There are Education Problems to Solve in Pennsylvania

One of the most incredible things that came from stepping out of partisanship has been the ability to look at issues with a fresh perspective, without party rhetoric ringing in my ears. Being able to admit that things can be better here, that America isn’t “the best” at everything (and can learn from other countries) has been refreshing and eye-opening.

I no longer accept that “this is just how it is” because there ARE answers and solutions to be found if we compromise.

One of the issues that I would have ignored before going through it myself was the idea of universal pre-K. I had no idea just how broken the system is and how much inequality exists until this year.

I haven’t written about this yet but our family has been put into a position of advocating for our children once again, only this situation has proven to be much different than Tori’s was. In comparison, advocating for her needs and equipment was a piece of cake.

We were so excited to send the boys to preschool last fall because we knew it would be so good for them. There are few in our area that we could afford and the one we chose had come highly recommended to us by moms whose children had attended there. So, we applied, strategized how we’d pay for it (sacrifices), and were ready.

Things didn’t go well.

In September, the boys were kicked out of preschool on the first day because they didn’t want to sit at “Circle Time” and were trying to hit the teacher (which they only do when they feel threatened or frustrated, and this was likely due to their speech delays and being unable to fully communicate what they want or need).

Rather than offer solutions – like separating them or allowing me to go into the classroom, both things I was going to suggest – or allowing for an adjustment period, they forced me to withdraw them.

In a short two-and-a-half hour period they made the judgment that our boys were “too much” for them.

I’ve come to find out that this preschool (I’ve been very careful to not publicly disparage them) has a reputation for not accepting children who are less than perfect. Even worse, it’s through a church, so I expected more. I should know by now to not have expectations for anything or anyone, but I thought mine were fairly reasonable: teach my children how to be in a classroom.

This is what I wrote on Facebook that day (September 7, 2022):

Today was rough. It was supposed to be the first day of preschool for the #BrackbillTwins but it was also the last (at that school, at least).

The boys have never been in a classroom and didn’t know what to do/didn’t want to sit, and therefore felt frustrated. They apparently got a little physical with the teachers because they were frustrated, which isn’t okay, but there were solutions they could have worked on.

The director told me at first that they would let them try again on Friday to allow them to adjust but changed her mind and told us they would be withdrawn.

I have cried quite a bit today. To have a school completely give up on my children and not allow them to adjust to a new environment for more than a day is incredibly frustrating. Never did they offer suggestions for me to try at home or to try in the classroom (like separating them, having me sit with them for a couple of classes, etc.). Just kicked them out. It’s shocking.

But, since we got home the boys have listened well, played nicely, focused when necessary, which shows me that they ARE capable of being in a classroom but weren’t given the opportunity to try. I’d never expect four year olds to go from being at home during a pandemic to knowing how to behave in a classroom in the first thirty minutes.

For now, I will focus on how smart they are and how they care for one another. We may find another preschool willing to support them better, or we may not. But I will never stop advocating for my children ❤️

I want to be clear that I am not one of those parents whose children can do no wrong and are perfect. No way.

Backing up a bit, at their three-year and four-year well-check appointments I mentioned that I thought they were behind in speech (we can understand them, and they understand each other, but it can be a challenge for others) due to COVID and being twins. The pediatrician brushed it off both times and said “just wait for preschool. They’ll catch up.” My intuition said otherwise but I decided to trust her. So when they got kicked out of preschool, I immediately filled out and submitted referrals to the Capital Area Intermediate Unit to have them evaluated.

That was nearly five months ago and we STILL haven’t received services.

Here’s the timeline:

  • September 7 – Boys kicked out of preschool, I email completed referral forms to CAIU
  • November 18 – They finally have their evaluations (seventy-three days later)
  • January 12 – We receive the reports (six days before the legal deadline)
  • February 10 – We will have our IEP meeting (one day before the legal deadline) so they can begin services

According to Pennsylvania law, the only reason they are “in compliance” is because the IU didn’t have me sign the consent form until the day of the evaluation. Also, I apparently should have called to request a referral because they would have had to do the evaluations within ten days instead of sixty. But I didn’t know. How many parents do?

