It’s taken me almost a week since my school visits to write this post, but that’s a good thing. It’s given me a lot of time to reflect on the schools myself.
I found all three of the schools to be very warm and welcoming and to anyone who’s about to embark on a similar journey of searching for a school for your child, I hope you find the experience as positive as I have so far.
You may remember that school 1 was the nearest and biggest of the three schools I am looking at. It is also the one with the biggest integration program (with 22 children).
We started the visit with a meeting between myself, the integration teacher and the principal. They told me a little about the school’s philosophy and then asked me about S. I told them he had cerebral palsy and explained a little about what he could do. When I finished, the integration teacher commented that he sounded just like a student they’d had many years ago with CP – although he couldn’t walk at all and was in a wheelchair. AND he was non-verbal. The principal enthusiastically agreed.
Hhmmm. So basically, the only real similarity between this student and my son was that they both have CP. I wondered if they’d actually heard anything beyond the label. That set off a few alarm bells for me for a school so confident in its integration program.
Walking around the school, I was quite impressed with their use of the grounds – lots of gardens for the children to grow plants in, decent playgrounds, accessible via ramp (although the ramp wasn’t very conveniently placed – it would be a long walk to and from playing). About 50% of the classrooms were readily accessible and the others weren’ t too bad – just 2-3 steps to get in.
I found the principal to be very friendly and clearly passionate about his school and happy to answer any question I had.
I found the experience overall positive, but I just didn’t get the feeling that this was the ‘right’ school for us – I think largely because of the grounds and because despite there being a large integration program, their experience with children with physical disabilities was clearly very limited. I sensed that their strengths lay elsewhere.
School number 2, you may remember, had a unit for hearing impaired children attached. I had been told over the phone that this was ‘very separate’ to the school itself, leading me to believe that the students were taught separately. I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case at all. The students were mostly integrated into the classroom but the unit provided withdrawal sessions as required. As I took a tour of the school, I saw several staff members signing in Auslan alongside the classroom teacher and the classrooms seemed to be positive places of learning for all.
I had always been confident that this school would be very accessible and it is. Most of the classrooms are in the same large building and there is ramp access to almost all entry points. The grounds were equally assessible and very pleasant places to be. The school also has a designated disabled toilet and the main toilets were easy to access too.
The school LOTE is Auslan. This appealed to me. Although I know that a lot of signing might be difficult for S because of his limited fine motor control, we already use some Makaton signs and I think learning Auslan could definitely benefit S, as well as being an interesting subject.
I was a little disappointed that the deputy principal who showed me around asked me no questions at all about S. I worried this might show a lack of interest in him and his particular needs.
However, overall, I was feeling very positive about the school until right near the end of my visit.
I asked the principal about availability of places for 2011. He was confident that there would be a place for S. I then told him that we know 2 gorgeous twins with mild CP who would be attending the school at prep next year and asked him if he thought having these three children in the same year might pose challenges for the school.
And then there was a slight shift in his enthusiasm. He said it would definitely pose challenges and suddenly he was unsure about when or whether he could confirm a place for S next year.
In his defence, knowing these twins were also attending this school has also had me wondering if it would put too much pressure on the school – which is, of course, why I raised the question.
Of course, I was hoping for a different reaction than the one I got but I guess it’s better that he was honest. There are only 2 prep classes this year and probably will be the same next year. Knowing that there is a good chance there will also be hearing impaired children in the room, I wonder just whether the teacher and the school might be a little too stretched to provide well for them all. And again, I wondered – does this school’s strength lie elsewhere?
I am not sure how much I should worry about this issue? I am considering calling the principal and discussing it with her. It would be nice to hear a second opinion from another senior administrator at the school.
AND I should point out, my concern is not about our ‘right’ to have S at the school. My only concern is about the school that will offer the best opportunities and have the best environment for S to be in.
School number 3, as you may recall, was the school I’d had the least to do with thus far. When I rang the principal, her response was to suggest I come visit rather than talk over the phone. I liked her crisp professionalism straight away.
The school has a very good local reputation academically and has a big music and arts program.
I was really looking forward to the visit to see more for myself.
As I drove up towards the school, I was a little disappointed to see stairs. Not a lot, but enough to have me a bit worried.
The principal was just as I had expected her to be. Very open and very professional. Of all the three schools, she was the one who I felt had the clearest idea about what having S at the school might mean. She raised several issues before I’d had the chance to do so and asked clear, sensible questions about S’s needs and abilities. I could tell she was putting the child first, and the label second.
I also got the best ‘feel’ about the classrooms from this school. I liked the mood around the school, the way that the students seemed to be operating within the classrooms and the way the teachers were interacting with them. Also, even though all three of the schools had interactive whiteboards in most classrooms, this was the only school where I saw them actively being used. I know that doesn’t mean the other schools DON’T use them, but it gave me a good feeling that this school was one which appreciated and utilised ICT – something that’s very important to me seeing as I know that S will be using his electronic communication device to assist him with much of his schoolwork.
The downside of this school IS the stairs. The school’s main building is completely accessible from one side but because the building is on an incline, the other side of the building has 7-8 stairs up to each of the classrooms. I know that S could always take a different entrance. However, I also would like him to have the SAME access to his classroom as his peers AND I worry about what could happen if he insisted on using those stairs. He can navigate stairs. He walks up and down the stairs at the back of our house every day – BUT he does so holding on the railing very tightly and without the presence of 20 odd eager children around who might accidentally give him a prod that would see him tumbling to the bottom.
The main toilets are also very inaccessible – located between two sets of stairs. And because of the layout of this particular part of the building, I don’t imagine ramp access would be an option.
For the first year, the toilets wouldn’t be a problem. The prep area is separate to the main building and they have their own toilets there which would be very easily accessible for S.
So there you go. That’s the three schools. Sorry this is long and thanks if you’ve read this far! Putting it down on paper has definitely helped me think through them all a bit more.
I think you can tell that I’ve pretty much ruled out school number 1. I just don’t think it’s the right place for us. Now it’s down to 2 or 3.
I am definitely leaning towards school 3 – but have concerns about the access. However, I still think school 2 is possible – but would like to speak to the principal to get a bit more of a feel.
S”s OT has offered to go out to school number 3 to do a report on the accessibility. I rang the school today to discuss that with them and they were very open to the idea. The principal was even problem solving with me on the phone a few of the issues. The OT will be going out there in the second week of term 2. I also know that there should be funding available for the school to resolve issues AND we have the benefit of not urgently needing major changes until 2012 when S would leave the designated prep area which is very accessible (I imagine we would be able to problem solve around visits to other parts of the school for different parts of the curriculum for the first year if we had to).
I will ring the principal of school 2 in the next couple of days to get a bit more of an idea about what the school might be able to offer for S.
SOOOO what do you think??? I would love any thoughts, suggestions, ideas on anything I’ve raised so far…
AND I would like to repeat again, that so far, I haven’t found this experience anywhere near as daunting or scary as I had expected. The schools have been really open and interested and my experience has been really positive.
Thanks again for reading this far!