It’s MAY(hem)

Hi everybody!
I’m sorry for my absence from the blogosphere! To be honest, the reason is April Showers…we’ve had a month-full of ministry opportunities, including some extra writing projects, two out-of-town-conferences, planning for more JAM Sessions, and some wonderful chances to chat with some VERY enthusiastic pastors and volunteers. So…my blog has taken a  back seat. However, the April Showers will hopefully be bearing lots of flowers (or, in Biblical terms, fruit!) So excited to share new ideas and materials with you in the coming weeks and months.

The other reason is that my computer has taken ill.  It’s making good progress, and we are seeing definite signs of improvement. However, my operating systems are toast, hence no pictures or graphics in this post. Sorry about that.

This month, I’m going to be welcoming you to my “Mother ‘hood.” I’ve gathered an amazing group of women who are raising exceptional children. Each of them is an encouragment to me and I’m a better mom (and a better person) for knowing them. I know they’ll enrich your ministry (and your parenting) as well.

I’ll also be updating you on some opportunities for training. We love to meet new friends when we’re on the road, and we will be traveling quite a bit over the next few months. AND…we’ve had some great fun during the past month. I’ll post pictures from some of our adventures and tell you what we learned.

As the title for this post indicates, May is, for me, the BUSIEST month of the year. It rivals Christmas time, I believe, with the intensity of schedules, end-of-school-year concerts and ceremonies, and  Memorial Day festivities. This week alone, our family has four concerts, a seminar, a service project, a missions meeting and youth group on the docket. See what I mean? May(hem). (I know it’s the same for you, too).

And…this year, we have a brand new set of responsibilities related to one very big word:
GRADUATION

In less than one month, we’ll be sitting in the stadium, listening to “Pomp and Circumstance” and watching Annie receive her diploma.

People ask me, “How are you handling this?”

Well…

I cry periodically, with no warning whatsoever.
I have a strange lump in my throat that can only be attributed to a mixture of pride and nostalgia.
I’m overwhelmed.
I’m overjoyed.
I’m overtired.

I’m thankful.

That about sums it up…for now.

This blog post has been a bit all-over-the-place. But I told you why…

It’s MAY(hem).

One day at a time, everybody.
Love,

Katie

Team WORK: Transitioning from School to the Workplace

Photo courtesy CEVEC

Last week I attended a career assessment meeting with a client at the Cuyahoga East Vocational Education Consortium.(CEVEC). This center is designed to provide “vocational and work training to high school aged students with disabilities.” CEVEC is now housed in a recently renovated building, and it positively  buzzes with productivity.

The team assembled in a quiet, comfortable conference room near the main office. Tim Velotta, Career Assessment Specialist, reviewed the results of the testing and educated the group about the next steps in the process. He also explained some of the differences between services and supports at high school and the workplace. Students who are identified with a disability that affects education have Individualized Education Plans, which, as TIm described are “designed to help students succeed.” However, when students transition from public school services to the “real world,” they will receive accommodations–not services– under the Americans with Disabilities Act. At this point, Tim said, “Success is no longer guaranteed.”

This is a scary, and sometimes difficult transition for parents (and for students, too!). For many parents, this presents a touch point of grief; the realization that the child is not following the same college and career path as his/her peers hurts. Even if the parents feel that they have accepted their child’s disability, these kinds of transitions often involve “re-grieving.”

In addition, there are questions! Parents and students want to know what the day will be like, how goals will be accomplished and what the expected outcomes might be. Finally, students and parents might also be excited about the possibilities and experiences ahead, as well as the new levels of independence and fresh experiences in the offing.

In reviewing the variety of job opportunities, Tim described how he and his team evaluate students for job training. The three main criteria assessed are work speed, work accuracy, and level of independence.  In addition, the team assesses  students’ employability skills…the “soft skills” that are necessary for successful employment. These include seeking help when needed, ability to recognize and correct mistakes, flexibility and respect for self and others. Once the assessment is complete, students are placed into a job training program that meets their individual needs. The exciting part? The training they receive involves tasks that directly benefit the community!

