We. Are. Preparing. For. High School.
Yep, we are at that time in our lives when our first born is heading into high school next year.
Eva is super excited.
We are super nervous.
I will be honest with you; I am very worried. I am worried about Eva’s safety. I am worried about Eva being accepted by her peers. I am worried about how she will cope with a huge workload. I am worried about all these things and so much more.
My husband and I have made it our mission to not put pressure on our children’s grades. As long as they get an A for effort, we don’t care about the rest. So, our concerns are around social, mental and emotional.
Eva is still a young 11-year-old which we are loving, we don’t want her to leap into wanna-be adult mode, but kids are brutal in high school.
I remember my high school years clearly, I found it very tough, and I don’t have a vision impairment.
As a parent, you undoubtably want your child to be happy at the place they will spend most of their time, but as a parent of a CVI child, we have so much more to prepare and discuss than the average student. I have my moments of complete panic, I head into hyperarousal mode and thoughts shift into border-line nonsensical scenarios.
Preparing for high-school started at the beginning of Grade 6 for us, here is what we have done. As I mentioned above, it is not about getting the perfect grades, however, it is also fair for her to be ready to learn just like her peers so our hints and tips below cover how she can maximise her efforts in all areas of high school.
I want to add that none of the hints and tips below would be possible without the support and collaboration from our school – I cannot stress enough having the right team behind you. This does not always happen so we are very very lucky. If you feel you do not have the support you need, please reach out to me, I would love to help.
What we are doing in Grade 6 to prepare for high school
We made decisions early on in Grade 6 as to what braille devices Eva would be using through high school and began this exposure immediately. The school team loaned a braille device to her and have been working on transitioning from her Mountbatten Brailler to the Brailliant BI 40X, which was our first choice of electronic device (Yes, Eva is a CVI’er and braille user, have a read how we came to this decision here and here).
Brailliant BI 40X
When we saw that she was taking to it well, we purchased our own. Eva is continuing to practice using her laptop as well, however our high school is an iPad school and even though they will fully support laptop use, we discussed in detail the pros and cons with EVERYONE (Teacher, Teacher Aide, Advisory Visiting Teacher, IT team, and of course Eva) for both devices. For Eva, she loves being included and if everyone else has an iPad in the classroom, we know she would feel more included if she has one too, so we have made the transition to start familiarizing more with her iPad. Eva being included in the classroom this year has made a world of difference to her confidence, she feels more connected to her peers and subsequently, her grades have improved – hence why the inclusion aspect was a very strong argument for moving across to an iPad. And let’s face it, it doesn’t look like iPads are going anywhere anytime soon and Apple is world renowned for being one of the most accessible brands. With the iPad use, I have purchased a cheap keyboard from Amazon and if she takes to it really well, then I will purchase a sturdier keyboard next year, and will ensure that it is very similar to the current one she uses. The Apple keyboards are a little too soft to touch for Eva, she feels more comfortable using a sturdier keyboard that you generally come across in laptop/desktops. I don’t want to overload her cognitively so keeping even the small things the same will help her focus on the important things. The Brailliant will connect to the iPad and the keyboard (if she wants to touch-type). All 3 devices are lightweight and can easily be carried around in her school bag.
Finding out which kids are transitioning to the same high school
This is super important so Eva will at least have a friendly voice or two. And this may sound far too strategic for some of you, but we started conversations about who is transitioning with her and perhaps starting to strike up a friendship with them. We have informed the high school of names of students that she gets along with, that are helpful, and will be supportive to Eva and her needs.
Meeting with the high school ASAP
This is very challenging at the best of times as high schools in Australia generally don’t start to take student enrolments for the following year until Term 2 for private/independent schools and Term 3 for State Schools. For a student with a vision impairment, getting in as early as possible ensures a smooth-as-possible transition for everyone involved. Again, luck is on our side this year as we have started transitioning in Term 3. This means the high school have been visiting and observing Eva in the classroom every fortnight, and Eva has been visiting the high school once a week for Orientation and Mobility, getting her routes down pat so she doesn’t need to think too much about where to go (again, reducing cognitive load). The biggest take out from our early transition for Eva is her confidence, she talks about the classrooms and which way she takes to get from place to place. We know that when she is confident, she is not as anxious and hopefully this will help gain momentum for Term 1, Day 1 of high school.
