Friday, March 27, 2009

From Lounging to Laundromats: Re-entry is no day on the beach

Dan and I have been back from Kauai for two days and the karma gods have decided that we had too much fun and it's pay back time. So, instead of snorkeling or sipping Mai Tais we are figuring out the logistics of getting laundry done before our TWO MONTH OLD washing machine is repaired next week. It broke down on vacation load #2, the day after we got home.

It seems the folks at Home Depot don't really care that we can't wait five days to wash our sand-encrusted duds. Who knew?

On the plus side, doing laundry requires fewer brain cells than some of the other tasks on my to-do list. I seem to have left many of my brain cells on the shore line of the Na Pali coast. I can go to the laundromat and listen to my "Hawaii Five-O" Ipod playlist and try to go back to my "happy place."

Also on the plus side - the kids are well and we came home to a clean house, fresh linens and dinner already prepared. Thank you again, Cousin Paula - no price tag can be put on that!!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Green Flip Flops: Obscure St. Paddy's Day rite or???

Or, I'm off to Kauai for a week with my husband while his wonderful Cousin Paula watches the kids.

For more details see my post here: "Kauai with Kids: Just give me umbrella drinks, a chaise lounge and a good book"

Aloha 'til next time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Skyward Family Access: Is Big Brother watching?

Our school district uses Skyward Family and Student Access, a student information software program that tracks grades, attendance, assignments, schedules and, if so desired, purchases from the school Food Service. Teachers record information, and students and registered family members can log on any time.

Leaving aside the food services issue ("What did you have for lunch? A sub sandwich and a salad. Busted, you had fries and a ring-ding"), there are clearly plusses to this system. Parents can monitor homework and grades before there is a serious problem, a lifesaver especially for students with ADHD.

But, it's that little feature called Login History that puts me on edge. Jacob is a high school sophomore, and I learned through chatting with one of his teachers that some parents check their kid's grades several times a day, to monitor their GPA. To me, that's over the top. But it's what I heard next that made my blood go cold: "And then we have the parents who say they check their kids progress on Skyward Family Access twice a week, but when we look at their Login History we can tell that they have only checked three times all year."

Wow, I thought, when I realized this. I better put "check Jacob's grades" on my regular to do list. I don't want to seem like an uninvolved parent. But, it's not so simple as a quick log in and log out. Login History records not only when a person logged in, but also their IP Address and Information Viewed. So, if a parent logs in and just checked Food Service to see what their kid ate for lunch but did not view their grades, that is duly noted.

Despite discovering that my Skyward activity can be analyzed, my commitment to frequent and thorough logins has not stuck. This is mainly because Jacob keeps me up to date with little prompting. He regularly checks his grades; in fact it borders on obsession, stats nut that he is. I do check now and then to see what he is up to, but I haven't joined the Grade Police. Besides, the district still (for now?) mails out progress reports.

Thanks to Skyward, parents can truly monitor their children's education; students can forget trying to intercept progress reports in the mail. So much for white-out and the time honored trick of transforming a "D" to a "B". And yet....the sociologist in me is uneasy. For one thing, parents who are not computer-savvy, lack access to the Internet, and/or have limited English are at a disadvantage. I'm guessing that it some of these parents who need feedback the most.

Also, these educational data systems are part of a larger data capturing revolution that gives me pause. I am currently reading a fascinating book, The Numberati by Stephen Baker. Baker explores how all of our on-line actions are monitored, aggregated and analyzed by the likes of marketers, employers, political operatives, and the health insurance industry.

Through metrics and statistical modeling, institutions can gather and analyze every stroke we take on our computer, as well as some of our off-line behavior. If marketers can predict our purchases based on our Netflix queue, what can school districts - and potentially colleges, universities or the ROTC - find out about our students through our activities on programs such as Skyward Access?

And all this quantification, of course, does not take into account soft intangibles, nuances, the human element. Do I not check Skyward very often because I am indifferent or because I have good communication with my son and his teachers? As for Dad Y down the block who checks daily - how can numbers say if he does so because he wants his daughter to get into Stanford or because she spends her waking hours locked in her room and won't tell her folks about her school life?

In the end, I think we should be grateful for computer-based tools that provide information to abet our parenting. But at the same time, we should be cautious and maybe nervous. Am I being paranoid? What do you think?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reaching Out: Resources for Parents and Siblings of Children with Disabilities

This week I got a call asking if I had some local resources for a family with a sixth-grader who has Aspergers. His parents and siblings are having some challenges dealing with him. Here are both local and more universal resources. Please add your own; it’s far from complete.


The Sibling Support Project is a "national effort dedicated to the life-long concerns of brothers and sisters of people who have special health, developmental, or mental health concerns." Their web site has lots of resources, including books and a description of the Sibshops, which are workshops specifically for brothers and sisters of people with special needs.Their list of books and movies related to this issue is comprehensive; the two books that I bought for Jacob when he was younger were:

View from Our Shoes: Growing Up With a Brother or Sister with Special Needs, which has essays written by siblings themselves, and

And Don't Bring Jeremy, a novel that I really recommend, especially for kids into sports. I think I liked it more than Jacob!

Locally, the Arc of Clark County Parent-to-Parent Support program has sponsored Sibshops in the past but I'm not certain they still do. This program's web site has a calendar of workshops, trainings and support groups.


Some communities have monthly Austism Aspergers Game Clubs, where people on the autism spectrum and their families gather for games, snacks and fun in a supportive, non-judgemental setting. These clubs are a great place to tap into information and resources from other parents. In Vancouver, there is a Game Club on the 4th Friday of each month from 6:30-8:30 the Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, and also a North Clark County Game Club. For contact information, check out the calendar of the Parent-to-Parent web site.

Social skills groups are groups designed for children, often on the autism spectrum, to practice social skills with other children with similar communication and behavior challenges. I don't feel comfortable listing any providers of these (well, unless they want to send me an Amazon gift card KIDDING!!!) but search around on the internet and if you are really stuck, contact me privately. A good way to find out about such groups is at autism support groups or game clubs.


Support groups are not for everyone, but they are a life saver for some. There are those for grand parents, parents of newly diagnosed children, moms nights out,and so on. There are several listed in the Arc of Clark County's Parent to Parent calendar.There are also support groups for fathers. One is Washington State Dads, whose mission is "to support male caregivers of children mental health, behavior, or emotional concerns in Washington state."


Sports and recreation programs can provide an energy outlet for kids, a chance for them to socialize, and a bit of respite for mom and dad (including time to spend with other siblings!!) The Clark-Vancouver Parks and Recreation department has a wonderful program for persons with disabilities, including both staffing and accommodations for inclusion and programs specifically designed for people with special needs.

Many parks departments have similar programs, usually larger ones. If your local town has limited service for people with disabilities, see about the next larger community. For example, residents of Clark County who do not live in Vancouver but live in other towns such as Washougal or Ridgefield are eligible for Clark-Vancouver recreation programs. The department's Programs for People with Disabilities page has all the information you would need (plus a great video!).

There are also programs specifically for people with disabilities, such as Challenger Division of Little League baseball and TOPSoccer, a program of US Youth Soccer. Honestly, we have had limited success with these so far but are trying Challenger again next week. Hopefully, Sayer will be more interested in hitting the ball with his bat than banging on light posts and annoying his fellow players. If nothing else, he's crazy about "Coach Dave."

Wow, I think I'll stop there! In a previous post, We are the Accidental Experts, I wrote about how parents of children with disabilities become experts in the world of special needs, by osmosis and experience. I still remember the help and support I got when Sayer was first diagnosed and do believe that what goes around comes around, so I hope this finds its way to the people who need it most.