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Launching Kevin into the mainstream.

Launching Kevin into the Mainstream

My son Kevin spent two years in a private educational placement, a school for children with deafness and hearing impairments, located 20 miles from our home. While I was pleased with the school and its very caring and committed teaching staff, I was not convinced that Kevin should spend the next several years there. He was turning five in January and would be the appropriate age to begin kindergarten in our town the following fall.

PLANNING AHEAD

I knew if we were seriously considering having him attend kindergarten locally, much thought and planning were necessary and January was none too early in my mind to start to put the process in motion. Unfortunately, "process" is a rather strong word as we started with only the very scary, yet exciting idea of having Kevin be a part of the kindergarten class in our neighborhood school.

I knew that a first step was to explore this idea with our town's special education director. I had found him to be a true advocate of the "what's best for the child" approach in past encounters, and hoped he would continue to be supportive and helpful in this matter. Fortunately, he was very enthusiastic about the idea, although his enthusiasm may have had some financial motivation as Kevin's tuition and transportation were costly items in his budget.

Making the phone call to the special education director was actually a very big step. While I had been wrestling with the idea of "mainstreaming" Kevin for some time, this now made it real -- the wheels were in motion. I scheduled a meeting with him for several weeks away in order to give myself the time to figure out what I wanted for Kevin. I realized that besides doing some formal research on the topic of mainstreaming/integration and asking people a lot of questions, I first needed time to do some more soul searching. I needed to try to answer some basic questions like: Why did I want Kevin to be mainstreamed; what was important about it; what was not important; what was my definition of successful -- what would it look like and feel like? And so I officially began ...

WHY MAINSTREAM?

I didn't want to reinvent the wheel. I knew other children with hearing impairments had been mainstreamed, but where could I find the literature and how appropriate was it to our situation? Actually, I knew no matter how much information I collected, it would not provide "the" answer. I knew from past experience that there were plenty of people around who would gladly tell us what to do, but only we could know what was best for our family.

We began with a laundry list of basics. Why mainstream now: three of Kevin's friends on our block were starting kindergarten; Kevin could walk to school with his sister and friends; Kevin didn't have to spend one and one-half hours a day in a car being transported; give Kevin options for the future -- let us all make a choice after experiencing both settings; honor Kevin's request to go to "his sister's school"; recognize and satisfy my own bias about the majority of the world being hearing and giving Kevin the opportunity to be a part of it; feeling that if we ever wanted to try mainstreaming, kindergarten was a good place to do it -- before friendships are solidified -- before curiosity becomes cruelty -- while kids are more open and accepting of differences.

INPUT FROM OTHER PARENTS

Next, I located other parents to talk to -- what were their experiences; what worked for them; and what were some of the pitfalls? I called a woman who had a son who was blind and had attended school in our town. I had never met her. I explained that I had a son who was deaf, and I was hoping she might have some information about mainstreaming that might be helpful to me. She said she would be happy to share her experiences. We set a date for her to come over and talk. Sitting over coffee in my kitchen, I learned some very useful things about how our school system works -- not the technical and legal aspects about education that are written about in books, but how it really worked for her family.

The most important aspect to which she sensitized me was the issue of socialization. She helped me realize that whatever academic services the system was providing would be worthless if Kevin did not have a strong sense of himself. Kevin had to know that although he was different from the other kids, he was not "lesser" than they were; that while being deaf put him in the minority, it was a minority of which he could feel proud to be a part. While we as his family felt that conveying this concept was our responsibility, this parent also made me see its direct relationship to the success of his integration experience.

Then I spoke to a parent in the next town who had a son who was hearing impaired and mainstreamed. Though I had never met her either (her name was given to me by two different people who knew her), we spent an hour on the telephone discussing my concerns and her experiences. She felt strongly about assessments and urged me to make sure we knew Kevin's current cognitive, psychological, and emotional levels so we would have a yardstick by which to measure later -- some baseline data to use as a comparison.

This suggestion started me wondering about the possibility of bringing Kevin to school in town and then having him not be happy, having it be a negative experience for him. Then what? Would he have to stay all year? Forever after? This was an issue we eventually had incorporated into Kevin's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). There would be a reevaluation done before Christmas, and if it was thought to be in Kevin's best interest, he would return to his previous placement. We also got assurance from his private school that they would re-admit him mid-year if this was necessary.

Other issues she mentioned for me to think about were: environmental modifications in the classroom, meeting his classroom teacher so we could make plans over the summer and trying to avoid Kevin being taken out of the classroom to receive special services such as speech therapy. She also mentioned that her town was using a consultant who was a specialist in mainstreaming children with hearing impairments.

FINAL STEPS

Next I spoke with the principal of Kevin's school, his teacher, and parents of some children who had been mainstreamed and had returned to the private school setting. I read some articles on mainstreaming and studied the research results.

Then I sat back with all of this "great" information and became depressed! As an educator myself, it was relatively easy for me to analyze and interpret everything I had learned in a rational way. But when I added the emotional aspect -- the fact that it was my son's life -- the issues always became cloudy again.

INTEGRATION IS MORE THAN MAINSTREAMING

Eventually I sorted through everything. By the time my meeting with the special education director was to take place, I felt mainstreaming could be a very good choice for Kevin's kindergarten experience provided that certain requirements were met to help ensure a positive situation. The factor that seemed to be most important at this stage was that it be a positive experience for Kevin in the area of socialization -- that he feel comfortable and a real member of the classroom.

I realized that in my thinking I was making a distinction between two words which are often used interchangeably -- mainstreaming and integration. In my mind, any system could "successfully" mainstream a child, that is, just place that child in a regular classroom. However, to "successfully" integrate a child, that child had to be an accepted member of the classroom. That's what I wanted for Kevin and that would take a lot of work!

PHOTO : Kevin and his sister, Kimberly, leaving for school.

PHOTO : Kevin with classmates Valery Scharf and Brett Maganzini.

PHOTO : Kevin at his friend Eric's birthday party. Back row: David Bees, Kevin. Front row:

PHOTO : Jonathan Pickering, Eric Bees, Manny D'Ambrosio.

Jill Bohlin received her bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Illinois and a master's in human resources development from the National College of Education in Evanston, Illinois. She is a parent consultant for Family Focused Training Programs at Wheelock College Graduate School in Boston, and lives in Winchester, Massachusetts with her husband Gary and their children Kimberly, 10, and Kevin, six.
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Title Annotation:placing a handicapped child in a regular school
Author:Bohlin, Jill K.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:1444
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