your thoughts on separate high school class - special needs

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schleppenheimer
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09 Mar 2010, 7:27 am

I really need input from either students or parents about this subject --

My eighth grade son is starting to sign up for classes in high school, and they are really pushing something called the IMPACT program for high school. I don't know much about the program yet (meeting on Thursday) but these are the benefits:

1. smaller class sizes
2. advance notice of curriculum -- you know what is being taught, when tests are, etc.
3. lessons on good study tactics, such as note card use, etc.
4. testing strategies
5. "level-appropriate texts"

The above list sounds good in many ways. My fear of these types of groups are as follows:

1. smaller class sizes MEANS you go to school mostly with the same group of kids
2. limits your social opportunities
3. I'm concerned about level appropriate texts -- does that mean easier?
4. we are already teaching my son to use note cards and teaching him testing strategies

I don't know why, but I'm very wary of this specialized class group that separates my son from his peers.

Do you have experience with this type of program? If so, please let me know what you feel were the pros and cons.



jat
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09 Mar 2010, 9:34 am

I don't have experience with this specific type of program, but my experience with schools and programs in general is that the devil is in the details. That is, the program sounds great, on paper. The questions are, as you raised, how they will work out. The question as to testing is important. It is clearly important that your child receive an education that challenges without frustrating him, and that he is tested according to what he is taught, not according to some unrelated measure.

The smaller class size, advance notice of curriculum, etc, has to be good ... provided it is done well. In general, I wouldn't worry too much about the concept of a smaller social group - we all tend to find a small social group in real life: it might be based on interests, work, or some other construct, but no one can manage a social group that involves hundreds or thousands of people. The problem would be if the group was inappropriate, not if it's small. Also, you will need to find out whether the class will be the same group in each class - generally, there is some overlap but not the identical group in different classes in high school. Sometimes, there is no overlap at all from one class to the next. Smaller class size means that instead of dealing with up to 150-200 different classmates (for instance), you son might have to deal with only 50-75 - much more manageable. He would still have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, where he would meet and hang out with people who share interests, but the masses of people he has to deal with on a day-to-day, class-by-class basis would be less. Small class size is generally tied to increased student engagement, and better student-teacher relationships. It is important for high school students to have adults in the school who know them, so they don't get "lost." If this program will provide this for your son, it would be great.

Another thing that occurs to me, is that while it is wonderful that you have been teaching your son study tactics and such, it is very helpful to have this done at school. One, your son may start to rebel against you as "teacher," since you are his parent. As kids head into high school, they tend to need to have school and home life more separate, and if school could be providing this kind of instruction for him, it would be healthier for both of you, and for your relationship. You could be the parent, and let school be the "teacher." When he feels inclined, he can show you some "new" technique they've shown him, and you can hold your tongue and NOT tell him you've been teaching him that for the last three years! LOL! He's reaching an age when you will lose certain credibility, and you NEED school to pick up this area.

Being wary of the program is appropriate - it's always appropriate to be wary of anything a public school is offering your child. The question is not whether this program will be perfect, but whether it will be better than the alternative. Ask all the questions you've raised. Make sure that the concerns you have are well-covered in his IEP (if he has one). Make sure that he can transfer back into the general program if he and you want him to. When you've gotten all your questions answered to your satisfaction, if you decide he should be in this program, send a "thank you" letter (email is good - then you have a copy) that documents all the answers you got that reassured you - that way, you have it in (your) writing what the terms were. If they don't respond with some "correction," it basically means they agree with your understanding.

If you decide not to use the program, see what you can do about taking the parts of the program and putting them in his IEP anyway!



schleppenheimer
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09 Mar 2010, 9:49 am

jat, thanks very much for your reply. You bring up a really good point, about trying to separate myself from the "teaching" aspect. That would definitely be a benefit, and something that we are working on right now. He WANTS to be independent, but unfortunately, when I try to give him independence, he doesn't do so well. THUS the need for this program [definitely in the school administration's eyes . . .].

