Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Parents Weekend

I try so hard to keep up with this blog, but invariably life moves ahead too quickly! This past weekend was actually my reunion with some incredible childhood friends whom I hadn't seen in person in over 20 years. But that post will have to wait because the weekend before that was parents weekend at C's school. It was highly suggested that parents wait until that official visiting weekend before coming to see their children in person, so that the kids could get used to being on their own (maybe it was a little bit for the parents benefit, too!). So wait we did. Unfortunately, poor C had another volleyball accident. Same ankle as last January, too. At first they thought it might be a break, but the x-rays didn't show anything, so they scheduled an MRI for so the same weekend as parents weekend. It meant I missed out on meeting her teachers and seeing her classes, but I did get to spend some quality time with my daughter and take her to an important medical appointment, so it wasn't exactly a loss. J had an important soccer game (A's was canceled due to the condition of the field), so it ended up just being me and the boys making the trip up. I wish I would I pulled over during my drive because the foliage was amazing! But, a screaming baby in the backseat does not make for a scenic drive*, so I'll just have to settle for my memories. The good news is that my insurance covers most of C's physical therapy; the bad news is that the MRI confirmed she has a torn ligament and will be needing that physical therapy for a while. Poor C! :(

In the good news corner, C is really loving school. It's not like this was some quick fix, cure all. C has coasted by on being smart her whole life. But this school demands more, and they are used to students like C. She's had a double strike since she's had to take so much time off to go to various doctors appointments thanks to her injury, so she was already falling behind in her school work. She also picked an academic class for one of her electives (psychology), which means she has a bit more schoolwork than the average kid. As a child who struggles with executive management skills, this was a recipe for disaster, but I refrained from lecturing (too much) and let her go with her choices. To sum up, she's now got mandatory study hall for two of her classes which she's struggling in (her two least favorite classes, I might add), and she had to drop her art class so that she can use that extra time to catch up on her academic classes. She was disappointed, but I was surprised how well she took it. She was very philosophical and stated she expected she'd be allowed to pick the class back up once she had her grades up. It's so nice to be the sounding board and not the bad guy!!**

 Still not really into taking pictures, I did manage to get a few candid shots.

So peaceful...

Until she realizes that I am snapping photos!

*Having just done a long car trip the previous weekend, N was pretty much over the car seat.
**Even if I can't seem to help lecturing half the time!

Monday, October 20, 2014

We Travel America, Too!

I have been so remiss in posting about all the travel we have been doing in our own country. One of the biggest lessons Husband and I have learned from living overseas is that we never want to stop seeing the world and that includes our own backyard. In the short time we've been home, we've taken trips to Williamsburg, Shenandoah, West Virginia, Long Island, and Pennsylvania to name a few. This last long weekend we drove to Deep Creek Lake in Maryland to celebrate my most favorite season: Fall! I love, love, love fall in the Northeast. While I'm a beach girl at heart, nothing beats the mid-Atlanic in mid-October for gorgeous crisp, sunny weather and amazing fall foliage. I am so glad I had a chance to share this with my children before we head back out in just a couple short months!

Besides the fabulous foliage, we spent lots of time going to quaint local fall festivals and visiting cute little farm side stands. 

We even saw a llama or two! 

But nothing compared to our visit to Candyland! Reminded me of childhood visits to the local candy store with my Grandma in Connecticut. I let the kids pick 10 different pieces, and it was the hardest decision of their lives!

Even N was impressed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Complement is Not a Compliment

Today I had my first practice exam in Chinese. This is a much more informal version of the big test designed to give you an idea of where you are in relation to where you should be based on how much time you have been in training...and also to make you feel very, very stupid. Okay, I'm only kidding about that last part (not really). While I was dreading the exam, I mean who likes exams? But, frankly, it wasn't that bad. The best advice I came away with was my need to really pay attention to the small grammatical details and polish up a bit. My tester said I was well on my way to meeting my personal test goals, but I have a few very basic grammatical mistakes which disrupt my fluency. I recognize that this is due to many years of bad Chinglish habits owing to the great length in time between formal language learning, so I really need to focus on making sure those silly mistakes don't trip me up.

This exam was actually a bit of a pick me up in terms of making me feel better about how I will perform on the actual exam. The last few weeks have been particularly rough as I acquired a new, particularly demanding instructor. He's very nice, but he demands a lot. In addition, I realized that we are less than 2 months away from our move. When did that happen??!! So I kind of panicked a bit and started trying to study as much as possible. This turned out to be a rather poor idea, as it seems the more I study the more vocabulary I lose. For every new word or grammar point, it seems I've lost two others. *sigh*

I recently came across a quote I found very apropos for my current situation, "the more you travel, the more you realise how little you have seen, just as when you learn a language the amount left to learn seems to grow rather than diminish."* After studying Chinese off and on (more off than on) for the last almost 20 years, I can definitely relate. Chinese is such an interesting language. It many ways it is very straightforward and logical. Characters have individual meanings (most of the time) and are combined to make very logical combinations. For example, the Chinese word for computer is 电脑 (diànnǎo), which combines the character for electricity with the character for brain. Literally: an electric brain.

