Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Carter Starts Preschool!

Carter started preschool yesterday at Claremont Elementary School. This is a huge adjustment for our entire family considering the fact that I never dreamed of putting Carter in a preschool program until he was three years old. Don't get me wrong, there is a TON of pressure in this area to get your child into some kind of program as early as possible but I didn't feel like it was necessary at this time, especially considering our wonderful nanny share.

It was going to be hard for Carter not to be with his best buddy every morning.

Since Carter was 10 months old he has received physical and speech therapy services through the Arlington PIE (Parent Infant Education) program. Carter has had physical therapy (PT) weekly and speech therapy (ST) every two weeks for 17 months in our home. Every child enrolled in the PIE program is eligible to be evaluated for services through the Child Find program within Arlington County schools as they approach their second birthday. Within the PIE program you receive therapy in your child's natural environment whether that be at home or their daycare center and you pay for those services. Child Find is a program for children between the ages of two and five years old where children receive their designated services through the school system and you do not pay additionally. We were warned that the evaluation process was very lengthy; however, in the end felt that it would be worth our time given Carter's current situation. We knew that Carter would qualify for some level of services but we weren't sure if it would be enough for him to attend the preschool program. Considering Carter has had delays in multiple areas and still remained about 6 months behind at his annual review we decided it was worth our time to go through the evaluation process.

The evaluation is basically a six step process. We began the process in May and completed it on Thursday, September 11th! Our first meeting was basically an introductory one where we went through Carter's social history. We discussed my pregnancy, delivery, his medical history, behavior and the services he has received through the PIE program. This meeting took place with a study committee which consisted of a Special Education Coordinator, a Social Worker, a Psychologist and our PIE Service Coordinator. At the end of the meeting the committee recommended a referral for an official evaluation. Basically it was a meeting to state that we can officially begin the evaluation process.

The first evaluation was physical therapy and the second one was for speech and developmental therapy. Each session lasted about an hour and the therapists spent their time playing with Carter and asking Chris and me questions about his development. The only bad thing about our timing was that it fell in the middle of the summer. Most teachers and therapists were out of school; therefore, there were only limited days we could meet. Our physical therapy evaluation was at the beginning of June and our speech evaluation wasn't until the end of July. If your child were to be evaluated during the school year I believe this process would move a lot faster.

Technically after your evaluations have been completed a social worker is supposed to come to your home to go through your child's detailed social history. However, our social worker called me the day before we were leaving for the beach and Carter's eligibility meeting was scheduled the day we returned so we skipped this step.

On August 20th we had Carter's eligibility meeting with the study committee. They walked us through each of the therapists evaluations and came to an agreement that Carter did qualify and would benefit from services. Unfortunately it was still going to take another meeting to determine what those services would be. Carter has delays in five out of six categories and the pre-k teacher that participated in the meeting said that he would qualify for the preschool program; however, they couldn't officially confirm that until the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. The good news is that they try to place your child at your home school, which for us is Claremont Elementary School. If they don't have room for your child at your home school then you'll be assigned to the next closest school. One of our neighbor's daughter was in the two year old program at Claremont and couldn't have said better things about the program and the teacher. So we were very excited to hear that if he was accepted in to the program they would have room for him at Claremont. 

After waiting patiently for two weeks I decided to call the teacher at Claremont. I was surprisingly connected directly to her and we scheduled Carter's IEP meeting for September 11th. At this meeting we walked through the eligibility meeting notes and met with Carter's teacher, each of the school's therapists and the Assistant Principal. They were in all in agreement that Carter would benefit from attending the preschool program Monday-Friday for five hours each day. He'll receive 30 minutes of PT each week and an hour of ST. Once he starts school the occupational therapist will complete an evaluation and it's possible that he may receive some therapies from her too.

Do I want Carter to go to school five days a week for 5 hours each day? No, not at all. Do I think that this is the best thing for him and his development? Yes, absolutely. Part of me is a little upset that Carter has enough delays to qualify him for this program yet there is another part of me that is grateful that he qualifies. As of right now there are three little boys in Carter's class, one teacher and two assistants. The class maxes out at eight students and it could take until the end of the year to get there. That's how hard it is to get in and that's how wonderful the teacher to student ratio is! You won't find that anywhere else!

I'm not sure where my baby boy went!

He's off!
Even though Carter will receive his therapies during designated times throughout the week the teacher and assistants are fully aware of the exercises he should be working on and they continue that throughout the day. The kids are taught to be very independent. Each student is asked to bring in a family photo that they hang in the room so they can talk about their families throughout the day. They walk to the cafeteria to get their lunch. They unpack and pack their book bags on their own. They set up their cot for nap time and put it away when they're finished. They go on field trips. The school brings in animals from the nature center to learn about. They go to the library. They have music class. They have PE class. They have reading buddies from the local high school come over to read with them. And his teacher sends home a personal notebook at the end of each day with detailed notes about Carter's day. What more could you ask for? 

So far things have gone well. Carter has cried when we've dropped him off each morning but his teacher has assured me that it didn't last long. When I've pulled up each afternoon to pick him up he has been sitting patiently on the bench in front of the school with his little backpack on his shoulders with the biggest grin you've ever seen. 

They have about an hour of "quiet time" at school so we're going to have to work on his nap schedule once he gets home. The poor little guy's world has been completely flipped upside down! Carter has been used to very lazy mornings and typically eats breakfast around 8:30a.m, so you can imagine the struggle we have on our hands to get him up, dressed, fed and out the door by 7:45a.m.! Mom and Dad are going to need some time to adjust too- ha! It will take some time but I'm confident that he'll quickly adapt and thrive with his new routine. 

I should note that technically Claremont Elementary is Claremont Immersion School. It opened in September 2003 as Arlington's second dual language immersion elementary school. Their program allows kids to learn a second language through curriculum, art, music and every day interactions. We were blessed to learn that this was going to be Carter's home school because our nanny speaks fluent Spanish to the boys during the day. Carter has several Spanish words and understands it just as well as he does English. My two year old son knows more Spanish than I do! Our first nanny spoke Spanish to the boys since they were three months old and our second nanny speaks even more to them on a daily basis. It is very important to us that Carter keep it up so the fact that his teacher uses it with him throughout the school day is an added bonus!

Thank you to everyone for all the phone calls, texts and emails! The little man has done great so far and we're so proud of the little student we have on our hands. Now and for the next 18 years......