When you are in the thick of things....like watching your kids breathe with the help of a ventilator, milestones like Kindergarten seem so far away. Untouchably far away and bordering on the impossible.
....And then it's here.
I remember back when my kids were first born, and some other quad mamas would post stories about their 5-year-olds going to school. All I could think about was how MUCH OLDER those quads were and how we had eons of time before ever getting to that point. It went faster than I thought.
....I guess we are here.
Kindergarten, meet my 5-year-olds.
All of our kids are mainstreamed this year. Our two years in a Pre-K were in a blended classroom where some of the kids had IEPs (individualize education program) and some of the kids were considered more peer models (those would be the normal kids). I absolutely know that Caleb can rise to the occasion of a mainstream classroom, but I definitely had some concerns about his Kindergarten teacher's ability to identify his special needs and accommodate him with patience. Happily, I found out that his Kindergarten teacher has a background in SPED (special education)! So even though it's not a SPED or blended classroom, she has all of the training of a SPED teacher, and knew immediately how to accommodate him. That's a total answer to prayer. What is even better is that his Kindergarten teacher is the same lady as who he had in summer school. We put the kids in summer school in our new district to try to help them transition from Pre-K at the last school to Kindergarten at the new school. In Caleb's case, he has the same teacher from summer school in the same room doing the same routine. I'm telling, y'all. God looks out for the tiniest details even when we are freaking out and flapping around like we don't have a head.
We are ever pushing Caleb to reach his highest potential, and KNOW that by the time he reaches adulthood, he will be well adjusted. We put so much emphasis on his education and therapies now because we know that early intervention is the key for a lot of these kiddos in living their best life. We are very excited to see his progress at the end of this year after seeing how far he came last year.
So how was Caleb's transition into school on Tuesday? He walked right in and fell into routine. Just like he practiced all summer long. It was seamless. (although, he still talks about his Pre-K teacher AL the time and wants to know why she isn't at his school)
Ellie graduated from her therapies in January....so she is completely caught up!! No IEP for her! And to think, she was the kid with the brain bleed. We didn't know if she would ever be able to walk. When I dropped the kids off at school today, she got busted by another Kindergarten teacher for RUNNING down the hall. Obviously, we will work on that, but if that Kindergarten teacher only knew what a miracle it is that she was running down the hall, IEP free.....wow!
Ellie misses her Pre-K teacher so much. but when I ask her how she feels about her new teacher, she gets a big smile and says she likes her!
We are beyond grateful that the administration at our new school seems so receptive to our needs and requests. That is not something that we experienced at our last school at all. I asked the principal if she would please place our kids 2-and-2 in classrooms instead of in 4 different classrooms. Although there is no homework in Pre-K, I still found myself running from class to class during holiday parties, their birthday, graduation, just check for IEP compliance, etc. After two years of four classrooms, I just didn't see how that was in anyone's best interest anymore. I was torn, the teachers were trying to line up 4 classrooms worth of activities so that I had a chance to see everyone...it was crazy! Thankfully, the principal said that my request was very reasonable given that there are four of them, and even asked for our opinion on the best placement for the kids. We put Caleb and Ellie together because both have strong personalities. We knew that neither one would "follow" the other, so they would both maintain their independence in the classroom. It's the same set-up as we had for summer school, so just like with Caleb, Ellie transitioned in very well. Although....do you see her smile? That's her "I'm totally freaked about Kindergarten, but I'm Ellie, and I'm a cowgirl, and cowgirls are tough" smile. Her non-forced smile came back shortly after going back into her routine again. Ellie, more than all of the other kids, seems to grasp what a milestone Kindergarten is, and I think it was just kind of...a lot for her.
Abby has the sweetest, most compliant personality, but she gets overwhelmed at times. Her biggest area of struggle on her IEP is in the social/emotional category. She never knows what to do with her emotions in a social situation, whether those emotions are good or bad. We are always working with her to help her verbalize her feelings so that she feels understood and validated. She needs lots of encouragement to try new things, be brave, and use words to communicate. Hopefully her teacher taps into all of that and can help her do well this year!
