Educators:  Are they in the industry for the paycheck and summer’s off OR Do they genuinely care about the special needs child?

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Educators: Are they in the industry for the paycheck and summer’s off OR Do they genuinely care about the special needs child?

I often ask myself this question even though I worked in the classroom for years prior to starting my own business as an educational consultant and special needs advocate.

This is the reason why I left teaching. I was tired of the politics and quite honestly the nonsense that was very prevalent within the school and even on a wider scale, the district.

Educators Actually Make Fun Of Your Child In Private

I can’t tell you how many times, I would take my lunch and sit in the teacher’s lounge during my break and walked out disgusted at the behavior that I witnessed. The staff would take this opportunity to talk about the students, make fun of them and just plain demean them. 

These are not people that care about the children.

This was not just in one school but in numerous ones as I initially worked as a substitute teacher and therefore allowed me to be in many schools in many districts. In my 24 years experience, 18 of those working for myself, I am disgusted each and every time I see how the children with special needs are treated and looked upon by the very people who are supposed to be in place to help them.

They All Say The Same Things To Placate You

How many times have you heard from your child’s school, more specifically their teachers: “Your child is a pleasure” or “Your child is doing so well” or “Your child is progressing nicely.” These statements from “educators” run rampid. They are meant to placate you, as the parent. In speaking with teachers, administrators, therapists, aides, etc. I hear the same exact verbage. 

It seems as though they have all been given a script to follow.

When you ask your child’s teacher questions, do you get a straight answer or do they “sugar coat” a response?

When you ask your child about a particular subject and what they learned, are they are able to answer correctly or at all, after you were told that they are progressing nicely and doing so well? 

Are you being told that your child has no socialization issues but the way your child acts outside of school would denote anything but? 

Are you told that your child does not have any behavior issues at school, but the reality is they do but will not admit it because it would shed light on the fact that the staff can’t handle your child which would be a direct admission of quite frankly, them being inept. Perhaps the staff has not been trained, perhaps after training they still don’t get it or perhaps they just don’t care OR it is a combination of them all.

They Don't Care.. At All

When it comes to teaching the special needs child, educators are overwhelmed. There are not enough hours in the day to focus on each child and their particular needs. Additionally, because districts do not want to pay, schools are short staffed and therefore many times the child is not receiving the support services that they are legally entitled to (per their IEP/504 Plan) or the individuals administering the services are not qualified and do a sub par job, at best.

Unfortunately, in order to help a special needs child properly, all of the pieces need to fit correctly. I have always thought of this process as a puzzle. There are many pieces that are required for a particular child. Each piece needs to be addressed separately first. 

Once this is done then each piece needs to be looked at as to how it fits in with all of the other pieces in order to yield a cohesive finished product. 

Unfortunately, when you work with many different individuals, not all of them are on the same level as to education, qualifications and just downright an attitude of engagement in order to make a difference for your child. 

Again, in my opinion and experience (this is what I have seen first hand) most educators look at the special needs child as a nuisance. One that is causing them to do more work and where there is an accountability factor. Everyone pushes the responsibility on the other and ultimately the situation becomes, as I compare it to, a dog chasing it’s tail. In this scenario, which is all too common, nothing gets done. 

The child is not receiving the help at the level and intensity that they should and therefore any progress, if at all, is slow and lackluster.

You Know Your Child Best... They Don't (no matter what their credentials say!)

It is very easy for school staff to sit at a conference table and tell you, the parent, what their opinion is. Quite frankly, if the information that you were being told was coming from a credible source who genuinely was invested in your child, then I would say that they would be worth listening to.

However, the bottom line is as parent, you know your child best and for some stranger to tell you what to do, how to do it, when to do is quite infuriating and crosses the line of being disrespectful towards you, your family and more specifically your child. 

Educators look at themselves as what they say is the gospel when in reality, they are blowing smoke in the wind. 

Educators look at each child and the assistance that they need as a “cookie cutter” industry. 

As you well know, each child is an individual and should be looked at and addressed that way.

Yes, each child may have an IEP or 504 Plan but is it followed and are the services administered, as the law states within these documents? 

Unfortunately, educators are lazy and don’t want to do their job, therefore it is easier for them and detrimental to your child when they look at your child within a group versus as a “special individual” with specific needs.

Evaluate Everyone.. Trust Few

My experience has brought me to the realization that a very small percentage of educators nowadays actually love their job and care about the kids. 

Very few individuals, nowadays, decided to enter into the educational realm for the pure love of helping the children. It is not just about helping the special needs children on a short term basis, but teaching them and providing the skills that they need to become a productive member of society.

When looking at a special needs child, everything should be looked at for the long term.  All of us can and should be productive members of society. 

We all are special in our own way with our own disabilities and an educator needs to find and tap into that special component of each child. Their job is to nurture and to help, not to dismiss who these children are, no matter what their difficulties are.

As I have said to parents many times in regards to their children: “You should not try to fit in when you were born to shine.” Everyone deserves the same chance to shine. No one has the right to take that away!

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School Tour: The Westfield Day School

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School Tour: The Westfield Day School

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

The Westfield Day School

 

Location

Armonk, New York

 

About the School

The Westfield Day School is a therapeutic school for the underachieving student.  The school and staff is dedicated to helping students overcome difficulties and personal issues.  This is done through designed programs that are carefully created for individual achievement.  
 