What lessons can the Church learn from this process? How can we support families in this unique transition to adulthood?

  • Recognize that this transition might evoke sadness or loss in parents and students. Be willing to affirm those feelings and listen without judgment.
  • Celebrate the transition with the family. If the parents and student are excited about the possibilities, by all means, send a card or make a phone call to give your best wishes. Taking a step toward adulthood is a big deal! Follow the family’s lead and rejoice with them in this new opportunity.
  • Offer opportunities for service at church. It’s important to think beyond the service opportunities we usually assign to teens. Not every student will be able to play the guitar, volunteer in the nursery, or go on a mission trip…and that’s okay. It’s important for us to consider the gifts of the students in our churches and provide opportunities for them to make a contribution to the Body using those gifts. (this is true for both typically developing students as well as students affected by disabilities!)
  • Emphasize the “soft skills.” Reinforcing students’ ability to respect authority, follow directions and make good choices not only builds their employability…it  builds the Church.  When we teach these qualities at church, we can emphasize the greater purpose in demonstrating these qualities, and give our students the knowledge that they can glorify God in the workplace through their attitudes and behavior.
  • Consider collaborating with a center like CEVEC. During my visit at the center, I asked Tim Velotta if students can be placed in jobs at churches. “Absolutely!” he enthused. He listed several “go-to” community organizations that have provided support and training to CEVEC students. If your church feels led, explore this opportunity to reach out to the community.
  • Be a safe haven. Transitioning to the work world can be scary. Students need to know that their church stands with them, ready to commisserate about the rough days and celebrate the successful ones…because that’s what families do.

Working together~
Katie

Meet My Child! {Proactive Partnering in One Page}

The teacher looked at me with a mixture of frustration, embarrassment and exhaustion.

“So what do you want me to do?”

I tried…oh, how I tried, to be diplomatic. However, my own exhaustion and frustration took over, and I replied tersely, through clenched teeth, “I just want you to follow the IEP. Have you read it?”

He didn’t respond.

I turned and walked directly into the principal’s office. Mercifully, he was available. I sat down and burst into tears. My child had failed a science test, largely because the testing accommodations on the IEP hadn’t been followed. It was a simple break down in communication, but it had caused a “series of unfortunate events,” from my child’s meltdown at home to my unproductive discussion with the science teacher to the principal’s office, where the sympathetic, yet puzzled administrator regarded me, at a loss for what to say.

As I reflected on the situation later, I pondered what went wrong. The science teacher hadn’t been given a copy of my child’s records. It’s easy to see how it could happen. After all, schools are filled with human beings, and mistakes happen. (I also reflected on my own communication with this teacher, and the mistakes I made in that conversation…not my best moment as a mom.)

This experience was one of the first times my child was dealing with multiple teachers, many of whom were not aware of the educational and health needs. Dozens of students in the school received special accommodations; regular education teachers have multiple layers of learning needs to remember and manage. I wondered what I could do to make it easier for those regular education teachers to understand my child, and make their job more manageable.

At the beginning of the following school year, I emailed of the teachers a one-page summary of my child’s strengths and needs. I described her interests, personality and her medical background. Finally, thanked each of them for the part that they would play in her life, and promised that we would do our part to be helpful.

The return emails I received were delightful. One teacher said, “I read all of the kids’ IEPs, but it was so nice to have the really important information right in front of me in my classroom…it helped me so much!”

That year, and every year after, this easy strategy has made all the difference. Taking the perspective of the teachers and trying to meet their needs allowed them to better meet my child’s needs.

This strategy can work well at home, church, and in community activities. Teachers, coaches and church staff can offer this to parents, or parents can take the initiative and offer it to them. Below is a copy of a template we’ve developed to get you started…please note that it is a Word Document, so you can modify and edit it to meet your needs.

Meet My Child!

 You can add a picture of your child, a little clip art, or some color to make it personal. Please share your ideas!

Proactively yours~
Katie

Stay tuned… Tomorrow: Five Facts for Friday; Monday: “Meet ME:” Proactive Partnering with a side of self-advocacy