Trouble with this -- we've been through it before. He was in a special needs English class, in 6th grade, and there were behavior problems, and he was part of the problem [he was highly bothered by the noise level, which was not controlled by the teacher, and so he began acting out -- by his own admission, amazingly enough]. We made the shift from special needs to a regular ed English class the next year, and he did beautifully. This year is more of a struggle to be sure, but he's still getting B's in a subject that is historically difficult for kids on the spectrum because of reading comprehension problems.

This IMPACT program sounds as if it could be a repeat of that situation. But it also sounds as if it has some very real advantages. We go to a meeting to disucss the program on Thursday, and should know more. But my radar is up because you "sign a contract" to be in a program, and some of the rules have to do with discipline, hygiene, attendance, etc.

There are definite things that would sound beneficial to my son, as he is disorganized, forgetful, etc. BUT, he is also currently an A's and B's student -- no C's. Does he really NEED this program?



jat
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09 Mar 2010, 10:13 am

If your son has an IEP, it sounds like they are using this program to try to avoid individualizing the plan, and just fitting him into a pre-existing program. It sounds like you might need to make some changes to the contract before you sign it, in order for it to be in accordance with your son's IEP. :wink: They won't necessarily like that, but you need to point out that your son is entitled to an IEP, not a "just like everyone else's" EP. Build in review, by having another IEP meeting after about a month or six weeks of school, in order to assess how this program is working for him. At that meeting, schedule another one. If they know that there are already follow up meetings on the calendar, they are going to be more likely to monitor what they are doing, since they know they are being watched all the time - they can't wait a year.

DO NOT sign anything that says he'll be in the program for a year. That's not even really legal, for a kid with an IEP - it would be like signing away his rights to modify his IEP within that time, and you can't do that, and they can't force you to do that. It would be better for him not to be "in" the program, but to be placed in that classroom for services, if you know what I mean. They might not do that, but you can still use their own recommendations to demand that he have the same kinds of supports - organizational skills, study skills, etc. Also, if behavioral issues arise, you want to be able to demand an FBA and BIP - there shouldn't be cookie-cutter consequences for behaviors that could be manifestations of disability.

Your question of whether he needs this is a good one. I certainly don't know. He no doubt needs something, but this may not be it. It may be that the school is promoting this because this is what they have. Schools do that a lot. They are supposed to talk about what the child needs first, and then look at how to provide it. If the meetings start with a discussion of what the programs are, and which would be best for the kid, that's the wrong way to go, and it's in violation of IDEA. The school needs to fashion an appropriate program, or provide one elsewhere - a program at a neighboring public school, or at a private school (at their cost). From what you've said, it should not be difficult for them to provide what he needs within the public school, but they have to want to, and if they "want" to by putting him with kids who have behavioral issues when he does not, they are not providing him with the supports he needs - they are doing what is convenient for them.



starygrrl
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09 Mar 2010, 10:20 am

Honestly speaking, HS is when I "caught up". I went to a very large HS (my graduating class was 670 and the HS's total size was 4000).

If he is doing well in normal classes (As and Bs) DO NOT PUT HIM IN A SEGREGATED SPECIAL NEEDS CLASS. REPEAT DO NOT PUT HIM IN A SEGREGATED SPECIAL NEEDS CLASS. At least not in a public school.

Remember, he has ASD, which means college is more of a necessity than kids without ASDs. Segregated special needs classes are infamous with regards to setting kids back.

I will be honest, I excelled in HS academically, my As and Bs, became mostly As and being pushed into honors programs after six months. Putting him in an exclusively special needs class is seperating him form any potential opportunity academically both now and in the future. It would also be hampering his ability to get into a good university.

I often caution parents, do not compare HS or raising an ASD teenager to previous experiences with thier children. It is completely and utterly different. Some people with ASD make big leaps in either HS or University.

