Somewhere between my son's annual science fair last year and his most recent monthly book report, I have turned into that kind of parent. You know, the kind who becomes so attached to designing and building the paper-mâché volcano that their child's involvement becomes quite beside the point?
It started out innocently enough: my idea was for Brooks to write a song about "Scaredy-Cat Catcher," a chapter book we had been reading together. Yes, it was my idea, but in my defense, I only presented it because my son's idea was to repeat a project we had done the last time (which had been my husband's idea).
On the plus side, Brooks was very involved with many aspects of this perhaps overly-ambitious project. We read the book together twice over a period of a few weeks and outlined the basic storyline. And then Brooks came up with the chorus on his own: he simply started to improvise and I picked out one of his catchier melodic phrases that rhymed.
At 7:10 am tomorrow morning, we will be happily reunited with my son’s bus driver and matron. I know it will be exactly at 7:10 because they are never late.
Sadly, Mayor Bloomberg has made certain that our reunion will not last long—in June, he will bring in a lower-cost workforce that will be more transient, less punctual, and most importantly, will have no experience with special education children. [Current union contracts for transporting special needs students expire in June and companies won't be required to bring in experienced drivers and matrons.]
The Mayor has claimed all through the strike that the bus drivers’ union request for job protection was illegal. Ironically, when it was illegal for Bloomberg to run for a third term in 2008, he managed to find a loophole. Given that he couldn’t manage to bring himself to a single strike negotiation meeting and given his poor legal record when it comes to educating my son and his peers, perhaps it’s time to conclude that he doesn’t really have anyone’s best interest at heart except his own.
Thankfully, advocate groups like The Arise Coalition, Advocates for Children, and Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST) continue to work tirelessly, understanding that the strike didn’t solve anything. There will be a public speak out this Thursday night at 6 pm in Brooklyn-please attend if you can.
This post appeared first on Capturing Autism: A mom's perspective.
See GothamSchools for a roundup of coverage of the end of the strike.
Updated 5:30 p.m. There will be a strike of the drivers and matrons of yellow school buses beginning on Wedneseday, the head of the union which represents the bus drivers announced late Monday afternoon. Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Sunday issued guidelines for parents on what to do if school buses stopped running. Marni Goltsman, the mom of a child with autism, says the bus drivers and matrons on her son's buses have been unfailingly professional and courteous and don't deserve a pay cut. This post appeared on her blog Capturing Autism.
Since pre-K, my son’s New York City school bus drivers and matrons have always been professional, punctual, and polite. This year, every morning as Brooks boards his yellow minibus, I watch the matron help him with his seat belt, and I know that she and the driver will look out for him because they understand that he can’t always speak up for himself. They both have years of experience with special needs busing, and because of that, my husband and I can wave goodbye to Brooks comforted by the fact that he feels safe and is in good hands.
I could go on indefinitely about the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the Office of Pupil Transportation when it comes to setting up routes and travel times, but our experience of the drivers and matrons in the field has always been positive.
WARNING: This back-to-school commercial is NOT a late-night comedy sketch.
Why is it that my husband and I have never entertained the notion that New York's racetrack casinos are the best choice for funding New York's schools?
According to this 30-second spot from The New York Gaming Association, [scroll down to the bottom of the post] they are a reliable education partner that contributes billions to the state's public schools.
NY casinos pay high tax rates, and all those revenues get rolled into the education budget to the tune of a billion dollars a year. Oh, I imagine there are other ways for governments to fund public schools, but none that offer NYC middle class parents more time at the craps table. If you win, you can afford to pay the sitter, and if you lose, well, you've paid a teacher's salary.
But according to the Department of Education, my son is a failure. Because unless he has graduated to a less restrictive environment (LRE)—from special education to integrated, or even more desirable, all the way to mainstream—he does not earn their seal of approval. In fact, by their accounting, he is a collosal failure since he went the opposite direction: to a more restrictive environment.
For Brooks, his new setting offers him the opportunity to learn, and it seems to me that this would be everyone's first and foremost concern. But it seems more important to the DOE that he require less and less support over the years. Now, if he was one of the small percentage of autistic kids who outgrow their challenges and get declassified, their formula would work because he wouldn't require services. It's only when you factor in the reality of his disability—a disability that in his case, interventions cannot inherently change—that this success measurement becomes at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a major disservice to the most special education students.
