For the past seven years we’ve sent our eldest son off to school every day and hoped for the best. Some mornings, we’ve held our breath and wondered if/when the call from the principal would come. Other times we’ve laughed with tears in our eyes at the things he’s accomplished easily – things that we thought would be hard, or even impossible.
We’ve worked with new teachers every year and several new principals, but through it all the Learning Centre in our neighbourhood school has been a place of refuge, understanding, and true partnership.
Today is the last full day of school and I’m overcome with emotion at the thought of saying good-bye to the people who’ve helped my husband and I raise our son from a small boy into a young man. Our Learning Centre teacher has been a constant source of ideas and inspiration, our colleague and co-conspirator, a steady hand in the sometimes stormy seas of elementary school. Our son is ready for middle school because of her.
Like us, the Learning Centre has been there for our son every day. Like us, the teachers in that centre have asked a lot of him. They’ve expected him to try and try again. Like us, they’ve loved him, cheered for him, thrown their hands up in the air at times, and then used those same hands to hug him or cajole him or give him a mighty high five. In short, they’ve helped him begin life’s most important journey – the path to finding himself, his own truth, his own way, outside of our family.
How can I possibly recognize the gift that these teachers and educational program assistants (EPAs) have given to our family? My best friend smiled at me as I tried to find just the right thank you – a gift card just doesn’t seem to capture the enormity of the contribution they’ve made.
Before we even had a diagnosis the Learning Centre was there for helping our son adjust to the routines of school life, giving him a quiet place in the midst of the sensory and social overload. And they were there for us too, as we navigated new terrain.
Once we knew about the Asperger’s, we’d sit around the table during program planning meetings and compare notes. What successes were we seeing? How could we tackle the latest challenge? And always, at some point, we’d end up laughing and sharing the stories that made us smile. That’s the part that always brings tears to my eyes – the moment when a teacher, like a grandparent or cherished aunt, shares the same intimate appreciation of your child’s special gifts; when you marvel at the same small things that are almost invisible to others.
Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t always been a picnic. We’ve all had our moments along the way. Times of intense worry (on my part) or times where the way forward hasn’t been clear. Or times when we’ve wondered if shrinking resources were going to make life more challenging for everyone.
But at the end of the day, the Learning Centre has been a tiny perfect microcosm of the community that I wish all our children could grow up in, a place that:
- truly sees and celebrates the individual, without losing sight of the collective
- has caring people who are there to help, but are equally intent on stepping back so kids can stand on their own
- doesn’t feel sorry’ for our kids! They embrace their strengths and adapt for their weakneeses
- admits there are at least ten ways to do every task (especially if you visit the Dollar Store or use video)
- recognizes that a joke is way more effective than a raised voice (I’m still learning this one)
- is full of warm hearts and cool heads – a perfect combination when things get rocky
So as I look at pictures of my son’s Grade Six graduation, I know that behind every look of pride and joy and hard-won accomplishment stands the care and support of our Learning Centre staff. I’m not really ready to say good-bye to them, but I’ll never stop saying thank you.