After reading the letter submitted by Peggy Vicars ("Critics of OPRF's TEAM program have gone too far," May 4) I felt compelled to respond to several of her comments. I am the mother of five sons. Four of those five sons are graduates of OPRF and received an excellent education. My youngest son is a current TEAM student.
Like Ms. Vicars, I am also a part of the educational system working as a teacher in Riverside. One of the reasons I returned to school and decided to become a teacher was because I wanted to be able to monitor my son's educational experience from a more professional perspective. Yes, I agree with Peggy when she says that no program is perfect and programs are certainly influenced by budget concerns. That is one of the areas I find so problematic with some of the things that have transpired with the TEAM program this year. TEAM had an opportunity to have an intern on board (free of charge), who would have been able to train both paraprofessionals and teachers in the ABA process at no cost to the district. This was a golden opportunity that was somehow lost under rather suspect circumstances. I am not suggesting that ABA is the only method of instruction that should be offered, but I would have to say it is a very viable option that could have been offered in conjunction with other educational opportunities within TEAM.
This brings me to another issue that I feel is rather glaring within the TEAM program. That is the program itself. Up until this year, the TEAM program had changed very little over a significant period of time. The changes that have occurred are positive and happened because parents and teachers were willing to work together. One of the things that used to drive me crazy when my other sons were at OPRF was the constant changing of textbook editions. There were several times that the same textbook could not be handed down from one son to the next (within a two year period) because the teacher insisted on the latest edition. This tells me that curriculum was constantly changing in regular education classrooms, but curriculum in TEAM remained the same over more than a decade. Research continues to prove that many students with varying disabilities can learn much more than previously thought depending on how they are taught. According to some of the research that I have read, my son, who has Down Syndrome, could be in a much different place with more appropriate educational opportunities.
Here is another problem I have with Ms. Vicars' assessment of the TEAM program: She states in her commentary that administrators and teachers have been responsive to her child's needs "within the framework of the program." As someone who attends IEP meetings as part of her job, I am surprised that she is not aware that the program is supposed to be tailored to the needs of the child, not the other way around.
In regard to her comments regarding "chronically unhappy families" (and there are more than two) who have chosen to go to the public, unlike her apparent experiences for her sons, these parents have not gotten what they believe is best for their children. It is our job as parents of children with disabilities to be their primary advocates in all situations. It also our job (and the educator's) to keep abreast of the research being done regarding a child's specific disability and the best possible ways to educate them. It is unfortunate that discourse between loving parents and competent educators has gone so awry.
Would I like to see more changes in the TEAM program? You bet I would. Unfortunately, here is another point that I vehemently disagree with Ms. Vicars on. I would always like to see more academics and, quite frankly, self-help skills are okay too if that is what a particular child needs. I do not think, however, that time should be spent in the school setting teaching my child to comb his hair or brush his teeth. Those are skills that should be the responsibility of the parent.
Lastly, I must say that Ms. Vicars closing comments regarding what she believes to be a "basic problem in accepting the limitations of our children" shocked me. Every parent who has given birth to a disabled child has gone through a grieving process saying good-bye to the "perfect child." Once that adjustment has been made, new expectations are born and parents move forward seeking opportunities to fulfill those expectations always making adjustments along the way. Peggy Vicars is certainly entitled to her opinion, but she is way out of line when she attempts to be judgmental regarding the love and caring that motivates other parents. I thought that social workers weren't supposed to be judgmental.