With a vast array of schools to choose from, it can be easy for any family to feel daunted or overwhelmed during the process of finding the right school for them. That’s where Smart City Kids (SCK) comes in. SCK is a company of educational consultants who provide expert advice, guidance, and emotional support to guide families to a school that’s a perfect fit for their child, and while they have been a longtime resource for parents in the midst of the school choice or application process, SCK has recently broadened their services to include specific offerings for parents of children with learning disabilities and/or special needs.
Among many services, SCK offers workshops to support teachers and educators in identifying and navigating difficult conversations with parents; they also recommend schools that serve children with special needs and help families through the admissions process.
Once a family begins the school choice process with their special needs child at SCK, they meet with Wendy Federico, SCK’s Special Needs Advisor and Advocate. Federico is a former admissions director at two NYC special education schools with 30 years of experience under her belt (her background is in clinical social work, early childhood education, and school administration), a former ISAAGNY board member, and a loving mother and grandmother. Her job is to get a sense of a student’s past performance in school, as well as the parents’ understanding of their child’s needs, and the goals and expectations that they have for them. She reviews the documentation the family brings to her, and then does an informal assessment in order to get a sense of where the student’s current level of functioning is for students who might be struggling through mainstream schools. She also assists families with executing strategies for pursuing both mainstream and special education options from nursery school through college, and provides referrals and recommendations to nursery schools looking to identify support services for their students.
“I’ve been in the world of special education for so long that I know the discrete differences [between schools],” Federico explains. “Some schools are for children with social-emotional needs, some are for children who are so bright but have dyslexia and move on to very credible and reputable colleges, some children are on the autistic spectrum, so it’s really very varied…for example, if it shows the child has more social-emotional needs, that will dictate my outreach efforts to different schools.”
As part of SCK’s special needs offerings, Federico reviews the child’s neuropsychological evaluation or refers them to one of the evaluators in her “Parents Survival Kit for the Special Education Process.” This kit includes everything from a list of lawyers specializing in educational advocacy to a tour checklist for families to bring on prospective school visits. She then visits the child’s current school (if the parents allow) to speak with their teacher and all others who’ve worked with them to see what supports are already in place and whether they’ve been successful. Once she identifies where exactly the child is struggling, she searches for an alternative program that would be better suited for the child’s specific needs.
Since each specialized school has a unique profile, Federico makes it her business to be familiar with all of them: “If I am working with a family of a child who is autistic there are very specific programs for that child. If the child is dyslexic, with no co-morbid diagnoses, I would look at the schools that cater to that population.”
From her experience, Federico has found the most difficult part of the entire process is not actually finding the school, but helping parents accept that the academic goals they may have held for their child may have to change. “It’s almost like mourning the loss of their perfect child,” she says, adding that, often, the parents have their heart set on a certain school, but that school just isn’t the most fitting for their child’s needs.
Federico assures parents that in the appropriate setting, their child will thrive. She calls this the “Aha Moment”—when parents can finally take a deep breath and know that their child is safe and supported, their needs will be met, and they are being nurtured in the proper school for them.
Federico believes the new Special Education arm of SCK will grow and thrive because it fills a need in New York City. “NYC parents want optimal [results],” she notes. “Although public schools are mandated to provide support for children with special needs, this can range to anything from self-contained classes of special need students to research rooms where students are pulled out of class for at least five hours a week to receive additional support.”
Parents looking for a highly specialized school for their special needs child should know that these types of schools typically cap classes at 12 students with two teachers. These teachers will at least have their Master’s in Special Education, and social workers, psychologists, and other support staff will usually be readily available. These resources can make all the difference for a child who comes home wondering why they’re being bullied for their speech impediment, or why can’t read as well as their peers. For a student with significant language needs, for example, the switch to a school that offers individualized support from a speech pathologist five days a week is absolutely invaluable.
At the end of the day, even though the process can be daunting, it’s all worth it when a family can watch their child thrive, regardless of how they learn. “I always say there is a program somewhere for every child,” Federico says.
For more information, visit smartcitykids.com!