“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” ~Japanese Proverb
I’m going to tell you how much of an impact one person can make, but before I do, let me tell you where we started.
How do you measure the value of a school? Where do you send your child to be educated? It’s such an important question in itself. We measure it in all sorts of ways, rankings, other people’s experiences, quality of the programs offered, even sports and athletics is factored in at times. We looked at private schools, considered moving to a different district, but something kept pulling me back to the district I grew up in, Shaler. The most important question for me was how Jimmy would be treated on a daily basis, how would his special needs be met and how enriching would his educational experience be? The teachers and staff of any school can make or break a child’s educational experience, especially one with special needs. I know first hand from previous experiences. At the end of the day, after we met teachers, looked at facilities and programs I knew this decision had to be based on my intuition and what felt like the best fit.
Jimmy going to Kindergarten wasn’t just a simple milestone, it was a miracle. Based off of medical opinions’ at the time of his diagnosis Jimmy wasn’t supposed to make it to 6 months old, let alone 5 years. Four rounds of chemo therapy, countless sessions of speech, physical and occupational therapy, among many other procedures and a port surgery Jimmy fought every step of the way, with a smile on his face all the way to the Kindergarten classroom door. His quality of life, how he lives, how he is treated daily, how much love he feels each day is so important, that in my opinion, is what has made his journey such a healing experience. If you felt unconditional love from everyone you met, you would want to stick around too wouldn’t you?
I met with two individuals in the summer, the special educational teacher and the director of pupil services, to complete Jimmy’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) and after meeting these two amazing people, going through all the details and sharing bits and pieces of Jimmy’s story, the compassion and kindness these two people showed captured my attention. After that meeting , every instinct in me said that Rogers in the Shaler Area School District was where Jimmy would feel at home. Public school systems all follow the same guidelines and rules, it’s the individuals/teachers running these schools and programs making the extra effort that make a school district valuable.
There is only a month left of Jimmy’s Kindergarten year as I write this. I have savored every minute and watched him turn into a ball of knowledge and ideas over the year. Jimmy has grown so much, progressed in every single goal set for him and mastered a lot of them. His physical strength increased drastically. I think all the children he goes to school with challenged him to keep up. He has experienced compassion from these incredible children he goes to school with, his classmates and older children sit with him at lunch and play kickball with him at recess. They allow him to feel like he belongs, no matter what his age. To be socially excepted as a child for exactly who you are is invaluable. Jimmy will mention his experiences after school and his entire face lights up.
In September 2015 Jimmy was able to recognize maybe a few uppercase letters, a shape or two, he could count to ten with prompting, knew some colors, knew a few letter sounds, and he could not write or spell anything. His attention span was short and could not sit still for more than a few minutes.
In his latest IEP report update that I received in March, Jimmy can recognize 26/26 Uppercase letters, all of his shapes, he can count to 100, knows all his colors, can produce 24/26 letter sounds, he can write his first name and can spell his first and last name out loud. He sits and does activities for longer periods of time and his attention span has expanded greatly. Jimmy can also read.
Jimmy has many more challenges than most children do, with some physical weakness from the tumor, cognitive delays from the chemo, and a very extensive medical history these goals were not an easy feat. It takes a very special person, with an immense amount of patience and kindness to teach children in general, let alone a child with great challenges from medical circumstances. His teachers have made great strides with him, its extremely admirable.
Granted all the above is very impressive, and important, but I also must mention something else. Our experiences in life shape who we are and allow us to grow into even better people. The teachers, the principal, staff and students treat Jimmy with such compassion and love that he loves school and as a result loves to learn. For him to love school, to learn and grow in the experience makes it worthwhile. I know he is in good hands when I leave him every morning. It’s time that I don’t get to spend with him, yet its time spent with people who I know will treat him as their own and with love. Jimmy loves getting dressed and ready for school in the morning, he can’t wait to see his aide, his teacher, the secretaries and especially his special education teacher. They greet him everyday as if he was the most important person in the world and they treat him like that throughout the day. When Jimmy is out of school getting chemotherapy or at a doctor’s appointment his teachers send me messages or call to check to make sure he is okay. They truly care not just about his education, but him as a person. Jimmy’s days are priceless, I have no idea how many I will be fortunate enough to have with him. I do, however, picture what he’ll look like as an old man making people feel special and loved just as he does now as a child. My intuition tells me he has quite a bit of work to do on this earth, so I feel he’ll be around a long time. That right there, that experience is worth more than any test ranking in any school in the world. That’s valuable.
So how much can one person truly impact another? Here’s how…
As I picked Jimmy up from school today, one of Jimmy’s teachers that he spends a lot of time with in his day, came out to speak with me. I asked where Jimmy was and she said, “He is with his aide Mrs. Z, Jimmy likes to help the little girl in the wheel chair to her bus and is fascinated by how the lift works in the van.” I just smiled, it makes my heart happy, one they allow him to be who he is, a compassionate little boy full of empathy and also allow him to explore his fascinations with how things work. Isn’t that what education is and should be?
This woman is no ordinary teacher, she is the kind of person that inspires children to learn, makes it fun and adds a tremendous amount of worth to Rogers as a school. She instills in children a love for learning, she adjusts education to fit the child, she is flexible, able to work with the child’s style of learning and maximizes the child’s learning capacity in the process. When a child gets frustrated, she shows the child that there are no limits to how you can learn, then shows them a different way to understand it. She has done that for Jimmy, repeatedly throughout the year, which is why I think he has learned and grown so much. She says to me, “I want you to know that Jimmy has renewed my love for teaching this year and he is a big reason I turned down a higher administration position offered to me for next year. I want to have an impact on his education and all the children for the next few years, Jimmy has touched my life in a way that I am forever grateful.” I stood there in awe, there were no words that I could form together in sentences because I was so blown away by the impact Jimmy had made on her. Here I thought she was making this giant impact on Jimmy, but he wasn’t the only one. It was an even exchange.
So how do you measure the value of a school? Rogers, their principal, their teachers and staff are inspiring children in every way… they are forming education to fit the child not the other way around.
Rogers teachers and staff, you all have my sincerest gratitude for all you have done for my Jimmy, thank you for making a difference in his life.
“The influence of a great teacher can never be erased.”