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Tampa Bay Morning Blend Interview

I had such a great time meeting and talking with the hosts and staff at the Morning Blend. Huge thanks to the amazing publisher, Tara Richter for everything she has done to help me share my message of hope to others.

Morning Blend Ruthfulness clip

Featured

Scholarships for School

When deciding on a school for a typical child parents have a multitude of options.  Many parents use public schools but also use magnet and charter programs with in the public system.  Still traditional parents use private schools and home school options.  When trying to make decisions for my special needs child regarding school and education, I completely feel like I need a financial adviser!

How do families decide which scholarship is best for their child with special needs?  I swear we need a full worksheet/flow chart with which options are the best for each individual case.   I am personally torn as to whether we should switch to Gardiner Scholarship from McKay.   The Gardiner is $10,000 our current McKay is less than that.  But what happens if I give up the McKay?  Can I get it back?  How?  If I go to Gardiner am I gambling with the school that we currently have? Would I be limiting my options or broadening my options to educate my child?

Then thinking about life after school, how long or to what age can we continue to receive money?  Thinking long-term, we are asking questions about where my son will live and where he will work, how will we continue to meet his medical needs.  A financial adviser can definitely help me save money to prepare for those expenses later in life but who can help guide me financially now with the best scholarship option for my children?

Let’s go over the options:

McKay  Scholarship

Gardiner Scholarship

Florida Tax credit scholarship (FTC)

 

*These options cannot be combined, choose one.

The Mckay basics: have IEP, request a matrix score, submit an application, wait for award determination, find a school, dollar amounts vary by need/accommodations written in IEP

The Gardiner basics: must have specific medical diagnosis, no IEP is needed, award amount is at least $10,000, limited scholarships granted, money flexible for school, therapy and other needs, find a school that accepts scholarship

FTC basics: completely income related and based on family size, amount of scholarship is percentage like a 100% scholarship, 80%, 66% and 50%.  The total amount also varies based on grade level.   They also give priority scholarships to renewal families and highest income need first.  Check the income requirements on their website.

 

Look at your options and find what will work best with your needs and start applying now.  Watch your Mckay intent!  DON’T file intent, YET!  Wait until your final IEP meeting has been conducted to try to increase your award amount.  Think about using an advocate to help you if you don’t have one now.  Every dollar matters in our world of access to education and therapy; choose wisely.

Comment with any questions for advise and suggestions!

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Autism and the Tooth Fairy

I think he could care less….

the tooth fairy and autism; does my child really get it?

After a long dental surgery to remove five teeth and do other repair work to my 8 year olds teeth, I thought he was finally ready for the tooth fiary. Well, it seems like it is not important to him at all. He didn’t seem excited or interested in getting gold coins and money. It’s as if money has no real significance to him at this time. Well, paper money becuase he does understand my bank card. He is going and getting the card out of my wallet and saying he is ready to go to the bank,

I’n not sure if he understands that the card is for money to buy things or if he just wants to go to the bank to get a lolly pop.

So, how do I parent my typical child to include the tooth fairy and then the tooth fairy leave out my son with autism. He doesn’t seem to belive or care about getting rewarded for loosing a tooth. But my typical child is so excited to losse a tooth and get a surprise from the fairy. She even writes notes and makes pictures for the entire event.

What’s a parent to do?

Going to Gardiner

I just found out that we are eligibile for the Gardiner Scholarship. This is something I have thought about but never been in the right place educationally to apply and follow through with changing from the McKay to the Gardiner.

My primary reason for switching is money.

Unfortunely for many people with children with special needs realize that the best therapy, ecuation or medicines are often the most expensive. Many parents do not have insureance that provides for the hours of needed behavioral therapy (ABA) or the expensive developmental pediatriatns in order to get the medical diagnosis to give you that access card. Having the medical diagnosis, austism (ASD) is a huge help in gaining access to much needed help for families.