The Westfield Day School was formerly located in Rye, NY which is located in Westchester County.  Presently, they are located in Armonk, NY where they have been for a little over a year.  The location is new for them as well as the building.  The school has all state of the art technology with a perfect layout that is conducive for the students to move through the building seamlessly.  The students currently attending are from Westchester County, Rockland County and Connecticut.  The new location of the school, although in New York, is very close to the Connecticut border.
 

Westfield Day School's welcoming reception desk. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield Day School's welcoming reception desk. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield is a co-educational school for grades 7 through 12 with traditional school subjects and a standard curriculum.  The school offers rolling admissions so students can enroll any time during the year.

The Westfield Day School is based on 3 Principles:

  • An integrated support experience
  • A corrective learning environment
  • A comprehensive approach

The school’s approach is psycho-educational and supportive.  This includes individual and group therapy along with specialized instruction.

Westfield enables students to experience what is called a “corrective emotional experience.” This allows for the students to have the opportunity to handle school life under more “favorable circumstances.”

Lauretta Haugh, Special Education teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Lauretta Haugh, Special Education teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Julie Suchman, History teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Julie Suchman, History teacher. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Classes are small with no more than 5 students per teacher. 
 

Staff and faculty create an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement.  This helps keep students focused on their work, fosters personal growth, social development as well as encourages self-discipline.
 

A curriculum is developed that is based on the student’s application, prior evaluations and/or consultations with mental health professionals that have had an integral part of being involved with the child.  The curriculum developed includes a learning and therapeutic strategy.  All of this pertinent information is gathered in order to provide the Comprehensive Educational Plan.  This plan addresses each student’s psychological, educational or behavioral objectives, goals and needs.

Foreign language classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Foreign language classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 

Ideal Students

The “typical” student who attends Westfield have the following difficulties:

  • Underachievement even though the student is intelligent
  • AD/HD
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Social emotional problems
  • Additional Special Education classifications

 

Westfield starts later in the morning (9:30 AM) in order to allow students to begin their day at their best instead of very early when they may not be as productive.

 

In addition to students working on projects, attending seminar style classes, participating in gym and the Creative Arts program, they attend regularly scheduled group counseling sessions and individual meetings with the school therapist.

A quiet reading room for students. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A quiet reading room for students. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 

Programs

The core courses that Westfield offers include:

  • English
  • Global History, US History
  • Government, Economics, Psychology
  • Biology, Chemistry, Physics
  • Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calculus
  • Health, Physical Education
  • Spanish, French
  • Art, Music

 

The Interim Placement Program

Westfield offers an intensive program for students who are unable to remain in their current school during the academic year for various reasons.  The IPP (Interim Placement Program) can accept students at any time during the the school year for a minimum of 2 weeks.  Possible reasons for a student to attend could include needing a medical leave of absence, need an extended break from the private of public school they are currently attending or are in need of mental health or psycho-educational evaluations.  Once the student is accepted, they can continue their regular study toward their degree until they are ready to return to their original placement.

 

The Summer Program

This program is offered in the same way as the regular program, however it is for 3 - 1/2 days per week.  The summer program runs for 6 weeks.

For those students who need to maintain academic consistency throughout the summer, Westfield offers enrichment classes in language arts, creative arts, health and fitness.

The classes included are:

  • Academic remediation/enrichment
  • Regents review and preparation
  • SAT tutorial
  • Creative Arts Program
  • Westfield Book Club
  • Fitness series
  • High school preparation for middle school students
  • Young Writer’s Workshop

 

A social studies classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A social studies classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Some common questions that are asked:

Westfield Day School's lunch room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield Day School's lunch room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Will my child be able to meet the New York State Regents Exam requirements?  

Yes.  A regents exam preparation track is available for all students, who may take the state exams at Westfield.

SAT’s?

Westfield offers SAT preparation by qualified instructors, and the ETS (Educational Testing Service) has also approved Westfield as a testing site.

Is Westfield approved by the State?

The Westfield Day School is part of the New York State educational system.

How long do students stay at Westfield?

It varies.  Students may stay for a brief period, to finish an academic semester or as long as needed in order to graduate.

 

A quiet hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A quiet hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller


My Experience

I had the pleasure of meeting with the Academic Director, Pamela Heldman, who was kind enough to open the doors of The Westfield Day School in order to give me a tour of the school and educate me on what the school offers. 

The tour was not only informative but extremely comprehensive.  From walking through their doors and meeting the receptionist to meeting some of the children and staff, the environment is one of relaxation, non-judgmental, helpful and truly one of success.  EVERYONE that works at Westfield is totally engaged in the curriculum and most importantly with the students.  Each and everyone wants and strives for the children to succeed at their highest level possible. 

The staff have invested themselves and treat the children like they are their own and works tirelessly to help, teach, mentor and listen. 

Pamela was absolutely fantastic.  She explained everything in extreme detail and opened up the whole school to me in order to take photos and converse with multiple individuals. 

Harlee, the school's therapy dog. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Harlee, the school's therapy dog. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A great addition to the school is Harlee, the therapy dog.  She is the sweetest little dog who brings a smile to your face from the moment you see her.  Harlee followed Pamela and myself around the whole time I was there for the tour and as you can see from the picture I took of her, she is a real ham!  She loves the camera.

