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Q: Is there any way to "insist" that our daughter is tutored before or after her regular fifth-grade classes? We tried private tutoring, but without the school's cooperation, we felt the money was a waste. When a child qualifies for in-school tutoring, but wants to enjoy a regular classroom day, what can parents do?
A: This is a real dilemma and one that concerns many parents. Your daughter needs specialized instruction and she is expected to master the content of the regular curriculum. Successful kids with learning disabilities often have to put in more time and work in different ways than their classmates to achieve at the same level. In order to get the appropriate assistance -- to build in necessary supports -- something has to "give." We just want to make sure it's not the child. You should be aware that some college students with learning disabilities (and a handful of high-school students) elect to do a five-year academic program so that they will have the time to take all of their required courses and get the special help they need. Some elementary-school students benefit from intensive instructional programs in the summer. Having a chance to strengthen weak areas during the summer can enable them to better handle the regular curriculum during the school year.
There are a couple of ways that schools deal with this issue. Many inclusive schools, in their effort to keep kids in the regular classroom as much as possible, try to provide skill instruction (in reading and writing, for example) in the regular class as part of the ongoing instruction. This kind of "integrated" teaching can work if students' basic skills are not too weak and if teachers are well-supported. If this model doesn't provide sufficient support, then students need instruction apart from the regular class. The problem is, as you have discovered, that this extra help needs to fit in somewhere. Some elementary schools or middle schools (where credit requirements are not such a big issue) make it possible for kids to have intensive support in small groups or individually in place of special subjects like music or art. Of course there is a "cost" here, in that children don't get to experience this very important part of the day. As a solution, some parents try to build the arts back into a child's life by getting her involved in after-school or weekend activities. Some schools build in a period a day that can be used for enrichment activities or support, depending on a child's needs. Other schools provide special support during a part of the child's lunch period, but these are usually so brief that this is not a great option.
Very few schools have special supports available in the morning before academic classes, but some do have an "X" period after school to offer such supports. You could push for it, but the school is not obligated to provide it. In some cases this model can't work because of kids' after-school schedules, restrictions imposed by teacher contracts or unions, or transportation constraints. While after-school support can be helpful, it can come at a time when a child is overworked, tired, or stressed. If private tutoring hasn't been successful because it was not connected with what was going on in school, then try to build this into the IEP. Perhaps if you use a tutor who has worked with the school before, the bridge between school and tutor will be stronger and the instruction will be better coordinated.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.