But, complements, oh complements, they are the bane of my existence (besides my old nemesis "le," but "le" fucks with everyone, so that's a given). You might be wondering what is a complement? It sounds rather nice. The answer, my friends, is that there is no answer. Because there is no English equivalent. According to the Chinese Grammar Wiki, it can be a verb, an adjective, a prepositional phrase, a measure word phrase, or a long, complex phrase. The following chart breaks it down**:
Structure of Complements
Word Preceding ComplementComplement ContentComplement TypesExample
VerbVerbResult complement
Potential complement得懂
Direction complement回来
AdjectiveResult complement
State complement得很简单
Prepositional phraseLocation complement在北京
Time complement于69年
Measure word phrasesQuantity complement一次
AdjectiveAdjectiveDegree complement
Result complement
AdverbDegree complement极了
Result complement
Other phraseState complement得让人发
***"Other phrase" is my personal fave! 

Clearer now? Me, too!

As the Wiki suggests, "As a learner, the best thing you can do is to memorize the complements you encounter the most often, and start using them." *sigh*

*Really, you should go read this man's story of traveling the world in his car, Otto. It is pretty amazing. 
**Also courtesy of the Chinese Grammar Wiki

Saturday, October 04, 2014

3rd Times the Charm - Navigating the Special Education System

When we left off, I was complaining about the VA special needs system. Well, I'm sorry to say that our experience this time around has pretty much mirrored our first experience if not exceeded it in terms of crappiness. After our two years in Manila at a wonderful school that provided him excellent support,* which was supplemented with regular Skype ST sessions with our therapist in the US, we were hopeful that A could continue to make regular gains. We also came back with IEP in hand, so they had no choice but to continue offering him ST. This time around we entered the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system. FCPS is regularly ranked as one of the best school systems in the country. I repeat: in the whole damn country. Our experience has been that that reputation is vastly undeserved. While the school had no choice but to continue his ST - I still had to fight to get regular updates or any information about the type of therapy that was being used. At our first meeting with the school I noted that Husband and I were concerned because A was not reading yet and he was already 1/2 way through 1st grade. I was told that it was too early for them to be able to judge since he had just entered the school system. Fair enough, but I wanted our concerns noted in his IEP meeting notes so that they would be there for future reference. His classroom teacher - who I want to note was FABULOUS(!!)** - also noted that she had some concerns about his academic performance and suggested that he be enrolled in a before-school reading intervention program, which we agreed to. Unfortunately the before-school program did not seem to help, and A was still not reading. I called to school to voice my concern and was told we could discuss it at the end of year IEP meeting.

Fast forward to May when I came back from Manila, and we again convened for the end of year IEP meeting to discuss progress, goals, etc. At this point A was still not reading, although he was beginning to learn better, savvier strategies for hiding it. So I again raised my great concern that here we were at the end of the school year and A was no closer to reading than he had been at the beginning of the year. In spite of a whole academic year and the before-school program, A entered FCPS reading at a DRA level 3 and ended the school year at the exact same level. Literally no progress had been made. His teacher stressed that this was really not within the normal bounds of elementary learning, and she was concerned that there might be some other reason that was keeping A from making progress. The committee, however, told me that since the school year was about to end there was no way to start the testing process for anything new this late in the game. We would have to wait until next school year, at which point we would have to request an evaluation which would require having him monitored by his new classroom teacher (who would need at least a month or two to get to know A and determine whether or not he/she thought there was a need for intervention). Then, if the teacher thought there was a need, they would try some in-class interventions to see if that helped (another 2-3 months), if that didn't help then they would conduct a battery of psycho-educational tests to determine if there was a delay or disorder. All that is to say, we'd be long gone for Hong Kong before the school system ever determined whether or not there was anything actually wrong with my son much less have figured out any way to help him. Fucking ridiculousness. I pointed out that the process would take more than half a year, and by the time they actually did anything A would be an illiterate 3rd grader. At this point I did get some sheepish looks, as if they themselves realized how fucked up and slow the process was, but, I was told, nothing could be done. You have to follow the process.