The conference room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

The conference room. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A colorful classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A colorful classroom. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

 

If your child fits into any of the categories in regards to the population that Westfield addresses, please feel free to contact Pamela for a tour.  It will be well worth your time.  I was very impressed with this school and all that it has to offer the students presently enrolled as well as any students that enroll in the future.  Time touring this school will be time well spent.  

Westfield Day School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Westfield Day School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

I would like to again personally thank Pamela for all of the time she spent with me.  My visit was nothing short of fantastic. 

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  School Tour: The Harbor School

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School Tour: The Harbor School

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

The Harbor School

 

Location

Eatontown, New Jersey
 

About The School

Harbor School is dedicated to providing a nurturing environment for students with a wide range of physical and academic challenges.  The programs that they have provide support in different areas.  These areas include social, life skills, transition as well as a wide range of therapy services.  The therapy services are Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, ST Counseling as well as BCBA.  Additionally, the school uses a variety of technology tools in order to serve the students.
 

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Programs

The academic programs at Harbor School include:

  • Literacy and Reading: An individualized approach is the way they work with the kids.  The school maintains the integrity of the New Jersey Learning Standards.
     
  • Language Arts: The curriculum is catered to the individual need of the student, therefore no two curricula are the same.  All the students  are exposed to a wide variety of language arts material.  The school is aligned to the Common Core Standards.
     
  • Handwriting: All students are encouraged to write and participate using the most appropriate model that fits their needs.
     
  • Math: All students partake in functional skills math.  Once again, an individualized plan is based on the need of each student.  This part of the curriculum is also followed by the New Jersey Learning Standards.
     
  • Social Studies: This part of the curriculum at Harbor not only teaches history but functional life skills as well.  Students are encouraged to go out to the community in order to put into practice what they have learned in the classroom.
     
  • World Language: Harbor teaches a variety of cultures.  They implement a whole school approach using Core words.  They also use the iPad, verbal speech as well as American Sign Language.
     
  • Science: A variety of topics are taught.  These topics are in accordance with the Next Generation Science Standards.  Science is approached using multi modes as it encourages students to use a hands on approach in order for them to learn at their highest potential.
     
  • Computers: Harbor uses a variety of computer based learning including Vizzle, Brain Pop as well as Learn 360, just to name a few.  Additionally, the students use tablets, iPads and other communication devices that allow for them to interact with their peers, family and staff while they are in school as well as when they are at home.
     
  • Health: The health curriculum is based on the age group as well as the individual needs.  The curriculum is developed in conjunction with their adaptive physical education program.  The program focuses on hygiene, healthy eating, advocating for yourself as well as requesting appropriate medical assistance.

Certified teachers are assisted by trained paraprofessionals who provide individualized as well as small group instruction within a small class setting.

 

Ideal Students

Challenging students who need to have their academic, functional, social, behavioral and transitional needs met.

 

Occupational therapy room

Occupational therapy room

My Experience

I was lucky enough to meet Anne Gunteski, Principal of Harbor School.  From the moment that I met with her, the love of the children and why she is at Harbor came shining through.  During our extensive tour, she acknowledged each and every child that we passed in the hallways as well as met in the classrooms.  She knew every child like the back of her hand.  The children felt comfortable in their surroundings, whether it was talking to Anne, learning in the classroom with their teacher or partaking in a special class like art or music.

Harbor School is a welcoming environment for any child whose needs fit their particular curriculum.  The children are very comfortable and happy with the environment that Harbor provides.  The learning skills that they are able to perfect while being at Harbor allows for them to carry forward once they graduate and therefore to become a productive member of society.

Harbor School is definitely a school that shines above in regards to what they provide academically as well as socially.

 

 

 

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At What Point Do You Need to Hire a Special Needs Advocate?

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At What Point Do You Need to Hire a Special Needs Advocate?

As a parent or caregiver of a child, there are many questions that you ask yourself regarding the huge responsibilities associated with such a position. These questions are magnified tremendously when your child is special needs.

 

Do you find yourself asking these questions on a consistent basis:

  • Am I handling this particular situation correctly?
  • Should I institute a time out for that behavior?
  • Is my child prepared to act appropriately in different situations - e.g. restaurant, wedding, playground?
  • How do I speak to my child at an appropriate level so they understand the issue as well as the repercussion?
  • How do I approach school issues and social issues with peers?
  • Are they well mannered?
  • Does my child need therapy? OT, PT, Speech, ABA Therapy, A smaller classroom (self contained) or be mainstreamed in for certain subjects and time of day?
  • My child does not pick up on queues, what do I do?

 

The list can go on and on. 

These seem like very basic questions to ask yourself however for a special needs child, they are not so basic. 

More time and effort needs to be spent on each of these and perhaps broken down into smaller pieces. All of these can be worked on between home and school with the assistance of the school staff and therapists. Remember that for your child to succeed, there MUST be a collaboration between home and school. If your child is not receiving this help in addition to other assistance and you have spoken to the school numerous times in regards to providing this, then you need to come to the realization that you can not do this alone.

If you have sent endless emails, had endless conversations with all of the individuals that work with your child on a daily basis as well as the administration and nothing is changing, then it is time that you hire an advocate. Do not let your child’s school sugar coat your child’s day, their needs and the actual learning environment. Putting your child in a classroom with a teacher or an aid for a substantial part of the day with no other students just because they do not want to deal with the child perhaps having an issue with another student, is unacceptable.

