Transitions: Excerpt from Newsletter 2/22/20

Here’s an excerpt of the latest newsletter (link fixed). Subscribe please!

Feb 21, 2020

Hi all!

I am a week late on the bimonthly Friday newsletter and am feeling terribly guilty. But I have an excellent excuse, I swear! 

Last Friday, I spent three hours at an IEP meeting for my kid, Ian. The rest of the day was spent packing and driving away to a much needed break in Vermont for the long weekend. More on the snowy paradise in a minute. Let me tell you a bit about IEP meetings first. 

An IEP is like a contract between the school and the parents, which describes the disabilities, provide goals for the kids and teachers, and measures student progress. It came out of mid-1970 reforms of schools that mandated that special ed kids were entitled to a free, appropriate education. Every year, parents and teachers sit down for a meeting to update the IEP. 

IEP meetings are both a blessing and a curse. They’re a blessing, because before they existed, special ed kids had no right to an education in this country. Kids with autism, Down’s syndrome, all kinds of mild and severe learning disabilities were routinely denied an education and spent their days isolated in their homes or institutions. It wasn’t until 1975 that schools were forced to educate all kids. That date should be celebrated and put on national calendars.

IEP meetings are a curse, too, because they’re a fucking pain in the ass. 

Now our meeting went so long, because these IEPs always need work. There’s a Platonic Ideal of an IEP and then there’s what we usually get. With 15 years of IEP meetings under my belt, sometimes I’m the most experienced person in the room. We also had to spend a lot of time talking about Ian’s new health issues and how they were impacting on his stress levels, which then impact on his behavior in class. 

When the kid is over 14, IEPs must also include something called a Transition Plan, which states the long term and short term goals for the child, focusing on plans for future employment and on-going education that happens in 18-21 programs (kids with IEPs are entitled to be educated by public schools until 21). With Ian in his Junior year of high school, we had a lot to hash out. 

He’s an extremely smart kid with very bad social skills, so what are we going to do with him? College or an 18-21 program? He’s super good at computers; does he need a four year degree to get a job in that field or will a 2 year degree suffice? Friday’s discussion about transition from high school continued onto with another hour-long phone call with the high school’s Transition Coordinator.  

So, a team of four professionals and I have had four hours of discussion just in the past week about Ian’s long term career plans and how to align his education — both K-12 and higher ed — with those goals. Now, most special ed kids don’t get this kind of attention, but we do, because I’m one of THOSE parents, and my kid is educated in a school that is as close as any school gets to the Platonic Ideal of Schools, thanks to a hefty 30-year mortgage. 

You know how much time that my older typical kid got from his high school guidance counselor on these kinds of matters? Do you know how many times his guidance counselor asked him what he wanted to do after graduation? Do you know how much work his guidance counselor put into looking for after school activities or internships that would line up those career goals. Answers: None. Zero. None. 

Every kid deserves this help with transition from school to the workforce – not just kids who are blessed with parents who have a tendency to speak at school board meetings. But it isn’t happening. I’ve written before about the problems with the lack of career and college advice from guidance counselors, particularly about issues related to work and local community colleges. 

Kids need this help, because workplaces and opportunities are entirely different from career paths from when we were kids. Parents can’t help. Most parents don’t know anything about the opportunities in cyber security, for example, but that’s a super hot field right now. You know what’s not hot? Journalism and doctoral programs. [Weak laugh.]

The good news is that smart people are recognizing these problems and starting do more about it. More on this later. 

2 thoughts on “Transitions: Excerpt from Newsletter 2/22/20

  1. “Every kid deserves this help with transition from school to the workforce – not just kids who are blessed with parents who have a tendency to speak at school board meetings.”

    I think there is a need for more help with basic mechanics, but unfortunately, doing this perfectly requires a crystal ball, which none of us has. For example, between the time when I started studying Russian in the late 1980s and when I finished my MA in the very late 90s, there was a collapse in employment opportunities for people in the field. Likewise, I also did a double major with print journalism, and that has also collapsed, but when I started my degree in the early 90s, nobody in journalism knew that that was coming.

    If even professionals in the fields could not predict that, how is a nice lady with an education degree and no specific expertise or knowledge supposed to see that stuff coming? She might be able to say what is hot now, but the problem is that the pipeline for education is long enough that things can change radically while you are getting your degree. (Which might be a good argument for I. doing a 2-year degree and trying to get a job, and then doing a 4-year degree as a fall-back if that doesn’t work. One of my online contacts has made a successful transition into doing cybersecurity with a very moderate educational background.)

    Our big kids are at a small private high school and our senior has been blessed/cursed with an extremely energetic guidance counselor who drove my senior nuts. I’ve more than once been tempted to say–back off, we’ve got this. The guidance counselor means well, but I have a lot of concerns about her advice. For example, my 9th grader reports that she was advising them to not apply as pre-med, because everybody is doing that. Go for classics instead! *facepalm* I love classics as much as the next person (one of our kids is going to be a classics major), but there are a lot of kids at school who ought to do pre-med or some other healthcare field. Likewise, the counselor was telling the kids that they HAVE to do extracurriculars outside of school. One of the kids, whose mom is a teacher, family has very moderate means, and a number of siblings, was freaking out after he heard that, because it just wasn’t going to be possible. It’s important not to offer one-size-fits-all advice to kids.

    So I personally just kind of want our guidance counselor to sit back, have some herbal tea, and just make sure that everybody’s paperwork is done properly. A guidance counselor can’t hope to be an expert on all academic fields and their economic prospects.

    But, that said, there’s a lot of room for improving the basic mechanics (do SAT practice tests! take your SAT! do extracurriculars! keep records! volunteer! meet your college deadlines!), as well as sharing some home truths about ratios between expected income and student debt and keeping the ratio reasonable.


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