Here it is, the week I’ve been anticipating since the first day of school. Tomorrow, you begin your very last week of elementary school. Wow. How quickly it arrived, and what a journey it’s been.
When you started Kindergarten, six years ago, it was a new experience for both of us. You were excited, probably because it meant a bus ride to and from school and daily access to the school playground. I was optimistic that you would be a rock star, that you would have an awesome time in elementary school. What I didn’t realize was how much noise I would have to make in order for you to have the experience that your dad and I envisioned. (You were, and always will be, a total rock star. No worries there.)
Al, your mom doesn’t like confrontations. While I may have been blessed with a passion for writing, speaking up is just not my thing. Before you even started Kindergarten, I began to realize that I would just have to get over my reluctance to do that, and fast. Our society tends to operate with the “but we’ve always done it this way” philosophy, and when someone shows up to change that, it’s not always well received. That explains my last six years, in a nutshell. You were not invited to Kindergarten orientation, you were not assigned a “job” in your Kindergarten class, and you did not even have lunch with your Kindergarten classmates. It seems those two words that are repeated throughout all the paperwork that preceded you to school, “Down syndrome”, defined your path before you even stepped foot in your school. It wasn’t done intentionally to leave you out; this is just how it worked back then.
I was flabbergasted. I had heard stories of children with disabilities not being included, of parents who spent a fortune on special needs attorneys so that their children would have the same opportunities. I blew it all off; we are in an excellent school district, and I refused to believe that we would have to make a fuss just so you could have a turn being “Line Leader” in your Kindergarten class. Yet, there we were. I have always been your advocate, Alex, but it was then that I knew I was going to have to turn up my efforts to make sure we were heard.
We started asking for meetings. I began challenging the standards; with just a few days left, I haven’t let up! It is not always received well, and quite often we get the impression that our inquiries are not appreciated and are taken personally. We forged on; if Hoop Jumping was an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medal contender. We made a lot of progress! You went from a Kindergartner who only joined your peers for a short time each day to a fifth grader who spends most of your day with your peers (as it should be).
It hasn’t always been perfect, Alex. There have been many, many bumps along the way. But the beauty of this whole situation is that you love school. You have wonderful friends, and you like your teachers. You have no idea how much of a pain in the butt I’ve been to the school district. You don’t know how often I’ve (sometimes literally) banged my head on my desk, cried in frustration after reading your assignments that weren’t properly modified, or exchanged tense emails with people in the school district. You have no idea how often I’ve felt discouraged, how I’ve doubted my advocacy efforts, or how some days I just feel like giving up. But I won’t give up, not ever, because of the other things you haven’t yet realized. You haven’t noticed that although you are learning a ton from your peers, just by being in class with them, they are also learning from you. You have yet to discover that you are teaching people that it’s ok to be different. You are unknowingly showing everyone that if we stop to see the ability in all people, great things can happen across the board. Together, we are proving that #InclusionMatters.
There is still a lot of work ahead of us, Buddy. It will continue to be a challenge for me to speak up to ensure you get the education to which you are entitled. Your dad and I will do it, though; we will continue to work hard, behind the scenes, to make sure that you are seen as Alex and not an “SLC kid” or “Downs boy” (we have heard both of those labels, many times, and both make me cringe). You deserve better than that, and I will continue to demand it.
So as you walk the halls on Friday for the Fifth Grade “Clap Out”, I will beam with joy and probably fight back some tears, but I won’t be sad that you’re leaving that building. I am proud of the work we’ve done there, but it’s time to look ahead to the next milestone. We will certainly celebrate your accomplishments of the last six years, but I’ve already turned my attention to the adventure that is middle school.
Congratulations, Alex. We survived elementary school, you are absolutely a rock star, and I couldn’t be prouder. Cheers to you!!