  • If your child needs support services and the school does not believe that in fact the child does, you need an advocate. 
  • If your child has an IEP or 504 Plan in place and is still not receiving what these legal and binding documents state, you need an advocate.
  • If you feel as though your child is not placed in the proper learning environment, you need an advocate.
  • If you child requires additional support services and the school is not open to making that change, you need an advocate.
  • If your child’s behavior is progressively becoming worse, you need an advocate.
  • If your child is attending school and all the school is doing is pushing your child through because they do not want to commit to your child and help them to succeed, you need an advocate.
  • If the school is representing your child academically “much better” than they are actually doing just to pacify you, you need an advocate. Schools will have a child “cheat” with the help of staff so they can justify that no new services need to be implemented or what is in place currently does not need to be changed. Time and time again the school states, “your child is doing so well” when in reality that “A” that your child received on the latest test was because a staff member “guided” the student with the correct answers. The results are not true to form.

 

How many times have you heard from staff, therapists and administration when you go to your child’s school: “Your child is so sweet” or “He/She is such a pleasure” or “He/She is doing so well.” Bluntly put, these are all smoking mirrors to make it seem as if they care and have a handle on what is going on, what is needed and that they truly know your child. Do not let this change your feeling as to what is REALLY going on.

 

There are a multitude of scenarios however each and every one deserves the time and effort in order to provide an optimal system of learning, socializing and growing. Each case should be approached individually. No two children are alike and therefore my advice is do not let your child’s school lump them into a group. Each and every child should be looked at on a case by case basis. If the school does not do this, then you ABSOLUTELY need an advocate.

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and intimidated, you NEED a great advocate to dissect and make sense of everything. 

A great advocate will clear time with the school and go and observe your child. By going into the school and watching your child within different venues of their day is a real eye opener. This helps exponentially to get a clearer vision of the situation and allows you to determine what is your next move. Schools depend on the fact that parents look to them for guidance and help. The reality is, there are very few schools who are genuinely looking out for your child’s best interest and want to be an integral part of who that child becomes.

 

Life is full of learning opportunities, however you need to know when to seize those opportunities. Children with special needs can and will be successful at them, however they need that help. Whether it be from family, friends, school staff or an advocate. They deserve every opportunity that is available. A great advocate can make sense of it all, put into practice what needs to be done and help not only the child to move forward but the family as well.

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Are You Tired of Being Intimidated by Your Child’s School and Their Staff? Here’s What You Need to Know

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Are You Tired of Being Intimidated by Your Child’s School and Their Staff? Here’s What You Need to Know

I cannot tell you how many times parents contact me about the massive amount of problems they are having with their child’s school. 

At times, it can be that their child is not receiving the support services that they are legally entitled to. At times, their child is receiving “support services” however the quality of the service and the caliber of the individual administering them is not qualified and therefore is sub-par, at best. At times, the services are provided when the individual “feels like it.” Last but not least, the individuals providing the services are just not “the right fit.” Unfortunately, this happens all too often and only provides a greater level of frustration for the child and the family.

 

If you have experienced any of these scenarios or are currently going through this situation, what you need to know is that it does not have to be this way and that it needs to stop immediately. 

As many of you know, early intervention is the key. However, if you have started the process, perhaps not as early as you would have liked, the investment in time should yield the same positive results.  

As I have stated before, in order for a child to thrive and be successful, one specific item needs to be the constant throughout. That is, there must be a collaboration between home and school. If this is non existent, then your uphill battle will become that much more difficult.

 

As a parent, you know your child best. 

Therefore, whatever the school staff and administration tells you, can be weighed against your knowledge of your child and their needs along with the guidance of your child’s neurologist. In a later post, I will address how to find a great pediatric neurologist. No matter what your child’s school tells you, you should never make any decision hastily. Think about it and tell them that you will get back to them within 48 hours - and make sure you do. You always want to present yourself as professional and “do what you say.” 

 

You may not agree with what you are being told by your child’s school. Please know, THAT IS OK. 

You do not have to agree on everything or anything that they say. Also know, this is where the pressure and the intimidation will rear it’s ugly head. NEVER feel pressured. Believe it or not, you are in control. Many schools and their personnel feel that they have the right to tell you what you need to do for your child, when they do not. They also feel they have the right to hound you until you give in. DO NOT GIVE IN! They makes themselves bigger than they are and make themselves appear more powerful than they are. Individuals who do this are weak and are using their intimidation tactics to make up for THEIR inadequacies. School personnel also will always back each other up even when some may know what they are saying is not the truth. They seem to believe that there is power in numbers and therefore this would help put pressure on the parent. 

 

Write Everything Down.

Whether you are just starting the journey to have your child classified or have been in this process for a while, one of the the most important things to remember is to put everything in writing. ALL correspondence needs to be sent via email so you have a trail of communication. This applies for the family as well as the school. Make it clear from the beginning, that all correspondence that the school sends you, whether it be the teacher notifying you of the type of day your child had or a particular grade on a test or a behavior issue - DO NOT respond unless it is communicated in writing. By doing this, it shows the school that you are taking the reigns of the situation. This also makes the school accountable for their actions as if they do not comply with your request, it only makes them look bad. Should you have a conversation with any staff member on the phone, YOU MUST follow up that conversation with an email summarizing the conversation. Always, thank them for letting you know about “XYZ” and you will be in touch with them to follow up. 

