This post is the second in a series on transitioning to a new school. My Monday posts will focus on this topic for several weeks because it is a large and complex topic. Also, this post is participating in the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge at Steady Mom. You can catch up with the series by reading Part One here.
So far I've told you about our school district changing our daughter's placement to our home school, my intial emotional responses and the choice we eventually made to accept her transition to a new school. That choice was made primarily because we wanted to give her the best chance for a well-supported change to a new environment and a new social circle. I wanted to share the details of our transition plan in hopes that it will help others in a similar situation to establish their own good plans. Please note that this was separate from considering the level of support, services, and IEP goals for the next year...this was just to focus on helping her understand and be comfortable with starting out at a new school.
1) We gathered information. Prior to telling our daughter anything about what was going on, I met with some trusted private resources, the principal at the new school, and the IEP team at her "old" school to ask questions, get advice, request some accommodations or support, and establish lines of communication. All of this helped the next steps fall into place...
2) We broke the news. We used a social story to tell our daughter that she'd be going to a different school next Fall. I'll share more details on this next post. The timing was not ideal, but the story was very effective in helping her understand what was happening, helping her share the news with her peers, and giving us an idea of what was most troubling to her about the change.
3) We took some field trips. My daughter and I attended open house night in the first grade classrooms at the new school. We met the teachers (although some of them will not be teaching first grade next Fall), and we took pictures of things that were interesting to her. Later we took a special guided tour with an instructional support teacher (IST) and met the Occupational Therapist and Speech Pathologist who will work with her at the new school. [In our case she already knows these ladies, but it was good for her to see them ahead of time at her new school - she has pretty strict ideas about who belongs where, so seeing them there before she has to start working with them there was excellent.] She also met the school psychologist, the receptionist, the principal, and a few other staff who were around. We took lots of pictures on this trip, too. Nearly every week we walk over to the new school to play on the playground and try to connect with other children there
4) We wrote another social story. The IST used some of our photos and some of hers to make another story specifically about the new school. It has pictures of all of the people we've met, and some key places like the playground, the lunch room, the computer lab, and the library.
5) We called some friends. We already know a few families with children entering first grade at the new school. We've had a couple of playdates with a couple of them at the school. We're hoping to do a few more of these in the next several weeks so that our daughter will have some more familiar peer relationships established.
6) The adults met again. We had a transition IEP meeting (I believe these are required any time a student transfers between schools) where the "old" IEP team met with the "new" IEP team (there is some overlap in these in our case) to discuss our daughter's program, and the specific supports that she will need this coming year. At this meeting I also presented an updated parent report and walked through the remaining steps of the transition plan.
7) We will prime the pump. What remains is to continue to prepare our daughter for each new step of entering first grade. She will meet her teacher before school starts, and hopefully visit "her" room again, this time knowing it is "hers". We will either add these pieces to her second social story or write a new one. As each activity is added to her schedule we will make a visual schedule to help her know what is coming next. Hopefully we can continue to support making new friends, too.
There are probably other steps that could be taken to help a child be more comfortable going to a new school. I'd love to hear your ideas since we're still in the middle of this...do share!