Thursday, June 30, 2011

Love Bugs

Love bug season hit hard this year in Florida.  Those pesky insects were out in record numbers, and the infestation seemed to last longer than usual.  These bugs are terrible.  You cannot drive your car anywhere without getting hundreds of them stuck to the front of you car, and if you don't wash them off quickly, they will damage the paint on your car.  I had to wash my car five times in two weeks!  Luckily, I had lots of help! 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bath Time

The dog needed a bath, so I let the kids put him in the pool to get him good and wet.  I think this picture sums up his feelings about having to get in the pool.  I am guessing he was thinking the crown incident from a few days earlier was not so bad after all. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Am I Right?

This post has been in my head since the first of May.  I just wasn't sure what I wanted to say.  I am still not so sure, but I feel that it should be said if for no other reason than to get it off my chest.  On May 10, 2011 we held our second (yes, second) meeting to complete Rachel's IEP.  We spent a total of five hours over two meetings discussing Rachel's past and previous goals and whether or not she had mastered them.  Sadly, she had mastered few of them.  The school stated that they let us set the goals last year knowing that they were lofty.  But it was not us who set the goals, as the IEP was written before last year's meeting and we just went over it, just like we have done every year, including this one.  This is neither here nor there, but it is frustrating for the school to always try to but the blame on someone other than themselves. 

This year, I made a point to get a copy of the IEP prior to the meeting, and I pored over it trying to think of questions I needed to ask and things I needed to request for Rachel.  I am still far from an expert at these things, but I feel that we did indeed do our best to get what was in Rachel's best interest.  We fought to get Rachel in a regular classroom and argued with the staff and teachers about whether it could  be done.  This past year she was designated as resource student, meaning she was to be in a regular classroom at least 40% of the time.  This was not done, and we were determined to get her into a regular classroom so that we could be sure she was getting to be with regular peers.  I know that she cannot keep up academically with her peers and would need assistance in the classroom.  I knew that it was pretty much impossible to get Rachel an aid in the budget strapped school district, but we tried anyway.  We did our best.....but the school wins again.  According to them Rachel cannot do the work of a first grader.  Duh!  From everything I read about inclusion, the ability to work on the same level as the other students is irrelevant. 

The inclusion specialist had been out to the school to observe Rachel prior to our IEP meeting per my request.  I wanted to go into the meeting with some people on my side.  I wanted the inclusion specialist to see that Rachel is not a behavioral problem and that she could be in a regular classroom with assistance so that she could put pressure on the school to get Rachel included..  The specialist apparently did some testing with Rachel, that I was not informed about and found Rachel to be on the level of a two year old in some areas, a three year old in some areas, and a five year old in other areas.  She presented this info at our first meeting. I had no idea where she was going with this at the time.  I agreed with her findings, but did not see how it was going to affect Rachel's placement.   The specialist failed to show up at our second meeting, despite the fact that she is the one who picked the date.  At the second meeting she was contacted by phone, at which time she stated that she recommended placing Rachel in the self contained classroom for most of the day.  Wow!  That was not what I was expecting to hear from an inclusion specialist!

Mike and I refused to accept that placement and pushed the staff to find ways to include Rachel.  At the conclusion of the meeting Rachel was listed as a self contained student despite our protesting, but we added an addendum that stated that she would be in the regular classroom for science, social studies, activity, lunch and recess.  She will be in the self contained classroom for reading and math.  The fact that she is listed as a self contained student means that the school only has to get her into in a regular classroom 40% of the time or less.  If they do less, they are still okay by the IEP.  Hmmmm....all my prepping and pushing served to get us nowhere.  We are right back in the position of the school keeping Rachel in the self contained class as much as they see fit, or as I believe, as they find convenient.

 We will be meeting with the staff again in August to set the schedule in stone so that everyone knows where Rachel is going to be and when, and to try to get her in the regular classroom as much as possible.  I am doing this because for the last two years the school has failed to follow the schedules we have discussed at the spring IEPs I am going to be all over them this year to make sure Rachel is not in that self contained classroom all day. 

As a final blow, I was told just last week by our family liaison that the inclusion specialist actually wanted to put Rachel in an even more restrictive setting.  She actually recommended that Rachel spend 100% of her time in the self contained classroom.  The liaison told me that the inclusion specialist thinks Rachel is so far behind in her academics because she has not been in the self contained classroom all the time.  It hurts to hear that others think that what you have been doing is harming your child.  It makes you question if you are doing the right thing to continue to push for inclusion.  It makes it hard to stick to your guns about what you think is right.  But self contained classrooms go against EVERYTHING the Down syndrome community says is the best thing for Rachel.  Could it be that she is behind in her academics because the school switched out her teacher in the middle of the school year?  Could it be that the new teacher had never taught before and seemed overwhelmed with the task at hand?  Could it be that I need to find another school for Rachel and give up the hope of having her go to school with kids from her neighborhood?  Could it be that I am doing everything wrong?  Oh, I hope not!  

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Princess And The Dog

The other day Rachel came downstairs wearing all of her dress up jewelry.  At one point I turned around to find here sharing her accessories with Cookie.  I am thinking he was not too keen on being a princess for a day, but you be the judge.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Class Of 2017

On Monday May 23, 2011, Allison completed her tenure in elementary school and participated in a ceremony to mark that milestone.  It is unreal to me that I have a daughter old enough to go to middle school.  It seems like just a few months ago, she was an infant cuddling in my arms.  Allison attended Suntree Elementary since first grade.  Up until that point she had been to a new school every year:  preschool in Texas, kindergarten in Minnesota, and first grade in Florida.  It was such a relief to go back to Suntree for her second grade year and not be the new family.  Having been there since 2004, it was amazing to see all the kids so grown up.  During the ceremony, the teachers posted each child's first grade picture and then their sixth grade picture.  They are not babies anymore!    If you look to the middle of the picture below, you can see Allison filing into her row.  She is still standing and wearing a blue dress.