REMEMBER, PUT EVERYTHING IN WRITING!! 

Too many times parents have conversations or are in the school for something and there is no accounting for that time. SCHOOL PERSONNEL WILL ALWAYS LIE! THEY WILL ALWAYS DENY THAT THEY SAID WHAT YOU ARE STATING THEY IN FACT SAID OR DID. By putting everything in writing, not only does this give you a timeline of actions but true accountability on both sides - home and school. Remind the individuals that you are only trying to do the best for your child and so should they. For the parents that I have worked with, this has always worked. After being intimidated by school staff, the parent has started emailing everything as well as put forth the process that is expected by them - the intimidation has stopped. When the staff knows that they can be called out on something they have said or done and there is no evidence of them doing such, they again get away with it. Once this expectation is put into place, staff members will think twice in regards to what they do and certainly what they say to the parents.  

 

Your child can be helpful here.

Additionally, please encourage your child to tell you the best they can how their day was. If there were any incidences, verbal or otherwise with staff, any situations where they were made to feel uncomfortable or anything that may be construed as not part of a “normal day.” 

Keep a log at home with the date and what your child tells you. 

DO NOT TELL THE SCHOOL YOU ARE KEEPING THIS LOG and DO NOT TELL YOUR CHILD THAT YOU ARE KEEPING THIS LOG EITHER. 

The last thing you want is for your child inadvertently to say something to anyone at the school, child or staff. This is what I call “tipping your hat.” You NEVER want to do this. If after doing this, you are still having a problem with intimidation, it may be time to hire an advocate. Although staff will continue to lie, a good advocate will keep on top of the situation, request a school visit in order to get a first hand look into the child’s day during different classes. A good advocate knows what to look for and therefore will question situations and interactions seen at the time of the visit. In my 18 years of working as an educational consultant and advocate, I have never had a school who had not responded to my emails or therefore any other requests that I have made. This requires constantly pursuing them.  

 

You ARE in charge.

As a parent, you need to be in charge within yourself as well as with the school. Your demeanor, legitimate requests as well as putting everything in writing should change the dynamics that you have with the school. If it does not, then you will have to give some thought as to what your next step should be. As the saying goes: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Remember, YOU are the chef and the school is the sous chef. They take direction from you.

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School Tour: Sage Day

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School Tour: Sage Day

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

Sage Day

Location

 Mahwah, New Jersey

 

About The School

Sage Day School is a private, credited, therapeutic school located in Northern New Jersey that admits children grades 4 through 12.  Sage Day has four (4) different locations: Sage Day Middle and High School located in Princeton, New Jersey, Sage Day High School located in Boonton, New Jersey, Sage Day Lower/Middle School located in Mahwah, New Jersey and Sage Day High School located in Rochelle Park, New Jersey.

 

Programs

Regardless of which Sage Day School a child attends, they focus on 4 Key Features:

  1. Student Well Being
  2. Community - Focused Culture
  3. Customized Therapy and Academics
  4. The Sage Graduate

 

Additionally, they use a Team Approach which is very basic.  Faculty, therapists and the appropriate staff meet on a regular basis to discuss the student’s needs as well as issues.  Communication is key here as it is imperative that everyone is all on the same page and working with the child to allow for the optimal positive result.  

Strong academics are a must.  The school’s goal is to serve the whole child, from their academics to their emotional needs to social situations.  I envision the school as a puzzle - all the pieces have to fit properly and work together seamlessly.  At times, when it does not, appropriate changes are made with the only goal being of serving the child completely.

Complimenting the strong academics is a comprehensive clinical program that includes individual, group and family therapy that is completed during the school day.  Many times the child is tired to first go to an outside therapist after school or perhaps the parent or caregiver do not have the means to bring the child to an outside therapist. For whatever the reason, having the child be able to fulfill the therapeutic needs at the school make it easier for everyone, especially the child.  Most important it allows for the child to feel the most comfortable in an environment that is safe for them to speak freely and not feel judged.

 

 

Ideal Students

The population that attend Sage Day are considered to be emotionally fragile.  This fragility can be present for many reasons but the most important aspect is that it is being addressed head on with caring, interested, well qualified people who are at Sage Day for all the right reasons.  Some diagnosis’s that the children possess are depression, anxiety disorder, school phobia as well as others.  The school has a comprehensive intake procedure in order to see if a child genuinely belongs at Sage Day.  If it is determined that Sage Day is not the appropriate placement for a child, they will be very forthcoming with the family and tell them so.

 

My Experience

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Sage Day School located in Mahwah, New Jersey and meeting with the Executive Director, John Reilly and Clinical Director, Alison Hipscher.

 

Mahwah, NJ location. Photo courtesy of Sage Day

Mahwah, NJ location. Photo courtesy of Sage Day

From the moment I walked into the school, I was greeted by the secretary to the principal, who was welcoming, kind and exuded such pleasure working in this school.  From there, I went on to meet the principal who was just as welcoming, kind and possessed a strong demeanor of someone who was in control and ran a “tight ship.”