Commerical health insureance can easiliy have a $4,000 to $7,000 deductible with out of pocket max over $10,000. Today, private school with average an additional $10,000 per year. If public schools do not meet the needs of your special needs child and you need a specialized learning environment for your childr’s success money is the solution.

That’s the power of a special needs scholarhip like Gardiner. Allowing parents the power of choice, the power to think outside the recommendation of a public school IEP team and th power to build a custom learning path is an opportintity unique to Florida.

Still in the process…more to come on how we use this opportunity!

~Ruth

I took the playground back!

Last week I had it out at the playground; I had enough and I don’t care if I came across like a Karen!

I took the playground back!

The neighborhood playground was locked for over two months from Covid-19.  When it opened back up my kids were so excited.  We went a few times when no one was there.  As the weeks went on they were asking all day when they could finally go to the playground to play.  We started going each night for about half an hour during our walks.   That was when the “big kids” started showing up or would already be there before we could get there.

If they were there I didn’t let me kids play.  There were always at least four and up to 6-8 teens; probably around the ages of 12 to 14.

DON’T get me wrong; it is cool to see kids that age outside playing!

However, this is where it started to go downhill.

They showed up every day and would not leave.

They would be there for hours. Like 4 hours!

They started leaving their bikes inside the playground, where you would enter. So, 4 to 8 adult sized bikes just laying down or leaning on the playground equipment.  So, now that equipment is not usable and my kids cannot run over there because your bikes are in the way or they might fall down on them if they get bumped.  Mind you; everyone else parks their bikes and strollers along the fence on the outside!

They would not move or “share”.  So, they would be playing on the main part with all the slides.  Climbing, jumping and chasing each other or just sitting.  If my kids wanted to slide they wouldn’t move unless I asked.

Add to that…

Damage- the one picnic table top was broken and left metal exposed to everyone else.

Litter- trash left on the mulch; mostly water bottles but whatever they bring they leave.  We have at least 2 trash cans but doesn’t seem like they use them.  It also seems like they can bring a bag of water but can’t take the empty water bottles with them.

Language-inappropriate words and inappropriate play language.   So, rough words and play with each other.  Not how I would allow my kids to play.

Attitude-refusing to move, knocking down smaller kids, sitting on playground equipment so others can not use it.

I stood up to a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds.  LOL

I lectured them about what they were doing and how it was affecting the other smaller children.  They were difficult and argumentative.  I just kept working on my point, that smaller children in 1st grade are not going to speak up or stand up to teens that are the size of adults.   I spoke my peace and stood up for all the kids.

We went about a week before we saw any of them again.  Then when three of them came back, they were nice and more respectful.  Now, I know they have been there.  Because they still leave behind their trash.

So, my next move.   I started talking to every parent that came to the playground.

One father who had problems with the same teens because they knocked down his daughter multiple times and he had to speak to them.

I continue to mention the issue to anyone who came by to let them know that we all want to play.  We can all play when we are kind and respectful.

You know that lady that goes crazy for her playground; yeah, I’m that lady.  I took the playground back.  I am happy that I did.

UPDATE:  And just to support all kids playing outside.  Those teens (big kids) they found new activities, riding bikes in the neighborhood, playing soccer and I even saw them running at another park!  Is that a win-win?!

We are going back to school

Hi, from Florida!

Florida has been in the news a lot lately regarding the political decision to force schools to open up brick and mortar.  Let’s be clear; this is public schools and I’m a public school teacher that will be sending my children to school this August. 

 I will be sending my children to school because they attend private school not public schools.  

Just last week we received the reopening plan for my daughter’s school. She’ll be going into 1st grade.  

The plan is extensive and well thought out; as to be expected from her school.

The plan includes

  • Delay start of school by 1 week.

  • Stagger start. K-2 comes first day, next day K-5 and lastly K-8.

  • No before or aftercare

  • Most likely no sports or after school activity

  • Masks for students and staff

  • Social distancing and minimizing all contact between classes and other staff.

