Thursday, September 17, 2015

HOME - School

Gianna has been in school for a month!  What a journey it's been!  She is doing REMARKABLE as per usual, and I'm able to relax a bit and reflect.  I praise God for the choices we made - I'm optimistic about them.  I can't say enough about our school district - they have been amazing.  That first meeting - I didn't know what to expect.  I basically went to tell them a bit about her background, my concerns about her social anxiety, and ask their advice.  I was ready to fight for special services and did not need to.  They were happy to accommodate my every wish for her socially, and are giving her all the support they can in reading, English vocabulary and math.  They recommended we wait to get her officially evaluated (like for an IEP) until she knows more English - maybe later in the winter.  This is supposedly what schools always say and it's not supposed to be this way.  They're by law supposed to get a translator and do an evaluation as soon as it can be done.  However, I had no problem with this plan for several reasons.  Firstly, they were giving her a lot of academic support anyway (my expectations for her academically are rock bottom this year, though, just because - you know - everything).  Secondly, they are accommodating my every request to make sure that school is first and foremost a pleasant environment and she is not a slave to her anxiety.  Thirdly, at that point in her journey, she was withdrawing when she heard the Russian language and was not responding at. all. to any directives given by a stranger.  So an evaluation at that time would have been not only traumatic, but simply inaccurate information.  This is my belief.
So, what did we do to ease her into an American school system?  We took every single piece of advice given to us by our support team and did it all.  And I'm glad we did it.  I would not change a thing.  She was just ready enough for every turn we led her on.  Here is a run-down:

Prior to school: 3 school tours to see her room, bathrooms, cafeteria, playground etc; met with the teacher once (nothing fancy or long - just a hello); got to see her desk once before Open House; I had a lengthy meeting with the teacher giving her articles, a letter I had written, explaining Gianna and her behaviors, and answering her questions.

Open House: got there half an hour early to talk to the teacher and leisurely put her things in her desk.  As soon as more kids showed up and I was getting signs from her that she was about to shut down, we left.

First day of school: I prepped her on the course of the day, where I would be sitting, and that I couldn't hold or carry her.  We left at noon.

Second day of school: I went with her, sat in the back of the class again, but took an hour to have a meeting and make myself scarce until I rejoined her before lunch.  Left at noon again.

Third and fourth days of school to complete the first week:  I dropped her off, explained and gave her a clock and a picture schedule, picked her up after lunch.

Second week of school: Dropped her off and picked her up at 2:30 every day (after special classes like art and music)

Third and fourth weeks of school: Dropped her off and picked her up every day at the end of the day.

She responded well with each change - a day or two of controlling behaviors with each adjustment including the day she had a substitute teacher unexpectedly - and then she was content and responsive again.  She needed a lot of assistance for a while even with writing anything (her anxiety would make her pretty frozen in performing tasks).  Now she does things pretty willingly and each week gets more and more relaxed.  Earlier this week the teacher mentioned how she smiled at something another child said.  That was a first, and I hope a first of many.

Gianna on her first day of school.

My big girl.