Sunday, February 7, 2010

Success Story #1

My name is April, and this is my success story.
My oldest daughter went through the Head Start program 5 years ago. Being my first child, I wasn’t really sure how the program worked, other than my daughter got on the bus 4 days a week, went to school for a few hours and came home. We would attend the family nights, the parent meetings, and some parenting classes, but other than that, I wasn’t aware of the other many ways I could be involved. We moved away halfway through the year, out of state, and was unable to find preschool for my daughter. Our financial situation had changed drastically, and we were over qualified for other Head Start programs, but we still didn’t have the money to afford to pay for private pay preschool.  So she stayed home where I worked with her. Luckily, my oldest daughter doesn’t have a problem with learning, is very naturally smart, and things come easy to her. So when she started kindergarten, she was pretty much ready.  There is a very different story for my 2nd daughter Lauryn.
When Lauryn reached about a year old, she still wasn’t talking much. She was not saying many words, but she talked a great deal. NO ONE could understand her but me. Half the time her own dad couldn’t understand her. We spent many hours trying to decipher and translate what she was saying to family members.  She mumbled a lot, and her words were jarbled. My oldest daughter was speaking in full sentences by the time she was 1, so this was a big difference for me. I know people always tell you not to compare your children, but this was very hard to do. It was such a drastic difference, that I started to wonder if something was wrong. I took Lauryn to the doctor, and during her well child exams, I always brought up to her provider that I was concerned about her speech. Many times, my oldest daughter was with me, and when the provider would ask Lauryn a question, Ashley (the oldest) would always answer for her. The provider kept chalking it up to the oldest talking for her, and assured me it was just a normal part of sibling interaction. Because Ashley spoke for her, the provider just assured me this is why Lauryn wasn’t talking. Two years went by, and this was ALWAYS a concern for me. I always brought it up, and was always given the same answer. It was because her sister spoke for her. Around this time, I enrolled Lauryn in the ECEAP program at our local school. She had turned 3 and was eligible. She went through the preschool screening, and during part of that, was interviewed by the Speech Therapist. The Therapist noticed a delay in her, and noticed that she had a hard time pronouncing certain syllables. This was put in her file, and Lauryn started school in the fall of 2007.  

This video was taken of Lauryn around the time she started preschool for the first time at age 3. She is singing a song, and out of all the words, I can only identify a few. 