Unfortunately, we have some catching up to do from her last year of Pre-K. It ended up being not such a great situation classroom-wise, and we had to move her to a new classroom/teacher with only 33 days left in the year. Her social/emotional needs went through the roof and led to a rough summer school session as she dealt with frustrations and emotions she didn't know how to process. As a mom, I feel so frustrated at myself for not catching the Pre-K issues until so late in the year. I feel like I could have headed off so much of her current frustrations if I'd realized what was going on at the time. Abby is resilient though, and should hopefully catch up quickly if her Kindergarten teacher can see that words of encouragement and hugs are the best way to help her move forward.
Elijah is also still on an IEP for a couple of therapies, but his big one is speech. He adapts pretty easily to wherever he is placed, but he is definitely missing his Pre-K teacher who he had for two years. He is rolling with it though, and looks completely comfortable when I drop him off, so I'm not too worried about him! Now, if he can just be quiet and sit still long enough to learn something....HA! We love this kid though! Sean decided that he needed a notebook earlier this week so that he could write out his thoughts because there are so many of them. Although he can't spell yet, he is drawing pictures like crazy. I think he might write a book or something later on in life. They say the average woman speaks 30,000 words a day. Elijah is clocking in at at least 40,000 words a day. He might as well write a book and get paid for it, right? hehe!
Abby and Elijah have a different Kindergarten teacher than who they had for summer school. For summer school, they had a gem of a woman named Mrs. Muder, who was exactly what they needed at the time. We are especially appreciative of the extra time she took to work with Abby on her frustrations and emotions. So much progress was made in 4 short weeks. Truly a wonderful woman! Mrs. Muder was actually Sean's physical therapist in first, second, and third grade....and then she had two of our kids for summer school! She was delighted, and Sean was delighted to see her again after so many years. She is the physical therapist during the actual school year, so a couple of our kids may yet have her for that, but she was very kind to email me on the first day of official Kindergarten and wish our family luck.
Abby and Elijah are together again for the actual school year. We placed them together because they both have more easy-going personalities. Since neither one is really a leader, we figured they wouldn't bug each other too much. Although, Elijah does seem to gravitate toward the caring big brother role with Abby, making sure she feels safe (even though he is a minute younger). The kids' new teacher for the school year seems very nice and personable too. I haven't been able to get a good read on her yet because we are only a couple of days in, but she seems to be easily accessible through email and her classroom Facebook page. One of my main goals at the beginning of each school year (yep, I'm counting Pre-K) is to develop a close relationship with our kids' teachers. I just feel like everything goes better when they know I'm there, and I know they are meeting my kids needs. I'm not always successful because some teachers are more reserved than others, but I definitely give it my best shot! We firmly believe that the educational process doesn't end at school, and that our role as parents is even more important at home. So we try to support our teachers as much as possible and let them know that we are present and....for lack of a better word after our difficult Pre-K days.....watching that everything is going well. hehe! I'm really not as bad as I sound. I don't think I ever blogged about our actual issues with the school district that we came from, but let's just say that although our Pre-K teachers were amazing overall, the school and district administration left a lot to be desired both in being in legal compliance with special education law, and in basic safety measures.
BUT, we have very high hopes for this new school district and new school year. I feel like I'm still feeling it out...hoping that it does prove to be all that we've heard it is. I was able to have a nice conversation with the Principal, Vice Principal, and Instructional Coach today in the hallway at the school. Just sharing some of the issues from our last school, and my concerns about dropping them at the door without walking them to class. They have a rule at the school that parents can walk their kids to class the first week, but after that, they want the kids to be independent and for parents to drop them in the lobby. I totally get that, and *want* to be able to do that, but given our previous school situation, I'm desperate to be able to walk them to class at least once a week to just stick my head in and let everyone know I'm still around. That was the only way I could get our last school administration to stay in compliance with IEPs and make sure my kids were safe. The "I'm still here" walk through seemed to help a lot. It also gave me a chance to build that relationship with our teachers that I so highly value. Their Pre-K teachers are now good friends because we established a working relationship that made sure the kids' best interests were met. Anyhow, all that to say, the school administration suggested we set up a meeting to talk through what will be best for the kids, what will make me feel comfortable that they are safe and IEPs are in compliance, and also help all of us get on the same page considering what we are coming from. I'm grateful for a school administration that does seem to really care about our family as a whole unit. It's refreshing!
And I think the kids (and Sean and I) will end up being very happy here in the end!