Emily and Michael’s Stories
This is a story about two five year olds, their parents, and their schools. Both five year olds transitioned from special education early childhood programs into regular kindergarten programs. These programs were in their neighborhood “home” schools. The neighborhood schools had never before had children with this degree and range of disabilities in regular kindergarten.
Michael uses gestures, sign language, pictures, some words and phrases to communicate. He is moderately intellectually disabled. He has motor planning problems and sensory challenges.
Emily was born premature. She has cerebral palsy along with significant sensory and processing challenges.
Personal Futures Planning was chosen as a person-centered planning process for these two children as both transitioned into kindergarten. The parents needed to make decisions about their children’s transition from early childhood to kindergarten. Personal Futures Planning could help them define their dreams. They could look at the available options, and help with the decision-making process. For young children, educational programming is an important factors in the child’s life. But staff and families wanted to look beyond just school program. They wanted to look at Emily and Michael not just as kindergarteners or students, but as the whole person each of them is.
Emily and Michael’s parents really enjoyed their partnership with school staff. The families were involved in all preparations for the Personal Futures Planning. The early childhood staff sent home materials about Futures Planning. They talked with the parents and answered their questions. They involved them in the basic formatting of the process.
Staff of the early childhood program, the parents, and the staff for these children’s future kindergarten programs were invited to the meetings. The kindergarten teachers and the school principals, and the kindergarten special education teacher who would be responsible for their afternoon programs also came. The special education teacher advocated for the children with the regular kindergarten teachers.
There was one large Futures Planning meeting. Many mini-meetings were held afterward. Two to three people were involved in each mini-meeting.
From Emily’s Mom
At the Planning meeting, Emily’s mother said, “We had hopes for her. But we never told people those hopes. We didn’t think they could happen. “ In the Planning process, the parents were encouraged to dream. They were supported in taking steps to take to make these dreams happen. Emily’s parents believe the information and ideas shared helped them realize their dream of Emily going to her neighborhood school. The Planning process helped the school staff see Emily as a whole person, not just as “a child with disabilities.” The process was like reading a story about Emily’s life and dreams. Her story was a personal, strengths-based story for the child study team at her receiving school.
The Planning process was helpful in moving Emily’s family into the bigger world. They were comfortable in the early childhood program. They felt taken care of and supported. They were allowed the “loudest voice” in the Planning process. Emily’s parents’ advocacy for Emily was affirmed by the support team.
Emily’s parents wrote a letter to the principal of the receiving school. She introduced Emily and sent along her Futures plan. Their letter highlighted what they needed and wanted to happen in Emily’s transition from early childhood to kindergarten. The principal became an advocate for Emily. Although he was retiring, he passed on the information to the new principal. The new principal also became very involved in Emily’s program. The new principal was able to act on the issues right away. He set up the materials and support for Emily to eat and use the restroom near her peers.
The principal involved Emily’s parents in the hiring of the para-professional in the kindergarten room. This paraprofessional was hired with Emily in mind, but she also supports the kindergarten teacher with all the students. She has information to support Emily in learning and participating with her class. Emily’s mother sees this new principal as being invested in Emily’s future. Together, they are beginning to explore options for the next school year.
Emily’s Mom about the Personal Futures Planning Meetings
Emily’s mother says, “Although it was initially time-consuming, the benefits continue to be reaped from the Personal Futures Planning process.” One of the biggest advantages is having the plan on paper. “I have this paper. I can pull this out and say, ‘See, this is what we decided.’ It’s a support for us as we advocate for Emily.”
Michael’s Mom about the Personal Futures Planning Meetings
Michael’s mother had been unsure of what educational programs would be best for Michael. His mother reported that the process affirmed their dreams. It gave the family courage to pursue their dreams.
Michael’s kindergarten teacher found Michael’s Futures plan extremely valuable. He appreciated going over it with Michael’s family. It was helpful to know what the family wanted for Michael during kindergarten. The kindergarten teacher understood that Michael’s parents wanted him to have a variety of literacy opportunities. They wanted him to have opportunity to write, journal, and draw. They valued most of all that Michael would develop friendships and have fun. The plan helped Michael’s teacher know where to focus his energy. Michael’s mother was excited that her son made marks. He drew pictures on paper, and then wanted other people to write stories about the marks he made. It was not important that he could not recite or print the ABC’s.
Staff and Programs
Both families wanted their children to attend morning kindergarten sessions. That’s when they would be most fresh and alert. This scheduling happened as a result of the Personal Futures Planning process. They also wanted their children to have physical and occupational therapy in the afternoon. This happened at their special kindergarten program in another school building. This schedule allowed them to receive that therapy.
When both children started school in the fall, the early childhood staff members were part of the transition plan. They came to the new school. They supported the children and staff, and then gradually faded their support. There were lots of phone calls, networking and connecting as part of the “Steps to Action” process in the planning. These collaborative webs were set up beforehand to support the children, their families and teachers. The webs allowed familiar staff persons to support the children. They allowed knowledgeable persons to support the new staff.
The typical progression for both Michael and Emily to kindergarten could have been to enrolled in a classroom for children with special needs in a designated regular education building. They would have had inclusion opportunities, but it would not have been at their neighborhood school. Before the Futures Planning Process, neither set of parents had articulated that their dream was for their child to go to their neighborhood school. Once their dream was shared with Michael and Emily’s school district administrators, they were able to help make it all a reality. This was the first time children with more significant disabilities were fully included in regular kindergarten at this school.
The Personal Futures Planning process helped the child study team at the new schools feel more comfortable. It helped the staff in preparing for Michael and Emily’s coming. By reading the Personal Profile part of the Futures Plan, they could really find out who the children were. The staff felt excited about the information they shared. They thought it was very helpful in making a smooth transition. They also liked the list of “Things that Work” and “Things that Don’t Work.” The school said, “You don’t receive that type of information on an IEP when you get a new child. You usually just receive the educational goals. You don’t receive information on strategies that help the children in learning, participation, and connecting.”
The planning process was useful for many support staff. For example, the speech and language specialist understood that she would be supporting Michael in his classroom. She would not pull him out for speech and language therapy.
Special Concerns: Riding the Bus
Michael’s mother thought the planning process made a big difference. In particular, Michael now rides the regular school bus to school. His mother had been so scared about Michael riding a bus to school. In the “Steps to Action” process, the team explored this issue with Michael’s mother. For instance, Michael’s’ sister Laura, who is in the 4th grade, rides the same bus. When Laura was sick for four days, Michael went by himself. His mom said, “Can you believe I didn’t’ even think, what will Michael do without Laura?” The other neighborhood kids and the bus driver know him now. They work with him when he needs to communicate.
With Emily, riding the regular school bus was also a concern. Emily has a walker and a wheelchair. The regular school bus was not equipped for her needs. Her parents kept pursuing the concern. They asked questions like, “if a kid brings a tuba to school, where would he put it on the bus?” They worked with the school district with the Futures Plan as their guide. They made a plan for Emily to ride the regular school bus.
Both families have copies of the Personal Futures Plan to share with relatives, friends and neighbors. The plan helps explain, who is my child and what are my dreams for my child?
They felt that they did not need to make decisions alone or before they were ready. They could follow the “Steps to Action” part of the planning process. This helped them learn more about the school program and check out options. Both families intend to revisit the planning process in the future. When they have other decisions to make, they will continue to explore what they value for their children. They see themselves as trailblazers for their children.