Her teachers paid attention to the mumbling and the inattention she had. Because I had other people observing her besides family, they were noticing a delay in speech as well. Her sister wasn’t around during preschool time, so it was much easier to see there was a problem. Lauryn talked A LOT but nobody could understand her. I could, but it was because I was at home with her, and learned her language. The teachers brought to my attention their concerns, and I told them I had thought something wasn’t right for a long time. The ECEAP program provided a meeting with a Speech Therapist and we proceeded with an evaluation and an IEP. Lauryn was referred to a hearing specialist as a precautionary step.  My doctor, had NEVER ordered a referral or an evaluation. I was laughed at when I brought my concerns to them. Through the referral from the ECEAP speech therapist, we discovered at a hearing test, that Lauryn was 75% deaf in one ear, and 25% in the other!! My daughter was almost 4 years old by the time this was discovered! The specialist explained, that the reason Lauryn wasn’t speaking correctly, was because she had a massive amount of fluid on her ears, and suffered from Estachian Tube Dysfunction; a genetic problem that causes the tubes to not grow properly, and drain fluid from the ears. She was not speaking correctly, because to her, everyone sounded like they were underwater. She was just relaying it back the way she heard it. Mumbled. The doctors assured me it was an easy fix.  Lauryn underwent surgery, and had tubes placed in her ears.  She returned back to school, I informed the ECEAP staff what we had discovered and they re-evaluated Lauryn’s IEP to include Speech Therapy, for at least 20 mins a week, if not more.  She continued with her Speech Therapy, and we saw great strides in her speech, and her education.
In the Fall of 2009, our situation changed once again. I was no longer working, and this made a huge difference in where my child would attend pre-school.  During the summer of 2009, I walked in to our local Head Start to apply for a position. This was the same Head Start my oldest daughter attended, so I was familiar with the staff. Many of the same teachers and faces, I had dealt with 3 years prior. I inquired about the waiting list, because of missing the registration deadlines I knew there had to be one. I was told that I could put Lauryn on the waiting list, but through a conversation, I learned that were completely full except for one spot they were holding for a student with a disability, or IEP. When I let the staff know that my child already had an IEP in place, she was placed in the last spot for that classroom. This was about 2 weeks before classes were to start. It was a complete godsend, and a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time that she was blessed with this slot in the Elma Head Start program. I was so excited for her to attend! Lauryn continued with her Speech Therapy, and the combination of that therapy, and getting her hearing finally under control, today, you could probably not even tell that she once had a Speech Delay. She can write her name, knows all of her ABC’s and 123’s, and is completely ready for Kindergarten this Fall.  Lauryn’s IEP was re-evaluated and with assistance from our home school Speech Therapist,  it was determined that an IEP was no longer a necessity for her, and that she is right on target for her benchmarks. If it were not for the help I received in diagnosing my daughter with a disability, I fear she would have started school unable to hear, afraid of learning, with people not being able to understand her. It would have probably taken another 3 years longer than it did, and that was already 3 years too long. Instead of starting Kindergarten with a disability or a delay, we were able to fix the problem, before she became another statistic. We were able to save her school district the financial capacity it would have taken from their Special Ed department, after she started school this fall.
Lauryn is now a completely well adjusted, smart, TALKATIVE, little girl, who is ready to start Kindergarten in the fall of 2010 with no barriers to her education.  She can hear and now she can speak, and is ready to start learning even more.

This is Lauryn singing a song today, at age 5.

I have learned that with the right tools in hand, I could be the voice for my daughter, I had known all along that something wasn’t right with her.  The staff at all of the centers Lauryn attended, listened to me, and helped me figure out how to take action. With the tools I received from being a parent in the Head Start program, I learned to not doubt myself and my instincts. The education and information I have received as a parent in this program, have increased my knowledge tenfold, of simple everyday life things.  I have learned how to be a better mother, a more knowledgeable adult, and most importantly an involved parent in my children’s lives.

This is just one of my success stories from the Washington State Head Start and ECEAP programs..

What’s yours?

One Voice

Do you know how a bill becomes a law? I sure didn’t. Besides the School House Rock video, I never paid much attention. Until recently, I never really cared. 

