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#52

“Like what you see?” Ms. Abrahms asks from the doorway of her classroom.

I don’t know how long she’s been standing there, but I know I have a goofy grin on my face that I know she could see even in profile. I jump a little at her the sound of her voice and answer enthusiastically.

“Yes! Yes, I do.”

Ms. Abrahms has proven to be not just an outstanding teacher, but an amazing person.   I heard through the rumor mill, she actually asked to be his teacher when the principal told the staff he was coming aboard.  She later told me she has a friend who’s son is autistic.  And she really wanted to learn about autism.  Sometimes “fate” doesn’t explain when things like that happen.  I know there is a higher hand involved, simply guiding us to the right people at the right time.

“Good, good…”  She returns my smile and walks to her desk.  She doesn’t seem bothered that I am here unattended. I took advantage of an open door and let myself in to snoop before our team meeting today.

“I hope you don’t mind, I came in early…I love seeing his work.” I say sheepishly at being caught, but also beaming with pride.   She waves her hand in dismissal.

“Help yourself; this room is always open to you.” She begins gathering papers on her desk and I continue around the room.

I only give her a nod as I have my arms wrapped tightly around myself;  Either to hold in my joy or to keep me from snatching his work off the wall and sobbing.   I can always pick out his papers as his writing is messy and his pictures not as advanced as the other children’s.  However, there are a few pictures and writing samples that I notice are similar to his.  I don’t care either way.  I am simply overjoyed at the fact he even has work on the walls; that he is participating and getting the opportunity to learn.

One by one, the rest of our team assembles.  Brie, Toni, Leigh, and then Dan.

“Hello ladies, nice seeing me again.” He says with his charming grin.  They all roll their eyes and giggle politely as they all are too familiar with his lame jokes.  I too, smile at him as we all take a place around the semi-circular table.

I am floating with bliss at the reports of his success: with conversations with peers, with reading, with using the bathroom alone (a feat he could not do at public school-somehow he would hold his bladder: All Day).  I’m also amazed at his interaction with Ms. Abrahms.  She often asks to work with him alone and actually was able to access him with his academic progress.  Something the public school district staff had difficulty doing.  And she did it in a few short weeks.

“He’s not the top of the class and he’s surely not the bottom.  He’s right in the middle.” Ms. Abrahms says matter of factly and then gives a broad smile.  I can tell that she’s proud, and already invested in him…and I want to hug her across the table.

Right in the middle, right in the middle…I keep chanting it in my head.  Who would have thought how beautiful the equivalent of “average” could sound?

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#47

I know they won’t approve it, and in my mind our journey with the school district has ended.  I feel bittersweet.  I don’t want to separate my kids now that I have had them at the same place; I don’t want two school schedules, two drop off times, two pickup times, two different holiday breaks.

But I also can’t bear to have Ryan go through another school year with doubts about the aide and their training  even though we write in the IEP the aide must have training, we know it us just semantics “training” can be a one-day seminar to them.

I am relieved to be free of the monthly meetings that accomplish nothing.  We openly discuss his issues, shortcomings and offer behavior plans that are never looked at.  When we go back to the next meeting nothing has been done to “fix” his issues.  Whatever progress he’s made has happened at home with us and Dr. Hunter’s therapists.

I am glad to be free of the fear they could change his aide at any moment.  The language is clear in the IEP they have the right to change.  And they have.  It was like a revolving door for a period of two weeks.  The aide assigned to us had some personal family issues.  And instead of putting herself out for two weeks, she called in everyday, leaving the district little room to provide the same aide.  It wasn’t their fault and I did sort of feel badly for them scrambling each day.  But I did not appreciate the repercussions it had on Ryan.  It was the beginning of his downward spiral.  A beginning to what made us consider ending his career at public school.

The clincher for me was after the Thanksgiving break.  I put their backpacks in the closet as usual for the weekend.  And as it was a long weekend it was in there awhile.  I hadn’t realized how visually significant that was to Ryan.  When I got the backpacks out on Sunday he started to cry.  And in his “broken” verbiage he pleaded to me.

