Tomorrow, our oldest child graduates secondary school. She has not had an easy road in life so far and will not have an easy road going forward.
When she was in kindergarten we knew something was different and were told it was the usual ADHD/ODD combination. It wasn’t, but it took 5 years to find out that she was on the autism spectrum. Â It took moving from the public board, where we were constantly beating our head against the wall trying to get help for her, to the catholic board. It was a night and day difference at first.
We went from no help at all to having access to spec-ed. Referrals for testing, the spec-ed department got us on the right path. So did her pediatrician, Dr. William James.
Back and forth, doctors, CHEO, spec-ed. After a year and a half in her home school, she went to a section-23 program for over two years. A program my wife and I regret to this day putting her in. She did make some progress in it and worked with some good people. But removing her from her home school further ostracized her from her peers and took her out of her school community. All that she gained in “tools” she lost in her connections to others. In other words it set her up to be able to try to deal with her being different, but not on how to connect and be connected to others. Kids on the spectrum already know they are different, her experiences reinforced that negatively.
Returning to her home school saw her have a struggle in Grade 7. The teacher did her best but the supports were NOT there, and we were back to beating our heads against the wall. The principal was no help, other to send her home. Two steps forward, one step back became back to square one. It took one week in Grade 8 for the principal at her home school to punt her out to another section-like program, this time for good. (Although she was invited to come back for Grade 8 grad with her peers, no thanks.)
As we prepped for her to start high school, we (Mom, Dad and Daughter) had a big decision to make: stay with the Catholic board and their “option” for her, or go back to the public board.
The Catholic option was a 40 minute ride to the high school they put all the ‘trouble’ kids to. Not the prized ones that always get the good test scores. There they had “help” but that help meant more section-like programs etc. The other option was to move back to the board we left because we were beating our heads against the wall.
Against the recommendations of the Catholic board people, we opted to move our daughter back to the public board, at least she’d be close if there were issues.
I remember sitting at a table in the firing squad meeting, those are the meetings where on one side are the two parents, and the other side are the five, six or seven board people. I remember being told very clearly by the principal of our daughters home school, and one of the other officials that moving her to the public board was setting our daughter up for failure. That was four years ago…
Then we met Terry Gardner – note -this is the first actual person I name here from our daughter’s school career because he is the first that made a difference. Terry was principal at Seaway District High School when we started the transition to Grade 9. He took her under his wing, which from what I have been told by many students and his co-workers, that is just what he did. He was only around for a few months of her Grade 9 year before he was relocated out of the school. Â She came home from school that day and said “what am I going to do?” But it worked out. She stayed, things moved on and things improved considerably at home and school. She had a caring environment at school that matched home.
Our daughter reconnected with someone at school whom she had known for a long time through our social circles, Carrie Gilmour. Carrie was/is that go to person for our daughter. A friendly face in the school who taught her a lot, and is her cheerleader. Someone who always had her back and was the shoulder to cry on when she needed it. Carrie was also our shoulder Â to cry on, or complain to when we didn’t get something at the school. And she was/is our back-channel when we needed to know what was going on and our daughter wouldn’t tell us.
Here’s the thing though, there wasn’t just one teacher or staff member at Seaway who was there for her. There were many. Laura Oliver, Jeffrey Crooke, Henry Looyen, Robert Knapp, Julie Iwachniuk, Geoff Williamson, Colleen Lesley, Lilace McIntyre, Melissa Ringler, Trevor Thompson, Lindsay Waddell, Garth Elliott, Jason Edge, and I cannot forget Mark Lewis. There are many more teachers that have helped along the way, so if you happen to have stumbled on to this writing and you don’t see your name here, please do not be offended.
Funny story, Mark Lewis retires this year from Seaway. I am sure that every time his call display saw my name on the phone he’d mutter under his breath “not him again”. Having blown up more than one semester timetable on Mark, that “not him again” or even an “!@#$%” was well deserved. Mark started teaching in Ontario at the school I graduated from in my final year of high school. He retires now from the school my daughter graduates from. Coincidence? I was a bit of a pain in the ass too (then and now).