I would recommend against the segregated program. But honestly it gets down to HS and the environment. My HS was run alot like a college prep school even though it was a public HS. I could choose my own classes, what time certian classes took place, etc. I had requirements I needed to graduate, but there was alot of flexibility. On top of that my HS.

I will say, being in a segregated class for special needs may be a mark of death in HS. It comes with alot of assumptions and your kid is more likely to get set back academically. Your number one goal for your kid in HS should be getting him into college. Being in a segregated special needs class can hamper that goal. (If this were a private school that was designed for kids with AS and NLD this would be a different story, those schools are designed around the fact kids with AS and NLD are academically talented, public schools assume the opposite with special needs kids).

I have to say, I went into HS with difficulties and went out very high functioning. I was mainlined throughtout my academic period from early on, but it was not until HS I figured.

Secondly, don't focus so much on social aspects. This is a common mistake of NT parents. You need to make this kid into an academic machine at this point. Give him the indipendence socially, but push the academics as if his life depended on it (because IT DOES).

In other words: university, university, university.

Let him determine his own social path. But you need to insure his academic one is in place and it starts right now. The goal should be getting the kid onto an academic path to a Ph.D., MBA, MD or JD.

Don't put your son into this program and force the individualized IEP. Make sure he is mainlined. Especially since he is a good student.



schleppenheimer
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09 Mar 2010, 11:38 am

starygrrl, thanks SO MUCH for posting -- I do think that your experience may have been similar to my son's. His high school will be large, the same as yours was. He is bright, but has organizational problems, although even with those problems he is improving. But this does tend to hold him back from doing as well as he could. Socially, I'm only concerned because he sits with the nerds at his lunch table, and I doubt that most of those guys will be in this class so he will definitely miss opportunities to be around his current friends.

I happened to check this high school website, and there was a video by the English teacher who works with kids in this program. He had video of his regular english class (talking about his class and teaching style, from student's perspectives), and this program's class. Wow, that was illuminating. The regular english class -- the kids were impressive. The program class -- the kids weren't bad, necessarily, and they didn't appear to be special needs, but they let information slip that I would find disconcerting [for example, only four bits of homework all year -- from what is otherwise a fairly competitive high school]. These videos were invaluable! I do feel like I have a better idea of the class makeup, and at least how this English teacher would teach.

Bottom line, for now, after reading the info that I have and seeing this video, I get the impression that this class is made up of mostly kids who are trailing their peers academically. They don't seem necessarily less-than, intellectually, they just seem less motivated. That probably wouldn't work well for my son.



oncebitten
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09 Mar 2010, 9:48 pm

Smaller class size (teacher to student ratio) would be considered a blessing to a lot of parents that are concerned about their child's education - especially if there is some difficulty with their courses.

Knowing what the schedule is going to be, what is due and when and when tests are scheduled is good too. The teachers at my daughters school have their entire cirriculum online and available for the kids and parents to see/use. I love it.

Smaller group of kids/less interaction with the rest of the students? Could go either way. On one hand if the social aspects of school stress your son - this may eliminate some of that stress and allow him to focus on his work better. Being with the same group may allow him to be more comfortable in class - especially when it comes to speaking up when he needs some help with something or when he has to do something that puts him in front of the class (presentations/reports). The constant changing of people and faces every semester/trimester can make even the most confident kids a bit shaky at first.

