For the past few months I have been waking up in cold sweats at night over the realization that my baby boy will be graduating from elementary and entering middle school. Just when we finally figured out the whole IEP process, we have to leave behind the comfort of elementary school with our special resource teacher and enter the foreign world of secondary schools. But even though middle school means a new building, new teachers, new rules and a slew of new HORMONES to deal with… with a little extra preparation and a bit of parental advocacy… it doesn’t have to be so daunting.
- Parent field trip time– Before your IEP transition meeting, do yourself a favor and tour the middle school your child will be attending… without your child. Ask to see what an inclusion classroom looks like compared to a self-contained one. See how lockers are arranged and where bathrooms and counselors offices are in relation to them. In other words get a picture in your head of how the school is laid out. You will be surprised how just seeing the school and how it runs will alleviate much of your own anxiety.
- Learn your ABCs– well really just you’re A’s and B’s. One of the biggest differences between elementary school and middle school is that most school days are broken into A days and B days. Each day will consist of 4 -90 minute blocks. Example: Your child may have English, History, PE and Chorus on A days and Math, Art, Science and English on B days. (NOTE: At many schools 6th grade English is on both days thus the repeat in the example schedule.) The more familiar you get with the concept of A and B days the easier it will be for you to help your child get the hang of it. Another helpful hint is to print out and laminate your child’s schedule once they get it and post it in their locker as well in each class binder so they can refer to it should they forget what they have on what day.
- If doesn’t hurt to ask– Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to ask for things that you feel will make your child’s transition easier to be written into your IEP during your transitioning meeting. Better to have too much then not enough. Little things like requesting to have a set of books for home so your child does not have to lug them back and forth, a locker on the end near the bathrooms or that they get a few extra minutes and/or help transitioning from class to class the first few weeks. These things can make a huge difference for your child.
- Practice Safe Cracking– Go out and buy a combination lock and have your child PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE with it all summer. The biggest fear that most kids have (General ED and those with IEPs) is lockers and getting to class on time. Most kids can get the numbers part, but it is the right- left -right thing that throws them off. If even after practicing for weeks it still is a source of frustration for your child, make sure to talk to the school about alternatives such as word combinations or even getting a key lock.
- Checking it once then checking it twice-Not whether your child is on the naughty or nice list… I’m talking your child’s schedule when you finally get it in the mail. Make sure that all those IEP services that you worked so hard to get included are there! If they are, great… now you can take that schedule and your child to the school before it starts and walk them through it. I suggest doing their A day schedule one day and then going back to do their B one. The good thing about this is that you are bound to see some of the teachers there and although they will be busy and may not be able to meet with you, at least your child will be able to put a face to a name.
With these tips and a lot of open communication with your case manager, your child will be on their way to a successful Middle School experience. Good luck!