number of kids to and from programs that will give them continuity and a leg up, I can't see how it's a problem.
Okay, I've vented. The shards have worked their way out of my brain. It's your turn to weigh in.