My eighth-grader, Rico, made honor roll last spring after a period of failing. He had a private tutor who insisted that the school test him. He now has a 504 Plan for his learning difficulties. My question is, should we drop the tutor? She helped us get the school to act, even going to school meetings. Now that he has a 504 team at school, it seems redundant, but we don’t want him to fall behind.
Your story makes me crazy. With all that’s known about early intervention, and all the legislated support such as Section 504 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, no child who is failing should have to wait until eighth grade to get tested for learning problems.
The good news is that Rico is succeeding. Now your job is to help Rico keep his momentum.
“High school brings new academic challenges,” says Kristin Stanberry, a California education writer and education advocate who specializes in learning disabilities and AD/HD. “Consider keeping the tutor for the first semester. She could give Rico a sense of continuity as he adjusts to the new school, schedule, faculty, campus and courses. Plus, she has proven herself effective in working with faculty, so she might help communicate his progress to his new teachers. Once you know the services the school will provide, you can decide whether or not to keep the tutor.”
Stanberry, who helps parents of children with learning difficulties successfully navigate the school system, also recommends:
Make sure the 504 Plan is transferred and updated: “Try to set up a meeting with the high school’s 504 team early on,” says Stanberry. Check the plan to see that it meets his current needs. Effective January 2009, eligibility and accommodations under Section 504 were expanded, but don’t assume the high school is aware of all the implications. Do your own homework to ensure Rico gets all the support he is entitled to.
Take advantage of every resource offered: Make sure Rico gets involved in the life of high school and uses every service that can help him succeed. “Take the freshman orientation and campus tour,” advises Stanberry. “Forge a strong relationship with the guidance counselor early. Dive deep into extracurricular activities he enjoys and excels at. All this will help him make new friends and build positive support systems.”
Prepare Rico for a heavier academic load: “Keep an eye on how he manages the transition to a faster pace and more homework,” says Stanberry. “Does he need extra help in study skills? Would he be a better note taker with a laptop? High school requires more reading. Would he benefit from digital textbooks or other assistive technology? Explore these accommodations with his 504 team to find out what support he’s eligible for.
Encourage Rico to become his own advocate: A self-advocate understands his strengths and needs, and can communicate them to teachers and other students. Because Rico ended eighth grade on such a high note, he may be ready to be his own ‘agent.’ You will continue to be his coach and backup, but encourage him to start speaking up for himself.
For more information about Section 504, go to The National Center for Learning Disabilities. Find many useful tips on helping students with learning disabilities at GreatSchools and click the tab for “learning disabilities”.