This week gave me the opportunity to visit one of the schools in my area. The early childhood center has been a part of our community since I can remember. Serving children with special needs between the ages of three and five years of age. The school was attended by myself as a child. They helped me with speech therapy as well as motor therapy in my elementary classroom. During my time with the school, they were in a small building of my childhood town. Today, they have moved into a facility built especially for them in a neighboring city. The new school built seventeen years ago felt comfortable and inviting. As the opportunity to tour the facility arose and exciting things were learned. We saw classrooms, therapy rooms, and viewing areas for parents. Sights warming my heart, but not jogging my memory, as the care of children with special needs has come far since my childhood. The motor therapy room found me wanting to climb and play on equipment designed for children. All the care placed into the things they are doing should lead to great outcomes. But, it wasn’t simply about the incredible building they have built, they are trying new ideas to provide better outcomes for children. Always thinking of improved ways to help kids get off to a better start. The ninety-minute meeting was full of warmth and intriguing information.
During my time at the school its location was in the town of my youth. It was located in a small building in the downtown area. Going into the meeting this week, the population of the school during my time was unknown. The number was reported to me as just 50 kids over thirty years ago. My memory of the school was an intimate and supportive environment. The numbers would seem to have led to that emotion. For my days inside the school, we worked on speech therapy. It would have been just the later part of me being five years old. We had moved into the home of my youth as I turned five. There aren’t too many vivid memories of therapy during those years. However, a scene or two continue surviving in my mind. Most of the memories consist of the incredible challenge of learning to speak more clearly. There were feelings of being asked to make sounds that didn’t seem achievable. Or articulate a letter in a way my mouth simply didn’t agree with. But, we fought through the overwhelm inside my emotions and the school helped me speak more clearly.
After talking through my time at the school, it was time to learn about the version today. The facility we were sitting in was built in 2002. The school still provided a feeling of newness as we walked through the front doors. The office was directly to our left with the office of the director housed inside. Walking into the office of the director felt welcoming, just as coming into the main office had. We sat across a good-sized wood desk, neutral in its color scheme. Our conversation began by slowly getting a feel for the dynamics in the room. We discussed my connection with the school. The conversation shortly turned to talking about the school today. They experience unique challenges around their quality of education. As the school has become popular to the point of needing a larger facility. They seem to be bursting at the seams for more space to help children with special needs. We learned of a unique program the school has implemented. The school has begun intergrading the classrooms. They have fifty percent of the kids with special needs and fifty percent of the children typically developing. The idea would provide exposure for each group of children. The concept was touching as it became part of our talk.
The combination classroom was one of the most fascinating things about our visit. My curiosity went directly to wanting to learn more about how it was working. They didn’t have much to report, as our meeting took place after just the second day of school. My initial thoughts after being introduced to the concept was how something like this would have been during my youth. It sounded exciting to be a part of as the child. During the meeting, there was conversation of something neat happening. The interesting idea was around the pairing of a special needs child with a typically developing child. Something unique began taking place as the typically developing child was helping his special needs partner. Helping with a variety of things the special needs child could use some help with. The typically developing child went home with some good news, he had found a best buddy. It seemed he went home explaining to his mother how he had helped his buddy with things throughout the day. In the first two days, they had created a bond, providing purpose and understanding. The story of their beginning interactions was heartwarming. My hope would be for their budding friendship to continue its growth.
While our talk continued in the office of the school director, another exciting concept caught my interest. Along with many of the classrooms, they had an observation room. It was described as a room by which the classroom could be viewed. My eyes lit up when the concept of an observation room was introduced. The idea gives parents the ability to watch their child behind a window. From inside the classroom, each child would be unable to see their parent. It has often seemed that a child might act differently while their parent was around or close by. Memories returned of my youth, getting me thinking about the differences when my parents were around. It felt as though things might have been easier when a parent was around to rely upon. They would have had a good idea of the challenges cerebral palsy contributed to my life. Giving them the ability to help quickly. As we listened to the concept of these observation rooms, my mind was turning. The room would give parents of children with a disability another unique perspective. They may notice different challenges of a disability when viewing their children from afar. Possibly shedding even more light on challenges their child could be facing. It leaves me feeling like if my parents could have watched me interact without my knowledge, they probably would have noticed different challenges, possibly not present when their security was present. The concept seems like another way to further shed light on the challenges children with special needs may be facing.
The story of the newly formed friendship between a special needs child and typically developing child was amazing. The knowledge that it happened so quickly was another touching characteristic of the story. This school seems to be embarking on a new trail of inclusion. Providing young students with the opportunity to become exposed to special needs children. Enabling them to understand interactions with friends who may be different from themselves. It would seem the special needs children are learning the positive impact they can have on others. As typically developing children may be learning their impact of being there for those around them. We rose from our heartwarming discussion and toured the school. The school was impressive as we began looking through the library. We left the library and walked through the hallway, taking us into a large square from the main office. Looking into the classrooms built with low sinks and tables for young children. The mini chairs slid under tables barely reaching my knee level. I was able to peek into one of the observation cubbies, observing the view of parents, as they would watch their children interact. The hallways were inviting and the entire structure gave a feeling of comfort. It was an impressive place and the lineup of kids wanting to be there wasn’t surprising.
The challenges of cerebral palsy can be many. Something from my youth helping along my journey was support. The support in my life from schools like this one we visited this week. Returning to one of the places playing a role in my development was special. The memories came back over my time at the school working on my speech. Along with the support of a therapist who came into my elementary classroom each week, helping me learn to type. Teaching me the skills to communicate in a more productive way, other than through the challenge of writing. Today, the school has come a long way since my time. They have been set up to help many more children. With a building set up to prepare children and their families, in many different ways, with many different sources to assist. It was a blessing to return to the school helping me begin my journey. With so much heartwarming information of how the school operates today. Everyone we came in contact with was kind. It was easy to understand how the school makes such a positive impact in our community.