Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sunshine From Behind The Clouds

After Sunday's bombshell, things have quieted down a bit. For one thing, mama is recovering from her Cold. (Its a good thing too, because we plan on heading to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona for the Memorial Day weekend.) Overall we are both feeling better about the educational situation with BJ. A little bit of sunshine is peeking from behind the clouds. Although nothing has yet been solved, and no final decisions have been made, we feel like we have a little better grip on the situation.

BJ has been better about getting his assignments completed. He knows he's not going to get away with not turning in his work. Isn't accountability a wonderful thing!

BJ is also taking piano lessons. He has been blowing off practicing as well. For now, mama has to sit with him in the living room to help him stay on track with his practicing. His tendency is to practice for a little while, and then drift into playing songs that are not a part of his current lesson. Or, alternatively he may suddenly think of something else besides piano that that he has to do RIGHT NOW! Unless he is being monitored, it may take a couple of hours for him to get in the 30 minutes of practicing he is required to do.

BJ is taking piano lessons for several reasons. The first reason is obvious, to learn music, and to one-day be able to play church hymns, if called upon in his future church service. The second reason is a little less obvious: Occupational Therapy. BJ is has some disabilities in his motor skills and coordination. Piano is a way to develop the fine kinds of motor skills that he needs to improve upon. A couple of weeks ago we had BJ tested by an independent (non-school district) Occupational Therapy evaluator. BJ has made great strides in the last year with his fine motor skills, and coincidentally enough, he has been taking piano lessons for the past year. It is also true that he is another year older, and he may be naturally developing some of these skills as he matures.

Finally the least obvious, but possibly the most important reason for BJ to take piano lessons is to help in his overall mental abilities. At an educational conference a few years ago we had the opportunity to hear from a professor of music, Michael Ballam, of Utah State University. He believes that the study of music is able to help in overall mental development, and in the ability to organize and sequence tasks -- which is the very help that BJ needs most. You can read more about the effects of musical instruction and listening to good music on intelligence here. Professor Robert Cutietta, of The University of Arizona also advocates the ability musical instruction to enhance learning in other areas.

Mama is feeling better about things now. She is seriously considering the homeschool option for BJ again. She is currently looking at a curriculum from The Calvert School, in Baltimore, Maryland. They have a placement test to help you target the student's level (or where to begin) in the various subjects. They are an accredited institution, with a proven track record (100 years in the business). It is a bit pricey: It will cost about $800.00 for the curriculum. We haven't made a final decision yet, but its a good possibility.

Part of what makes us feel so anxious, is the lack of control in Bryan's education. By the time the schools jump through the hoops of No Child Left Behind, and other federal legislation geared at providing education services for those with learning disabilities, not to mention state laws, and school district guidelines, the education plan can get pretty convoluted. Even when all the hoops have been jumped through, and a plan is agreed upon, there is often times little follow-up, and follow-thorugh on the part of those who are to be providing the educational services. We have found that the specialists seem to do pretty well: The resource teachers, school psychologists, Occupational Therapists, etc. Where the let-down generally occurs is with the classroom teacher. Even with having an aide for part of the school-day, the teacher is either totally overwhelmed with other responsibilities, or is sometimes simply disinterested or too lazy to follow the IEP (Individual Education Plan). In the 3 school years that BJ has had an IEP, we have yet to see the classroom teacher really do their part as the plan states. Unfortunately, the regular classroom is where the bulk of the plan is to take place. Hence, our frustration when we have been assured that this is a good plan, and that it will work -- and find that it is essentially ignored by the classroom teachers.

Homeschooling gives us the option to make sure that things happen. It gives us ultimate control in BJ's education. It also means that we take upon ourselves the responsibility as well. We would most likely lose the services of the school district specialists as well. Aside from mama's health problems in 2003, the main reason we have stayed with the public schools since mama has recovered her health has been to take advantage of these specialists. After 2 1/2 years of trying, it just hasn't worked out as we had hoped.

The public schools, outside of time spent with the specialists, are unable to give BJ the kind of individualized attention he needs. They often to not take his special needs into consideration (although they are required by law to make accommodations). He invariably gets lost in the busy shuffle of the classroom. At one time earlier this year, BJ was actually hiding underneath his desk on the floor of the classroom to avoid the noise and confusion of the classroom that was overwhelming him.

It may well be that homeschooling is the way to go. We will making this a matter of fasting and prayer.

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