I was lucky enough to spend a considerable amount of time speaking with John and Alison in order to learn about Sage Day, their curriculum, their support services and the environment that the school lends itself to in regards to not only the students but their families, which is so important.  Why, you ask?  The family is such an integral part of the success of each and every student who attends, whether it be the lower, middle or high school level.

Alison was kind enough to give me the tour of the school, explaining everything in depth with leaving no stone unturned.  We spent a considerable amount of time together: visiting the classrooms, the therapy rooms, meeting some of the students (which were so sweet and happy) as well as meeting some of the staff.  Everyone that I met was happy, had a positive feeling of engagement and truly wanted to be there and loved what they were doing.

The staff and administration set expectations and standards that are followed however they continually evaluate them in order to improve.

The time I spent at Sage Day - Mahwah was uplifting, hopeful and genuinely a ray of sunshine for the children who are sometimes not “taken care of” as they should be.  It was time well spent and if appropriate, I would recommend Sage Day to families hands down.  This school is a diamond in the ruff should you be interested in finding a school within their geographical area.

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How to Find An Amazing Special Education Advocate For Your Child

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How to Find An Amazing Special Education Advocate For Your Child

As a parent, there are many decisions that need to be made in regards to your child. Some decisions have more of a major impact than others but nonetheless, each one creates a piece of the road that they will follow for now and moving forward.

If you have done some research, you will know that there are many, many individuals that advertise themselves as advocates. 

A good majority of them, talk about how they were able to get services for THEIR child. This does not make a person a good advocate or an advocate at all. They do not have a degree that is associated with children or psychology nor have they been advocating as a serious professional. Boasting that one is an advocate and taking on a case here or there or filling up some spare time that they might have during the day, again does not make one an advocate.

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked into other “advocates.” I find them in Google or in a directory. My point of researching others that claim they are an advocate is purely to educate myself on who is out there and what they are proposing to provide to families. 

The majority do not have experience with children at all. 

They have never been in the classroom, have never counseled children, have never served as a therapist for children, whether it be ABA or any other type. How can one be an advocate if they have never been in the classroom, worked with children or understand how the school districts work? This is my point. They can’t be! 

They aren't running a legit business.

Additionally, upon finding other “advocates,” I have tried to contact them whether it be by phone or email. More times than not, the phone number listed does not work and when clicking on their website, that does not work either. It is either expired or the page says it is under construction. You cannot do business like this. If this has happened to you, please beware. There are many people posing as an advocate but all they really do is take your money and provide no results. Yes, they may advertise free consultations, cheaper rates and more but the bottom line is that if you use these people, you are putting yourself into a vulnerable situation of spending money (no matter how cheap it may seem) and your child will still not be receiving the support services that they need. As the old adage goes: You get what you pay for.

Should you decide to hire an advocate, one of their responsibilities is to tell you the scope of your case at the beginning, not at the end. 

What seems to be from a financial situation, a “bargain” will more times than not become a black hole. As time progresses, you will be continually paying this individual and ultimately have yourself, what appears to be, another mortgage payment each month. Again, transparency is the key. No advocate can predict with 100% certainty what services they can get approved for your child however, if they are skilled at what they do then they can certainly provide you with a scenario close to the actual outcome.

The only goal is to advocate in order for your child to receive the appropriate support services that will allow them to grow and flourish in addition to educate them and prepare them for their bright future.

How To Evaluate An Advocate

On the other hand, finding a good advocate is easier than one might think. When you find one, look at their website - it should be totally transparent. A website is a must. If the individual does not have one, DO NOT HIRE THEM!  Everything should be listed and questions you may have in your mind should be answered. If you have additional questions, you should call - the phone number should work and speak with the individual directly. If the number does not work, DO NOT HIRE THEM! Within a short period of time, you will know if that person is qualified to represent your child or not. The key is to ask alot of questions: about their education, their experience as well as their process. If you are still not clear on these things then DO NOT HIRE THEM! 

True advocates will have recommendations from other families that they have worked with. Many times, these are testimonials on their site. Keep in mind, the information for each child is extremely confidential and should be kept as such, however some advocates may have parents that are willing to speak with you directly in order to explain their own personal experience.  

I have worked with many families that before coming to me have had a negative experience with a different advocate. Some problems included not returning phone calls, not answering emails to them as well as to school personnel, not showing up at a meeting, whether it be in person or over the phone and the list goes on and on. This is totally unacceptable! As a family, you are totally invested in your child and therefore the advocate should no doubt, be as well. Ask around for recommendations. The majority of my business is based on referrals from families that I have previously worked with as well as the many schools that I personally have visited.  

School Recommendations

I will never recommend a school to a family unless I myself have personally met the staff, children and toured the facility. Each school that I have on my referral list is vetted by me personally. Anyone can throw out a name but it does not mean that it would be the appropriate fit for the child. For me, every family that I work with and every child that I represent, is approached on a very personal level. Each and every child that I work with is treated as though they are my own and therefore I would not recommend anything that I did not feel would be 100% helpful.

Choosing the wrong advocate, sets you back in time, money and most importantly your child’s progress.

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Is Your Child’s School REALLY Putting Their Best Interests First?

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Is Your Child’s School REALLY Putting Their Best Interests First?