Brooks loves baseball. The first and last thing he does every day is check the Mets score, and he could rival any grown-up rabid sports fan in terms of logging hours and hours of watching innings and innings (for better or worse).
Unfortunately, he has a lot of genetics to overcome to actually play the game. Aside from the obvious autism-related ones, he's small and Jewish (to quote Bill Finn: "We're watching Jewish boys/Who cannot play baseball/Play baseball.") Still, every Sunday morning this spring, he suits up as number 11 on his Blue Sky Hawks Little League team.
Since my husband and I simply couldn't picture him playing with his 9-12 year old peers in kid pitch, we decided to offset some of his challenges by holding him back for an extra year in coach pitch. That decision, along with the overall non-competitive style of the Hudson Cliff League, has afforded him the opportunity to succeed. Of course, baseball is no different from any other endeavor: although hard work, natural talent, and love of the game all play a major role, there's no escaping late throws, bad bounces, and teammates who have more natural talent.
I'm happy to report that what loomed large for my son at school a few weeks ago had nothing to do with the mandatory standardized 3rd grade ELA and math tests, and everything to do with LearningSpring's annual talent show.
To our relief, the tests were given the appropriately small amount of attention they deserve. They don't drive the school curriculum, and their results will be refreshingly meaningless. We already know that my son is academically well-below grade level. He will get practice taking tests—not a bad thing—and no teacher will be fired because he didn't score high enough. But I understand that our school's common sense attitude is atypical in NYC public schools, and I support and admire Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols for taking a stance against these tests that take so much away from and contribute so little to our kids' education.
What Brooks got out of the talent show cannot be measured by a test. He shared his love of music with the whole student body, and he experienced the teamwork of the school coming together to create a performance for their friends and families. Although the teachers and therapists were guiding them, we knew from the way Brooks had talked about rehearsals that this was their show. And from the moment the two upper grade masters of ceremonies warmly welcomed the parents, my husband and I became enchanted.
When I first learned that some parents at IS 187/Christa McAuliffe were gathering signatures to fight an increased percentage of special education students enrolling at their school, I was reminded of an event from my childhood.
When I was 9 or 10 -- about the same age as my son Brooks is now -- neighbors came around with a petition to stop the construction of an apartment development for people with physical disabilities. I have a distinct memory of my dad's immediate disdain for the folks at the door who were far more concerned with their property values than with anyone else's hardships. That was way before he became the grandfather of an autistic child, or for that matter, had any personal relationship with anyone who might benefit from the new housing. It was simply a human knee-jerk reaction—he knew right from wrong, and this was wrong.
I'm having the same reaction to the campaigning Christa McAuliffe parents.
And it's not just me—if you read the 46-and-counting comments on Meredith Kolodner's post, you'll find similar outrage. But you'll also find that these parents are being defended for reasons that make a lot of sense.
There is an inherent irony in this artistic mecca we call New York City when it comes to the Education Department's arts education policies. Insideschool's own Judy Baum reported that although there is no lack of good arts education programs, "46% of elementary schools do not meet the state standards in the arts." Insideschools alum and Gotham Schools writer Philissa Cramer highlighted that "about 20 percent of schools do not employ a single arts teacher, even for a part-time position."
Not surprisingly, the arts become the first casualties as both local and national educational trends focus more and more on standardized testing. And when you factor in shrinking budgets and classroom space, the situation gets even worse.
I find these developements especially disturbing since I was brought up in a household that viewed the arts as a basic human need, right up there with food, shelter, and clothing.
Nothing bad happened to us this fall.
Except that one day when I took Brooks down to his little yellow school bus and then got to work, I got a breaking news message on my phone that there was a fire in midtown. And because I am too neurotic to ignore these digital intrusions, a quick search on Twitter confirmed the story. It was near Macy's and there were flame-filled pictures (thank you, Twitter). Apparently, what was on fire was a school bus. A little one, just like the one Brooks rides.
Even the initial reports said there were no injuries and that the bus was empty, but that didn't stop my heart rate from quickening. His school was too close and so was the timing.