Here is the picture of her accepting her awards packet from the principal and assistant principal.  It is blurry, because I was so far away and then tried to zoom in on the picture after it was taken.  I was so absorbed in looking at all the kids' pictures that I was surprised when Allison was the next one called up, and I almost totally missed the picture.  So, I was not able to get the zoom set before I took the picture.  Bummer.

He she is walking away from the podium.  It still surprises me how tall she has gotten.  She hasn't gained any weight, but she has gotten taller.  She was wearing her fancy earrings and shoes and just looked so grown up. 

The Class of 2017.....the year Allison will graduate from high school was something I had truly never even considered.  It was very strange for me to hear them acknowledge what year she will complete high school.  I am going to try not to think of that for another year or two. 

I am all about taking in the moment and I was looking around the cafeteria and thinking, wow, this will be the last time we are ever going to be in the building. This is IT!  I don't think a 12 year old gets that concept of finality.  A place that was part of her world every day for seven years and that she knows like the back of her hand will just be a memory one day.  She was unimpressed, to say the least.  She thought I was strange for taking a picture of the cafeteria.  I told her that one day she would look at this picture and say, "Oh, yeah.  I remember that school!"  Why, you may ask, will we not be at this school with Leah and Rachel?  Redistricting moved them to another school this past year, so we are officially done with Suntree Elementary.  

Below is a picture of one of Allison friends from Suntree.  Schools here are so different from my little town where everyone goes through all twelve years together.  There are lots of middle schools, so of course zoning seperates some kids from their friends.  Their are also lots of different programs that students apply for that are offered at individual middle schools so that further seperates the kids.  That means that there are four or five different middle schools that Allison's classmates will be going to.  Her friend below will not be going to the same school as Allison, and Allison's very best friend that is already in middle school goes to different school as well.  There will be lots of kids from Suntree at Allison's new school, but there will also be lots of new kids too.  I hope that Allison is able to move into her new school and make new friends.  I know she is going to be very anxious that first week or so, as will I.  But here we go, off to start another chapter in our lives, whether we are ready or not!  Congratulations to the Class of 2017! 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dog Sitting

The neighbors are out of town for the next two weeks, so we are dog sitting.  They have the tiniest dog.  Her name is Minnie, and she weighs in at a whopping six pounds.  This makes for the perfect size dog for Rachel.  She loves to walk the dog, but sometimes Cookie will snatch the leash out of her hands when he tries to go after something.  Not a problem with Minnie.  Rachel thinks it is so neat to have a dog of her own to walk.  She is actually getting pretty good at it, and is learning to stop when the dog wants to go potty.  In the past she just kept going and would end up dragging Minnie down the sidewalk.  Poor Minnie.  I know she is always glad when her family comes back home.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Becoming One With Nature

We went to the beach a couple of weeks ago.  The wind had been blowing like crazy for days, so the surf was rough.  There were jellyfish washing up on the beach, as was seaweed and the small little reef fish that call the seaweed home before the grow up and move on to the reefs.  The large surf was also causing problems for the land dwellers as well.  We find a ghost crab washing around just at the water's edge.  They live in holes they dig in the sand and are not swimmers, so he was not a very happy crab (I guess you could say he was a little crabby-sorry, just could let that one go by!).  He was still alive, so we carried him up out of the surf zone and placed him in a dune area.  He was a little worse for wear so he did not put up much of a fight.  I remember catching these guys on the beaches of Alabama when we were kids.  Since they can pinch pretty hard, we didn't usually pick up ones this large.  This one did latch on to my finger, but it was at the nail and he was not pinching very hard.  The girls really enjoyed seeing the crab up close.   

About two weeks ago the girls come running into the house yelling for me to look at what they had found in Allison's garden.  In their hands they held five caterpillars.  They had found them munching on the parsley.  I first thought, that the girls had pulled them off the parsley because they didn't want the caterpillars eating it, but they informed me that they wanted to put them in a container and watch them grow and change into butterflies.  So they set them up in our little ladybug habitat, and we looked them up online to find out what they were.  Turns out they are black swallowtail butterflies.  Anyway, for the next week we picked parsley from the garden to feed the caterpillars and watched them grow.........and grow.....and grow!  Those things quadrupled in size and they did it fast.  Allison must be growing some healthy parsley.  Of the five caterpillars, four have survived to morph into their chrysalis.  We have moved their habitat into a butterfly enclosure and are now anxious awaiting the arrival of butterflies. 

Allison and I got out and enlarged her garden recently (just before the discovery of the caterpillars).  She was just itching to plant more "stuff", and she had run out of room.  She immediately got more plants and seeds and proceeded to fill up all the new space too.  She has been getting quite a few tomatoes, lots of parsley, a few strawberries and a few green peppers.  She finally got a green pepper to grow bigger than a quarter and was so excited.  We had to cover the strawberry plant, because apparently strawberries are irresistible to the local wildlife.  Tomatoes are too, but there are more of them, so they stand a better chance of getting into the house to be eaten by the human consumers.  Her newest plants are beans and jalapeno peppers.  Wonder if the wildlife will like the jalapeno peppers?