Thursday, November 18, 2010

If I Ran The Zoo

When I win the Big Lottery, I am opening a school. It will be open to anyone who wants specialized and individualized instruction for their kids. It will have a good size campus, with the main area fenced (but plenty of other space to explore as needed). The staff will include teachers with specialized training in a variety of needs and abilities, a small army of well-trained paraprofessionals, fully trained administrative staff (not just in administering, but also in the needs and abilities being served by the school). It will include a number of specialized spaces, such as OT gyms and specialized classrooms, as well as more flexible spaces which can be opened or divided as the students grow and change. On-staff will also be specialized support staff, including a contingent of occupational, physical, speech-language, communication, behavioral, and mental health therapists.

In other words, each child will have a team of experts working with the family and the child to determine what is needed, what is wanted, and how to best support and teach the child. Since this school is not just for "special needs kids", there will be opportunities for education in a wide variety of settings and environments.

The school will include residential opportunities, so academic instruction timing can be tailored to the child. Do you have a little one who is a night owl? Cool. Is morning their best moment? Great. Do they prefer to sleep late and get things done in the afternoon? Lovely. Working around sleep issues and those little nappers? No problem.

The school will also offer opportunities for families who decide to send their child to "regular" schools: before-care, after-care, etc. These students will be evaluated for needed supports and additional instructional needs (academic, social, functional, etc) so that their needs for instruction are incorporated into their individualized program, and they are treated as students, not just as warm bodies (as they might be in a daycare or "regular" before- or after-care).

The programs will take into consideration the interests of the individual children, using strengths and interests to spur learning and overcoming challenges. Staff will understand how to use, say, Pokemon to teach math and history.

The school will teach 7 days per week. If you wish to take your child out on specific days, that will be worked into you child's individual program, but consistency is considered key. It will also meet year-round. Taking your child out for vacation- and when, and for how long- is up to the family and the needs of the child. Staff will be available to provide home support for families, so go ahead and leap on that opportunity to take your kids to see Grandma, or go to DisneyWorld.

The curriculum will include a number of things seen as beneficial generally, but that are not usually offered in public schools. Sign Language will be part of the general curriculum, just as many schools now teach Spanish. Instruction will include lessons on respect, human diversity, kindness, and being thoughtful and considerate of others. Social skills will be part of the actual, planned curriculum for all students, tailored to their needs. Families will be offered the option of having religious or spiritual instruction for their children. Cultural instruction will be another important facet of the curriculum.

Transition into the "real world" starts from when you begin at the school. A child's strengths and aptitudes will be considered and encouraged from the start. The school will provide a variety of avenues to employment or further education, based on the needs and desires of the student. Apprenticeships, mentoring, vocational instruction, self-advocacy instruction, fieldtrips and fieldwork opportunities, etc. will be available for experimentation and support of the child right from the start. Your budding paleontologist at age 6 might strike up and interest in other kinds of detail-oriented logic-heavy fields of interest by the time they are 20; but encouraging them to explore logic and focus using dinosaurs at age 6 is a great way to introduce them to wider opportunities by the time they are 20.

Age is not a deciding factor for when they will graduate for our school. Hopefully by the time the kids who enter our kindergarden reach the age of 18, our school will have garnered support and funding to open higher learning opportunities to continue to support the needs and instruction of our students. However, focusing on educating all the students who come to us, we know that we will have students who will require support for learning independence and functional skills beyond their 22nd birthday. That will not be considered a problem at all. We will hopefully continue to instruct and offer support for our students well into their adult lives, even those without "special needs".

However, the goal is to teach these children to support themselves independently, to effectively self-advocate, and to be able to hone their own skills and interests as adults. The vast majority of our students would leave us after they complete high-school level education to satisfaction, and go out into the world.

But hopefully, they will be stronger, better people for having spent their precious childhood days with us, in an environment that understood and supported them, and taught them how to understand and support themselves.

5 comments:

Casdok said...

Sounds perfect.
Have you bought a lottery ticket??

r.b. said...

My son goes to a school like that. It's called "homeschool"----AND, I think you would be absolutely amazed at the number of people who homeschool NOT for religious or social or any other reason, except that their bright children fail in the regular classroom.

To have a child with a genius IQ who spends his total career in special ed makes no sense. Our children don't FAIL the schools, it's the schools that FAIL our children.

Stimey said...

I'll enroll all three of my kiddos. :)

Joeymom said...

Actually, r.b., this rant is brought to you by a mom up at 4am pondering the merits of homeschooling and working out how to do it effectively.

ghkcole said...

Please win the lottery and hire me. And one school won't do at all. It must be a chain. National.