Today is the first day of Rachel’s senior year. She is so excited to be part of the Class of 2018. We are excited for her and for her 553 class mates. I have decided that I am going to be intentional in enjoying this year with her and her friends! However, I am having a hard time finding words this morning. At this point, I’m not sure what else there is to say?
It is the 1st day of her senior year and her 16th year in the public school system. She started as an itty bitty three-year old in the public school preschool program. Now, four million IEP meetings later, here we are. What? Four million IEP meetings? Well, there have been many days it has felt like that. I lost my accurate count a few years ago, but I think we have had about 42 IEP meetings. Some have been quite contentious and others have gone fairly smoothly.
We have made inclusion work. Rachel has made inclusion work. Along the journey, we have had some good team members and some not so good team members. We’ve met a few who gave us that look. You know the one. They look at you in that sad way that says, “These are some of those parents who are still in denial.” Yep, we are those parents but we are definitely not in denial and those has a different meaning for us. We’ve met more than our share of people who would have shoved Rachel into the “functional skills class” and who saw no reason for her to learn Shakespeare or read the classics. We’ve met a few people who didn’t want to provide her with reasonable accommodations because that wouldn’t be “fair” or other reasons they could not reasonably articulate. I could write volumes and tell stories for days.
More importantly though, there have been many, many, many more teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, coaches, staffers and others who have joined us in sharing high expectations and believing that Rachel should be able to achieve her dreams just like everyone else. She has her own set of cheerleaders who we refer to as “Friends of Rachel.” Some are the ones who said, “I think she can learn this monologue” or “I want her to have the same supplies as the other students because I don’t’ want her to feel different.” Rachel has had a lot of very good teachers, and she has had the best resource teacher-case managers. She has had an abundance of good people and good mentors. Many of these people have gone way beyond what they had to do for their jobs to help make her successful. I would say that most of them genuinely love Rachel and many have a fierce devotion to her. I will also tell you that I know for a fact, because they’ve told me, many of them see the world through a different set of lenses because of Rachel. Because of Rachel, they know better how to think out-of-the-box and figure out ways to include differently-abled students.
Rachel is a great example of meaningful inclusion working. It has worked for her and our family. Make no mistake though, it has been hard work for all of us. Notice, I did not use the word perfect because there is no such thing. The word I most often use these days is exhausting. It has been exhausting. Many parents come to me seeking information on making inclusion work. I share our stories and what we’ve learned. I tell them that these are things that have worked or haven’t worked for us. I tell them this won’t be easy and it won’t be perfect. One of the reasons I started blogging five years was to share our thoughts and experiences. This morning, I don’t have time to discuss all the ways the system is broken. What I do have time to say is that this journey has been exhausting, and it has been worth it.
Through the years, I and we have found encouragement and motivation from Bible verses. These past few years I find a new verse to claim for Rachel and our student friends. This year it is Philippians 1:6 and it says “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” That seems like a perfect verse for a young lady with a bright future beginning her final year of high school.
This morning I have a smile in my heart and Rachel’s smile is worth a million dollars. Excitement exudes her as she confidently marches out the door ready to take on the world. I am confident He will be faithful to complete it.
You are worth it, Rachel.