So I've been thinking a lot about this one lately... the way our school system is set up. Chance is getting closer to kindergarten - he's a year away - and I know I need to look at our options. I've been looking, here and there, talking with other parents at OT, scanning the ads for schools in our local parenting magazine for particular keywords. I haven't done an in depth search yet but I know I need to start.
The plan originally was for Chance to go our local elementary, which is well-rated and, the part I love, would be full of kids from the neighborhood. I like the idea of being neighborhood-centric. It's one of the reasons we picked this neighborhood in the first place. Literally growing up with the children near you, rather than having sets of friends at distant schools, and distant hobbies, and distant sports - which is the way world seems to have moved.
However, I am the first person to acknowledge that a public school might not be the best environment for Chance with his sensory issues. He has come a LONG way since last summer (I mean, huge) but he still has a way to go - some of the sensory issues will continue to get better as he gets older, but other aspects will still be hard (especially, I suspect, his sensory-seeking behaviors). His preschool class right now has 30 kids and that's probably way too many past ideal. I just haven't wanted to pull him away from his friends (I'm so much less concerned with the "academics" of preschool in favor of socialization).
Honestly, seeing how much of a difference the OT and speech therapy has made with Chance, what I'd LOVE, would be to pick up his entire therapy office and drop it into a school environment. His therapy office is comprised of both Speech and Occupational Therapists. And there are schools like that, who have therapists on site... but they are usually for autistic or more physically disabled kids. There aren't any (or none I've found so far) for the children who have an issue or two that is getting in the way of development and learning. And it's a shame because many of the methods used in play (occupational) therapy really increase focus and, utimately, help learning. Not just for kids with special needs, but everyone. If you make a roomful of children do ten jumps in a row before sitting down to learn a hard math problem, they generally will have more focus for learning.
Public schools in California have gotten increasingly larger as school funding has been cut. I was talking with the spouse of a teacher recently (whose son is also in OT) and I asked what the perspective was on kids with ADHD, SPD, or other similar issues and he said that with the large class sizes and the pressure to score highly on tests the teachers just "don't want to deal with" the difficult children. They don't have the time.
One out of 20 kids has sensory issues; that's 5% of the general population. Another 5%+ have ADHD/ADD. There are also children with depression, bi-polar disorder, Aspergers, and behavioral issues. There are kids with medical conditions, like cystic fibrosis and more. There are kids who are more active or less active than those around them. There are children who "just don't fit in". These are regular kids... but they all have issues, sometimes really small issues, that get in the way of learning, interacting, and self-esteem. These are kids who might not learn best by the "sitting still and shuting up" standard. Looked at by itself not one of these seems to be a signficant percentage in the general population, but taken all together you start talking about quite a lot of children.
So... if every classroom has 2-3 kids (and probably more) that are "difficult", that the teachers just "don't want to deal with", where are those children supposed to go?
Because I can tell you right now I haven't found a school for those kids yet; the kids who are mainstream but towards the edge. The kids who have a special need, but aren't special needs.
Chance is impulsive and physical and often inattentive and smart, and I don't want him to lose out on reaching his potential because he's one of the "difficult" children. I don't want him to struggle unnecessarily or lose self-esteem. I don't want to see any other child lose out on their potential either, because I have to wonder... are we, is our education system, failing these children?
So that's basically what I would do... if I was rich I would found a school. A school with smaller class sizes and rooms outfitted with OT gym equipment. A school with OTs and speech therapists and regular therapists on site with the teachers. A school where an emotional outburst is not a major breach of "how things are done". A school that could accomodate a special diet, the need for a quiet room, or the need for a child to run a couple of laps before sitting down to learn. A school where a kid who might feel a little different, can just relax, instead of feeling like they're getting in trouble all the time.
If you know of a school like that, let me know. - the weirdgirl