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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Why Great Teachers Are... Great!

Power By Ringsurf
Summer on Cape Cod. You really can't beat it! So far, it's been a great experience for us, and for Tom.
We started out with a week of YMCA daycamp for both Tom and his sister, and for the first time we dropped off and picked up with no special support provided for him. Two things made this easier: first, we were able to place him in the same group as Sara - and though he was the youngest in the group, it was a good match. Sara could help him as needed (not too often, really), and the expectations were slightly lower. Second, the YMCA staff already knew Tom from homeschool gym, and knew just what to expect - and the same staff worked in the camp as worked in the homeschool gym program.

After Y camp, we had a few weeks of mellowness (beaching, trying out a tandem bike - great for him, less great for me - and general Cape Cod exploring).

Tom's 12th birthday went adequately... we invited the boys from down the street; the cake and pizza went fine, but then Tom disappeared quietly into his room and we couldn't get him to join in the festivities for love nor money. Still, he got his "shopping spree" (with birthday money), which is always a great hit!

And THEN - Tom started in on his Sounds of Summer music camp. This is a two-week morning program offered at the local private school and run by the head of education for the Cape Cod Symphony. Most of the kids are older than Tom - he's 12, but some of them are high schoolers. We talked at some length with George, the camp director, and he had seemed to have no qualms about including an autistic clarinetist.

On the first day, it turned out that the instructor who was working with the woodwinds had NOT been informed of Tom's autism - but he was more than willing to talk with us at length about his needs. On the second day, Tom seemed to do much better, especially since George had kindly revised Tom's sheet music to the range that he's used to playing (12 year olds aren't taught the upper register on the clarinet!). On the third day, George was much more worried about the junior counselors and getting the trombones and timpani focused than he was about Tom - who was doing just great!

Today, I figured out just why he's doing so well.
With no fanfare whatever, George placed Tom front and center, in front of the conductor. When he's about to start the band playing, he makes sure Tom is paying attention - and when he isn't, he just says "Tommy!" and Tom is focused. When a part is especially tough, he has one of the junior counselors sit beside Tom, and help him follow the clarinet part (some of these pieces are tough even for the high schoolers!). As a result of all this, Tom is absolutely comfortable with camp, with the musical challenge, AND with the group - and his social anxiety seems to have lifted significantly. He doesn't chat with the older kids, but he's okay with asking for help, asking questions, smiling... Tomorrow is the Big Concert, and we're bringing presents.

Bear in mind that George has never been trained in special needs. He's just a very, very good teacher.

Sort of like the tennis teacher who's working with Tom now, 1:1, at the local tennis center. Scott says he likes working with all kinds of kids, and Tom is no exception The tennis was Tom's idea, so he's engaged and eager to play - and Scott says he's doing great. You can see why: he actually puts his hands on Tom's shoulders to show him where and how to stand and swing; he started off very easily so Tom could be successful. Now, Tommy is actually hitting the ball quite well; I'm hoping he'll be ready for a group experience in the fall.

This is what I'd hoped homeschool would be about: finding the right opportunities for inclusion, so that Tom could succeed in areas that had the potential to be important throughout his life. So far, so good.

1 comment:

eoagb said...

Well done! People value such efforts... Interesting and inspirational reading: