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ESY For Middle School Students

The move from elementary school to middle school is daunting for all students. However, students with special needs can find the transition particularly challenging. For these students and their parents, the vast number of changes can be overwhelming. Ideally, you can start helping your child make the transition to middle school starting at the beginning of fifth grade. Yes. Fifth grade. Working with your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan)  team, and making ESY (Extended School Year) a priority for the summer between elementary and middle school can go a long way to helping your child transition.

If your child loses significant amounts of knowledge and/or skills during extended school breaks, getting back into the routine and recouping those skills can eat up a big portion of the new school year – putting your child at risk of spending the entire year struggling to catch up. The Extended School Year is a component of an IEP plan, if put into place, offers students instruction in areas in which they are likely to regress during long breaks from school. By discussing the value of adding ESY to your child’s IEP early in the fifth grade, you’re taking the first step toward making the transition to middle school go more smoothly.

Before approaching your IEP team, do your homework. Wright’s Law blog is a great place to start with it’s array of explanations, supportive case law and helpful links for parents of children with special needs. Not only should you understand how ESY works, you should understand how it is implemented in your state and your school district. Because the Extended School Year is a provision of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), it does not provide federal funding. Thus the scope and quality of ESY programs varies wildly from school district to school district and from state to state. Here is one family’s story of how they were able to get ESY added to their son’s IEP.

Two important things to keep in mind as you attempt to get ESY added to your child’s IEP – the school cannot specify/limit which disabilities receive these services. Equally important, the school district does not have final say over whether or not your child receives ESY – it is an IEP team recommendation. YOU are part of the IEP team. If your request for ESY is denied, you can pursue remediation and/or a lawsuit.

With that in mind, you are likely to get more favorable results if you consider things from the perspective of the teachers and administrators and try to take a helpful, positive approach toward your child’s goals. School personnel are bombarded with paperwork, restrictions and an ever-increasing amount of regulation – especially in regard to special education. Often, you’ll find they are at least as frustrated as you are.

If, despite your best efforts you cannot get your child Extended School Year services before the transition to middle school, don’t despair. There are things you can do on your own and with the help of professionals that will get them ready mentally and academically.

  • If your child struggles with retaining information in one or two subjects during school breaks, look into online special needs tutoring. You’ll receive highly specialized one-on-one tutoring designed to meet your child’s goals. Online tutoring is affordable and can be arranged to fit into your schedule. Your child can receive fun and interactive instruction without leaving the comfort of their own home! Additionally, there’s no need to bring a stranger into your house and waste time going through the relationship building process so many children struggle with.
  • Children with special needs frequently find change difficult. Middle school encompasses several big changes – a new campus, multiple new teachers, possibly navigating through multiple classrooms, and interacting with multiple levels of maturity among their school peers. Ensure you research different classroom options available to them. From Self-Contained Classrooms to Inclusion Classrooms, each allows for different comfort levels and child’s needs.
  • Try an arrange a tour of the school for yourself with the principal or a guidance counselor at the middle school. Use the time to tell them about your child and their challenges. Ask to take pictures during the tour as well as for a map of the school and its grounds. Use the map and pictures to introduce your child to the school. If possible, arrange a tour that includes your child during a time when the school is relatively quiet.
  • Use sites like Pinterest to gather ideas for helping your child with social and academic skills. You can find printouts, videos and instructions from hundreds of generous, experienced educators and parents. Pinterest is just a jump off point – special education resources abound online.
  • Likewise, research the special education homeschool resources available throughout the internet. Many parents of children with special needs homeschool and offer their successes (and failures) on blogs, forums and on homeschool sites. Use their knowledge to work with your child during this transition time.

Once your child begins attending middle school, get off to a good start with their new IEP team. Do your research, volunteer in the school when you can, ask questions that require data for answers rather questions that put the team on the defensive or that lend themselves to vague, subjective answers. If you can think of a new approach you think might help your child, offer it to the team in way that demonstrates you are willing to help them implement the change. And, remember, ESY is always on the table. If you feel your child will benefit, bring it up each and every year. Read the case law from your state’s supreme court to help you determine what might work and what is doomed to fail.

Middle school is a big step for all kids (and all parents). Special needs up the ante. Your active, educated involvement not only with your child’s IEP team but with their school overall will make the move significantly easier on both of you. One setback is not the end of the world. By arming yourself with knowledge of the law combined with the knowledge gained through the special education community online, you are in a unique position to ensure your child gets the education they need and deserve.

Winston Churchill was onto something when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”