We went to a little waiting room (with a big fish tank and some toys) to wait with another family who was also there for their playdate . . . but shortly after Maya was freed from the stroller she wanted to go explore. I would let her toddle into the hallway, then grab her up and bring her back to the room. The school director (which it seems is preschool talk for "principal") and head teacher came in to meet with us. The school director started speaking with the other mom, and the head teacher started chatting with me. When she realized that Maya wanted to wander, she said "Let's just follow her and talk" and Maya was happily allowed to roam the halls. She stopped to peek in doorways, checked out the art on the walls, etc.
Eventually we went into the classroom that Maya will (hopefully, hopefully, hopefully) be in next year. She pointed at the moon and stars that were on the windows (she loves to point out the moon in the sky or in books) and touched their toys and bookshelves. She went over to the kids and checked them out. She walked into their little coat closet area. People were shocked that she's only been walking for a few weeks :)
Eventually we meandered back out of the classroom and into the hallway. I continued chatting with the head teacher, and another teaching supervisor joined us. Maya was totally amused by the hallway PT sessions (the hallways form a big square, and therapists would walk by with kids pulling wagons---or in wagons, on tricycles, etc) . . . once a little class walked by and Maya tried to follow them down the hallway :)
At the end of the playdate, we went back to the fish tank room and I spoke with the school director for a bit. I gave them copies of the evaluations that I had, we talked about what happens next and that was that.
The stuff that matters
1. Maya loved it there. She's such an observer . . . whenever she's in a new place she just wants to see every piece of it, examine everything, before she shows any interest in the people.
2. The people there totally "got" her right away. First, every adult who walked by (and some who just poked their heads out of doorways) were all like "Oh, she's so adorablllleee!" (obviously). :) But more than that, they could see her intelligence pretty quickly. They could see her responding to the things I said ("Wipe your chin, please" "Let's walk back to the room with the fish tank" etc) and trying to tell me things too (pointing at the moon and stars, signing "eat", pointing and babbling for me to put her down). The teachers said things like "Look at how observant she is" and "She really understands everything you say".
One of my biggest fears about school was finding a place where they really know that there's more to a kid than meets the eye----Maya will wander with her tongue protruding and drool dripping down when she's in a new place. She's intently focused on the stuff around her and looks like a total blank slate . . . but even though she looked totally glazed over for half the visit, they could see. They understood. They won't underestimate her.
3. They know how to teach everyone. The school runs the gamut from children who are totally "typical" to children who are not independently mobile, nonverbal, etc. They have dealt with eating issues, assistive technology, intensive PT, etc. I have confidence in their teachers and therapists.
4. I like their classroom philosophy. Since they teach children with such a range of needs, they have a bunch of classrooms. If things work out, Maya will start in the smallest classroom (where there are nearly more adults than children in the classroom, with a 6:1:2 ratio, and paraprofessionals/aides as well). I love that the teachers and school director all said (independently) "Let's start her in X". They often move kids into other classrooms, if they feel like they would be able to work in a larger room or with less scaffolding or whatever . . . and I like that plan (they start by moving the kids for an hour a day, and progress from there). I also love the fact that they want her in the smallest room to start with . . . although I guess some parents might feel badly about that (maybe disappointed that their kid is one of the "neediest" at the school?) I think it's great because I want her to feel successful at school, and I think that a larger room would be overwhelming right now.
5. I like the vibe. What can I say? I'm an energy-reading type of person. I felt great about all of the people that I spoke with----they all totally love the kids, which was evident in every hallway interaction.
6. We were on the same page. If I could have picked her classroom for next year, I would have picked the one they want her in. Similarly, when I gave them the evaluations with the warning "These aren't really that accurate, just so you know" I kept my ears open. I could hear them (the 2 teachers and school director) glancing through them saying "This doesn't make sense. She clearly understands mom, and mom said she even knows some shapes and colors." They picked up on the stuff that bugs me the most (that her receptive language on the evaluation was listed at basically none) right away. The school director struck me as very kind, and slightly blunt . . . just like me! I think that the school is a good match for Maya, and the adults aare a good match for me.
What happens next
We like the school, the school likes Maya. They don't legally "hold spots" for kids, but right now they do have spots open. Our meeting can't happen before April 15th (in terms of signing papers to hold a spot for Sept, that's the first day it can happen) and must happen before Maya's 3rd birthday (May 30). Hopefully the guy will agree that it's a good fit and will approve the placement, and then during the meeting he'll call the school on the phone and say "Do you have a spot" and they'll hopefully say "Yes" and we'll sign and I will be immensely relieved that this is done.
The stuff that matters the most
My friend has a child that currently attends this school, and a few months ago she told me this story. (Her son has just started to walk with a walker, but does not walk independently.) (I'm using italics to indicate that the story is told from her point of view---because it's easier to write it in the first person---but the words are mine, this isn't copied from an email or anything. And the story is shared with her permission :) )
Last week we got a notice home from the school about an after school soccer program, which I tossed, seeing as -child- doesn't walk yet. Then a few days later when I picked him up from school, the teacher said "He did great at soccer today!" and I was like . . . "Um, what?"
Turns out, soccer was also happening during part of the school day. And when I asked how my kid was possibly playing soccer, the teachers were all nonchalantly like "Oh, I just hold him on this side . . . and she holds him on that side . . . we count '1, 2, 3, kick!' and swing him. He loves it!
And that's when I was like "I want Maya at that school."
That's possibly the sweetest story you've ever heard, right?
And that sums up the vibe---a school run by intelligent, creative, loving adults who I know will challenge Maya (and assist her) to learn and do all kinds of great stuff.
If we get in.