September 1, 2009

And they're off...

Yesterday was one of those "I know I'm supposed to be sad, but I'm really happy" days. Both Pisani kids have officially begun the 2009-10 school year in Canada. Last year Danielle and Louis started school in Naperville and we moved in early October. It was good for them to begin the year fresh and experience all that comes with the first day of school excitement. Last August was bittersweet, knowing that we were going to be moving and all.

So, Louis is off to Grade 6. Many have asked how the special education program in Quebec compares with what we were receiving in Illinois. Basically, there are good and bad points. In Illinois, we had loads and loads of paperwork and calculations of "minutes" of therapy, consultations and more. Louis had a full-time aid and was integrated into the regular classroom and pulled out for one-on-one teaching and therapy. It was a good system, yes. He received 90 minutes of speech per week and lots of other services. We don't miss the lengthy, political I.E.P. meetings, Paul especially. We do miss the kids at his school and the familiarity of Kendall Elementary, as it was also Danielle's elementary school.

Here in Montreal, Louis also attends our neighborhood school. As you can see from the photo above, we walk through a small forest to get to his school, which happens to be called Sherwood Forest. It's about half the size of his Illinois school and only two classes per grade. We do like the size. It's what's called an "English" school, however, it's confusing since half of his day is in French as well. He's integrated into the regular classroom and only has an aid a couple of hours a day. We're realizing that quantity of services is not always quality and he seems to be getting a good education. He's picking up quite a bit of French, probably more than we realize. In a way, many of the French words are easier for him to articulate than English. It's safe to say that Kish and Louis are probably on the same level and it's supposed to be Louis' job to come home and teach Kish some words each day. He seems to have adjusted well to school and his new surroundings, made some nice friends (boys are WAY easier) and has never once complained about school. He receives speech therapy at school and has a lot less "help" with his work which is both good and bad. There's a lot less paperwork as well. Also, while the school year is longer, going until the third week of June, they do have a full hour for lunch and recess and an additional recess during the day. That full hour break seems to work well for teachers and the kids. Kids can come home for lunch, but most parents pay the extra fee to supply the lunch supervisors and keep the kids at school for that fun time. Elementary school goes until Grade 6 in Quebec and then the kids move on to the high school incorporating grades 7-11. We'll likely be looking at a private, special education school for Louis next year.

This year we will be supplementing his speech outside of class and getting a tutor. But thanks to a 48% tax rate, what is not covered by our private insurance (we have Medicare and an outside employer-supplied company) is tax deductible. Even the mileage to and from these appointments can be deducted from taxes. The same nice tax deduction applies to all of his medical appointments, assessments and basically anything related to his disability. Yes, Canada has high taxes. But, with that comes a lot of services for those in need AND just as important, the family. We recently learned about a government program we will be eligible for after living here for 18 months. Basically it's a stipend, open to anyone with a child of a disability regardless of income level. Today we learned that we can also apply for this stipend for Danielle because she is the sibling of someone with a disability and the funds are to be used for counseling or anything that benefits her well being. As we've said in previous posts, it's shocking to look at the numbers, but in return we believe we're getting more than our "fair" share in return. Canada puts a lot of emphasis in health and family.

Speaking of health -- Canada also has a $500 tax deduction, per child, as a "Child Fitness Credit." When in enrolling in any qualified sporting activity -- hockey, soccer, swimming, karate, whatever -- parents receive a receipt and can take up to a $500 deduction. They encourage sports and exercise and give parents a nice incentive. Might be good for the U.S.?

So, while it's been a fantastic summer, with lots of family time, everyone is excited school and getting back into a routine. Even Duke seems to be enjoying the quiet house. He knows it's the calm before the storm when the kids come home, throw backpacks on the floor, complain about homework, need something signed now, need a check for something, grab a snack and need to be driven someplace. Just like the U.S., eh?

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