I never thought that I could make a difference in anything. I was one of those people who thought, it wasn’t even important to vote, because my one vote wouldn’t make a difference. Because of this ignorance, I missed out on a lot of education, a lot of opportunities, and so many different times, I could have made a difference. In September, I had an eye opening experience, and I have learned so much in the last few months. I do have a voice, my thoughts and ideas DO matter, and I CAN make a difference. I just didn’t know how. Until now.
During one of the first Family Nights at my daughters’ Head Start program, they elected a Policy Council Representative.  Before going to the meeting, I had thought about volunteering to do it. I have spent the last 3 years being involved in my oldest daughter’s school activities. She’s now in 2nd grade, I’m the Secretary of our version of the PTA, I’ve been a room parent for her class, coached her basketball team and just have been very active. So I thought, this might be a new adventure, to be more involved in my middle child’s education. My significant other, kind of knew I was just itching to get involved, so when they asked for nominations at the meeting, he quickly nominated me. I had NO idea what I was getting myself in to, nor did I know the effect it would have on my life over the next couple of months. About a month later, I went to my very first Policy Council meeting. It was a full day session, a lot of training, good food, and so much information. I became excited about the things to come for the year, and a little overwhelmed. During that session, we learned of a program called the Parent Ambassadors.
The WSA Parent Ambassador Program was made possible from a generous grant from the Peppercorn foundation. The parents selected for this program will participate in a yearlong parent advocacy program.  They receive training on legislative advocacy and grassroots organizing, and are responsible for training parents in their local programs and participating in organizing WSA advocacy campaigns.
I thought this might even be more exciting and interesting, so just for kicks, I went home, filled out the application, wrote my cover letter, and applied to the program. I soon learned that I was one of only 20 parents from the state of Washington, to be selected to be a Parent Ambassador. Once again, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it was something new, and a way to be involved, and make a difference somehow. I had no idea, the things these two programs would bring me. The knowledge, and information I’ve learned already, only a month in to the program, has been overwhelming, but in a completely positive way. I have learned that my ONE voice can make a difference.
Right now, our state is in a short session of the Legislature. They are reviewing and passing or failing, over 2000 bills for our state. Two of these bills, are extremely close to home for me, and as part of the Parent Ambassador Program, I have learned how to take it to the next level, and actually have my voice be heard on these subjects. House Bill 3141 is extremely important to me. It is changing the way the state’s Working Connections Program works. Working Connections is the childcare subsidy program offered to our states’ low income and working poor to help offset the costs of childcare. Without this program, I would not be able to afford daycare, so I can go to work. So when I learned of the Governors budget proposal, and the massive cuts to this program, I immediately wanted to know how to get involved. One day, I got an email from the Ambassador program leaders telling us, that they needed someone to testify on behalf of this bill. I responded saying that I was interested. I spent about 3 days preparing my testimony. Never knowing that such a thing was possible, I really had no idea what I was getting myself in to. I decided to go early, to see how other people were doing it, and watch and learn. Before even attending the first Parent Ambassador training, I was scheduled to testify to the House Ways & Means Committee on why this bill was important to me. This was a huge step for me. After attending two other committee hearings that day, the day was closing in, and it was getting closer to my turn. I was nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach, my palms were sweaty, and I just kept reading my testimony over and over to myself. The more we sat and waited for the hearing to start, the room was filling up. There were no seats by the time it started, it was standing room only, and there was virtually no room for standing either! Because this bill fell in to the Health and Human Services category, there were MANY people who wanted to testify. There were other bills being heard about home health care, and youth at risk programs, just to name a few. These programs all have supporters who wanted to be heard, and no cuts made to their programs. They are all very important programs. Because of the overwhelming amount of people, the Madam Chairman, made an announcement that all testimony would have to be under a minute.
I immediately started freaking out internally. A minute? What could I say in a minute? I started reading my written over and over, trying to memorize it, and pick out the most important pieces to be heard. Soon it came my turn, and I sat in the chair in front of about 15 Representatives to share a story about myself. I did it. I told why the program was important to me, how I strive to be a good example to my children, to get up and go to work, but if I didn’t have that subsidy, I would be forced out of the workforce. This is not something I want. I shared some details in that 60 seconds that felt like a lifetime, and more than likely, I could have read my testimony in close to that minute, but such is life, and at least I did it! Afterwards, Representative Kagi, one of the leaders in Early Education Bills and Laws, came out in to the hall way to ask me more about my story!! She wanted to know how this proposed cut would affect MY LIFE! It was amazing! I shared some more details with her, and with the help of Katy Warren, was able to give her statistics and numbers, but yet, a more “real person” approach by hearing how it would affect a real person. Not just a number!
Before getting involved in Policy Council and Parent Ambassadors, I never in a million years would have thought, that I would be asked to go the state capital to have my voice be heard. Never would I have made time to meet with my legislators, to tell MY story! A story, that is like so many others across the nation. I am not a statistic, but I am a number. And a number with a voice makes a powerful difference~!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Money, More Money!

