Thinking out of the box for your student

Jacob Cumiskey, senior year, Warren Wilson College. Jacob’s job is on the landscape crew, where he works outdoors, which is a stretch for him. But, it is meaningful work and he is a useful member of a team. His major is creative writing.

One of the frustrations most frequently brought to CEG by parents is, why is the school system not offering my child the best education available? The short answer is, they don’t have to. While you will nearly never find a school employee who is willing to admit that the district does less than the best, the law only requires a free and appropriate (not free and red carpet) education for public school students. Often, not even “appropriate” is actually met in the eyes of students and parents, and of teachers even though they might not be able to admit that.

So, it is up to you to make sure your child experiences the best education available. How can you do that? Well, one of the best ways is to stay completely informed and involved. Be a pest. Know what is going on at the school at all times. Find out what is available for your child. Think out of the box.

Many parents believe that rigorous courses –AP, IB, honors–will give their student the best start when it comes to facing college. That isn’t always the case. We know several savvy students who have taken a regular, rather than advanced, curriculum; and, thereby managed to access much funds for college due to their high grade point average, with much less stress than an advanced placement or international baccalaureate schedule would engender.

If your child has an individualized educational plan for a learning disability or the form of autism formerly known as Asperger’s, for example, he or she might consider slowing down a bit. That’s right, I said slowing down. Think about it. By law, a student with an IEP has until their twenty-second birthday to complete public high school. While almost no one wants to think of sitting in a high school class at twenty-one years old, there are several creative options available now which just were not there a few years ago. Let me use a real life example of a student we will call Charlie, a CEG client.

Charlie is a good student, with an IEP for Autism. He benefited in middle school from a shortened school day, due to anxiety and sleep issues. Charlie couldn’t get his day going until around ten; he had a pattern of failing first period in a regular school day no matter what the class was, and being late and disregulated. The school worked with the team, and Charlie attended only second through sixth period, and repeated sixth grade, bringing up his grade point average to a 3.2 by taking his time, and taking that extra year.

Looking at high school, it was decided that dual enrollment is a path for Charlie. While his exceptionality dictates, still, a shortened school day, and while many students use dual enrollment to jump start a college education and adulthood, Charlie’s plan is actually to slow down and take advantage of the maximum public school has to offer.

Charlie will complete the full credits for graduation, but he will do it over five years. And, he will never be attending a full, overwhelming, exhausting, seven-period day. What many people don’t understand is, completing for example one semester of Freshman English at college gives a high school student not only three college credits, but credit for their entire year of English 1 in high school! In other words, completing Freshman English, Student Success, College Algebra, and Art Appreciation gives Charlie 12 college credits and 4 high school credits. The classes at the college are free, and so are the books (which must be returned at the end of each semester). Charlie is taking two classes at college and two at high school for his shortened school day this semester, going in to school after lunch and taking one class at college Monday and Wednesday nights, and one Tuesday and Thursday. If this works well for him, he will try three college classes next semester. This not only helps Charlie to avoid the noise and chaos of transitions at high school which disregulated him, it honors who he is by acknowledging and working with his sleep issues. We figured, why keep trying to shove an ASD student into a neurotypical path? Why not honor who he is? Will Charlie be expected to work at any old job, just so he can have any old job, or does he deserve the opportunity to be who he is and find meaningful work? Some stakeholders in the education of persons with ASD believe it is more important for a young adult with ASD to have a job than to not, even if the employer is a bad one. We entirely disagree–and that goes for an education, as well. Let’s think out of the box. Let’s think of who this student is, what his strengths, challenges, and true limitations are. Charlie may never be able to be at school, or work, at 7:29 a.m. And, that’s okay. This is a limitation of his disability. Why constantly shove Charlie up against that, lowering his success and his self-esteem, when this is truly a problem due to autism?

At the slower pace, and if Charlie and his parents are careful to leave some required courses until his last year, Charlie can graduate with his Associate of Arts if he chooses to, or simply with several full semesters of college under his belt. Although he will be twenty at his high school graduation, he will actually be on pace with his peers educationally in that a typical student would be beginning college at eighteen or nineteen. In that way, Charlie is actually ahead.

As with many young people with ASD, Charlie may need a longer time at home as a young adult, and more support than a typical young man. With this plan, he is experiencing real, valuable, career-prep success in college. He has a plan, and his parents are comfortable knowing that they are there to guide him while he learns how to succeed at college courses.

This sort of thinking out of the box requires quite a commitment from parents and students. There is a lot to dual-enrollment, and students tend to need some help learning those college skills of following (and reading) the syllabi and showing up on time for every single class. But for many, the more mature expectations of college instructors is more in line and accessible for who they actually are; the independence of self-regulating their own academic performance, and leaving behind the complex social structures of high school for most of the time is highly beneficial.

There are many cautions to a plan like Charlie’s, but in the end this is much better for him, socially, academically, and in preparing for independence. College is a natural way to a shortened school day; one never attends 35 hours a week of college. Many schools will work with students who need it on a shortened day, and justification for it can be proven with many different medical conditions and exceptionalities. Remember, the law is there for your student’s benefit. Take advantage of that in ways which build success rather than frustration. Below are a couple of useful links, and feel free to contact us with questions.

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