  • Temperature checks, health screenings, hand sanitizer stations and professional daily sanitation.

 

Positive Test Plan

If a student or a member of a student household has a positive test then that student will quarantine for 14 days and use a digital learning platform for school.

If the teacher has a positive test the teacher will quarantine for 14 days and anyone in direct contact will also quarantine for 14 days. Distance learning during this time.

If the department of health recommends any additional closures or suggestions all those will be followed.

 

 

I have confidence in my daughter’s school plan to reopen. The school is a private school for grades K to 8 with approximately 350 total students. There are low class size ratio before coronavirus so more space in the class can be accommodated. The grade levels are spaced out in different parts and floors of the building. The school already had professional cleaning and hand washing areas. They have since installed 30 additional sanitizer and hand washing areas in the building and increased the deep cleaning and sanitizing schedule to daily by the professional company.

Selecting the schools my children attend was a significant event in our life.  Our zoned public school doesn’t offer what my children need.    Both of my children are on scholarship at two different private schools.  We love both of the those schools for very different reasons.  At these times, we realized the fight to find them the best educational setting has paid off.  Our confidence that our safely, health and education will be a priority is within the relationship we built with the schools.    

 

My biggest concern

Returning to work as a high school teacher. Our public high schools have about 1600 to 2000 students per school in the district. I do not know how you successfully distance that many students. I have approximately 150 students a day.

We will not know our plan back to school until the 20th of July. My return to work date is August 3rd.

I’m concerned about my family and how I would miss work if one of my children had to quarantine for 14 days.

 

 

What I think is unfair

How do you give parents less than 1 month to make a decision for a semester or a entire school year? 

How we do not have an in person graduation in July but next month plan to open schools? 

How is it fair to make parents decide to work or home school?

How is it acceptable to risk the health of a child because a parent(s) have to go to a job because they can’t work from home? 

How is it fair to have so many at risk and special education students go without numerous services provided by schools?

How is it right that the only way to get free breakfast and lunch is going to be attending school face to face?  

 

There are many more questions and concerns about equity.  

My heart breaks for so many parents who don’t know what to choose.  

My best advice is to advocate for your child’s needs.  

Each of our children will be different and each will have a set of needs.  

Look into your family situation and the needs of your children, go to the schools and fight for those needs. 

No matter your choice, no matter the reason, you are right.  

You are your child’s best advocate.  

Happy Birthday!

to me!

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

I had a birthday Sunday and I’d love for you to share and follow my blog, social media pages and book as a gift for me!

website: ruthfulness.com

Facebook page: facebook.com/ruthfulness

Instagram account: ruthfulnessblog

Twitter: ruthfulnessblog

Book on Amazon

I am also a contributing writing onThe Real Deal of Parenting; so check out my featured articles there as well.

 

Thanks for all the love!!

 

a mother’s self image

grey hair me (2)
This is me!

I’m struggling with how I feel compared to how I look in the mirror and more how I look in a photography.

I feel beautiful.

When I look in the mirror I think who is that?

I avoid taking all selfies and try not to take many photos of myself with my kids or husband. When I see my photo the first thing I see is my hair.

OMG IS IT REALLY THAT GREYYY…WHITE!

The messages my brain receives are so different. I’m confident in the wife, mother, friend, teacher, advocate, and author that I am. I am confident in my decision to go grey.

But who’s that lady in the mirror?

Is that me in that photography?

How long before I can see the new me as me?

Will I always think of myself with brown or red hair? Will that be my internal self image that I hold onto forever?

I read tons of #gombre articles in deciding on going grey before 40 but none of them mentioned how to face your new self identity. Those women just seemed so confident and classy with their hair.  

So, this is me.  I just turned 38 and I’m going grey.  I will love myself inside and out!

Now, to start taking more photographs and making memories with me in them.  If you are struggling with your identity as a mother, wife, woman; join me in celebrating our beauty.  We’re worth it!

 

 

 

 

Check out this reading program

It’s better than ABC Mouse.