“No school…no school. Backpack in closet. Backpack in closet.” He wailed.

In his short life, he had never tried to persuade me so vehemently with words.  There were many times he used his fists or legs to show disproval, but this was really communicating with me.  I felt my heart rip in two at the dichotomy of this: my baby was conveying his feelings so well! My baby is begging me to not take him to school…

“Well, that’s it. What do you think?” Dan says bringing me out of my thoughts. He leans back in the chair and stretches his arms over his head.

I sit silent still rummaging through my thoughts.  I don’t have the energy to sum up all I’ve been thinking so I just shrug and think for a few seconds.

“I guess it’s what I expected.  Just glad it’s out there.  It feels like we’ve been lying to them or something.” I confess to him.

“Yup, we put them on notice and now we just go forward with what we planned.” Dan nods as if confirming his own words.  Then he stands up. Well, I gotta get going.  I’ll see you later.” He leans down and kisses me and walks out.

Yes, what we planned.  We. What WE want…yes, it feels good to be back in control.  I smile a broad smile with satisfaction.

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#46

“Are you going to say it or me?” I ask Dan as I hit the mute button. It’s time to throw down the gauntlet.

“Me.” He says firmly and sits up straight and pushes the speaker button.

“Jim, the bottom line is if we can’t bring in Dr. Hunter’s aides we are seriously considering pulling him from the school.”

I can almost hear the clang as the words drop on his desk.  There is a few seconds delay and I feel as if we are in slow-mo.

Pulling him? Where would you go?” He says and his voice is high. He seems agitated.

“We have some options we are looking at.” I say, trying not to sound smug.

Where?” he sounds high pitched again.

“We are looking at various private schools in the area.” I again say trying not to smile. Like a kid with a secret.

“Oh…private.”  He sounds relieved for a second.  “I have to say, I’m shocked.  I didn’t see this coming.” He trails off.  Is he…sad?

“We’ve done our best to have a good working relationship with your family.” Again his voice falls. Yup its sadness.

Then I have a pang of guilt.  I remember that Jim is pretty high up in the school district and doesn’t usually take part in the IEP’s.  I found this out from another mother who was trying to get services for her son.  We compared notes about our respective IEP’s and she did not have Jim there.  She was surprised when I told her he was taking such a big part of ours.  This woman’s son did not have near the issues Ryan did and I was surprised what lengths she was going through to get him services.  She even hired an advocate and was getting nowhere with the district.  After she told me the price of the advocate, it sealed the deal for me for just pulling him and moving on.

I feel I need to explain a little to him because he seems upset.

“Jim, we are very proud of our relationship with you and the district.  We have been a great team and appreciate all that you have done for us and all the time you have taken with Ryan’s case.” Dan rolls his eyes at me as it is apparent I’m laying it on thick.  I wave him away.

“We are not litigious people and did not want to go that route to get what we wanted for Ryan.”  I let my pseudo-threat hang in the air for affect.

There is an uncomfortable pause and I’m not sure if he is still there, and then I hear him shuffling papers again.

“Umm, well, I see.” His tone has changed and I’m not sure what he is thinking.  “I will speak to the school district’s attorney and get back to you with an answer.” He is back to being all business.  This makes me a little sad as he had so many moments in our various meetings that showed he really did care about us.

“Thank you, Jim we appreciate your time. Goodbye.” Dan says mirroring Jim’s business tone.  Dan hits the speaker phone to disconnect.

And it’s done.  We sit silent for a second.

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#45

“Yes, Jim, please?” Dan says into the phone.

“May I tell him who’s calling?” A polite voice asks through the speaker.

He leans closer says slowly and loudly.  “Dan and LeeAndra Chergey.” I don’t know why Dan feels he must speak so loudly on the phone.  I put my finger over my mouth to give him a silent shush and shake my head.  I can imagine the lady on the phone pulling the phone away from her face, as I have to do often when I speak to him.  He gives me a frown.  We are sitting in our home office, huddled around the phone.  It’s time to give the public school one last chance to give us what we asked and then give them the news of our decision.  I feel more nervous than ever.  Maybe not nervous, but shaky.  We have nothing to lose here; we’ve made up our minds and know what we want, yet this is our check mate move.

