So we've started touring middle schools and something happened at one of them that really hit home to us the core worry we have for Ben. I'm not going to name the school because it is not a school-specific issue, but I want to get it out because I think it is illustrative of what worries us the most about how a special ed kid is going to fair in a middle school. We were observing a particular class where the teacher was working on getting the kids to learn how to take notes from a book. Great, important skill. In the room was a special ed paraprofessional who was diligently walking up and down the aisle. There were approximately eight or so kids, however, who either did not have a pencil or did not have paper to write on. Obviously, several of them were special ed kids. Instead of working with them individually and trying to get them started, the para just seemed to be blithely ignoring what was going on. Neither did the teacher do anything about what was a substantial segment of her class that was simply not starting the work. Rather, she concentrated her attention on the kids who were in fact engaged in notetaking.
This episode crystallizes for us our worry about what might happen to Ben in a middle school. Either the teacher and para were incredibly poorly trained or had given up on those kids. Now it is possible that they were worried about a defiant response from some of the kids (these are middle schoolers after all) and didn't want to have something negative happen in front of parents. But I'm afraid it is emblematic to us of how staff at a middle school might end up giving up on special kids like our Ben. Middle schools are dealing with an array of kids who come in with all sorts of issues. They've got discipline problems, kids coming from troubled backgrounds, and then they've got special ed kids. (And, yes, some of the special ed kids are discipline problems and come from troubled backgrounds.) And then they've got non-special ed kids who they are also trying to teach. To us, it just seems like a situation where some kid is going to fall through the cracks.
It seems to us most likely that this could happen in one of the larger public middle schools. Of course, it is entirely possible that there will be teachers and paras at smaller-grade K-8's or charter middle schools who will behave similarly. We could opt for special day classes, but, at this point, we really feel Ben can function in a regular class and want to keep him mainstreamed. Private schools that specialize in kids with learning issues are not an option because financially we really cannot go the private school route.
So, we are now kind of lost as to what we should be looking for to find a middle school for our kid. We can't interview each and every teacher and para. So I'd like to ask if parents out there could help us come up with "markers" or traits of what a good public middle school for a special ed kid should look like to help us in our search. Should we be interviewing the administrators and special ed teachers and, if so, what should we be asking them? Is it better for a special ed kid to go to a school that separates out honors students from gen ed students or not? Does class size matter -- is it better for a special ed kid to be in a class with 25 versus one with 33-35? Does grade size matter or is there really no practical difference between a middle school with grade sizes of 100 or so versus 400 or so?