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Back to school: Shivers and shakes and tears

Some districts started in the last two weeks, but most students in PPS and surrounding districts have the first day of school today, with kindergarteners coming to class later this week. I dropped off my third-grader, Everett, this morning at Bridger School, where he's in the behavioral classroom. We were a few minutes late; evidently, I'm not as speedy a bicyclist as I remember being last spring. We passed by a few schools on our bike ride; I recognized mamas and papas I knew ushering kids out of cars at Atkinson, and there were so many pedestrians we had to wait at a crosswalk with our bike just for them to clear the corner. Eagerness, first day photos, and cool outfits were everywhere!

Everett was eager for the first day of school, but it's tempered for both of us with concern. He's had a hard time these three-going-on-four years in grade school, and I was a little apprehensive about his move into the classroom -- literally inches away from his old K-2 classroom last year -- because I wonder whether the teacher's style will work for him. But, he was excited to be with the older kids, and separated a bit from some younger students who had challenged his coping skills the year before.

We walked into the classroom to blank faces. "Oh, Everett's going to be next door!" she said. No one had alerted the special ed students to the fact that "the numbers worked out" for third grade to be added back together with K-2. I think the teacher may be nice for him, but he really struggles coping with situations where his expectations do not match reality. His face, as he sat in a seat very near his seat last year, looked crushed.

It's not easy to go back to school as a parent or caretaker of a child who is working extra hard to cope with their social-emotional challenges. You want them to be excited, you join in their hope for the new year, but there's a cloud overhead of blackest fear. Last year I was called a few times a week to pick Everett up early when he wasn't coping appropriately with whatever frustration had called his heart home. I could see a little, I thought, of my own fear in the faces of other parents walking their kids to the door of the mobile unit. Keeping the facade of excitement, anticipation, normalcy, but with the undercurrent. How will it go? Should I rush home to wait by the phone? Will this be the year everything changes for the better?

My sinuses ache as I hope for the best, but his face refracts in my brain, I wish there was a better answer. Most of all, I wish for better communication and social support for special education families; when children don't do well with results that aren't as expected, it would be in the best interests of all involved to get information to parents sooner rather than later. Did the teachers arrive this morning and divvy up the students?

Support for kindergarteners is admirable; the school hosted two back-to-school playdates, a meet-your-teacher picnic, and we'll have a private meeting with her tomorrow. While the notifications usually come achingly near the first day of school, they're still before it, and it's nice to go into the year with a few of my most burning questions answered.

School's hard for all of us. Will my child make friends or "mortal enemies," as Everett describes them? Will I like the teacher, or will he find himself contemplating his role as a mandatory reporter? Will there be too much homework? Will I get to school on time each day? Will my child love his nourishing lunches, or end up complaining of hunger, sped through the cafeteria line and out to a too-short recess? From my perspective, I'd like more and better and earlier communication from the district when they make decisions that affect my child. (Even for regular neighborhood kids, lots of children aren't assigned to teachers until a day or two before school starts.)

How is school going for you? What are you afraid of, hopeful for, crying over? What are you looking forward to? Do you love your child's teacher, or do you long for the one across the hall? Were you on time? Or, like Molly, early? If your kindergartener is starting later this week, how are you holding up? Transitions are enormous fun/excitement/terror/challenge. Let's hope these ones are good for us all.


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I'm by my phone. I've got two boys with some social challenges and I do feel that cloud overhead even as I'm encouraging and hopeful. Every day was difficult last year. This year I want them to have more happy days, more friends, more success.

I remember feeling the same way before I had children of my own, just as a teacher. The final class list often didn't come until the day before the first day. In order to welcome all the children and make them feel like I've been waiting all summer to meet them (which I had, I just didn't know their names yet) it would be nice to get a *little* more advance notice.

I am thrilled. Not only does the first day of school mean freedom for me, but my kids are in a public school I love, and their teachers have been, without exception, exceptional. This makes me particularly happy, since I loathed school as a child. I hated every minute of the eight long years I spent in that Waldorf school. I wanted so much for things to be different for my own children. To my immense relief, I have never heard the words "I hate school" from either of my sons. It seems like a miracle to me.

Beautiful post. I feel that cloud, but I am so very glad that my son does not. I hope Everett's first day went well.

