A chapter ends.

Today was Janneke's last day at school -her last day before summer and her last day of school with Niagara Children's Centre School. (Why yes, those are three medals on her tray: Friendship, Creativity, and Math.)

Though I can only guess at what she might be thinking and processing, I know she knew the school to be a safe place where she belonged. She loved exploring the school in her walker, and she had many schoolmates call out her name in the hallway every day. 

Niagara Children's Centre School is unique. It welcomes and works with children who have exceptional needs; the students are specifically chosen to attend the school, and the program is intentional, providing intensive support with the students' progress. 

I've learned a lot having both girls enrolled in that school. Rachel and Janneke each had four great years there, with one of those years overlapping - making it a total of seven amazing years. Here's a glimpse of my parent experience:

  • There are many great schools out there. This is one of many. We need to celebrate the great schools that exist - and tell others our stories. 
  • I love staff that sweat kindness and love, even when there appears little progress to report for the IEP. Janneke belonged there, and they missed her when she was absent.
  • This school is unique in that it chooses to intentionally support our children with their needs and prepare them for their community schools. It's meant to be a temporary stop in the journey of learning. Some children are in the school for one year, and other children remain for several years. Many parents of children in this school would love for their children to remain - and not move to a community school. The tears of the departing families on the last day are clear indicators of the fear and concern parents have for their children who will be transitioning into a larger school setting. Some of our community schools are well-equipped to welcome children of diverse needs, and some schools are not so prepared.
  • This school fit my kids for this chapter of their lives, and I am trusting that the next step for Janneke will be another good fit. Rachel had a successful transition from her years at the Centre school into her community school (Beacon Christian), so we are hoping the same for Janneke.
  • Creating communities of belonging in our schools is a good thing. I love the variety of community schools in my region - public, Catholic, French Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Montessori... to name a few. I wish for all these schools to be accessible to families with special needs and for these schools to find ways to collaborate when it comes to kids with special needs. Helping kids thrive however they grow and wherever they go is a very good thing. 
  • My favourite moments have been seeing the schoolmates interact with each other in the hallway. I love the tenderness they have for Janneke (and in the past with Rachel). I love it when the school shows a slideshow of photos at an assembly, and the whole room hollers out names, as faces are recognized. When a crowd of students includes verbal and nonverbal children, the annunciation may be lost, but the cheer for each other is very clear.

As the year ends, I will leave last week's experience as the last word: When Janneke's new schoolmates (Beacon's Grade 3) came to visit her at the Centre school, she was in fine form. Janneke immediately started moving through the school in her walker, and the students chose to follow her. As they told me later, "Mrs. Pot, she's a great tour guide! She showed us her whole school!" Though I wondered if they would have questions about Janneke's disability or her unique mannerisms, they seemed most concerned that she would have a summer break like they do. 

We will wait to see what September holds. I am so thankful we had the experience of belonging at the Centre school, and we will shape those awesome memories into courage moving forward.