It is our last week of middle school. I’m not sure how that happened and later this week I will post “High School Here We Come” with some of the thoughts on what we have done. Today, I find myself unexpectedly sad. That’s not my nature. And who would have thought three years ago that I would find myself sad to be leaving middle school? Three years ago Rachel was completing elementary school. We were both excited, a little nervous, a bit apprehensive and a little scared. Okay – one of us was more than a little nervous.
Six years ago I experienced those same feelings when we moved to Olathe to a new school in a new community in a new state. I knew their school system was supposed to be more progressive and inclusive than where we had come from but the known usually feels safer than the unknown. A new school and state was an unknown. Rachel thrived in her three years in that elementary and we added a new group of “Friends of Rachel” for the journey.
Nine years ago, I experienced some of those same feelings when she started kindergarten. It was a bit different because we had been in preschool part-time at the school sge would attend. However, a five and a half hour IEP meeting filled with my saying 13 times, “We know Rachel best. The law says Rachel should be in the Least Restrictive Environment. The LRE for Rachel is the general education classroom. That’s what we want” might have increased my nervousness just a bit. This was followed by Charlie Brown’s teachers whaa whaa whaa whaa whaa and a special education teacher refusing to sign the IEP because “Rachel cannot function in the general education classroom.”* It was also followed by glowing reports from those who had been working with her and were cheering us on behind the scenes. So my fears and nervousness for kindergarten were a bit different. That year I tucked something a mentor said in my heart. “Your job is to get her in the general education classroom. She’ll take care of the rest.” I’ve lived by that and LRE. Those next three years, Rachel exceeded expectations and the teachers and most of the therapists did too. There’s a “Friends of Rachel” group still following.
Twelve years ago was the hardest though. It was when we left the safety of Early Intervention for an unknown school system. We maneuvered and changed things and learned and have a “Friends of Rachel” group from the preschool years, too. One of Rachel’s preschool teachers from a private preschool, a teacher with no special education training, cried as she told what she and the students had learned from Rachel.
Each transition has held its own fears, nervousness and triumphs. Each time Rachel has exceeded expectations. No leg of this journey has been perfect. Each has brought its own challenges from an absent therapist to low expectations to modifications and accommodations and friend challenges. Nothing in life is perfect though. Our job has been to do our very best to make sure we have done everything humanely possible to provide Rachel with smooth transitions, equip her and those who would be teaching her and that she would be teaching with as many tools as we could to help her reach her maximum potential. With my famous red pen and checklist in hand, we have built relationships and plans. There have been bumps and bruises but at the end of each leg, I can voice my daughter’s favorite phrase, “Amazing.”
Still, I think I think I have the right to have a sprinkling of fear and nervousness as we trudge off to high school with 2,100 students! I’ll keep on sharing the life of Rachel with you guys. I am really curious what I may be saying four years from today!
*Readers, do you think I should send a copy of her 8th grade awards and grade report to the teacher who refused to sign the IEP? Amazing.
A little PS please. Thanks to all of the teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, administrators and friends who have loved, taught, learned from and supported Rachel and us through her educational experience. We couldn’t have done it without all of you. It is still my opinion that teaching is THE highest calling. Thank you!