The only thing that would have me really concerned is the cirriculm being 'altered' to go at the pace of the student. It kind of allows the kid to dictate what they learn and I have to wonder if the teachers will allow a kid to 'slide' if it takes more effort to learn some things. My daughter ran behind until she was in the fourth grade - the school would have passed her up o the 5th grade and she'd have been in 5th grade learning 4th grade work... Okay - for some parents - but if she had continued like that - she would never have been in 'real school' - she'd have to be pulled out of class for her 'special' classes. I made them keep her behind so that she could take the same classes and have the same work and do the same thing as every other kid at the school. She's in JR High, she does ALL of the same work and is responsible for doing it on time and she is subject to the same grading scale as every other kid. She has lost an 'elective' course so that she has one hour of class that is for the kids who may need some extra help with certain subjects - if she doesn't need help on any given day - she works on homework. There were kids that were in her 'special classes' and they are still in 'special classes - but they are not working at the same level as she is. Some of these kids are still doing 5th grade work while the rest of their classmates are doing 7th grade work. Each year the subjects get harder. They are difficult for most kids - Hell - I have a college degree and some of that stuff baffles me! And these kids have a load of homework. More than I ever had at that age.

So - you need to ask yourself - and your son - what his plan for the future is. If he has no intention of going on to college (even community college) - maybe it's okay to allow him to step off the scholastic fast track and work at a slower pace. Just remember - when he graduates - he may not be at the same level as the other kids. If that's not important - then you shouldn't push it or make it the most important priority.

Talk to the teachers - find out how they work with the student individually and as a class. Tell them what YOU want your son to get from this program and see if they can facilitate those goals. You know what your son is capable of and what you can expect from him, the teachers in that program need to know that too. The more they know - the better equipped they are to help him.



dt18
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14 Mar 2010, 12:53 pm

I was in an IEP all my years of grade school. As much as it helped academically, it did have a lot of downsides too. Other peers saw that I was in special needs and looked at me as retarded. I don't know how the high school your kid is going to is, but in mine, when we went for modified tests and such, they were very loud and to the point about it. The whole class could see those peers going for modified tests. It was a humiliating sight. This also gave me a lot of untrue labels.



oncebitten
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14 Mar 2010, 1:54 pm

dt18 wrote:
I was in an IEP all my years of grade school. As much as it helped academically, it did have a lot of downsides too. Other peers saw that I was in special needs and looked at me as retarded. I don't know how the high school your kid is going to is, but in mine, when we went for modified tests and such, they were very loud and to the point about it. The whole class could see those peers going for modified tests. It was a humiliating sight. This also gave me a lot of untrue labels.


That was the case in my duaghter's schools up until she was in 4th grade. The kids who had 'special needs' were called out of class throughout the day for their math or wahatever subject/s they needed the extra help with. As a result - it was really hard for her to participate in class when she was in her rugular class room. Once she 'caught up' she was in her regular classroom all day and was expected to do the same work as the rest of the students. She did skip her Social Studies because she tested at a high school level - so it wasn't a huge difference in her class work or participation to miss that subject. Instead she went to a 'study hall' type class for extra tutoring and help with subjects that were mire difficult for her.

In her 7th grade classes now - she is is all of the regular classes and doing the same cirriculum as the other students - and she has to do all of the homework and projects plus take the same tests. The difference is - she lost one of her 'elective' courses to go to an IEP class once per day for additional help - if she needs it, she usually uses the time to do homework. The kids in her IEP are encourgaged to do their tests in their regular class room but can take the tests in IEP if they choose. My daughter has chosen to take her tests in the classroom - so she doesn't have to leave. She is scored on the test she takes and she corrects mistakes in IEP for partial credit in the class. She usually does well on her tests - but I think the use of her IEP in doung homework and the extra support for learning helps out tremendously. Because she's not using her IEP class as much - she will be able to take her elective courde next year and will be given the option to use the IEP class when she wants to or needs to.

It's helped her a lot and I hate to see it NOT available - but I do know that giving her the option of using it when she needs it as opposed to making her go has given her the academic confidence and challenge she needs. (The kids actually have 4 electives - but because she plays violin and does not want to give it up - her orchestra class uses three of her electives. We have allowed her to make the choice. The school has offered an option that she come in 1/2 hour early for support so that she can keep all of her electives - but she's not too keen on that idea.)

Maybe working with the school to find a way for your son to get the support he needs but still participate in regular classes with an option to use the support class for tests or tutoring is something you can look into.