At this point I was so frustrated and fed up, and, frankly, I didn't trust FCPS to follow through on anything anyway. So I went ahead and plunked down $3,000 for private testing and came out with the exact diagnosis we expected (dyslexia and dysgraphia)*** and one we didn't (ADHD).**** With evaluation in hand, I went back to FCPS hopeful that we could open up a new IEP and start helping my son at the beginning of the year. Oh, how foolishly hopeful of me. I did find out, however, that FCPS has something called a summer session meant to test kids that have possible needs identified when regular school is out of session. Which would have been great knowledge to have when the idiots at the elementary school told me IT WASN'T POSSIBLE to have him tested until the next school year and then I shelled out $3,000 to have it done because I was so desperate to start helping my son. F.u.c.k.i.n.g. ridiculousness. How is it possible that the IEP team at my children's school was not aware of this? After I got over being angry, I charged ahead because in the end all I care about is helping my child. So we ended up meeting over the summer during the FCPS summer session where all of the IEP team members (different than the ones at my local school, although the VP did attend as the school's representative) agreed that the testing we had done was incredibly thorough and they saw no reason not to re-open the IEP. They did note that there was no social worker report, something that is required by the school system, so we scheduled that. I signed all the paperwork and went off about my way happy and excited that my son might actually start the year with some new assistive measures in place. Me and my silly hope.

In spite of the fact that I met with the social worked in August, and A met with the school system's psychologist at the same time, we started the school year with nary a peep from the school. After a couple of weeks, I became concerned that I hadn't received anything regarding his new IEP. After 3 weeks, I started contacting the school. After 4 weeks I finally got a response in which I was informed that the school was re-conducting all of the tests to come up with their own diagnosis. The fuck????!!!! Apparently, despite the fact that everyone at the summer session meeting agreed that the private testing we had done was above and beyond anything the school needed they still somehow thought they needed to conduct their own tests to, what, ensure that we spent our $3K wisely? I really have no freaking clue, and the school rep couldn't really explain it to me either beyond the fact that it was necessary to complete the testing (and then the analysis of the testing, which, oh by the way, is the really lengthy part). All that is to say that they finally asked if we could schedule a meeting to discuss A's eligibility on Oct 17th. Eligibility, people. Do you know what that means? That means it is a meeting to discuss his test results wherein they will (if they have any decency at all) say, why, yes, we agree that A has some issues that need to be addressed. That's it! The eligibility meeting is solely to discuss whether or not your child may qualify for services. No talk about any actual service or accommodation that might be forthcoming. You have to set up a totally different meeting for that! And who knows when that will happen. I mean it will be six weeks into the school year before the school will even agree that there is a problem, 10 months after we originally identified it! And that elevated timeline is solely due to the fact that I was able to spend $3K and countless hours to get a diagnosis for my son. My heart bleeds for the many, many families who could not possibly afford to get outside help.

So, I gave up on the school system. After all of this, I started doing some digging to try and figure out what I could do. What I unearthed just made me feel even more desperate. FCPS does not even recognize dyslexia. Much less have a coherent strategy to help affected children. His reading assistance will likely be with whatever reading specialist is already assigned to the school who probably does not have any specialized training for kids with special needs. There are several well known, peer tested and reviewed therapeutic systems for helping kids with dyslexia. FCPS uses none of these, which I guess isn't surprising since they refuse to acknowledge it exists anyway. After feeling even more depressed, I put on my big girl pants and started strategizing on what I could do. I scoured the web for resources and found a tutor who specializes in the Wilson Program (based on the Orton-Gillingham system) at a cost of $75/45 minutes. Ouch. For kids with dyslexia it is recommended that they have at least 1hr/day additional 1-1 reading support using a system like Wilson. Double ouch. Well, since we could never afford that, and we have other obligations during the week, we settled on 2x/week. As much as we can't afford this right now, at least I will know that we are doing everything we can to help A get started with reading.

*I cannot rave enough about International School Manila. We always say that it was the best part of our tour in Manila. 

**Our experience with FCPS has been that the individual teachers are amazing, but the system itself is a bureaucratic mess. 

***Actually, FCPS doesn't even recognize the term dyslexia (please don't ask me why), so it is termed "Specified Disorder in the Area of Reading." 

****Although, now having received this diagnosis and learned more about what it actually is, it really helps explain a lot!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Halloween in the DMV

I'm always looking for fun, seasonal stuff to do (usually with kids, but we've often got our eye on adults-oriented entertainment, too), especially around the holidays. And Halloween is our favorite! You may recall from previous posts that we often throw a big party on Halloween. Well, since we are getting so close to our PCS date*, plus all of our stuff is in storage, so we decided it would be best to take advantage of other people's attractions this year. There are so many sites that can help you figure out what's going on in the area that it's hard to keep track. So I thought I'd post a few helpful sites here for others (and so I can just refer back to this page myself!). I also listed these on my NoVA resources page so I'll have them the next time we come back, too.

Halloween in Fairfax County
Falls Church Halloween Festival
Pumpkin Patches in Maryland and Virginia
Cox Farms Fall Festival
Air & Scare
Halloween Whodunnit at the Kennedy Center
Spooky Spy Family Night
Hershey Park in the Dark
Boo at the Zoo
Kings Dominion Planet Spooky

Not so Kid-Friendly
Haunted Virginia
Night of the Living Zoo
Cox Farms Fields of Fear

*2 months and counting!