I know they are overwhelmed and understaffed. I know there are more children than ever who are needing services because of the pandemic. However, this is still unacceptable. Pennsylvania needs to address this issue because this is a serious problem.

In addition, because there are no public pre-Ks in our area (maybe in the entire state), we are stuck waiting for kindergarten in the fall. The tuition in our area for preschool is unreal (and there aren’t enough open spots for all the children needing it) and sending two children is difficult, if not impossible, for single-income families like ours. The preschool we planned to have them attend cost more than half of our mortgage each month for three two-and-a-half hour sessions a week. We’ve been on a waiting list for “income flexible” spots in Head Start for months and I doubt they will get in at this point.

(As a side note, all of this makes me even more grateful for the Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning that will be opening soon because they will be filling this need for so many families, for free.)

In the meantime, I thankfully got the boys into Lebanon Valley College‘s speech clinic and we’ve had two sessions there. The professors and grad students working with the boys have been patient, kind, and helpful. Isaiah has really enjoyed it, Caleb is still a little unsure, but everything new needs an adjustment period (right, preschool?).

We’ve also been attending “Inclusion Time” with the Western PA School for the Deaf (where they invite hearing children to come for a short session with their students) and the teachers have been outstanding in helping me teach the boys how to participate in Circle Time and other areas. The image below is a perfect example of that: the teacher suggested that we bring over some Mega Blocks for the boys to play with in the back of the circle, and it worked. Not only did they sit there, but they listened to the story. Such an easy solution, one the preschool was unwilling to find for our boys.

Our boys are intelligent and they are academically ready for Kindergarten; they are kind, helpful, pretty good at problem-solving, and they include others. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit at a time in their lives when they would have begun to be in more social situations and there was little we could do about that, and that has impacted their development in a couple of ways. We have made efforts to get them into classroom-type settings as much as possible but we’re exhausted. It shouldn’t require this much effort from parents to get children the services they need.

Once the IEP is transferred to our actual school district I think things will be better (from what I hear), but for now it’s frustrating and disappointing. I’m grateful for teacher friends who have walked beside us and helped us know how to advocate and what to ask for because we have no idea what we’re doing.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. As always, I mostly blog for my own records because it can be a challenge to remember everything (which is why I blogged Tori’s journey in detail). But, there are truly problems to be solved here.

  • Pennsylvania needs public pre-K in every school district. Early childhood education shouldn’t just be for the wealthy.
  • The Early Intervention program needs additional funding and staffing to accommodate all those who need their services in a more reasonable time frame.
  • I’d also untether schools from property taxes and made it a state-wide funding model so that no matter where you live your district is adequately funded.

I don’t have the time, energy, or knowledge to take on solving this, but if someone wants to lead the way I will be right there with you. Our children deserve better.

2 thoughts on “There are Education Problems to Solve in Pennsylvania

  1. Having a child with a speech delay and who needed an IEP I can relate! Yes, PA definitely needs to better with special services for our children. Her speech therapy through the school was a joke!!
    Kicking your boys out after one day is inssne!
    Prayers as you navigate this journey to getting a good school for your precious boys.


  2. I am a retired kindergarten teacher here in NJ. You are so correct in everything that you said in this post.
    Things are becoming much better here in NJ. The state is integrating free pre school for 3 and 4 year olds via grant money. My district is offering it via a lottery system. But the goal of the program is to increase the number of classrooms available every year. The program is quite strict in structure.Specific themes are included. The curriculum is play based, implemented through various centers, and children are taught to choose where they want to go and how to problem solve solutions both socially and from a learning standpoint. One of my grandchildren goes to the 3 year old program. The pre schools make up an entire early childhood building in our district ( it also houses pre school special Ed classes that are inclusive).
    Another main objective of the program is parent involvement in many scenarios such as Buddy Breakfast, making gingerbread houses, career guests who are parents, a Valentine “ party “ for students and a special adult, etc.
    It is such a happy environment. I know many of my former colleagues who are now teaching pre school.
    It is needed in many ways and for many reasons. Maybe some educators in Pa can come check out these programs. Grants continue to be given out to new districts throughout the school year.

    Liked by 1 person

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