Brennan
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14 Mar 2010, 7:21 pm

Like Starygirl, HS was the time where I caught up too. I found primary school notoriously difficult. When I entered HS, I was put in one of the bottom math classes based on my performance in primary school. When they re-tested us about 3 months later, I was put in the second highest math class and spent the rest of HS in either the top or second highest class. Same goes for the rest of my subjects.

I would see how your son does in mainstream classes. If he isn't coping and his grades suffer, then think about switching him to the special needs class.



schleppenheimer
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14 Mar 2010, 8:49 pm

UPDATE:

We went to a parent meeting on Thursday night to learn more about the IMPACT program for our school. I went in HIGHLY skeptical, and came out almost sold on the program.

This may be one of the FEW situations in a school where they've got the concept correct. They have four classes (science, social studies, math and English) for the program, where they work on good study practices (using things like index cards, etc) and work on test-taking skills -- both things my son really needs help with.

The reasons why I think (?) that I'm sold --

1) If a student is doing well in a class, he does not go to an IMPACT class. For example, my son will be in a geometry class and an English class that will be slightly more advanced than the IMPACT versions, so he would ONLY go to the science and social studies classes in the IMPACT program.

2) The teachers who teach in the IMPACT program also teach regular ed classes. AND IMPACT classes are not LEARNING SUPPORT classes -- those are a completely different thing. My son was in learning support classes when he was in elementary school, and I am grateful for those classes because they really helped. I just feel that learning support classes wouldn't be helpful to him now.

3) According to the guy in charge of the program, after the first year, 50% of the kids move out of the program into all regular ed classes. After the second year, ALL of the kids are out of the program.

4) Apparently this program has been around for 20 years. Well, I have had TWO KIDS go through this high school already, and they've never heard of the IMPACT program. I find that interesting. It makes me feel like the whole concept of the IMPACT class may not be such a big deal.

So, any input you guys would have on this subject, and the above information, would be greatly appreciated.



Tracker
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14 Mar 2010, 10:57 pm

Well, it sounds more like a study skills class then a special ed class. Which is good, especially if it is being offered to anybody who is having trouble academically.

The only thing I am concerned about is that they are trying to teach your son to use note cards for studying. That's just a horrible idea, almost as bad as taking notes. My school tried to teach us 'study skills' in 6th grade by requiring that we take notes and use index cards and things like that. That was the most unhelpful, confusing, problematic system I have ever seen. The only thing it did was lower my grades and waste my time.



schleppenheimer
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15 Mar 2010, 6:10 am

Tracker -- if the note cards system was not the right system, please tell me two things:

1) What made this system the "wrong" system
2) What did you think was a better alternative

Wasting time is something we cannot afford, as it already takes FOREVER to get things accomplished with my son.

Once he has information in his head, he does well on tests. It's getting it in there that's the thing -- everything takes forever, he cannot listen in class well enough to get things in his head, he can't take notes as that requires doing two things at once (something he can't do). We spend lots of time studying at home.

Without being in this program currently, I've been having my son write index cards for his vocabulary tests. This is very finite stuff though -- it's easy to write the cards, and you don't have to make decisions as to what to include, and is unnecessary information. Is that what you objected to with the index card system they were trying to push with you?



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15 Mar 2010, 6:52 am

Oops, I misunderstood what you meant by using note cards.

Making things like flash cards for use in memorizing facts like vocab definitions, or other such strait memorization things, is fine. In fact I did that myself, only with paper instead of note cards.

I thought you were referring to the use of note cards when writing papers in the standard outline and note card method taught by schools.



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15 Mar 2010, 8:39 am

This note card method that you talk about for writing papers -- I've been trying to teach the mind-mapping method for writing papers, but I'm not sure that's all that effective either. It works, as long as I'm right there hovering. My goal is to wean away the hovering, so that he can do it completely by himself, and find a system that works effectively so that he can write papers by himself.