I can't tell you how many times I've heard horror stories from other parents about how untrained, uncaring, or uninterested a school was for their special needs kids. I've heard it equally in regard to public and private schools. There are a lot of different factors that go into each story, but the ones that really bothered me were the tales of woe from public school systems near our area. Mainly because we got lucky, and we have a great one. So I know it's possible for a public school to totally kick butt for their special needs kids. As we know though, bad news usually travels the fastest and the farthest.
The complaints I heard recently at a special needs conference were from people who lived all over and ranged in scale. People had to pull their kids out of one school or another because; their kids were refused services, or their teachers were terrible, or their administrators were terrible. While funding certainly helps tremendously , it's not the entire reason that a public school kicks ass. I have heard tales from people who live in districts like the one I live in. Districts that , quite frankly, shocked me to hear that it was difficult to get services for their kids, because I've seen their public finances, and they aren't hurting for the funding they need for these services. There are also the stories of teachers or psychologists who don't listen to the parents. They don't believe the parents when they try to tell them their concerns about their kids.
Or there are the tales of just complete apathy about a student's existence in the school. Where kids are ignored and not helped in the way that they should be being helped.
I don't know what it's like where you live, but around here, and from what I've heard, the tales of school system failures for special needs are much more prevalent than the successful ones. So I decided to share my story about our kid's school to shine a positive light on what public education is actually capable of. Here's a short list that I compiled of certain attributes that I believe contribute to the awesomeness of the school that both of my special needs kids attend. (One assumes a certain amount of empathy and common decency from educators, so I don't include that here.)
1. Active Listeners : Administrators and teachers who don't just hear what you are saying in regard to concerns about your kids, but actually listen. They then make suggestions, and put the suggestions that you agree to, and/or your own ideas that they agree to into action. Real, every day action.
It doesn't matter how silly a request may seem, if it helps your kid and it's doable, they do it.
2. Positive Attitudes: An open , positive attitude toward any challenge presented allows for more possibilities of success. Plain and simple.
3. Communication: This could go hand and hand with listening, but communication between the school and parents throughout the day is paramount! If my kid does something he doesn't normally do through the day, good or bad, I hear about it before the next school day. Either in text, in person or I read about it at home that day on his communication log. On rare occasion little things slip through until a few days later, because they're human, but usually I hear about everything as it happens.
4. Attentiveness: This goes beyond listening and communicating. This is when you walk in to your school and it's like the TV show Cheers, everyone knows you and your kids names. The day time Custodian knows how my oldest kid, the picky eater, likes to eat certain foods at lunch because he pays attention to the goings on around him as he's cleaning up after the kids. Can little things go unnoticed sometimes? I'm sure. However, the over all secure feeling that I get when I think about my kids being school is something that I cannot put a price on. Knowing that they are being watched and legitimately cared for while in school getting an education is one of the best gifts I've ever received as a parent, other than my kids themselves.
When you find a school that has all of this, you and your kid win. Maybe it's in a private school, maybe it's in a public school. Our story comes from a public setting, and in the political climate of today in regard to public education, I feel it's necessary to tell it. Yes I can send my kid to a private school with the Autism scholarship, but why would I? They meet their needs and are amazing people. I feel as though I got lucky with their school, and it shouldn't be that way. I hope more parents will step up and tell their own success stories. The good schools out there need to be recognized more often for going above and beyond to educate our kids. Their recognition will help set the standard that I hope to see one day in all of our schools.