Meet with the Head of Inclusion/Head of Special Education – or at the very least have a phone conversation with them. Be known to them. Get their email address. Be completely honest about your expectations and everyone’s feelings. I have never come across an apathetic person in this position. They welcome any and all feedback and no question is too silly or out of bounds. The Head of Inclusion has also visited Eva regularly and reminded her that she can ask any questions she wants and any concerns can be confidentially discussed with her.
In these conversations with the Head of Inclusion, cover every aspect of daily school life: where the bags will be placed in the morning; who Eva will sit next to in classes; how does she get from class to class (with a buddy or teacher); where are the toilets; leaving class 10 mins early to avoid the chaos; how do we deal with the bunsen burner in Science (yep, training is needed for this, we have already had an incident with touching a hot barbecue!).
We also discussed:
Electives – we decided to put her favorite subjects at the beginning of the year so she has something exciting to start off with; with sport we decided to put in the winter months so she doesnt suffer from any heat exhaustion due to her other medical conditions. We also ensured elective classrooms are close to eachother, this does mean alot of juggling around but it ensures there is less cognitive load (yep, still thinking about cognitive load!) on her when she has to travel from class to class.
Assessments – This year we quickly worked out that by the time we get to about week 7 of the school term (In Australia there are 4 block of 10 weeks in a school year with 2 weeks break in between and one 6 week break over Christmas which takes us into the new school year) Eva is exhausted and her other medical conditions start to play up; she struggles to complete tasks to the level of her peers. To give Eva the same opportunity as her peers, her teachers have decided to stagger her assessments, so every time she learns a new concept, she apply’s it to an evolving assessment.
An example of an evolving Assessment would be English. The assessment for Term 1 was to create a complex narrative. Students wrote a narrative and then rewrote it until they had shown it was covering all the concepts of a complex narrative. In Eva’s case, she would begin writing her narrative bur rather than rewrite it, she would continue to develop the story with the concepts she was learning. Her teacher was able to see the progression of her work, her understanding of the concepts and how her story developed. Most other subjects were similar in that these assessments were slowly worked on.
With some of the more cognitively tougher subjects, such as Maths, Eva learns the concepts in the classroom but when it came to answering those particular assessment questions, she is taken to a quieter room to go through the question with her teacher (yep…reducing cognitive load! Getting away from the other students to really focus). Multi-factor questions have proved to be an issue with Eva struggling to remember each part of the question. We decided to provide these questions in braille but also give Eva the opportunity to write her own notes on the question as well. This reduces Eva’s need to remember all parts of the question and therefore…reduce cognitive load! Also, I don’t know about you, but I absorb information better when I write it down and I have a feeling that Eva may be the same. I know that in high school there are many teachers to discuss assessments with and how they are to be provided, hence why starting these conversations early is important so she can have as much of an opportunity to succeed as her peers.
Those conversations – Yep. Those uncomfortable conversations about high school and what all students will be exposed to. I am talking about coercion, personal space, ensuring people respect you and your body. We have talked about this a lot and I have spoken to the high school about my concerns as a parent of a vision impaired child heading into high school. These are real and valid concerns and I have ensured that my voice is heard on this topic. I don’t know if kids are worse these days (don’t all parents say this?!), but I have heard some horror stories of what kids are doing in high schools. I now know how my parents felt listening to all these rumours when I was entering high school! We are very open and honest with Eva about high school. There are awesome kids. There are not so awesome kids. There are kids that will protect you and there are kids that will try to coax you into doing and saying things that will get you into trouble. Eva needs to learn what these differences are, and let’s be honest, as a child with a vision impairment, there is a lot that she doesn’t “see”: body language, facial expressions, kids signaling towards one another. Its uncomfortable and not fair, but this is reality and we don’t want her getting involved in situations where she is physically or mentally at harm so we are trying to prepare her as best we can.
Lastly, talk about the fun stuff!
We have gone through the high school website and spoken about what extracurricular activities there are available and what she will be doing in the electives she chooses. There is Japanese Cultural Club (Eva is excitedly starting to learn Japanese Braille!), Food Technology and Drama Club, all of which Eva is very interested in learning about.
I hope you have found this helpful, please do reach out if you need any support to get started on your high school (or primary school) journey.