We’re coming up on that time of year again. It’s time for parents to register the next class of JK kids for school. It’s only been a year and a half since I was the one trying to come to terms with finding a place for my girl to learn and grow and thrive.
It sounds overly dramatic, but when your child has a disability, finding a school placement that fits your vision for your child takes over your life. It’s about more than the bricks and mortar. It’s about finding a school board and a school that place the same value on the things that matter to you as you do.
Before Alma started at our local Catholic school last year I cried, almost nightly – in fear, in anger, in worry.
I think all parents have fears, not just the ones like me who have a child with something that sets them apart. But I think disability magnifies these fears – as kids with disabilities are 10X more likely to be bullied in school than typical kids.
What will become of her? Will the kids be mean to her? What about her teacher? Will she teacher challenge her? Will the school community accept her?
Curriculum night. Last week of September. It was the first time that I would be with Alma at the school at an event with parents, staff and other kids. I find these things stressful at the best of times, as Alms is all over the place and when she is with her peers and the things that set her apart are more obvious to outsiders.
As the teachers, parents and families gathered in the school gymnasium, I slowly opened the door, filled with dread. This was a moment of truth. Was this the right place for Alma to spend the next 10 years, until the end of grade 8? Alma pushed past me, and what happened next had me in tears all over again.
Everything that I had imagined – everything I had feared…was gone. Poof. Dispelled in a moment as Alma lurched into the center of the room and children cried “She’s here! Alma’s here!” They lined up to shake her hand. Then they ran off to find their parents so they could introduce them to her. They quarreled over who could sit next to her. Not just her classmates, but kids from every grade. Shy second graders, towering 8th graders – all genuinely happy – no, overjoyed- to see her. She was more than included – she was already part of their lives. She was valued and she brought value to them.
Inclusion in education isn’t just about my child being allowed to be in a ‘regular’ classroom. That’s just the beginning. Inclusion in education is about students learning from each other. It’s about being valued as a member of a school community and being seen as having something to offer, rather than a drain pulling the other students down, or worse – being looked upon with pity.
And a system like the Ontario Catholic Schools, that believes that in addition to teaching the curriculum, they need to teach lessons for life, and play a role in creating the people we want our children to be. People who have faith in a better world. And people who see value in everyone, even the tiniest tyke in school. People who have compassion, big kind hearts and respect for the things that make us different, in addition to the things that bind us together.
Before she was enrolled in the Catholic school I wondered “will she connect with the kids?” Will she get birthday party invitations and genuine smiles and will she have a real friend? She does, she does, she does. I could see that first night in the gym and continue to see it every day.
I am so grateful that Alma will spend her elementary years in a Catholic school community that sees the importance of an education grounded in empathy and love – not just for what it means for my child, but what it means for every child – today and for life.
This post is part of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers #catholicteachers sponsored program. I received compensation as thank you for my participation. This post reflects my personal opinion about the information provided by the sponsors