Another story. Garth Elliott gave our daughter the failing mark she deserved in math. She failed her course with a 40, the mark she actually earned. He said he could not in good conscience let her pass her Grade 10 math with the work she had done (or in this case, not done). It was the first time she had been called out for some of her antics (goofing off on computers, etc). It was the anecdotal kick in the butt she needed to move forward. Failing is one of the most powerful learning tools out there. Our daughter learned real world (school world) consequences having earned that fail. She had to juggle credit recovery from that course, with her course load in the second semester. Again another math (Gr. 11) with Garth, and the credit recovery, AND two other courses. Lilace McIntyre has been sure to try to keep her on task in Math in his absence this semester, or at least tried her best to. Good job parents on buying her a phone for her 18th birthday.
Robert Knapp showed our daughter that being an auto mechanic wasn’t simple, and it definitely wasn’t something she wanted to do. Lindsay Waddell had her work cut out for her trying to get our daughter to do anything in gym. Three grades later, what she said to our daughter she still remembers. Now she is more active but can’t go back and improve on her marks now. Jeffrey Crooke filled in the holes in history that I had missed telling her. He has always been good at chasing her for her work and trying to keep her doing that work.
Trevor Thompson taught our daughter how to cook, and how not to cook. Jason Edge was/is another of those shoulders when she needed it and got her more interested in science and nature than anyone has been able to. And so on and so on. At this point I am 1100 words in and could go for another 1100 more.
Laura Oliver made a big difference to our daughter in the one year she was at the school as VP. We had met her as the ABA coordinator for the public board when we were switching and she made an impression. She helped our daughter through a rough Grade 10 year. When she left at the end of the year, Laura left some big shoes to fill. Luckily Tania Stover filled them well. Tania has been a great person to problem solve with, someone our daughter could go to, but was also able to be firm with her when she needed it.
Then there is Don Lewis. Don is the best possible person to run Seaway District High School. He has been great to deal with us parents, and with our daughter. He is a leader, and the staff at Seaway have been great in part from Don’s leadership. The inclusiveness of the school is in part from Don’s leadership to make sure everyone is made to feel a part of the Seaway family.
Let’s recap our daughter’s successes. She has navigated four years of high school, teenage hormones and social dynamics. She has had academic successes and failures but learned from both. Because of this, she is a solid “B” student when she cares about the subject matter, and can cope enough to put a “C” out when she doesn’t care about the subject. Show me an adult that doesn’t mail it in to things they are not interested in.
She has done this with minimal supports throughout the four years here. There have been no lock-downs of the school, no physical blowups, etc. These have disappeared, and she didn’t develop any new conditions either. I will repeat this, she has had minimal supports and accommodations. She did not require “relax rooms” or a full-time EA. She didn’t need to be sent away for yet another “section-like” program away from her community, unlike the Catholic board’s “solutions”.
She was included in an inclusive school. Which is what school and community should be.
She was accepted to four out of the five college programs she applied to this year, but wanted to come back for one more year. It is hard to say no to staying at this school for one more year.
We do not regret putting our daughter back into the public board, and we certainly do not regret putting her into Seaway. Our daughter has succeeded because of this small, rural, public school and the caring family it is. It is why our three sons moved back to the public board three-plus years ago, and why they will be the Seaway Spartan class of 2020, 2023 and 2024 (Oh God we’re getting old!). And you’ll have our daughter back for a victory lap year too boot.
To our daughter, you deserve this graduation and have worked hard to get it.
To those who helped our daughter get to where she is now, from my wife and I, thank you so much.
To those who were naysayers, unhelpful, uncaring or just tried to pass our daughter on to the next “problem solver”, please think of the most creative way to that, which is anatomically impossible to do to oneself, then do it!
PS – This posting is over 1,700 words long. If you have lasted to the end of it, thank you for reading it. If you could also let my former Grade 11 English teacher Mrs. Brown know that yes, I am capable of writing more than a five-sentence paragraph, I would appreciate it.
PPS – I still have issues with the public board and with our quadruplicated board system in Ontario, just not with this school.