Event debrief: BAISLD Transition to High School Forum

I’ve written before about my amazing colleagues in BAISLD, the Bay Area. Independent Schools Learning Differences group. This group consists of the people in schools in our region, mostly at the high school level, who specifically serve the needs of students with diagnosed learning and attentional impairments.

Back in December, we’d planned to have one of our five annual meetings at Mercy High School here in San Francisco, but as it happened, the controlled chaos of school life in December prevailed and we cancelled the meeting at the last minute. I’d already planned to be off campus, as had my colleagues from Lick Wilmerding High School, and we conspired to meet and talk shop on our own. My counterpart at Lick is a woman named Winifred Montgomery, who is as wickedly smart as she is funny. A Lick alumna named Rebekah Randle recently joined Winifred’s office as her assistant, and we agreed it would be great to meet to get Rebekah further acquainted with the work we do and the terrific network of educators we belong to.

As we sipped tea (them) and hot chocolate (me), we wondered: wouldn’t it be great if we could spread the message of BAISLD to a wider audience? Specifically, one of our greatest challenges at the high school level is in managing the expectations of our new ninth grade families. in every arena from disclosing an LD to requesting accommodations to applying to college, there is widespread confusion and anxiety among the families who join us in ninth grade. Wouldn’t it be great, we wondered, to have all of that information in one place? And wouldn’t it be great to have everyone who could help spread that message–like elementary school learning specialists, placement counselors, and heads of school– in the same room?

That afternoon, Winifred, Rebekah and I laid out the blueprint for an event and a publication that we proudly rolled out on Thursday, April 10th. The first BAISLD Transition to High School Forum was a free event that included an amazing dinner (courtesy of the dynamite food service staff at Lick Wilmerding) and a discussion of the greatest challenges that we face in independent middle schools and high schools with the students that we serve. The centerpiece of the event was the BAISLD Resource Guide, a short booklet describing the landscape of services available to what we called “neuro-diverse learners” in our schools in the region. We also included lists of the best questions families can asks during the high school search process, including a series of questions for schools and a series of questions for families to discuss for themselves. We also included a comprehensive guide to the services available on the campuses of all high schools in the region.

The resource guide was a labor of love for the entire BAISLD group. We used our February meeting to outline what we thought belonged in the resource guide, from thorny issues (like the distinction between accommodations and modifications) to more practical matters (including the process of pursuing accommodations on standardized tests). Throughout the guide, our goal was to write with a voice that was at once authoritative and empowering. This guide, we hoped, could be a game-changer in our region. It could allow families to feel more empowered than ever about their search for the right high school for their neuro-diverse sons and daughters.

If Thursday night’s event is any indication, I’m confident that we’ve managed to create something extraordinary. We had middle school and high school faculty members grappling with big questions and sharing best practices in service of some of the most vulnerable students that we serve. It was energizing, it was inspiring, and–most importantly–there was an overwhelming demand for further discussion.

As a result, we now hope to expand BAISLD’s membership to include a more diverse mix of middle school and high school voices. We also plan to update the resource guide at least every two years, if not more often. In addition to the printed copies we released Thursday night, the guide is now hosted permanently on the Lick Wilmerding High School website, where we hope it will help neuro-diverse learners and their families more confidently and competently navigate the high school search process.

Or work in BAISLD is far from over–there are always going to be more needs to meet and more students who need our support. I can’t help but feel, though, that we’ve done something great. In just a few months’ time, we’ve combined our collective knowledge to create something that may better inform the entire high school admissions process in our region and affect a wide community of learners. I’m so proud of what we’ve done, and I’m enormously proud to work with my amazing colleagues here in BAISLD.

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