Yup. That’s right. It is better than ABC Mouse.

This online program has helped my son with autism get basic reading skills he lacks due to his Developmental disabilities. He didn’t speak until six and he didn’t start to try to write independently until eight. So, in all his education he was learning lower skills or then age/grade level skills.

I really want my son to read. I want his confidence and skills to improve so he can be more independent in the classroom. Reading is a fundamental skill for life and for awhile I questioned if my son would ever read.

After seeing his success in quarantine with the online math program, I started searching for something similar in reading.

reading eggs

I found Reading Eggs from a recommendation from a Facebook group for parents with autism!  

You can try the program free for 2 weeks without putting in your credit card information! (actually it says they are offering 30 days) 

That in itself is a win. 

What I like: 

  1. parent dashboard with measurables: reading age, sight words, phonics skills
  2. assessment to start 
  3. assessment at the end of each map (about every 10 lessons)
  4. little extra distractions or easy access to fluff
  5. highly focused lessons
  6. repetitive concept lessons
  7. free printable worksheets that match the lessons with multiple pages of practice
  8. cute and excitable characters with built in praise within each lesson
  9. micro goals within a lessons: get to 10 with a counter at the top or five stars on the side in order to finish
  10. time to complete a lesson- pace is good at one lesson a day with the computer and paper practice
  11. has different levels as kids become better readers and grow older.  for ages 2-13
  12. use of the math worksheets 
  13. cost- $60 for one student 
  14. crashes and program freeze- this has never happened with reading eggs.  We had free access to ABC Mouse during quarantine and could not access it during the day because it wouldn’t start, would start and not load, or just turn off while the kids were using it.   

 

I don’t have any dislikes but maybe other people would want to know:

  • cost-  have to pay more for more users.  Unlike other sites where you get three accounts or more, this site you pay for users. So, if you had three kids to use the program it would be much more costly.   
  • other features- like songs, art, library are pretty odd to work and find fun stuff to do.  I find that I like this feature because on ABC Mouse my kids just want to color.  I’m not paying 60 dollars for you to color online.  
  • kid usage-I do think it is best to do this with your child.  Often with ABC Mouse you just let your kid play and “it’s educational” because the platform is user-friendly for kids at a young age.  I think sitting with your kids and doing Reading Eggs together, saying the sounds, words and reading the sentences together is way better and more effective with learning.  They also get your praise as they are working, not just the computer. 

 

I have no affiliation to Reading Eggs, haven’t even written them a review and I don’t get any discounts if you decide to try it and buy it.   

I just found something that works and is helping our son learn reading skills and wanted to share so that if anyone else needed help, they could try it too.   

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When you give in or fall off your child’s special diet

I gave in or fell off the special diet….not for myself(this time) but for my son.

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There is no good excuse. I just let it happen. In fact, I bought the box (well, 2 boxes now!) of cereal. Ask the mom of this child, a year ago or longer if she would have allowed this type of “sugary” cereal in her house.

NO, WAY!

All that sugar, dyes and god knows what else that wouldn’t be organic. Never, not for this kid. As organic and none processed as possible.

Have you started a diet, stopped, tried it again and again?

When did you find results?

When you found the diet with results, did you ever just have that time of the year or year or five years that you just didn’t follow the diet that you knew would help keep you healthy?

Oh, of course! We probably have all done that in our life.

Now, apply that to your child. Exhausting at times and challenging to always be saying NO. Having to pack lunch, snack, special food for just basic trips out of the house. The five stores I have to shop at to find all the foods that he will actually eat that are organic, gluten free, diary free, dye free…the list goes on.

{Special diets have worked and have failed for us.  It was a huge trial and error; full of experimentation.  Even though, I am convinced that changing his diet did in fact help him to begin to speak; becoming verbal at the age of six!  }

So, I caved.

I crashed and burned.

I bought the cereal I loved as a kid and gave it to my child!

He’s happy.