My two Wilson high school students came home with smiles on their faces. Cuts were not as bad a we feared. There is choir, art, P.E. and the class size seems to have stayed capped at reasonable level. My freshman son even says that his science and math classes seem small. Yay Wilson, yay universe!

My son has social challenges as well and came home upset because a para was treating him EXACTLY how his behavior plan/IEP says not to. Using the exact tactics that upset him and his IEP stresses not to use. Does anyone even read the IEP or behavior plan? How does this stuff happen? I already had to call the teacher. I'm hoping tomorrow is better. My son did OK but I know that he will lose it if they continue to interact with him like they did today. Sigh.

My 1st grader, a boy, also has social/emotional challenges. The last half of kindergarten was spent with me rushing to school 1-2x/week to rescue both child and teacher. He is a lovely smart fun kid who rages against one and all for little to no reason other than, as you wrote above, expectations not met.

The tension in my body tells me how much I fear for him and this upcoming year. I, too, hope this is the year he will "get it" but my gut tells me not to hope too much.

The challenge is that when he's "on", he's on and he fits in so well and does so well but thwarted or embarrassed or frustrated he's a demon. I don't expect the school to cater to that but my choices for him are slim. It's hard hard hard.

We are heading for Spanish Immersion Kindergarten at Lent this week. Tomorrow we meet with the teacher, who seems great.Our family has high hopes for our little neighborhood school that seems to being doing a great job reaching kids who come from some really difficult situations.
I have serious butterflies hoping my girl will find a friend this year.

My second grader had a good day today, though he's still recovering from the news that his best friend won't be in his class this year. It's a shame because I think his friend was actually a good influence on him in the classroom.

My little one starts kindergarten, and like Lent Mama, he really needs a best buddy his own age. I hope he friends his people this year.

I spent the summer worrying that my son, who is entering 4th grade and has CP, would be moved for the fourth time since kindergarten because of the special education restructuring and special education budget cuts.

So far so good ~ our school seems committed to keeping their general ed students with disabilities. I know that's not the case for all families and my heart goes out to the hundreds of students (both in gen ed with special ed supports or in *focus* classrooms) and their families who lost their communities and are starting over at a new school this week.

If you're looking to connect with other families raising kids with disabilities and/or want to get involved in advocacy and policy making at the school, district and/or state level, come to the Special Education PTA of Portland's (SEPTAP) first meeting on Tuesday, September 28th, 6:30PM at Beverly Cleary Fernwood.

I was filled with anxiety the entire Labor Day weekend about the boys starting school. My oldest son has Autism(he is high functioning) and he is in a class this year with 4th and 5th graders. He is in the 4th grade and he is in a classroom of 31 kids! I really like his Teacher and she seems very nurturing and professional and there are other students with special needs in his class, a few of them have been with him since his 2nd grade class. Even though he doesn't really have behavior challenges, he does get frustrated very easily, is very sensitive and cries easily. Well, all of these traits make him vulnerable to the not so nice students and it always upsets me. I also worry that he will "fall thru the cracks." I made the rounds today and met some new staff that will be working with him and so I feel a bit better. He actually seemed to have had a successful and happy first day so I am saying many prayers this will continue.

They lost the IEP plan so I got a call claiming my son was the worst they ever saw, and that was from the Special education teacher. Now I dread him going back to kindergarten Monday.

I, too, have some trepidation about sending my son to first grade with his new IEP, which we received at the end of last year. We are working with ADHD and SPD issues, as well as fine motor skills. He did have some behavioral issues last year, primarily due to having difficulty paying attention and getting frustrated. He was suspended three times - which I can't believe they even do to kindergartners! When I was a child that only happened to much older kids for fairly serious infractions - in fact, in the literature I've read, the school's own, it says it was originally meant to address drugs, weapons and serious disturbances! So I have some concerns about discipline in the schools, and a real fear that they are trying to negatively label difficult children as fast as they can - perhaps to get them off their hands if at all possible??

to zinemama--i'm sorry you had a horrible experience in a waldorf school. My daughter has been part of the waldorf curriculum since she was 18 months; she is now 11 and we are thrilled withthe curriculum. I also have friends that went through the program and our wonderful babysitter who just finished grad school went to a waldorf school. I think just like a neighborhood school, some our great and some not so great, the same holds true for waldorf schools. We visited many waldorf schools before we decided on the one that fit our family lifestyle best! But if it's the curriculum that you hate, oh well, it's not for everyone. Glad you found a great place for your sons!

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