Janneke is in her fourth year at a Section 68 school authority, funded and legislated by the Ministry of Education. There are six of these schools in Ontario, affiliated with the local children's treatment centre, and students are selected through assessment and referral. The schools are not large in number; their focus is a specialized program that integrates education with therapy on a daily basis. It's a great place to be and grow.
Recently, I had a chance to visit Janneke in her classroom. The time frame I was given allowed me to observe Morning Meeting. This is one of the first parts of their school day; it involves the students (that day, there were six) sitting in their wheelchairs in a semi-circle around the teacher. The EAs sit alongside or behind the students to support them throughout the meeting time. Much of the communication feedback is created through the recorded message button. The teacher will ask a question, and the student will activate the message with either their hand, arm or head. The message is pre-recorded by the staff to support the nonverbal response. For example, the teacher will say, "Good morning, Janneke." Janneke is invited to respond by pushing her message which might say "good morning" in response.
While sitting alongside Janneke, I couldn't ignore the profound sense of awe and sorrow I was experiencing. I felt sad that we could not have that immediate feedback that we take for granted in verbal conversations, but at the same time, I was in awe of what was communicated without words. As the teacher worked with students on responding to roll call and welcoming by name, there were mischievous grins and impatient hands and stubborn wills.
Mischievous grins were seen when students took their time to activate their message button. Impatient hands were seen when students wanted to tell their message and move on into the next activity. Stubborn wills were seen when students (Janneke) refused to activate their message buttons. How typical.
I wish these moments could be witnessed by more of us. Watching the staff interact patiently and lovingly with the students was a reminder to me to pause and be present. So often, we move quickly through our day, hurriedly offering a good morning to our colleagues, as we run by with our coffee. "Time is money, time is progress, time is fleeting, time is of the essence"... but sometimes, our urge to rush can hinder sweet moments of joy.
Dylan and Janneke with their teacher in morning meeting.