I’m finding more time to clean, write, and relax because my 8 year old can make himself a meal. YUP, a meal! A bowl of cereal.

Now, leave mamma alone for 5 minutes. The amount of food these kids can eat is unreal. So, I caved and gave the cereal with all the junk.

My only win…the unsweetened almond milk in the fridge. It’s the only milk we have unless we picked up free lunches that week from school.

I’ve given myself a pass at this time, considering the pandemic, school closures and riots. But even without those things, we can give ourselves a pass when we need it.

There will be time for more restrictions and time for better eating. Right now we survive.

Happy kids are healthy kids.

 

Need money for services or products…the new Gardiner Scholarship

Update!  We are applying for funding from Step Up for Students under the Gardiner Scholarship.  Applications are still being accepted at this time (deadline was listed at June 20, 2020).   If we are awarded this scholarship, we will no longer be using the McKay Scholarship based on our IEP.  The school that we attend takes this scholarship!

This would give us additional money that we could use to support our child’s education.  From tuition, therapy services to other products or materials that could add up to thousands of dollars that we would not have to spend out of pocket.

 

gardiner scholarshipThe Gardiner Scholarship (formerly the PLSA) is newly named to Florida as part of the Step Up for Students Scholarship program.  The Gardiner is for special needs students with a medical diagnosis.  Recently, I discussed the serious business of the McKay Scholarship.  The Gardiner is another excellent choice when looking for appropriate education for a special needs child.

The things that I consider when looking into the Gardiner

  1. it can be used for tuition or products
  2. it averages $10,000
  3. do not have to have an IEP to qualify
  4. flexibility with eligibility and determination

 

The first thing that is different about Gardiner than McKay is that the scholarship amount can be used for tuition or products.  You are not locked into a private school.  As the parent you can use speech therapy, OT, PT, materials or college prepaid account.  The money does not come to the parent, it does go to the qualifying specialist.  You also have to select a therapist that accepts Gardiner money.

I like that the scholarship averages $10,000 for each child. There is no complicated matrix, IEP or school district complying your score or remove services.  There are also benefits to applying for McKay if you have a special needs child that has many services because the Gardiner Scholarship will match the dollar amount of McKay with a matrix score of 254 or 255.  The highest amount for McKay is $22,000!

Students do not need to have an IEP to qualify for the Gardiner Scholarship.  A student can qualify with a medical diagnosis of:

Autism spectrum disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, an intellectual disability, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrophy, Williams syndrome or a high-risk child

If you do not have a medical diagnosis you can still apply for your child and use your IEP as evidence of a special need or disability.  For some parents who have a child that is 3 or 4, this scholarship would allow the child to receive one on one intensive therapy while waiting for an appointment for a developmentally pediatrician.    See my previous post about why medical diagnosis is so important.

There is more flexibility with determining and qualifying for the Gardiner Scholarship than McKay.  The parent has more choice on where the dollars are spent and families are able to apply for money before age 5. McKay is only for students that are kindergarten grade level and up.  I found that getting information about this scholarship is not openly discussed or handed out.  It is pretty much a hidden gem that only certain people will even whisper that they will take that scholarship.  Because it is hard to find therapists, let alone therapists that take the Gardiner Scholarships many parents are not informed.  There is also a commitment because the scholarship is for services and products, it can be used for tuition.  So, many parents need child care and therapy for their children.  When services are available for 5 hours a day then the parent has to pay for and rely on a sitter or be available to care for the child.  There are some complexities but it gives options.  Some parents want to stay home with their children until kindergarten, if your child had special needs this would be a way to access therapy without maxing out insurance and paying heavily out-of-pocket.  The key is to remember that parents only get ONE choice; either McKay, Gardiner, or Step Up Income Based Scholarship.

Check out the Gardiner Scholarship and see if it’s right for your family.

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Need Money for School…Mckay Scholarship

Does your child have an IEP or 504 in the state of Florida?

