Two Keys to a Successful Freshman Year

Rachel has been in “sophomore” mode for a few weeks now.  Right now, she has about two classes standing between her and her sophomore year but she has been reminding us that she will no longer be a high school freshman.

Last day 9th grade.
Last day 9th grade.

Rachel has had a great year.  I am tired and weary but Rachel has had a great year. Twelve years of there always being some issue has made me tired. I am tired of having to stay on top of things all the time. I am tired of low expectations. I am tired of train wrecks just when I think we’re all on track. I am ready for a break. But Rachel has had a great year. Rachel is happy. Since that is what really matters in the big scheme of things, for the purposes of this blog I will try focus on that.

A year ago now we had four meetings to spell out everything Rachel would need to be successful in high school. I knew that it was only on paper but felt pretty good about the plan. Some of it happened. Some did not. Two very important things did happen though. There are a lot of ingredients to success in anything but I’m going to give you of what I believe to be two keys to her successful year.

1st Day 9th Grade
1st Day 9th Grade
Alli (church friend) & Rachel Lunch 1st Day
Alli (church friend) & Rachel Lunch 1st Day

One was peers. Because Rachel has always been included at church, Christian Youth Theater, dance, Upward Sports and other community activities, Rachel knows a lot of people. These are the people who pitched in here and there. These peers are the ones who gave me that “We got it, Ms. Jawanda” text when I had no idea who was going to make sure her first day with 2,100 students went okay. Before school started the Student Council leadership pulled her in. I met the Student Council president because I went to the PTO meeting recruiting incoming parents of freshman. STUCO president’s mom is the PTO president. She immediately wanted her daughter to meet Rachel. It’s little things like this that help. I have documented many of these seemingly small gestures this year. The point is that if she had not been involved in and included in so many things in and out of school, I think she and I would have been kind of lost. Thank you peers.

Second, Rachel had great teachers. I have commented on this numerous times this year. Her teachers wanted her to succeed. Overall, they worked with us and with Rachel. Some needed a little nudge but they all joined in our shared our high expectations. Some pushed harder and gave her more challenges to help her push herself. Having teachers who will work with you when you have a page of accommodations and modifications is truly a key to success. The fact that Rachel works very hard helps, too. Rachel had teachers she truly loved and who loved her. Remember, my core belief is that good teachers teach all kids. I want to applaud Rachel teaching team, those who put that teaching team together with Rachel’s best interest at the center and the behind the scenes folks like social workers, counselors and paraprofessionals who pitched it to make things work for Rachel.

Last day with Ms. Rooney. Volleyball coach and Sophomore Case Manager
Last day with Ms. Rooney. Volleyball coach and Sophomore Case Manager
Last day with Ms. Feightner, Social Worker
Last day with Ms. Feightner, Social Worker
Ms. Brie, para who is off to become a Hospice nurse.
Ms. Brie, para who is off to become a Hospice nurse.

Even with good peers and exceptional teachers the year has not been perfect. And this side of the day I meet Jesus nothing will be perfect. It’s good to remember Hannah Montana’s song “Nobody’s Perfect” when dealing with human beings in any setting.

Yesterday, we had to do an addendum to Rachel’s IEP.  We had a very small group to “officially” take care of something. Rachel’s English teacher came as the general education teacher representative. You will remember she is the teacher who met with me at the beginning of the year and honestly said, “I’ve never taught a child with Down syndrome. I want to do a good job. Can you help me?”  Of course, I love a teacher who admits that and wants help so this forged a great partnership. As we were all chatting at this little addendum IEP she said, “Did she tell you how she did on her final yesterday? She missed two questions on her final and made a 97 on her final. I am so proud of Rachel.” Then she said, “I wish all my students would work like Rachel.”

Oh the benefits of inclusion.

 

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