Down the Homestretch: Lessons from the Kentucky Derby; It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish!

I always associate the homestretch of the school year with the Kentucky Derby for both come at the same time; early May.  Taking this metaphor further, it’s not about how you start the school year, nor the Derby, it’s more about how you finish.  And in light of students with executive function gaps, ADD/ADHD, or other organization and work completion challenges, the honeymoon ended a long time ago.  So our primary focus at this time of the year is to finish with dignity and retrievable credits.  Sure there are important assignments, tests, and other projects which have been long lost and forgotten, and may be on the “must do” list somewhere in some teacher’s mind. However, for some students, this is the time of the year to put aside lofty ideals such “love of learning” or “meeting standards”; it’s a matter of finishing!

When we hit the homestretch as the school year winds down, everyone’s focus leans toward “getting out” and summer vacation; who wouldn’t have this on their mind after a long school year? This is often true for teachers as well as their students.  As a result, the end-of-the-year tasks may get lost in the shuffle whether your child walks the ADD path, demonstrates Executive Functioning gaps [ie; organization, planning, cause & effect, initiation, impulsivity …], or your child’s teachers experience similar challenges.  It’s time to regroup, call in the troops, and identify the most critical assignments, tasks, projects, and missing work before the end of the semester shuts down the doors of every school.

As an education advocate, I find myself recommending to many of my clients that it’s time to call for a team meeting where all the teachers come to the table and lay out all their classroom assignments between now and the end of the year.  The purpose of this event is to assure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the specific student’s responsibilities.  This is also a time for the team to consider a “less is more” philosophy for many of our students who face ADD or Executive Function (EF) gaps, have a never-ending number of missing assignments due to the nature of these conditions.  It’s all about neuro-brain development, developmental challenges inherent to ADD, Autism, and other EF-related disorders*, and NOT just about “avoidance”, irresponsibility, and willfully choosing to let everything fall by the wayside.   As a result of these organizational gaps, by May and June, many students have a massive list of missing assignments which seem to go on forever.  So an strategic approach, working with all of your child’s teachers, will likely yield a successful end of the school year as you negotiate with the whole team the most important, critical, and essential tasks and assignments

For example, one of my clients contacted me last week to create a strategic plan leading toward establishing a “check-out list” toward graduation this June.  What astounded us, as we reviewed the missing homework assignments from the past five months, how often her son earned “A grades” on the unit tests associated with these lost assignments.  Clearly, her son was learning, even more apparent, he was achieving at the top of his class.  However, due to the missing homework assignments, he was at risk of failing this class due to his disability for organization, planning, and follow-though present serious gaps within his daily life.  As a result, often, the supplemental tasks get lost in the shuffle.  He is not alone in this.  It appears that one of his teachers lost the original assignment so my client’s son was being called out to do it all over again.  Our strategic plan is to meet with all of her son’s teachers and develop a negotiated “must do” list; and weed out the unnecessary assignments at this time of the year.  In fact, this is a part of his 504 Accommodation Plan.  The accommodation reads as follows: “30 days from the end of each semester, teachers will meet with parent and student to develop an “end of semester” check list by highlighting, clarifying, and removing assignments, as needed.”

If this is not within your wheelhouse as a parent, this may prove to be an excellent time to work with a skilled and insightful advocate.  In many situations, we can negotiate the development of end-of -the-year “check lists” which lead to passing grades and a summer of fun rather than failing classes and credit retrieval or summer school.  *For more ideas on these conditions, I highly recommend reading ADDItude Magazine as a wonderful go to resource [http://www.additudemag.com/]. 

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