Florida was the first state to implement a scholarship like McKay.  McKay allows for parents of special needs children to use funds allocated to the public school for private school tuition.  (you can use McKay to transfer to another public school as long as that school has availability) The idea within McKay is that parents have more choice in how their child is educated and to be sure that funds are being used for a Free Public Appropriate Education (FAPE).  The key is that parents must select an accredited public or private school that will accept McKay dollars.     The reason that McKay gets so serious is dollars.  Students that have the highest matrix score can be awarded up to $22,000!

Where you can use the McKay Scholarship…any public, private, or charter school in Florida that accepts Department of Education dollars.   The McKay can be used to go to a different, not zoned, public school.   If you need a specialized program or special circumstances you can request a reassignment.  You can also use it many private schools.  We have many schools that have private programs for special needs children. Finding the right school can take time but paying for the right school has lots of options in Florida to cover the costs.

So, I’m going to try to give you the key points that you have to know when considering McKay.  There is so much information about deadlines, % of money received, how to apply, how a child earns the money and how you can lose the money.  Visit the Florida Department of Education to read all the details and frequently asked questions.

The key concepts that I found helpful were related to

attendance

the matrix

qualifiers/eligibility

 

Attendance is key to McKay eligibility because the state determines funding with FTE (full-time equivalent).  We call FTE week “date certain” and teachers have to verify attendance for all their students for each day and each period if applicable.   Students have to attend at least one day during FTE week in both October and February periods. Students can not withdraw from public school and not enroll in a private school to be eligible for the scholarship.  This essentially means that you can not show lapse in care or education; that would mean you have a break in service and would not be eligible for the money even when you have an IEP.  So, the moment you have hardship at your public school and what to withdraw your child. DON’T.  You keep them home and find another school.  Start sending then to that new school if you need to then apply within the date range for McKay.  You can get a percentage of the scholarship throughout the year.  The payments are broken into quarters and you could use a percent of the scholarship within the school year.  Obviously, as the parent any amount not covered by the scholarship would have to be paid by you.

The matrix for the McKay scholarship is vital to maximizing your score and payout.  The matrix scores are between 251 and 255.  Only 5% of applicants score a 255 which has the highest payout.  That payout could be close to $22,000.  The matrix score is determined by the school district.  Parents have no legal authority to “score” the McKay matrix in preparation to the final score.  School’s have to create a matrix score within 30 days.  Technically, the matrix score should already be done but the district still has time to complete the application via the state’s online application center.  There are five domains that make up the score are: Curriculum and Learning, Social/Emotional Behavior, Independent Functioning, Healthcare and Communication.  This matrix score can change during the school year depending on services received within the IEP.  However, once you use your McKay dollars for private school then they will not change (unless you go back into public school).

There are a LOT of qualifiers/eligibility determining factors; please review the state website again for more detailed and specific guidelines.  The things that stuck with me regarding McKay was that you have to use the money for private tuition and that the money goes directly to the school.  The matrix score is based solely off the IEP or 504.  The child does not have to have a medical diagnosis; they can just have an IEP that qualifies them for services in the public school setting.  A 504 plan does qualify for McKay, however, the matrix with the five domains is not used.  Most families should expect to see less than $5500 with a 504 plan.

There are so many details to the McKay.  If you read through the Florida Department of Education website you can make sure that your child has the checklist of basics before you fill out your student intent form.  Once you have completed the intent form you will be sent a confirmation number to use to find out the matrix code and eligibility determination.  Once you have your amount awarded you can select a private school to enroll your child in.  If you are not satisfied with your matrix score then I would recommend hiring an advocate to review your IEP to determine if you can raise the matrix score to provide additional funding.  I would recommend the IEP Advocate, I haven’t paid to use them but have been to workshops and they are very knowledgeable and detailed oriented.

Our family is waiting to see what our matrix score will be and then determine if will use the McKay scholarship for private tuition.  We will be comparing our McKay to our potential Gardiner scholarship amount.

Apply for McKay.

 

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