Through my 18 years as being an advocate for special needs children, I have seen many different situations and problems that families are forced to face. First, hearing and having to accept your child’s diagnosis and second - what to do next. From changes within the family to the child’s academic environment, parents are confused and overwhelmed.

Although the public school system offers many different support services, parents need to go through a process of finding a competent physician who can diagnosis the child properly before even sitting down with the school to discuss the changes and services needed for that child. In a follow up post, I will discuss how to find a doctor who genuinely will work with the family in order to help the child reach the goals set before them.

Schools Districts Aren't What You Think

Unfortunately, in some cases school districts do not offer many support services. Perhaps the services are not available in the specific school that their child attends and therefore may have to enroll in a different school within the district. Sometimes, the school district that the family lives in does not have the appropriate services at all and then the child would need to attend a school within a different district. Or in some case scenarios, the child does not belong in the public school system at all and requires to attend a therapeutic school. In order to determine what is best for the child, the process can be long and drawn out.

The majority of schools that I have had interactions with blatantly refuse to send a child out of district and moreso do not admit that the child needs a therapeutic learning environment at all. Although each child is different, I hear the same verbiage from the schools. They say they can handle the child, they say that the child is doing well ( in some cases, the child is exceeding expectations), they say that things don't change overnight and the family needs to give it time. I have had this conversation with schools (too many times to count), but the bottom line is everything that they are saying in each of these cases is false. The majority of schools and their staff blatantly lie. Why? Because they want to exude the image that they are doing everything right and the problem lies within the family unit. It makes their job easier by just sweeping the situation under the rug. The truth is: in order for a child to flourish not only academically but personally, there needs to be a collaboration between home and school. Without that, everything becomes an uphill battle. The school ends up providing an environment that DOES NOT lend itself to learning and growing but creates an environment of anxiety for the child.

 

You Won't Believe This

Many of the horror stories that I have heard from families range from staff bullying the child to a security guard at a public school grabbing the child to staff members changing grades on a paper and/or test so it makes the school “look good” to telling the parent that the best way to handle their child because they are disruptive is to put them in a classroom by themselves with a staff member of some type for the day, everyday, until the child “gets better.” The school engages in this behavior because they do not want to deal with the child and the issues at hand. I equate this with being put in solitary confinement. How does this help the child? It doesn’t! 

However, the most disturbing instance was when the school called CPS on a mother and had her arrested. Why you ask? The child had been bullied relentlessly. The mother spoke to the school over and over again about this and they never addressed it. The bullying became so bad that the child came home one day with choke marks on his neck. The mother immediately called the school to notify them and they made up an excuse by saying the child was just playing with other students and it was nothing. After that incident, the mom was frightened for her child to continue attending that specific school. She communicated this to the school along with the many other times she explained to them how the school was not an appropriate learning environment for her child nor a place where she felt he was safe. They ignored it in the past as well as dismissed the latest occurrence. Due to the fact that she kept her child home and ultimately because CPS was contacted by the school, she was arrested. Now mind you, she not only was trying to take care of her child but she herself had to retain a criminal defense attorney in regards to the arrest. This is one of the most horrific examples of how school districts manipulate and lie while not being proactive to address the initial bullying situation with the child. The staff and administrators are lazy. They don’t want to work and they certainly don’t want to help; which by the way is their job.

 

Schools Manipulate

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in a meeting whereby every single staff member and administrator have communicated the same piece of information in the same way. Be aware, that prior to any meeting that you, as a parent has scheduled, everyone (staff and administrators) have had a meeting amongst themselves prior. They talk about the case, decide what they will and will not say and attend that meeting in order to intimidate the parent (s) or caregiver (s). Some parents have equated walking into a meeting feeling as though they are a part of a firing line. How awful and inexcusable when the school is “supposed” to be helping your child. They push you against the wall and make you feel as though you have no choice but to accept what they are saying. You ALWAYS have a choice and do not let them tell you otherwise. NEVER sign any papers until you have read them fully and had someone else look over them as well. Whether that be your spouse, a family member, an advocate or attorney.

I have one nightmare story after another in regards to families hiring an advocate and/or attorney. This topic, I will address in a future post. Not all advocates and attorneys are the same, so beware and if you are at that point, question everything until you have all your questions answered fully. If you still have any questions or do not feel right about that individual, DO NOT HIRE THEM! Your gut feeling is usually right.

 

Be Wary Of Helping Hands

In my opinion, there are very few individuals who get into the education industry to genuinely help the child. For the ones that do, they do a phenomenal job and are an integral part of that child’s life. These are the people that a child will remember moving forward and be ever so grateful for the time and interest spent on their behalf. However, on the flip side, most educators are in this industry because “it’s a job.” They have no dedication, interest or feelings of empathy for these children who genuinely need the specialized support services. I have seen first hand how support services change a child. They allow the child to progress, become very good at something which in turn increases their self esteem exponentially and allows them to feel part of something larger.

 

Special Needs Children Deserve The World

Should you feel as though the school your child is attending, whether it be public, private or even a therapeutic one is not providing the appropriate learning environment coupled with the appropriate services, make that change. With children who are special needs, time is of the essence and change is very difficult. As hard as the situation is on you, it is even harder for your child. Remember, they did not ask for this but what they are asking for is your help to do the right thing for them. Special needs children are just that - SPECIAL!