“Hold for one moment, I’ll see if he’s available.  The voice says.

My heart skips a few beats and I try to calm my breathing. I cover my mouth to soften my sigh.  Dan is writing the date and time on his legal pad and looks up at me.  He pushes mute on the phone.

“What’s wrong?” he whispers.

I laugh in his face. “You muted the phone, doofus, why are you whispering?”

He cracks a wide smile as a voice comes over the speaker.

“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Chergey, Jim here.”

Dan jumps to hit the mute button and says quickly.  “Hello, Jim. How are you?”  I’m glad he spoke because suddenly my mouth feels like sandpaper and I feel lightheaded.

“Great, great. Just tying up some loose ends before the district goes on summer break.” He says and sighs with a high pitch that it almost sounds like an ‘aahh’.

“Ah…uh….” Dan looks at me as to who is taking the lead again.  I point to him. “So, Jim, we wanted to speak with you today about the letter we received.”

It has been two months since our last IEP meeting.  We didn’t sign at the meeting as we weren’t sure what we wanted to do. And once I convinced Dan we should put him in private school we were waiting to find one.  Now that we have found a place to start over, we want to give the district one last chance to agree.  They sent us a letter outlining a plan that would allow Dr. Hunter’s aides in for a few weeks then fade them out.  It isn’t what we want and now it’s time to lay it out.

“Okay, go ahead.” Jim says.

“Well, we really were hoping for the approval of Dr. Hunter’s aides at school.  We don’t think having them shadow the school aides and then fade is going to work. I don’t think I have to re-hash the problems we had last year.” Dan pauses for effect, and it is works on me as the memories flood back and my face flushes with anger.

There is a shuffling of paper over the phone. “Um, yes, well, I believe we have discussed that enough.”

Dan looks intently at me as he speaks. “So, here is where we are at…we aren’t willing to keep him at the school if we don’t have Dr. Hunter’s aides.”

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#44

The phone rings as I am typing up an offer for a client.  I see Crestridge  School on the caller ID.  My heart skips a beat.  I take a deep breath an answer the phone.  I know this is it.

“Hi Mrs. Chergey, its Michelle from Crestride.” She says evenly and I don’t know if this is a good sign or not.

“Hi Michelle, how are you?” I say trying to sound casual.

“I’m fine, thank you.” She clears her throat as mine goes dry.  “So, we heard back from our corporate office regarding Ryan attending our school?” She says it like a question.

“Um hum.” I say thinking it a safe way to respond.

“Well…they are willing to try.” She says and it sounds like she’s smiling.

I feel as if I’m free falling for a second.  I respond quickly unable to control my excitement. “Oh! Good! That’s great! Wow, thank you!”

She giggles a little at my gushing, “Well, let me tell you some of the parameters before you get too excited.”Uh oh. “The aides will need to be fingerprinted and screened–.”

“—No problem.” I interrupt.

“And we will do this on a probationary status.” She says this in a firmer tone as if to warn me.

“What does that mean?” I ask, nervously.

“It means, if there are any…issues, ones we feel are not reconcilable, we have the right to expel him.” She says ‘expel’ with a little too much emphasis.

“That is perfectly reasonable.” I say to her calmly.  And suddenly I am calm.  I have such faith in Dr. Hunter and her team I know this is what we are supposed to do.

“Okay, great.  Well, come by to pick up an enrollment package and we will get the ball rolling for next year.” She says happily.

We finish our pleasantries and I hang up and literally jump out of my chair and yelp for joy.  I feel relief as if it’s a tangible thing raining down on me.  I pick up the phone to call Dan and begin to waiver on the verge of tears.  I have these moments once in awhile.  As a mother of any child you have moments that move you to tears, but since Ryan was diagnosed I seem to have them more.  As if carrying around his diagnosis added a physical burden that seems to break me more often.

“Hello?” Dan says and I can tell he’s in his car.

I try to speak and nothing comes out. I begin to clear my throat and instead I sob.

