A New School for Rebecca
A New School for Rebecca
Walking out of Rebecca’s IEP meeting, Deanna was both overjoyed and filled with dread. Her daughter was being transferred to a new, inclusive, state-of-the art middle school instead of the feeder school she had anticipated. At 12 years-old, Rebecca had always participated in classrooms with a single teacher and assistant. She would now be switching classes (to include those with children without disabilities), facing a more challenging curriculum, and having to negotiate the bus circle, large lunchroom, and lockers. Rebecca was a bright girl, but she did not like change.
Deanna decided to do some detective work before addressing the changes with Rebecca. She talked with Rebecca’s current teacher about aspects of the change she thought would be challenging and then worked with the school psychologist to arrange a visit to the new school while classes were in progress. She even made a call to transportation to get the ‘low-down’ on the bus. With this information, Deanna sketched out a map of the school and created a social story about how Rebecca would meet the bus, arrive at school, use her locker, move between classes, have lunch, and make it home safe and sound. Over the summer, they practiced opening and closing a combination lock and moving through crowds when they shopped at the mall on busy days.
As the beginning of school got closer, Deanna arranged a meeting with the guidance counselor at Rebecca’s new school. The counselor, Rebecca, and Deanna talked about what would be expected in each of her classes, what areas might be difficult for Rebecca, and what supports could be offered (all of which would be communicated to the teachers). They walked around campus until Rebecca got her bearings. The counselor agreed to assign Rebecca a buddy from a higher grade-level to help her through her first day. Rebecca and Deanna attended the open house to meet each of the teachers. During that open house, they learned Rebecca would be allowed to use her favorite drawing program when she finished assignments. After both the tour and open house, Deanna took Rebecca out for her favorite ice cream, praising Rebecca’s courage.
On Rebecca’s first day of school, Deanna walked her to the bus and introduced her to her driver. She made sure Rebecca found a neighbor with whom to sit, and gave her some grapes to snack on during the ride. Rebecca’s buddy met her at school and helped her through the day. Rebecca had no problem with the locker, but needed support finding her way around the lunchroom. The teachers were very understanding because they had been apprised of Rebecca’s needs and possible difficulties. Rebecca was allowed to ask for breaks up to twice per class period by signaling her teacher; she got drinks and walked once around the halls on these breaks. Deanna came to meet Rebecca in the cafeteria on the first day, but quickly realized that she preferred to hang out with her new friends. Rebecca’s transition was not seamless, but was much better than Deanna originally expected.
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2014 Magazine