Friday, October 30, 2015

DSAM: Para Perfection

First Day Of School

The last two days of Down Syndrome Awareness Month I saved for two of my favorite people. Today I have the pleasure of introducing one of my best friends, mother of 3, teacher and now para educator to my son. As a parent of a child with different abilities navigating the education system is exhausting, frustrating and daunting to say the least. The school assessments and IEP Meeting (IEP = Individual Education Plan) where all of the experts use the opportunity to discuss all of the things "wrong" with your child, all of their weaknesses and how they fail to 'measure up' to the performance of their peers, one emerges from the darkness shaken and quite frankly disgusted. By one I mean me. At the end of the day Blake received the placement he deserved and I was charged with finding the perfect para educator for him. Truly without hesitation I thought of my friend and highly skilled, credentialed teacher Jensine. Thankfully the planets were aligned as she was available and willing to dive into these uncharted waters with us. There is no one that I would rather be on this (or any) journey with. 
First Day Of School

She has kindly shared her thoughts and feelings about being Blake's bridge between him and his peers, his voice as he learns to find his own and also his friend who TRULY has his best interest at heart and cares about his progress, no matter what the pace so long as it is forward. With her love and guidance it has been. I know it is not an easy job but I appreciate it more than any words could possible capture or articulate. She along with thousands of para educators and educational aide's are providing an essential service to our society. They are opening their hearts and utilizing their skill sets to address the educational needs of a marginalized community who administrators would rather lock away and forget about. It is because of Jensine that Blake will be able to learn and grow in a traditional classroom setting and not in a contained classroom. He will not come of age to live in a "contained" world so I personally find it preposterous that he is to be 'educated' in one. She will have my heartfelt gratitude FOREVER.

Blake and I are well into our second year at UMCC together.  I have known Blake since he was an infant, when his mother and I became fast friends (I had just had a baby as well).  I always remember Blake trying to keep up with his dear older sister, Kaleigh. He has always been such a lover, too. I mean, this little guy will steal your heart in a split second with a loving gaze and sweet smile, followed by the most sincere, back-patting embrace.  So while I have known Blake for years, it wasn’t until I acquired the position as his para educator, now I can truly say that I really know him. What a gift that is. 

To be a part of Blake’s education has given me a chance to connect with a beautiful boy, who happens to have Down Syndrome.  He is honest, genuine, and unfiltered. If only I could use his unique talent to politely get rid of somebody by simply waving, while saying “Buh-bye!”  He is passionate and deliberate in anything he wants to do.  Whether it be independently navigating and climbing an elevated bridge with a giant hole in the center, or not wanting to cooperate during a transition in class, Blake is quite the determined youngster. 
To be present for and to celebrate Blake’s milestones and victories, is nothing short of amazing. He has grown so much since attending a mainstream preschool where Blake is well liked by the staff and all of children that Blake attends school with.  Blake will play with anyone, but has several best buds at school that prefer to seek out and play with him.  A few of his friends enjoy recognizing new skills that Blake masters and new words that they hear him say. What a pleasure to witness the excitement when one friend runs toward me from across the playground to announce, “Blake said /k/! He is trying to say ‘Kal’ because he knows I’m his friend!”  These preschool-aged children have kind, innocent, open hearts. Inclusion benefits all parties involved.  We can all learn from one another.  What better way can we improve our society than to teach acceptance and compassion for all?
Working so closely with Blake has taught me more about persistence and patience.  In many instances, an extra second or two can make a big difference. I feel that there are great benefits in learning to take a moment before responding to people and/or events, while also granting that “wait time” to others who may need or desire that. This is just a snapshot of what I have gained and experienced while working with Blake.  I can’t even fathom what it must be like to see the world through Blakey’s eyes, but I know that being his para educator has given me unteachable insight and a vast wealth of knowledge regarding human nature and what it feels like to love without conditions.


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