Jun 04, 2012 0 Share

To ESY or Not to ESY?

Illustration of thumbs up and down with words "Extended School Year."

It seems I go through the same existential crisis year after year: To ESY or not to ESY? Cameron hates the idea of "Summer School," even if you dress it up with an acronym like ESY. And I can't say that I blame him. On the one hand,  there is a lot to be said for the structure and continuation of support services provided through the Extended School Year. Not to mention, there's no direct out-of-pocket expense involved. But on the other hand, by design, there's no remediation of skills in ESY. The intent is to keep the status quo, so nothing lost, but nothing gained either. And who wants to be on a school bus by 7:00 a.m. all summer? So, it is with some trepidation that I've decided to say no to ESY for Cameron this year, and have challenged myself to establish an equally structured summer for him, and perhaps even more meaningful. And thus, the creation of MASSA: Mom's Awesome Summer School Alternative. 

The key to MASSA's success is making sure Cameron has something to do. I'm still holding out hope that a paid employment opportunity will present itself, but until then, Cameron's manager at Angelico Pizzeria has agreed to allow Cameron to continue indefinitely. However, a couple of hours of washing dishes each day is not enough to fill out a summer. In last week's column, I mentioned hiring a social mentor for Cameron. This is an aspect of MASSA that I'm most excited about. This person will be charged with overseeing Cameron's interactions with the community in general. If they go to a restaurant, I want to make sure Cameron leaves an appropriate tip. If they agree to meet at a museum, Cameron should arrive on time, or call to say when he'll arrive. I'm hoping Cameron's social mentor might even help Cameron find a volunteer opportunity that will earn him credit towards his community service graduation requirement. And perhaps the social mentor will help Cameron approach potential employers about available opportunities. There are endless opportunities in which a social mentor could help Cameron become more independent, all crammed into about four to six hours a week. And, it's far more appropriate for Cameron to do all these things with a hip, young, pretty social mentor, as opposed to his mommy! 

You may now be asking, "Where can I find a social mentor for my young person?" Well, this is one instance in which I cannot recommend my dear friend Google. This is situation that calls for a dash of creativity and a fair amount of parental intuition. Cameron's social mentor worked with him last year at the Smithsonian All-Access Camp, and when I spoke with her at the camp's conclusion, I was blown away by the insight she had developed into Cameron in such a short time. I've learned from years of experience that when you find someone who works well with your child, you keep in touch with that person. And as I've learned from firsthand experience, people who work in the field of supporting students with disabilities are not wealthy from their incomes. Therefore, many are open to side employment opportunities. If you're looking for a social mentor, think of someone with whom your child has worked with before and with whom you found it easy to communicate. Don't stop the search with past teachers. Consider young adult relatives that have had a good relationship with your child, provide a little guidance for activities, and send them off into the world together. If the list of potential mentors is still empty, look into nearby universities that offer a special education degree program. Universities often have a job posting website that the public has access to. This is where my friend Google can come in handy, in as much as finding a place to post the job description and in researching any applicants. It's relatively easy to run a background check on anyone these days. 

The decision to decline ESY services for Cameron in lieu of MASSA did have some financial strings attached. ESY is paid for by the school system, and by declining I'm left paying for, among other things, the social mentor's time and the cost of any activities she and Cameron schedule. But then I considered the expense of sending my 9-year-old daughter to two weeks of the science camp she asked to attend, and I realize how valuable a proposition it is to hire a social mentor. Of course, you'll have to check back in September to see how successful the inaugural year of MASSA was, but I suspect the valuation with be "priceless."