“Lee? What’s the matter?” His voice pitches in my ear.

“Nothing, I…I just wanted to give you some good news.” I say and sniff while I’ll grab for a tissue.

“Are you crying?” He says concerned.

“Yes…” I heave my shoulders and let out another sob.

“Babe…what is it?” His voice is so tender it makes me cry more.

“Everything is fine. I…heard from Crestridge.” I sniff and sob and wipe my nose.  “They are going to let us in on a probationary basis.”

“Really? That’s great!” He says a loudly.

“I know, I know. I’m really happy.” And another sob comes out.

He laughs at the irony and says “Yeah, it sounds like you are thrilled.”

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#43

“Well,” Dan turns to me briefly, arches his eyebrows as if to say…‘I got this’ sighs, and begins our usual story about Ryan. I let him do the talking.  He does a good job.  I often swell with pride when he talks about Ryan.  It reminds me that he could have easily set him aside and left it all up to me, but he is such a willing participant in the journey.  She sits back in her chair and steeples her fingers for a few seconds.  I feel as if I’m going to implode right there.  I can tell she is deep in thought.  I look at Dan quickly but he only shifts his eyes not his head.  As if he is sending her telepathic messages.

She then stands up and excuses herself to go speak with the principal.

After she walks out, Dan turns to me and says in a whisper. “This could work in our favor.” I nod and smile weakly.  Can’t get too excited…We wait in silence both of us staring straight ahead.  I’m trying to make out the mumbles I hear next door.

What feels like a short eternity passes and Michelle leans in the doorway. “Could you two join me in Mrs. Wilbur’s office?”

We practically jump from our chairs and follow her to the office next door.  She motions for us to take two seats and then walks behind the desk where Mrs. Wilbur is sitting.  Mrs. Wilber looks up at us.  She has thick glasses and very short brown hair.  She smiles nicely, but I sense she isn’t thrilled.

“Well, Mrs. Johnson has filled me in on your…situation.” She smiles thinly. “I have worked with special needs children before, so I know the challenges you have probably faced.”

Doubt it.

“I also know you understand how differently we operate from a public school.” She tilts her head.

“Yes, we understand.” I say sweetly.  I am gonna kill her with kindness.

“We’ve had aides here in the past and it…” She looks at Michelle quickly. “Didn’t go so well.” Then she looks down at her desk.

“In what way?” Dan asks.

She studies him for a second. “The aides weren’t…um…let’s say they were less than professional.” Her mouths makes a straight line and I can’t tell if she’s trying to smile or frown.

“Well, I can understand your hesitation,” I say with my sugary sweet tone, “But Dr. Hunter’s company has worked with many schools in the area who would be happy to give you a reference.”  I once again find my heart beating quickly and can’t stand the agony of rejection and again looking for another school.  Michelle is smiling sweetly at me and I implore her with my eyes.

“We are happy to consider this for you, but we need to make a few phone calls and speak to our corporate office.” Michelle tilts her head.  “That sound good to you guys?”

My heart skips a beat…I want to jump up and kiss her.

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#42

“Turn left there…through the stop sign.” I instruct Dan.

“Yeah, yeah, I remember.” He says in a mildly gruff tone.

“Okay, wasn’t sure…” I say looking down at my notes. “Michelle Johnson.  She’s the campus director.”

“Is that who we ask for?” Dan says as he turns the car into a parking space in front.

“Umhmm.” I am putting on fresh lipgloss and checking for food in my teeth.

We get out and walk up the many stairs and I am recalling the fun Ryan had here.

“Ry loved going here…they have two swimming pools, but he didn’t like the kiddie pool, he always wanted to go into the big kids pool.” I turn to Dan with a big smile on my face he looks back blankly.

As we get “buzzed” in we walk into the office and ask for Mrs. Johnson.  She comes out of a office with a big smile.

“Hi, Dan-do you remember me? I’m Brad Johnson’s sister—”

“—Yes! Wow, I didn’t put the name together!” he says in a loud voice, shaking her hand with vigor.