Sitting at the coffee shop window with my 8 year old, I rummaged through my purse trying to find the correct amount for my latte. I didn't have as much cash on me as I thought, and I didn't want to use the debit card. Mostly talking to myself, I said "Dang, I thought I had more cash than that." The daughter in the back seat piped up and said, "Josh gave you $200 yesterday mom, what did you do with it?"! I replied, in my mom tone, that it was for bills. I told her I needed it for such things like the light bill, and the water, and the phone. She said, "Why don't you just not pay it mom? Then we'd have more money!" What an amazing idea Ashley, yes, I'll get right on that! She says "I think you should just not pay the light bill and the water bill. But keep the phone, yes, we need the phone!"
I then went in to detail about how if we didn't have electricity, we still wouldn't be able to use the phone because it has to be plugged in to charge, and to connect. Then she said "oh yes mom, we need the electricity then. How about the water. Yep, turn off the water, then we'll have more money!" I asked her if she would rather have the water off so she didn't have to take a bath! She gave me that look, like "duh mom"..
And then she said, "Ok, I see you have to pay the bills. How ELSE can we get more money?"
Can you tell what is always on her little mind?

Engagement Hike

On August 21st, a group of us set off towards the North Cascades. The trip there was very ridiculous and tiring, being stuck in traffic for hours traveling up I-5. The mountains were a welcomed sight for all of us. No more city, just nature......ahhhhhhhhh. It was my girlfriend (now fiance) April, her sister Janell,  janells boyfriend Nathan, my oldest daughter Morgaine and I who all went. This was my daughters first hike, and for age 9 she did an outstanding job, she made her dad proud, that's for sure!

Because of the traffic and the shopping trip for final supplies, we didn't get to the trail head until about 7 pm, so we had a little time to hike and it is only 2 miles to cutthroat lake to camp, so we just went for it. It was still light out when we got to the lake but a new sign posted near there let us know that camping by the lake wasnt allowed any more, which makes sense. 8 years ago was the last time I had been up here, so I perty much knew what i was doing, so I decided to have everyone follow me further up the mountain to a great camp spot that I know of, but it seemed closer than it really was. I thought it was only a mile up the switchbacks, but my memory had failed was more like 2 more miles up the switch backs! so here I am telling everyone that we were almost there, when in fact we weren't even close! We had head lamps and were OK with hiking in the dark( which i strongly recommend anyone to do....very beautiful at night with the stars out) except for morgaine, being 9 she is still slightly scared of the dark, and well, we were getting hungry and after assuring everyone that we were almost there I decided to call it quits because I knew morgaine was having a hard time, and we just needed to get cozy so I found a flat spot off the side of the trail and set up camp, while Nathan cooked some grub. After a night of cold winds and morgaine having to go pee every 5 minutes, the sun came up and I decided to go walk around and check out the scenery. I headed up the trail maybe 20 yards because I recognized the terrain, and sure as shit, there was the camp spot!!! It was a very funny moment.........these things only happen to me!! I love adventure! So we literally picked up our tents and carried them to the other spot! At that point it was getting warm, so we made our plan to hike up to the pass. We packed some water, some food a windbreaker and headed on up! Nathan found his own "shortcut" on the way up and we ended up there before him, but he had his own fun adventure to tell when he finally reached us. He was just thrilled that he got to hike on the pacific crest trail which intercepted with the cutthroat trail. Morgaine did not want to come down off the mountain at all, she took back all the slander towards hiking she had been belting out the night before and now wanted to live on the mountain. It is such a beautiful view from up there.We ate a nice hot meal, laid in the sun, took pictures, and made our way back down the mountain. We got to our campsite, and once again planned our next activity, which would be dinner. Janell and Nathan headed down the trail about 1.5 mile to nearest water to fill up so we could have a good meal, in the meantime April, Morgaine and I took a small nap to get re-energized! after our nap I got up and it was freakin' cold!!! I couldn't stop shivering! So I had a few shots of vodka......that's a good warm up! At about that time the cute couple had returned with the it was time for me to pull out my chef skills and cook up some cheesy tuna helper and some hot cider........anything is good in the mountains! After the dishes were done and food put away, April and I made our way out to the lookout close to our camp, at twilight ( my favorite time of day) I asked April to marry me. Perfect. We all made our way to bed, and woke up dirty and cold thanks to the CRAZY wind! we just packed up and head out down the mountain. We went into Winthrop had a burger EVER by the way...we gassed up and headed on our merry way home. We took a few pit stops, one for picture taking and another for morgaines ice cream reward for climbing the mountain!