Monday, June 16, 2014

Julianna, Part 11: I Try Homeschool

Julianna's situation at school had reached a point where I had no idea what to do. Her wonderful first grade class where she made so much progress was taken away during the summer break, with no warning to parents or changing of IEPs, all because they felt like trying "full inclusion" was a good thing. So for kids like Julianna, who are higher functioning, they had no choice but to place her in a regular classroom, with "some support." All the lower functioning kids were placed in special education classes. Well, for Julianna, this just didn't work. She did not want to be with the lower functioning kids because she worried about their spontaneous behaviors, and this created more anxiety for her. But the regular classroom didn't work either, because of the large size and feeling like she was on her own. I was told by the teacher that she was just "there," not really participating or looking comfortable at all to be there.

Hearing this just broke my heart, almost to where I didn't even want to send her to school. I knew that her old class wasn't an option anymore, unless I hired a lawyer and really fought the school district. I so wished I could do this, but I didn't feel like that was the right answer. The more I observed her in the classroom, the more I realized how much one on one support she really needed to learn and focus. And I don't even remember where the idea came from, or how it popped into my head, but one day I woke up and realized, "I need to homeschool her."

It made so much sense to me, even though I knew nothing about homeschool. For the past few years, I was working as a substitute teacher a few days a week, and loved doing it. I love teaching. Those of you that know me well, this is something that is a passion of mine, and during this time period, I came very close to going for my special education credential. But something kept holding me back, and I didn't know why. Once I had the realization that I needed to homeschool Julianna, I thought maybe that was why I never pursued it, and that I was supposed to be able to give all my time and attention to her so she could learn.

So I started looking into the possibility of homeschooling, and heard about some local charter schools that offered homeschool programs. I of course had to tell them about Julianna, and all of her history, and it seemed like once I did that, most charters told me there was no way they could allow me to homeschool her, given the level of support she is supposed to receive in school, though they could match the extra services like OT and speech, because by law they were required to provide it just like a public school. The real hang-up was the way her IEP was written, showing she received special education support at school. I was not a special education teacher, just a mom who wanted to do what was right for my child. Now I was starting to wish I had gone to get that degree...

But after much searching, I was able to find a school that was willing to work with me. They told me exactly how to word the IEP so that they could allow her to be assigned to a homeschool program. This meant I had to hold a few meetings with Julianna's current school to write the IEP correctly so it would transfer over to the homeschool charter. After some back and forth, it was approved by the charter school right before the winter break, 2011, just when I wanted to have it done. This gave me 3 weeks during the break to get everything ready for homeschool.

It was scary, I have to admit, saying goodbye to her elementary school, and having no idea what to expect on this new journey with her. But what kept me strong was knowing that I am Julianna's mom, and I would never leave her hanging. I would be there, giving her undivided attention. And the charter offered great support in curriculum, and even some small group classes she could attend for social time, as well as providing her speech and OT. She was also still receiving her ABA therapy during this time, which was going really well. We were also able to find a great respite worker after many months of failed attempts. Things were all falling into place, and though I was a little nervous, I was mostly excited to be "Julianna's teacher." I knew I had the skills and knowledge to take on this role.

So the winter break ended, and Blake returned to kindergarten, and during his time at school, about 4 hours, I used this time to work with her. I came up with a completely personalized schedule, something no school teacher ever could have implemented. We worked on math and reading using a timer so she would know when it was time to stop. She did fine motor and gross motor games with me. We did sensory play activities. We worked a lot on her handwriting. We had lots of fun! I used a little easel chalkboard, and we talked about the parts of a story, and I was able to come up with fun songs and rhymes to help her remember things. I could tell she was learning and being focused for the majority of the time. I knew that this was what I was supposed to do as her mom.

Until I got a big surprise that would turn everything upside down and make this fun homeschool almost impossible....


I'm back, continuing the story on this post...
So about 4 months into my wonderful homeschool experience, I was feeling so lucky that I could be home with Julianna and work one on one with her. She was finally getting the attention she needed to learn, and I really felt like this set up was perfect. Though some days were harder than others, I knew this was what she was supposed to do with me, at that time. She seemed happier and less anxious, and was making progress in her learning again.
Now my husband and I had been on the fence for many years about having more children. We knew we already had our hands full, and felt perfectly fine just having two, a boy and a girl. But we felt like maybe there might be one more child for us in our future, we just didn't know how soon. On April 1st, 2012, I took a pregnancy test. Yes, on April Fools' day. One day before I turned 30. And even more interesting about this day...9 years prior to that, on April Fools' Day, I took a pregnancy test, and discovered I was pregnant with Julianna. So I thought it would be really funny if the same thing happened again. Well, it did. I was pregnant. And though I was very excited for a new child to join our family, I didn't know what that meant for my perfect little homeschool with Julianna.
So Julianna and I went along as best we could, and the rest of the school year for her was during my horrible morning sickness phase. I really tried to be a good teacher to her, but it just wasn't working out the way I planned. I knew I wasn't giving her the best I could give, so as the year came to an end, I called the school back up, and asked what kind of special education classes would be available next school year. After her horrible experience alone in a regular classroom, I figured this was our only option. I took her to visit some classes, and though I wasn't really pleased with any of them, I knew that one would just have to work for her, because a pregnant homeschool mom and then a newborn just wasn't going to work. Julianna needed my full, undivided attention for this to be a success.
Over the summer, I tried to convince her that being in one of these classes would be better than the previous class, but the problem was, because the school district dissolved the resource class for higher functioning kids, it only left the lower functioning classes. All of those higher kids were spread out in regular classrooms. Julianna just didn't seem to fit anywhere, and I wasn't sure what to do. One thing I did know, from doing homeschool with her, was that she learned better with someone right along side her, helping her focus and stay engaged. I knew that very few kids had a one to one aide in school, and I had no idea how to get one. So when school started that fall, I had a new mission: to get Julianna a one to one I've said before, the battle never ends.
Julianna on her first day of 3rd grade, fall of 2012

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