This week started with World Kindness Day on Monday. And tomorrow the week ends with the release of the movie Wonder and the ABC 20/20 Special Event: Wonder. But, what has made this week so incredibly special for me is my own real-life wonder.
Monday morning, I got the boys up for school at 5:30am. We got ready for school, Jameson insisted on wearing his Be Kind t-shirt for his first day (and added bonus it was World Kindness Day!), and I headed off to work at 6:10am. As I drove to work I had a huge knot in my stomach and said a prayer, “God, please let them be nice to him”. And as I said this to myself I realized it’s the same line Julia Roberts’ character says in the movie Wonder as she watches Auggie walk into school for the first time. I realized yet again how much that book and movie hit home for me, and how ironic it’s release is the same week Jameson starts going to a new school.
Despite the huge knot in my stomach I was equally filled with excitement for Jameson. On Sunday he must have told me at least five or six times, “Mom, I CAN’T WAIT for tomorrow!”.
For over a month Jameson has been pleading to move schools so he can be at the same school as his brothers. For the past two years he has been separated because he’s been enrolled in PPCD (Pre-school Program for Children with Disabilities), and PPCD is only offered at one school in our district, and it’s not the same school our house is zoned for. He qualified for PPCD at three years old because of his speech delay. And although he qualifies for having a speech delay, he doesn’t have a disability. He has Pfeiffer syndrome, and by no means is that a disability – he just looks different.
As a parent you always wonder if you’re making the right decisions for your children. And two years ago I thought it was a good decision to enroll him in PPCD. I thought it would give him exposure to being around other kids at school, and of course he would receive additional speech therapy at school. I try not to second guess myself, because I can’t undo the past. But what ended up happening over the years, and came to a head at the beginning of this year, is that Jameson felt so stigmatized he was miserable – and it pains me to the core that he felt this way. Even though he was in an inclusion program that allowed him to spend half the day in the mainstream class, the constant back and forth and removing him only made him feel different and alienated from the rest of the kids. Which is the complete opposite of inclusion. So, no matter how good a teacher, or how nice the people are, there was no way he could continue to learn in an environment that was so uncomfortable for him.
So, we called an ARD to withdraw him from PPCD and move him to our home campus with his brothers. I learned a lot this past month about fighting for my child in the public-school system. And never again will I let one word be written on a legal document that describes my child in any way that he is not. Words used to describe Jameson were disabled, and unable to learn due to disability. Which is 100% inaccurate, Jameson is performing at grade level, he’s not the top of his class, but he’s not the bottom either. He’s an average Kindergartener and there isn’t a single disability that is preventing him from learning the material. And despite any educator’s best intentions, that legal document follows my child, and it needs to be 100% accurate.
I’m thrilled to say that Jameson not only had an amazing first day, but he’s had an amazing week!
Last week we went to meet his new teacher and classmates. His new principal, and the school counselor were there to greet us. They took Jameson on a VIP tour of the school and joined us in his new classroom to meet his new classmates.
We got there as the kids were coming back in from lunch, so we waited in the classroom for them. As they started coming in the classroom Jameson got shy and nervous. A lot of the kids were so excited to meet him, and a few even ran over and said, “Hey! Is this Jameson?!”. And yes, there was one kid who said they thought he looked scary. But, that was before we sat down, and I read the book We Are All Wonders. I tried to explain that Jameson looks different on the outside, but he’s just the same as they are on the inside. And then the flood of questions came! They wanted to know so much, and it was so incredible to be in that moment with them. They wanted to know what was on his neck? why did he have it? What happens if it comes out? was he born this way? why were his eyes so big? And from the bottom of my heart, not one of these questions was offensive. Their openness and desire to know about Jameson touched me deeply and I would’ve sat there the entire day answering their questions!
There were lots of lessons learned for me through all of this. About ARD’s and navigating the public-school system, but also about my child. Jameson’s request for us to fight for him came from a mature place and I’m so proud he knew himself well enough to know he needed to speak up and have us get the ball rolling. I definitely learned that Jameson may be small for his age, but he is really growing up in so many other ways. It’s always easy to see the physical milestones your child reaches, but it’s harder to see the growth on the inside when you see them day in and day out.
This entire week Jameson has been so excited to get on the “big” bus. I’ve been home the past three days to watch him get on the bus. He’s the first one to run on the bus at the bus stop and gives me the biggest hug and kiss before he goes. His nurse at school texted me and told me the kids made him feel like a rock star on Monday. I’m so happy for him words can’t even describe. I steel myself for the day that another kid at school takes that away from him. I do my very best to keep those thoughts far away until it actually happens. Because there is a chance, and I will always hold out hope that it doesn’t ever happen. But I am so glad this week has been everything and more for him. I am so confident he is going to blossom beyond measure through the rest of this year.
Please, go take your kids to see the movie Wonder, read the book. Watch ABC’s 20/20 Special Event tomorrow. Because the more the rest of the world understands and teaches their children about others who have facial differences, and the more people understand and teach their kids how to react when they meet someone who has a facial difference for the first time, the greater the chances of my hopes becoming a reality.
I have to say thank you from the bottom of my to every last person at Rolling Meadows Elementary who not only welcomed Jameson with open arms but contributed to his WONDERful week! He is on cloud right now 🙂