Last month my daughter came to me with an information packet about a group at school she wanted to join. It was called the Star Program. The way she explained it was that, ‘it teaches us to learn about different disabilities so we can teach our friends and family.‘ She was over the moon excited to join. As I read through these pages, I started to tear up. And it continued for a while.
I’ve mentioned recently her apprehension towards crowds, centered attention and strangers when she was small. That she’s come far enough to even want to step out into a leadership role was a full circle moment of joy for me, and great pride for her. The group would include students with special needs and also those without. My teary, full circle moments came inside the realization that she will always hover somewhere in between the two.
When she was a baby, she had a brain hemorrhage that left her with seizures for the better part of five years, and a left sided tremor which she still wrestles with daily. I see her handwriting go from tidy and meticulous, to virtually unreadable from week to week. And her hearing has faded from last year alone. I walk through these struggles with her, always ready, and knowing it could have been far worse.
I chose to immerse my daughter in this specific district for the advances in special education they were modeling. They had speech and occupational therapists in-school, along with a nurse and staff trained for cardiac and epileptic events. More importantly were the abundance of paraeducators to stay by the sides of these children that needed centered care. We came here in preschool and this is her fourth year. Each year, she’s had special needs children learn right alongside her, the way she did her first two years. No one is ever made to learn separately and every student is equally accepted. Apart from the classmates learning to support, encourage and cheer on the accomplishments of these friends in class, the Star Program was going to take this several steps further. To help them see a better picture, not only of how they can help in a larger community, but how they can educate others by fostering that acceptance and inclusion.
We filled out her application which asked questions like ‘why do you want to be a part of star’ and ‘what would you like to learn’. Then she signed her name to the pledge of understanding that, if she was accepted, she would be representing the school as a leader and role model for other students and was expected to present herself as such. She took that part especially serious…(even though, in the true spirit of belonging to such a group, no one was denied acceptance ❤ My heart!!)
She brought her acceptance letter to me jumping and screaming and we celebrated with a toy and icee at Target. They would meet every Thursday during lunch and have a guest speaker each week. And their first outing was to be an Army/Navy vet wheelchair basketball game at the high school, and I put in my time off for it the next morning. I needed to be there.
Last Thursday the chaperones and students descended into the risers in the high school gym along with hundreds of others. Some with service dogs. Many in safety chairs. Many not able to leave the side of their guardians. And I was immediately overwhelmed. Not in the chaos of it all, for once. But in a consuming feeling of love and purity.
I watched the paras joyfully meet up with one another after years apart. With tears in their eyes, I watched them hand in hand with their new students, greeting children from their past, now grown and flourishing. I watched the teen leaders of Connecting welcome in the next generation of human empathy in these 6 and 7 year olds. And I watched all of these gentle souls promoting kindness and a sense of belonging from level to level. To level. A truly unique and courageous community, quietly beneath the surface of what we take for granted every day. Bolstering the bonds between the two worlds. I was renewed in the presence of the strength in this type of compassion.
My daughter, with her private struggles, cheered along with friends who have their own. She was determined to be here long ago. And she was determined to belong to this group in the present. I understood, then, that this child has placed me exactly where I was meant to be in my life.