I am a little surprised but not shocked as this happens a lot since Dan has lived in this area for so long Seems like once a month someone recognizes the name and asks if I know Dan.  ‘Why yes, we sleep together’ is what I want to say. But I am usually polite and give the proper answer..he is a businessman after all.

He turns to me, “This is my wife, LeeAndra.”

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Johnson.” I say smiling.

“Hi, please call me Michelle.” She says warmly.

“How is Brad? I haven’t seen him in years.” Dan asks Michelle.

“He’s doing great…still in the area and…” She begins to tell him more details but I tune them out and look about the office.  I hadn’t been in this office as much as the pre-school office, so I want to see what is going on. Michelle then offers to take us for a tour and she and Dan continue to catch up on old times.  I am scanning every inch of the school as we walk.  I see the kiddie pool and then the big pool glistening.  The playground is freshly blacktopped and there is no trash against the fence.  It’s spotless and so lovely.  We arrive at the first grade class and the door is open so we peer in trying not to disturb the class.  There are again 12 kids.  Don’t get excited, chill out.  But it’s hard not to, I fight to keep my pulse slow.

We walk around the rest of the campus and I feel like my heart is going to burst.  It feels so right and I want it so badly….

We arrive back at her office and we sit down.

“So, tell me bout your son.” She says brightly.

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#41

The burning of my lungs brings me back to my run.  Has to be an answer.  Has to be a way. I say in my head over the blaring of “Rage Against the Machine” in my headphones.  The obscenities he is yelling are in such contrast to my thoughts of the Christ-centered diva we met.  I wave to our neighbor as she passes me in her car,  and it hits me…we have overlooked one school.  The last one in the area….and we have already attended there.

I rush back to the house excited to tell Dan my revelation.

“Crestridge!” I say breathless.  He looks up at me. “Crestridge…why didn’t I think of it sooner?”

He stares blankly paused in his slathering of his bagel with cream cheese.  “What are you talking about?”

I put my hands on top of my head so I can slow down my breathing and begin pacing in the kitchen.

“How could we overlook them?  I mean Ryan has already gone there!” I practically yell at him still out of breath.

“Oh, oh, I get it now.  Schools. For Ryan. Hmmm.” He says mostly distracted by his bagel.  I don’t know how he could think I was speaking of anything else.  I have been on a serious mission from God for the last two weeks, yet I have to remind him what I’m talking about?

“Yeah, what else would I have I been blathering about?” I say with super sarcasm.

He walks to the coffee pot and I follow him, trying to give him a second  to process.

“Well? What do you think?” I say impatiently.

He gets out a two cups and pours staying silent.  I hate when he does that. Is if for effect or is he really just pondering?

“Hello?!” I wave my hand at him as if my cynicism isn’t enough.

“Yeah, yeah.  I’m thinking.”

“About what? What’s wrong with Crestridge?” I blurt out.

“Nothing,” He pauses as he stirs in cream, avoiding my eyes.  “I just don’t want you getting all excited.  Plus, it’s more expensive than the others.”

“What others? There are no others to consider, remember? They don’t do special needs.” I say with air quotes and a sneer.  He just looks calmly at me and I know I’m being an ass, but I am allowed once in awhile.

“Well…they don’t.” I let my frustration flitter away as I blow on my coffee.  I could rehash the treatment I’d had and how two-faced those schools are, but I don’t. He’s heard and re-heard it.  I let him finish his bagel before I speak again.

“Since both kids have been there, I figure they would talk to us.” I say trying to sound calm.

Jenna had attended their summer school between Kindergarten and first grade. I felt she needed it as I had seen a few kids get bounced back to kindergarten.  Our neighbor had sent her daughter to Crestridge and raved about.  I enrolled Ryan in their summer pre-school session at the same time.  Crestridge had allowed me to bring in Dr. Hunter’s aides to stay with him during the morning session.  Dr. Hunter thought it would be great for socialization and since the school district only offered summer school for a few weeks we agreed it would be good to keep him around kids.  He did very well and there were no problems.  I didn’t realize then how having Dr. Hunter’s aides with him was probably the reason for his success.  Damn hindsight.

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