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School Tour: Riverview School

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School Tour: Riverview School

As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, I periodically visit special needs schools to tour in person because I only recommend schools to my clients that I have personally visited and vetted. This blog post series highlights the top special needs schools in the United States I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and gives an inside look at what makes them so great.

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School

Riverview School

Location

Cape Cod, Massachusetts 

 

About The School

Riverview School is an independent, coeducational boarding/day school that is located in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  The children that attend range from ages 12 to 22 years old and possess varying complex language and learning issues which include Down Syndrome, Autism as well as intellectual disabilities.  They are located on a sprawling 16 acre campus that is pristine and extremely welcoming.

 

Programs

Riverview has two (2) programs available.  One is the Middle/High School which is for students 12 -19 years old as well as a program called GROW, which stands for Getting Ready for the Outside World.  The GROW program encompasses students 17 - 22 years old who have complex language, learning and cognitive problems.

Artwork by the children of Riverview School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Artwork by the children of Riverview School. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Riverview offers many opportunities for students on different levels.  Cafe Riverview is certainly one of them.  This cafe is a hands-on classroom for the students that are enrolled in the GROW program.  For those students who are interested in food service, they are afforded the opportunity to learn about the hospitality industry whereby they are educated in restaurant operations and how to prepare food and serve it to the public.  Their hours of operation are 6:30 am to 2:00 pm everyday and as a bonus they are also equipped with Wi-Fi.  The students love working here as it boosts their self esteem and allows them to be a huge part of the their own success.  If you are ever in the area or just passing through, going to Riverview Cafe would be an absolutely treat.  

Riverview School offers a wonderful athletic program to the Middle/High School students which is totally inclusive.  Emphasis is put on sportsmanship and teamwork.  This program is modified in order to meet the needs of the students.  The program offers soccer, basketball, softball, tennis, cross country and track and field.  Each student is able to sign up for one sport per season with a total of three (3) seasons.

For the GROW students, the school offers health, nutrition and fitness.  The students can choose from participating in Zumba, yoga, intramural sports or can use the Wellness Center.  The Wellness Center has been completely updated and is beautiful.  I was extremely impressed with all the types of equipment offered.  The Wellness Center is staffed with a certified fitness instructor who works on not only the physical equipment component but nutrition as well.

 

Ideal Students

Students that attend Riverview have been diagnosed with varying disabilities, some of which are anxiety, autism, down syndrome and dyslexia.  These are just a few of the disabilities that Riverview focuses on however there are many more.

 

My Experience

From the moment I drove up the school, I was impressed with the layout of the campus as well as the dynamics between some of the students.  As I made my way into the main building, I saw students socializing, laughing and joking around.  This spoke volumes to me as it represents the environment and all it means to these students.  Students that attend here are from all over the country.

A welcoming and pristine hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

A welcoming and pristine hallway. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Environment

The school focuses on the “whole child” so all facets of the child are met.  They have built a non-competitive, success oriented program so each child feels comfortable and can take risks although it might be “out of the box.”  The school’s main goal is help each child gain the academic, social and independent living skills needed in order for them to achieve THEIR goals.  

The school provides a very nurturing and accepting environment whereby the students are surrounded by their peers and therefore they feel as though they are part of a community that works together to reach the same goals.  There is total acceptance and no one is left to feel as though they are an outsider.  This school allows for each child to achieve their personal best whether it be through academics, athletics, cooking or taking on responsibility as in specific chores.  They are allowed to find the best within themselves and nurture that with the constant and positive enforcing assistance of every staff member at the school.

Dorms

The dorms that the children live in feel like “home.”  They are decorated to make one feel welcomed.  Each student has beautifully made their space their own which in turn makes them feel happy.  However, just like home, the students do have chores that they are required to complete.  They are required to keep their space clean as well as doing their own laundry at an off campus laundromat that the school transports them to, just to name a few.

The school has a lovely library whereby it provides all that is needed to complete any assignment for any class.

Entrance to the library. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Entrance to the library. Photo by Ilene B. Miller

Students

I had the pleasure of meeting many students within three (3) of the classrooms I visited.  Each and every one of them was welcoming, funny, smart as well as attentive.  They were asked to stop what they were doing for that moment and focus their attention on me in order to introduce themselves and to provide me with a little information about them.  Each and every one of them had different personalities but the one thing that was uniform in all the students was how happy they were to be at Riverview.  They were asked how they liked living and attending Riverview.  Each of them gave me the thumbs up and told me how amazing the school was.  The majority of the students had attended for several years and felt as though it was home.

I was surprised to hear several students tell me they are from around the country, and not nearby. Despite being so far from their family, they seemed thrilled to be at Riverview with their school family.

They were sweet, caring and many told me to enjoy my tour of the school while many thanked me for coming to their school. It’s a place where they can flourish, be themselves, be accepted and challenged to become better and stronger.  All with the goal for them to be prepared for the world ahead.  Every individual that I met from administrators to staff were wonderful.  They had a smile on their face and you could genuinely see that they love what they do and they genuinely want to see these children succeed. They seem to treat each child as though they were their own.  The commitment and interest was overwhelming and extremely impressive.

Riverview School is a one in a million educational opportunity for the students that attend here.

Riverview has made my list of the top schools to refer out to families that I work with. My criteria is extremely stringent so many schools that I visit do not make my list, however Riverview School gets a check mark for everything.

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